• Spencer's Principles of Psychology and the decline of utilitarian premises in British psychology.

      Bissell, Gavin A. (The British Psychological Society, 2008-03)
      Despite the revival of interest in nineteenth century psychology and ethics in Britain during the 1980s, and the current debate around Utilitarian ethics in medicine (Buckle, 2005) and care (Offer, 2004), Utilitarian premises, understood as a psychological theory rather than as a moral philosophy, remain largely dormant in contemporary British Psychology. This is so despite their apparent survival in Behaviourism (Plaud & Vogeltanz, 1994). This article examines aspects of their decline within Victorian psychology, by focussing upon the relatively neglected psychological writings of Herbert Spencer. In doing so, it seeks to make a modest contribution to unravelling the complex changes in the nature of nineteenth-century psychology. In particular it is argued that, whilst some explanations of the decline of Utilitarian premises in the Victorian development of psychology focus upon the later part of the century and cultural or institutional factors, an examination of Spencer's works at the mid-century supports the view that changes were under way earlier. Whilst several explanations might be offered for this, changes in economic organisation and in the experience of individual agency are highlighted. The relation between Utilitarian psychology and Utilitarian ethics will then be considered. Finally, at this stage it should be possible to comment upon the significance of the marginalization of Utilitarian premises within the development of Victorian psychology for the contemporary debate about health resource allocation.