Alexander M. Carr-Saunders and the “Cambridge Mind” (Part 1)

Alexander M. Carr-Saunders and the “Cambridge Mind” (Part 1)

Alexander Carr-Saunders (1886 to 1966) has been the topic of numerous posts at EWP. He was Director of the London School of Economics from 1937 to 1956, initially reading zoology. Carr-Saunders studied bio-metrics under Karl Pearson, was involved in the Eugenics Education Society as its Secretary, and in 1922 published, The Population Problem (PP). PP is among the most dense of texts and does not make for easy reading, particularly for contemporary readers. Nor does it really engender feelings of worthiness among historians of the 20th century social and behavioral sciences as it is (among other things) an account of the social evolution of primitive and civil peoples (or as Simon has pointed out in many other contexts- Carr-Saunders narrates in a text on quantity and quality the historical transition from races and peoples to nations, blending many, many approaches and disciplinary tools.

In this essay, I will do some work, continued in parts II and III, to illustrate the importance of the “Cambridge Mind” to Carr-Saunders’ landmark Population Problem, a work still viewed by historians and social scientists as foundational to the development of modern demographic science and population research.  In Part I, I will spend some time detailing first, how to re-conceptualize the PP as a textual product of a number of overlapping narratives and second, how PP’s arguments about the psychology and physiology of reproduction are best understood as an outgrowth of the “Cambridge Mind.”

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The Cambridge Mind and the Claim for ‘Knowableness’

The Cambridge Mind and the Claim for ‘Knowableness’

Many theories, and their abridgements, seek to describe the character and identity of the Cambridge Mind. The engagement is essentially contested, meaning that the alternatives are so dependent upon such diverse, but committed foundational beliefs, narratives and values, that agreement is impossible.

Yet the endeavour is of great importance when we consider the goal, an answer to why Cambridge University since 1830, has produced many of the greatest thinkers, theories and inventions of the modern world.

My contribution here is that Cambridge intellectuals between 1830 and 1880, produced and reproduced radical hypothesis with dramatic effects: that the universe was knowable, that nothing within the human cognitive framework excluded complete rational knowledge, and that religions should not be allowed to govern, nor censor, research exploration.

My own list of factors, which have engaged my published work, include two essential ingredients: that intellectuals are fashioned, and leaders reproduced, within vigorous ‘knowledge networks’, and that a knowledge is ‘organized’ in structures, institutions and practices to reproduce the achieved  knowledge.

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John Grote: Victorian Philosophy in the Modern World

John Grote: Victorian Philosophy in the Modern World

Simon Cook and Chris Donohue have brought an audience to, and focus upon, the Grote Cub for good reason: it played a crucial role in developing the emerging social sciences in Cambridge, Britain and America in particular. Here I wish to focus on, and explore, the man who founded, grounded and expounded the Club’s ethos and practices – Professor John Grote (1813-1866). In future blog posts we will explore several crucial elements of his life and corpus: the family and networks that grounded him; the unique methods he learned from the Cambridge Network; the intense analysis of his experience of Being in the term ‘personalism’ he coined; the recognition that as thinking was conducted in language, that conversation was core to knowing the world; a brilliant critique of Mill’s dominant utilitarian thinking, and his own unique ethical and political theories. Latter we can explore some of the many Montaignian insights on human nature and conduct.

A brilliant student member of the Club, Henry Sidgwick, aged 22, wrote to a friend that John Grote retained an eclecticism, ‘certainly retained, with the freshness, indecisiveness of youth till the day of his death…’This was attractive to young scholars. In later reviews of Grote’s posthumous publications, he uses a similar vocabulary, littered with ‘friendly’, ‘eager’, ‘astute’, ‘independent’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘effective’ and ‘good sense’. He notes that John neither intended, nor achieved the foundation of a new ‘school’ of philosophy, and indeed opposed in all ways possible to the ‘odium ethicum’ or ‘warfare’ that purveyed intellectual debate in mid-nineteenth century Britain.

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William McDougall on Psychology, Rationality, Childhood and Civilization (Part 1)

William McDougall on Psychology, Rationality, Childhood and Civilization (Part 1)

In his previous post on W.H.R. Rivers, Simon Cook described Rivers’ complex notion of the interconnection between reason and the instincts and the role of the unconscious as the ‘storehouse’ of these accumulated psychological residues.  With this discovery, psychology had become, according to Rivers, the task of understanding the process through which human beings sort through those habits and instincts acquired through evolution which no longer suited their present environment. Man, through his social evolution, developed new ways of addressing the chaos of the world; this did not mean that the old defenses from terrors disappeared completely.  Rivers’ account of the instincts and the unconscious was an important part of what Simon has christened the ‘Cambridge Mind’, which  from 1860 to 1920 emerged as the principle grounding for a new science of man and society.

This account of mind underscored that instincts and intelligence could be placed within the same scheme where the difference between the two is simply one of degree.  Rivers took this model of mind to mean that the springs of human action, the origins of human behavior, were far less guided by reason alone than had classically been argued, and the behavior of the masses in particular underscored the supremacy of instinct over that of reason.   William McDougall (22 June 1871 – 28 November 1938), one of Rivers’ unjustly neglected students who emigrated to Harvard after being recruited by William James, began from the position of the interconnection between intelligence and instinct. What follows is McDougall’s gloss on the ‘Cambridge Mind.’

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