Abstract

This essay focuses on the meaning that the term “experimental” acquires within spiritualism during the second half of the nineteenth century. It builds upon Paul Janet’s notions of “experience” and “experimentation” in psychology, by stressing the role of physiology and pathology in his reflection. Regardless of the role the concept of “experimentalism” took on in Victor Cousin’s psychology, which arguably indicated more an “internal affection” than actual experimentation, in Janet’s spiritualism the term regains its original meaning of empirical verification. Janet highlights the importance of madness to the development of a new psychological paradigm that could reconcile philosophy and medicine, reason and experience, by taking up pathology as a form of natural and indirect experimentation.

Introduction

The integration of the “experimental method” into the field of psychology, at least as far as nineteenth-century French intellectual history is concerned, was the result of the work of Théodule-Armand Ribot (1839–1916) and of his attempt to found a scientific psychology, i.e. a non-metaphysical approach to the human phenomena (Carroy and Plas 1996; Carroy, Ohayon, and Plas 2006; Nicolas 1999, 2016). Indeed, it is not until late-nineteenth century France that the idea of psychological experimentation started to take shape, as the study of psychic functions began to be detached from the hegemonic philosophical paradigm (Ribot [1870] 1881, pp. 3–47). Unlike the subjective, introspective approach to psychological inquiry advocated at the time by Victor Cousin’s (1792–1867) disciples and by some spiritualist thinkers (Cousin [1826] 1833, pp. 242–52; [1836] 1854), experimental psychologists envisioned an objective psychological methodology that would be able to scientifically describe the mind’s operations. The concepts of “experiment,” “experience” and “experimentation” thus played an important role during the process of the institutionalization of psychology as a science and academic discipline, representing a way to describe and test mind’s processes without resorting to a purely subjective viewpoint. Ribot’s reliance on physiology and pathology as crosschecks for psychology demonstrates the efforts of the Experimental school to attain scientific status. Similarly, at the turn of the nineteenth century, experimentation in psychology extended his practice through the conduction of laboratory experiments —in synergy with German psychologists1 (cf. Ribot 1879)—which led to the creation of the psycho-physiological laboratory at the Sorbonne under the direction of Henry Beaunis (cf. Nicolas 2011).

The birth of psychological experimentation in France thus seems to correspond to a refusal of the metaphysical conception of psychology. Yet this account of the rise of a new psychological paradigm not only obscures the undeniable connection between the “old” psychology and the “new” one—in terms of cultural legacy and mutual intellectual exchanges (Michotte 1907; Brooks 1998; Carroy and Plas 2000; Brower 2010)—but also disregards the ways that psychological “experimentation” had already been attempted by the spiritualist tradition. In fact, the second half of the nineteenth century was characterized by a substantial revaluation of the eclectic conception2 of psychology. Like Ribot, several spiritualist thinkers had already begun conceiving psychology as a twofold science, one which mixed both reason (subjective side) and experience (objective side) by attaching great importance to the notion of “experimentation.”

As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a certain form of experimentation in psychology was considered possible and defended by eclectic philosophy. In the early stage of Cousin’s thought, eclectic philosophy was presented as a discipline based on a specific method, significantly named as experimental. The reference to Baconian philosophy was quite conspicuous:3 this method that, until then, had been the exclusive prerogative of the natural and physical sciences, Cousin argued, now needed to be introduced in philosophy and applied to “the study of the human mind [esprit]” (i.e., psychology) (Cousin [1836] 1854, p. 20). Nevertheless, although this method implied a certain form of experimentation, since psychic functions could be experimented on, in the sense of being analyzed and detected by the act of reflection (p. 245), this notion of experimentation relied more on the concept of experience than on the idea of conducting experiments.4 In Cousinian psychology, the notion of “experience” was limited to the “facts” of consciousness, and psychological mediation was provided only by the act of reflection.5 Thus, Cousin did not take into account experiences that fell outside the purview of inner observation. In this sense, he seemed to neglect other fundamental viewpoints for monitoring experience, first and foremost those belonging to physiology and medicine.6 Unsurprisingly, during the first decades of the nineteenth century, several spiritualist thinkers close to the Cousinian school started developing new psychological methods that gave great importance to natural and life sciences.7

Indeed, it is in the doctrine of one of the chief representatives of spiritualism that we find the most impressive effort towards the renewal of psychology: Paul Janet (1823–1889),8 uncle of the renowned psychiatrist Pierre Janet (1859–1947), was a key-figure in this process of renewal of spiritualist psychology, attempting to integrate the strictly metaphysical conception of psychology with the results and methods of natural sciences. Due to his intense engagement with the scientific debates of the time, as well as his participation, as a member or even President, in some medical and psychiatric societies, Janet represented a hinge between the philosophical world and the scientific milieu of the second half of the nineteenth century (cf. Ellenberger 1970; Dowbiggin 1991, pp. 83–90; Brooks 1998, pp. 13–28; Pérez-Rincón 2010, pp. 115–24; Haustgen 2012). It is noteworthy that Janet’s psychological project was mainly conducted through inquiry into the problem of experience and experimentation in psychology. It is from the idea of experimentation with psychic functions that Paul Janet’s psychology takes indeed its first steps towards science, thereby leading this doctrine beyond the uncertainties of eclecticism.

This essay focuses on the peculiar meaning the term “experimental” acquired within the spiritualist tradition by building on Paul Janet’s conceptions of experience and experimentation.9 Although Ribot’s theory was primarily responsible for the discovery of a psycho-pathological and experimental method in psychology, it could be interesting to take into account Paul Janet’s contribution to this intellectual history. The purpose of this essay is then the one of illuminating the role played by physiology, pathology, medicine and psychiatry as testing grounds for the development of a new spiritualist psychology. In order to outline the main stages of Janet’s thought, I will focus in particular on his conception of an experimental psychological method, on his idea of madness as natural experiment, and on the role played by hypnotic suggestions in his thought.

On the one hand, this essay aims at providing an original and faithful account of Janet’s philosophy within the context of French spiritualism, on the other, by outlining the contact points between philosophy, psychology, and medicine at the end of the nineteenth century, it tries to describe the prehistory of experimental psychology. In effect, although it would be erroneous to say that Janet was the first to theorize the application of the experimental method in psychology, his reflection can be nevertheless regarded as a remarkable attempt to broaden the purview of this discipline. Without neglecting the novelty of Ribot’s project, the objective of this study is to show how the need of an epistemological revolution in psychology was already felt within spiritualism, thereby adding another piece to the narrative of the birth of scientific psychology in France.

I. Paul Janet Reader of Claude Bernard’s Introduction à la médecine expérimentale

Paul Janet’s education and career were rather consistent with those of several other fellow philosophers. After having obtained his aggregation10 in Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure of Paris, he rapidly became secretary of Cousin. Janet collaborated throughout 1844 and 1845 on Cousin’s project of editing Pensées de Pascal and actively participated in his drafting of Du Vrai, du Beau et du Bien. At the end of 1845, Janet left Paris to carry out his profession in the provinces. He became a teacher in Bourges and then a professor at the Faculté des Lettres in Strasbourg (Picot 1903, pp. 7–10). The first part of his career was therefore purely focusing on philosophy, namely: history of philosophy, logic, ethics and politics. Indeed, between 1848 and 1863, Janet submitted three texts to the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, which were respectively dealing with the history of politics in Plato and Aristotle, the philosophy of joy, and the ethical features of family (pp. 12, 24). Yet during this period, Janet grew a new interest in reformation of spiritualism.

Strangely enough, it was thanks to the will of one of the chief Cousin’s disciples that a massive revolution in philosophical psychology took place. After having spent the first part of his career implementing the Cousinian intellectual project, Janet felt the need to face the new challenges the growing scientific milieu presented by reforming spiritualism. The first and most meaningful proof of this dates back to 1866: already reintegrated in the Parisian Academy, as the successor of Adolphe Garnier and then of Émile Saisset (1814–1863), at the Sorbonne, Janet devoted an article to Claude Bernard’s (1813–1878) Introduction à la médecine expérimentale (1865), which can be considered a careful inquiry into the experimental method (Pa. Janet 1866).

Claude Bernard’s work had a great resonance within spiritualist circles of the time, both in positive and negative terms. It is sufficient to look at the issues of the Revue des Deux Mondes—the most prominent journal of the era’s French intellectuals—that published during the 1850s and 1860s to gain a sense of the role the text played in the period’s academic conversations. After the publication of Bernard’s Introduction, there was a significant increase in articles devoted to science, medicine, and physiology (Bernard 1865a, 1865b, 1867, 1872; Pa. Janet 1865a, 1865b, 1873; Savenay 1868). Spiritualist thinkers authored the majority of these essays and the Introduction had an immediate success in the philosophical field rather than in the scientific (Grmek 1973, p. 10): the first reviews of the text were written by spiritualists, such as Paul Janet, Elme-Marie Caro (1826–1887) and Félix Ravaisson (Pa. Janet 1866; Ravaisson 1867; Caro 1867). Bernard’s ideas gradually penetrated into the philosophical environment, sometimes enriching it, sometimes arousing inflammatory reactions. While the eclectic Étienne Vacherot (1809–1897) wondered whether science and consciousness could coexist (Vacherot 1881), and Jean-Joseph Marchal (1822–1892), Bishop of Epinal, called for a purging of spiritualism from Bernard’s theories (Marchal 1868, pp. 896–929; Grmek 1973, pp. 12–13, 16, 423), a small group of philosophers led by Paul Janet also welcomed the Introduction as a revolution in scientific method.

It has to be remarked that spiritualist philosophy was undergoing a deep crisis at that time, both in institutional and in ideological terms (cf. Pa. Janet 1865c). Surrounded, on the one hand, by the massive success of positivism and, on the other, by the introduction of German metaphysics in France, spiritualism started to lose its hegemony (Ribot 1877, pp. 368–69; Picot 1903, p. 27; Parodi 1920, pp. 24–5). The main weakness of spiritualism relied on its methodology, namely on its inability to integrate other viewpoints (especially the physiological one) or to maintain a dialogue with the changing intellectual environment. Positivism in particular, more sensitive to scientific methods and procedures, seemed to offer a sounder option. Janet’s survey on Bernard aimed at overcoming this dead-end.

A first aspect that has to be remarked is that Janet’s interest in science was deep-seated. His encounter with scientific methodology had been prompted by his friendship and collaboration with the chemist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), with whom he got acquainted during his stay at the Université de Strasbourg. As Janet would later state, his passionate attention to science and his devotion to scientific methods had been inspired by Pasteur himself (Picot 1903, p. 19). Unsurprisingly, the first appearance of the notion “experimental” in Janet’s corpus is attributable to a chapter written with Pasteur’s support. In 1864, Janet published a book entitled Le matérialisme contemporain en Allemagne. Examen du système du docteur Büchner (1864), gathering together two articles that had been included in the Revue des Deux Mondes a year before (Pa. Janet 1863a, 1863b) and directed against German materialism. An entire chapter of this book was devoted to the problem of spontaneous generation (Pa. Janet 1864, pp. 92–115), namely the theory that conceived life as created from inorganic matter. The key-role performed by Pasteur in the French debate on spontaneous generation and his opposition to this theory is well known (Salomon-Bayet 1986; Geison 1995). But what remains quite overlooked is Paul Janet’s support for Pasteur’s theories. Janet’s chapter on spontaneous generation in Le Matérialisme contemporain was the reworking of an earlier manuscript Janet composed in 1860 and edited by Pasteur (Chevalier 1954, p. 47; Pinet 2004, pp. 461–62). The writing L’Application de la méthode expérimentale à la question de la génération spontanée (expérience de M. Pasteur) was the first text in which Janet demonstrated the usefulness of the experimental method in order to support his philosophical beliefs.

We might assume that Janet’s encounter with Claude Bernard’s theory was also fostered by Pasteur. But, most importantly, Janet’s article represented a further and significant elaboration of the methodological problem presented by experimentation. According to Janet, Bernard’s work main merit lied in the fact that he gave the scientific and philosophical community a “manuel de logique physiologique” (Pa. Janet 1866, p. 910). The striking clearness of Bernard’s arguments and the rigor of his method, Janet argued, were sources of inspiration for the developing sciences. He maintained that philosophy too needed to pay attention to Bernard’s “discourse on method”:

The interest of this book lies in its precise and lively feeling of reality, which is impossible to find in all other treatises of logic. […] Without an exact and precise awareness of the sciences, the theory of methods will always get lost in vague and arid generalizations. There is no doubt that, concerning the abstract theory of induction or deduction, philosophy is in its own terrain, and that only philosophy can perform this hard work; but when, passing from the subject to the object, philosophy wonders what kind of rules these processes belong to, in order to discern the truth in this or that science […], philosophy can’t avoid scientific support and, on this practical terrain, scientists are by necessity the best logicians (Pa. Janet 1866, p. 910).11

This excerpt sounds like a critical comment to Cousin’s methodology. As long as philosophy deals with both the general and the abstract problem of method and with the fundamental features of induction and deduction, it can do its work by itself, without resorting to other disciplines or sciences. After all, to determine the conditions of possibility of experience, through the mediation of logical and theoretical knowledge, is a philosophical task. Nevertheless, as far as philosophy intends to address the actual object of its study, the collaboration of scientists is needed. In this regard, it is important to remind that the object of philosophy—both in Janet’s work and in spiritualist theory—was the same as the one of psychology, namely consciousness. Yet, unlike Cousin’s perspective, Janet tended to consider consciousness as placed at the crossroads of two realms (physical and psychological), which had to be addressed and clarified by both a philosophical and a scientific approach.12

The first part of Janet’s article consisted in a reflection on method. Here Janet mounted a disguised attack on Cousin’s assumptions but also tried to harmonize Bernard’s theory with the spiritualist perspective. While philosophical hypotheses required an actual experience in order to be verified, this experience also needed to be supported by theoretical hypotheses: “Where there is observation, there is choice, because one who looks at everything all together does not observe; where there is observation, there is idealization of a phenomenon which stands in front of us; there is a transition from a phenomenon to a thought” (Pa. Janet 1866, p. 918). According to Janet, Bernard had commendably highlighted this crucial point, and spiritualism had to assume it as a fundamental principle.

It is worth remembering that, in nineteenth century, the necessity of integrating observation and theoretical hypotheses was widely acknowledged among epistemologists and philosophers of science.13 No observation was, in fact, made at random; and concepts, models or notions were not conceived as exact copies of sensory information. In this respect, Janet did not differ from these perspectives, and, while pointing out Bernard’s merits, he tried to align his theory with this shared view. Therefore, the question is whether this position could still be considered as “spiritualist.” Janet himself would have agreed that spiritualism, as a defined philosophical position—namely the one formulated by Cousin—, had nothing to do with such an epistemological view, having until then relied on the inner observation. This conception was nevertheless outdated and Janet believed that spiritualism needed an epistemological reformation. By referring to Bernard, Janet thus aimed at showing the way for a new form of spiritualism, finally able to integrate the methodology of science. It is precisely this stark contrast to eclectic psychology that reveals the novelty of Janet’s position.

Bernard’s experimental method seemed to attract Janet’s support thanks to its capacity to reconcile experience and hypotheses, observation and reflection, induction and deduction, philosophy and science.14 Yet, in Janet’s views, the actual cornerstone of the Introduction lied elsewhere. He contended that in terms of the experimental method Bernard had introduced a main element of novelty: the idea of conducting experiments and applying this experimentation to physiology (Pa. Janet 1866, pp. 920–21). He maintained that there were, in fact, two kinds of sciences: observational sciences (sciences d’observation) and experimental sciences (sciences d’expérimentation).

The first sciences are those where the scientist accepts that he may note phenomena without being able to modify them; these are, for instance, astronomy and, up until now at least, meteorology, for a long time mineralogy, geology, botany, etc. The second sciences are those where the scientist passes from observation to experiment, where he produces by himself the phenomena that he intends to study, changes their conditions, isolates, combines, reproduces them at will, and hence obtains over nature a power broader than the power exercised by the observer. The experimenter, according to Claude Bernard’s expression, is “an inventor of phenomena, an actual foreman of creation”. Experience is here ingeniously defined as “a caused observation” [observation provoquée]. (Pa. Janet 1866, p. 921)

The characteristic feature of experimentation is thus the one to overcome the simple evidence produced by observation: to interact with the object of research, to modify, reproduce, and combine it as many times as necessary. Before Bernard, the experimental method had mostly been prerogative of the physical and chemical sciences, since their object was inorganic matter. As Janet assumed, Bernard’s epistemological revolution paved the way for a new form of experimentation applicable to physiology. Nevertheless, it also raised many questions. For instance, how could the scientist modify, artificially change, or produce physiological phenomena? While physics and chemistry dealt with inert matter, physiology relied instead on the living being and its changeable nature. The naturalist George Cuvier (1768–1832) had at the beginning of the century already pointed out the peculiar status of the living organism, namely the fact that it exists as a harmonious whole that is almost impossible to discern as individual parts (Cuvier 1817; Pa. Janet 1866, p. 922).

Nonetheless, Bernard suggested that biology should borrow the experimental method of the physical-chemical sciences. Despite the peculiarity of physiological phenomena, there is a strict connection between all natural levels, to such an extent that “physical-chemical forces are necessary to nutritive life, nutrition to sensitivity, sensitivity to intelligence. No new force is deployed without the solicitation of the interior forces” (Pa. Janet 1866, p. 929). In this sense, the interrelation among natural levels enabled the transition of the experimental method from physics to physiology, since, due to this substantial connection, what was valid for the first was also valid for the second.

Bernard’s idea of conducting experiments on physiological facts would have naturally been a point of huge fascination for Paul Janet. After tearing down the barriers between the physical and the physiological realm, between the inert and the living matter, why not do the same in psychology? After all, the principle of continuity disclosed by Bernard pertained not only to physical-chemical forces but also to sensitivity and, most importantly, to intelligence. From this perspective, psychology could in turns aspire to be experimental.

Even though Janet did not explicitly address this point in his article, several of his remarks moved in this direction. “Life,” Janet stated, “is indeed the core of the problem that the universe presents to us, since life relies, on the one hand, on matter in general and, on the other, on sensitivity and thinking. […] We clearly see what a pivotal role life fills in the scale of nature, and how it complicates the already arduous question of soul and body” (Pa. Janet 1866, p. 930). And, again, “How can this physiological determinism, which Claude Bernard fully demonstrates as a physical necessity, be conciliated with psychological liberty […]? This is one of the problems which contemporary philosophy must try to examine in depth, and which with examination may allow the human spirit to move forward” (p. 936). The encounter with Bernard’s method allowed Janet to make two observations: firstly, the mind-body problem, although it pertained to psychology, required a multidisciplinary approach, since it built upon life, being at the intersection of different forces (first and foremost physiological and psychological); secondly, and as a result, the experimental method could extend its boundaries and be applied also to psychology.

In his 1866 article, Janet did not explain how this application might be carried out. For sure, he perceived the need to overcome pure psychological observation of the Self and to integrate reflective mediation with another form of mediation: an external and scientific one. In short, this means passing from a direct, subjective, intuitive observation to a mediated one. Indeed, whether or not the concept of “experimentalism” in Cousin’s psychology indicated an “internal affection” more than an outright experimentation, Janet—thanks to Bernard’s teaching—attempted to reconnect this notion with its original meaning of empirical verification. In 1866, it is not yet clear how he intended to conduct this verification. Moreover, the application of the experimental method to psychology raised several problems, since it required an artificial alteration/manipulation of psychic facts. Yet Janet attempted to answer all of these questions in the following years.

II. How to Experiment on Psychic Functions: Madness as a Form of Natural Experimentation

The year following the issue of his article on Claude Bernard, Janet published a book gathering together two texts that appeared in the Revue de Deux Mondes in 1865 (Pa. Janet 1865a, 1865b). The book, entitled Le Cerveau et la Pensée, was devised as a detailed inquiry into the contemporaneous developments of physiology, neurology and medicine with regards to the mind-body problem. Interestingly, the fourth chapter of the book, entirely devoted to the problem of madness, opened with a reflection which seems to complement Janet’s account of Bernard:

In the physical and chemical sciences, when we want to understand which conditions determine the production of phenomena, we make what is usually called experiments: we suppress this or that circumstance, we introduce new circumstances, we change and invert them, and, for each kind of comparison, we attempt to discover some constant effects linked to some constant causes. It is very hard to apply this method to the question that interests us [the mind-body problem], at least concerning the human kind; we can’t play, except for a few rare cases and with many dangers, with human intelligence, as with vapors or gasses. (Pa. Janet 1867a, p. 67)

The connection with Janet’s article on the experimental method is noticeable. This reflection came as a natural progression of Janet’s previous account, since it made explicit what in the earlier text had still been only between the lines. Janet moreover added a further remark:

Unfortunately, nature, taking art’s place, in a certain way designs for us some dismal experiments, when, under the influence of different causes, it disrupts, wreaks havoc, destroys human feeling and reason. That is what happens in the cruel and mysterious phenomenon that we call madness, a disorder so odd that mystical physicians have defined it as an expiation and punishment for our sins and passions. It seems that this dismal experiment could have at least the benefit of enlightening the problem we are approaching, because as we discover which conditions the brain goes through when thinking gets lost, hence we could deduce, by contrast, the normal conditions of the exercise of thought.15 (Pa. Janet 1867a, p. 68)

Although Janet was fully aware of the complexity of applying the experimental method to the mind-body problem (i.e. to psychology), he found a certain form of experimentation possible. Indeed, instead of working to create an artificial alteration of psychic facts, it was nature itself that made for us some “tristes expériences,” crystallized in the phenomenon of madness. In the 1867 text, madness was presented as a theoretical and methodological device though which the experimental method might be applied to psychology.

Before addressing the specificity of this experimentation and the sense in which Janet assumes that psychic functions could be experimented on, it is important to ask why the philosopher gives such priority to madness. During his professorship at the Université de Strasbourg, driven by curiosity, Janet got into contact with the asylum of Stéphansfeld. Convinced that madness could be an interesting test-case for his psychological inquiry, Janet collected the observations he made at the asylum in an article published in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1857 (Pa. Janet 1857). Presumably thanks to this account, the following year he was accepted as a member of the Société médico-psychologique, a recently founded psychiatric society in Paris (on this Society see Ritti 1902; Foucault 1972; Babini 1982; Dowbiggin 1989; Nicolas 2000; Haustgen 2012), and in 1867 he became President of that very Society. This biographical information helps to contextualize Janet’s interest in the problem of madness.

Indeed, nineteenth-century French medicine and philosophy were intensely fascinated by the problem of madness, mostly since the publication of the Traité médico-philosophique by Philippe Pinel (1745–1826; cf. Pinel 1801). This subject of study attracted the attention of various intellectuals and scientists. As the title of Pinel’s treatise suggested,16 the study of madness built on a hybrid terrain, invoking both a medical approach (including physiology and anatomic pathology) and a psychological one (for the research of the moral causes of madness). Unsurprisingly, the new-born Société médico-psychologique decided to enlist and then to elect Janet as President, given his institutional and academic renown.17 The Society, though divided into several schools of thought with different approaches, started its first sessions by declaring the need to found an integrated psychological perspective: “We have already pointed out the utility of medical science for religion, morality, jurisprudence, education, metaphysics, etc.; but we forgot to mention the utility of empirical psychology for physiology and the pathology of the nervous system” (V.V.A.A. 1852, pp. 227–28).

From the spiritualist viewpoint, the study of madness was no less important. Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, psychological conceptualizations of madness had challenged the philosophical community. Maine de Biran, for instance, described madness as a special condition in which the Self disappeared completely (Biran 1834, pp. 35, 58–9, 84–5.), thereby undermining the spiritualist belief in the universality and eternity of the Self (cf. Royer-Collard 1843, pp. 1–45). Arguably aware of this theoretical danger, Cousin and his acolytes refused to take into account madness, and mental diseases in general, in their psychological theories. Yet, although madness had represented until then a sore point for spiritualism, it offered a chance to emancipate it from the Cousinian tradition and, most importantly, to integrate the scientific and medical knowledge into the field of psychology.

In light of the above, Janet’s description of madness as a form of experimentation takes on new meaning. One the one hand, instead of being a special condition outside of the realm of psychological competence, Janet argued that madness needed to be reintegrated into psychology. On the other, madness also gained an impressive epistemological value, since it was supposed to enable experimentation with psychic functions. But, what kind of experimentation is Janet envisioning when he talks about madness?

In Le Cerveau et la pensée, Janet specified that the experimentation exhibited by the phenomenon of madness is not a direct and subjective one (Pa. Janet 1867a, p. 67). Indeed, alongside the anatomic-pathological approach to madness—which consisted in searching for the anatomical conditions of the mental disease, such as brain lesions, encephalic malformations, irritations of specific organs, etc. (Soury 1899, pp. 482 ff.; Dowbiggin 1991, pp. 24 ff.)—the psychiatrist Moreau de Tours (1804–1884) proposed a subjective experimentation with the symptoms of madness (Moreau de Tours 1845). According to the physician, madness could be directly experimented on, since its symptoms—first and foremost delirium and hallucinations—were reproducible through the use of hashish and alcohol. By using drugs, Moreau de Tours ultimately identified the fait primitif of madness, namely the remarkable alteration of blood circulation (pp. 59 ff.). In his chapter on madness, Janet opposed such an idea, pointing out that these experiences, besides being extremely dangerous for the experimenter, did not provide relevant results for the physiological and psychological study of madness (Pa. Janet 1867a, p. 67).

In view of the above, it is clear that for Janet the only true type of experimentation was indirect and objective. Madness, as a pathological state of mind, represented an intensification, variation, or weakening of psychological functions. Methodologically speaking, this special condition became a sort of natural microscope—a natural form of experimentation that offered suggestive insight into the mind’s processes. It was, indeed, nature that, as the experimenter, increased, changed and softened this or that psychological function. The pathological was thus the key access point to the normal, since in pathological states the laws and characteristics of normal faculties became clearer and more easily detectable.

Janet provided many examples to support this argument. He first demonstrated that a major problem of spiritualist psychology was the tight relation it maintained among psychic functions. Starting from Franz-Joseph Gall’s (1758–1828) phrenological theory, several neurologists and physicians had supported the idea that each psychological function was ascribable to a specific encephalic region (Gall 1822–1825), such that it was impossible to uphold the spiritualist conviction about the unity of the Self (Damiron 1828; Garnier 1839). Despite Marie-Pierre Flourens’ (1794–1867) disavowal of the scientific value of phrenology (cf. Foville 1877, pp. 5–6; Young 1970, pp. 55–74), this theory came back into the spotlight thanks to a psychiatric debate in 1853–1854, when the psychiatric community questioned the problem of monomania, that special form of mania, theorized first by Jean-Étienne Esquirol (1772–1840), which seemed to affect only one psychic function, leaving the others unharmed. The debate, which raised even within the Société médico-psychologique, created a divide between those who believed in the existence of monomania and those who rejected this hypothesis (V.V.A.A. 1854, pp. 99 ff., 273 ff., 464 ff., 614 ff.; Delasiauve 1853, pp. 353–371; Baillarger 1853, pp. 545 ff.; Ritti 1902, pp. 27–131). Arguments against monomania relied on the spiritualist observation that psychic functions were joined together and could not be separated.

Janet, albeit adhering to a spiritualist and anti-physicalist approach, participated in this debate in support of the theorists of monomania:

We have largely debated, in recent times, the possibility of partial delirium and of a circumscribed madness. It is not our task to solve this issue: only experience […] could be decisive in this regard. Still, I think that the observation of what happens every day under our eyes is more favorable than contrary to the doctrine of monomania. We invoke the unity of the human mind [esprit humain]; but human mind, although unitary, indisputably owns different faculties, variously developed. […] Faculties are not absolutely integral to each other: one can be weak and other one strong, one ill and another one in good health. […] Monomania thus does not contrast with the nature of things. We were right in criticizing and correcting what in this theory was too excessive and rigorous. Still, the essential remains: it is just a question of measure and grade. (Pa. Janet 1857, pp. 787–788)

Thanks to some psychiatric experiences, psychology was able to define the type of relation that existed among psychic functions. In spite of the unity of the human mind, faculties were distinct and can be affected separately. A monomaniac could cleverly dialogue with the psychiatrist and properly answer his questions. All his memories were intact, and his reason was well-functioning. Nevertheless, it sufficed to question a bit further and he started talking about the souls of celebrated men living inside his body: “in his right eye there is Bonaparte’s family; in his left eye Louis-Philippe’s” (Pa. Janet 1857, p. 787). From this perspective, monomania was the disappearance of intelligence and the survival of memory, self-consciousness and passive imagination (pp. 789–91). In Janet’s view, this was incontrovertible proof of the existence of monomania.

Another example of the usefulness of madness to psychology regarded the problem of the Self’s permanence. This debate, rooted in Maine de Biran’s thought, pertained to the role of reason in madness. According to Biran, lunatics were individuals who had lost their will and reason. They were no longer compos et conscium sui; in this sense, they lacked the fundamental features of humanity (Biran 1834, p. 17). Upon closer inspection, the Biranian description of madness produced a deep breach in the category of the human, because it suggested there were individuals who were entirely so and others who were not so at all. Indeed, the lunatic became a sort of being deprived of rationality, a sort of automaton without consciousness. In opposition to such a conception, in 1862 the spiritualist Albert Lemoine (1824–1874) published a text arguing that reason could never be damaged, and that madness affected only physical functions (Lemoine 1862, pp. 38–89). Janet’s reaction to this text was quite strong: “I don’t know—Janet replied—whether the soul can be ill, but surely it does not seem to me to be well. Madness is very positively a disorder of the intelligence, a perversion of moral affections. Call this disorder what you prefer, I call it disease, and if you describe the soul as a principle that thinks and feels, I don’t see what impedes you from saying that the soul is ill, since it thinks and feels absurdly” (Pa. Janet 1867a, p. 78).

Janet’s conclusions derived, once again, from an attentive observation of madness in the asylum of Stéphansfeld. In order to overcome Biranian issues, he argued that spiritualism needed to avoid resorting to drastic ontological positions that neglected clinical experiences. Thanks to psychiatry, Janet aimed to demonstrate that, although madness affected human reason and will, it did not entail its complete disappearance. Apart from monomaniacs, whose reason was unaffected and well-functioning, lunatics in general showed signs of “a dull reason and of a sleeping will” (Pa. Janet 1857, p. 777). Indeed, though lunatics seemed to be disturbed, after long observation, they disclosed their human nature, such that the philosopher could “admire again, under these distressing ruins, the faded, but indelible beauty of human nature” (Pa. Janet 1857, p. 777).

As seen above, madness in Janet’s doctrine represented a natural form of experimentation that enabled the philosopher to clarify and, then, test his own hypotheses. Thanks to psychiatric mediation, spiritualism was able to integrate the psychological method by complementing the introspective and subjective approach with an objective observation of human faculties. In this regard, it is worth remembering that the idea of natural experiment in psychology was already present in the era’s philosophical and medical debate. August Comte (1798–1857) first, and despite its opposition to any kind of psychological inquiry, theorized the idea that madness was a natural experiment that could reveal some of the workings of the human mind.18 This conception relied on the so-called Broussais’ principle, according to which pathological phenomena did not qualitatively differ from the physiological ones, representing only a variation in intensity of the stimulants (Canguilhem 1978, 3, pp. 17–28).19 Janet thus was no prime mover in the development of the pathological method20 in psychology, having borrowed this perspective from the existing philosophical and scientific tradition. Yet, despite this legacy, his position undoubtedly presented some elements of novelty.

In Comte’s theory ([1830–1842] 1975), the study of psychic phenomena equated to the study of the corresponding physiological variations, to the point that, once admitted the continuity between the normal and the pathological, the concept of natural experimentation was easily extendible from physiology to psychology. Janet, on the contrary, dealt with a different conception of psychology, not entirely reducible to physiology. Pathological alterations were not conceived as a change in the physiological constitution or in the activity of the organs, but as a deviation in the functionality of psychic faculties. If then it is not of Janet to have developed the pathological method in psychology, it is of him to have introduced this very method in the “classic” conception of psychology, namely in the study of consciousness and spiritual faculties.

As a matter of fact, Janet’s aim was not to found psychology as a scientific discipline, as Ribot will do, but to reform spiritualist psychology, providing it with a scientific methodology and defending, at the same time, its belonging to the philosophical dimension. Having implicitly accepted Broussais’ principle—also upheld by Bernard—Janet welcomed the idea of a correspondence between normal and pathological functions, in order to outline a sound psychological theory. This philosophical gesture is of the highest importance, because it displays a remarkable opening of spiritualism to scientific methods and, most importantly, to experimentation.

During this initial stage of Janet’s thought, the term “experimentation” had a specific and, we could say, restricted meaning. Although psychic functions were experimented on by nature, the physician, and the psychologist were still mere observers. They could not participate in nature’s work. They could only confirm it and draw conclusions from these experiments. Active experimentation on psychic function was thus not possible, meaning psychiatry remained a simple “counterpart and countercheck of normal psychology” (Pa. Janet 1867a, p. 76). Later, around 1870, Janet would take a new approach to psychiatry, after his encounter with hypnotism and the École de la Salpêtrière transformed his views.

III. Experimenting with Madness: Hypnotic Suggestion

Across the 1850s and 1860s, Paul Janet conceived the study of madness as a sort of crosscheck for psychology. Psychology could formulate hypotheses on the nature and features of psychological facts, but it was psychological disturbance that could demonstrate the soundness of these definitions. Yet over the years, Janet reached the conclusion that psychiatry could also provide an instrument of experimentation, one which enabled not only verification of facts but also new discoveries and interventions into the facts of consciousneff.

This conclusion came to Janet from the publication of a famous and quite controversial article by the physician Eugène Azam (1822–1899), which came out in the Revue scientifique in 1876 (Azam 1876). The article reported Azam’s experiences with a young lady, Félida X***, who seemed to have two lives: one that was sad and without memories and another that was cheerful and happy. This study represented the first French detailed analysis on the problem of double personalities, but it also showed the potential of hypnotic practice to describe and cure madness. In the same year, the director of the Revue scientifique, Émile Alglave (1842–1929), asked Janet to examine Azam’s results; Janet sent the journal a brief letter in which, while apologizing for his inaccurate and hasty response, he admitted that the idea of hypnosis “needed to be deeply developed” (Pa. Janet 1876, p. 450. Cf. Hacking 1998, pp. 10–11, 165; Valsiner and van der Veer 2000, p. 63).

Janet’s statement sounds like a declaration of intent. Indeed, in 1879 Janet inserted in his textbook, the Traité élémentaire de philosophie, chapters devoted to somnambulism and madness (Pa. Janet [1879] 1881, pp. 77–134). As previous scholarship has outlined (Nicolas 2000, p. 298), this textbook was quite unusual in comparison with other texts of the same period, since it included, within the chapter “psychology,” a long section on physiology and medicine. The most interesting aspect of this text was that Janet moreover addressed the problem of madness in connection with artificial somnambulism.

According to Janet, somnambulism was a special phenomenon of psyche, which had many points in common with the wakefulness; it was like a “dream in action” (Pa. Janet [1879] 1881, p. 81). Nevertheless, somnambulism differed from dreams in that: a) it was coherent and actively engaged the reason; b) the muscular system remained under the control of will; and, most importantly, c) it was susceptible to external stimuli, to such an extent that the observer could operate on it through suggestion (Pa. Janet [1879] 1881, p. 81). Interestingly enough, somnambulism allowed the observer to intervene in psychic functions—and suggestion represented the instrument of this intervention. But what does the term “suggestion” actually mean? As Janet clarified, the most effective way to provoke somnambulism was through hypnotic suggestion.21

At the initial stage of Janet’s analysis, hypnotism was presented as the main instrument for examining and experimenting on the phenomenon of somnambulism. Janet’s knowledge on this subject came directly from the article by William Benjamin Carpenter (1813–1885) on “Sleep” that appeared in the Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology (1847–1849, vol. IV) and was included in the French translation of Physiologie de Müller (1851) by Antoine-Jacques-Louis Jourdain (1788–1848; cf. Pa. Janet [1879] 1881, p. 81). As has been well-noted, Janet knew Azam’s studies on hypnotism and, as a member of the Société médico-psychologique, he had read about the therapeutic virtues of hypnotic practice on madness (Pa. Janet 1884a, p. 100). Unsurprisingly, whilst introducing the problem of madness in his Traité élémentaire, Janet immediately specified that madness looked like somnambulism, because it was conceivable as the dream of the awake man (Pa. Janet [1879] 1881, p. 82).

In the Traité, Janet outlined the tight relation between madness, artificial somnambulism, and hypnotic suggestion, also pointing out the capacity of suggestion to penetrate and modify psychic functions. It was, nevertheless, in 1884 that he decided to deal extensively with the question of hypnotic suggestion, devoting four articles, issued in the Revue politique et littéraire, to this topic (Pa. Janet 1884a, 1884b, 1884c, 1884d). As Janet noted, the original theoretician of hypnotism and suggestion had been the Scottish James Braid (1795–1860), whose theory was introduced in France by Eugène Azam. Azam’s observations on hypnosis were afterwards complemented and developed by the psychiatric school in Nancy, thanks to the research of Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault (1823–1904), Hippolyte Bernheim (1840–1919), and Jules Liégeois (1833–1908) (cf. Ellenberger 1970; Gibson and Heap 1991, pp. 24–29). Nevertheless, according to Janet, hypnotism became a positive science only through the experiments of the École de la Salpêtrière and under Jean-Martin Charcot’s (1825–1893) teaching (Pa. Janet 1884a, p. 100). It was, indeed, Charcot that overcame for the first time the mystical theory of magnetism and established a positive and experimental basis for hypnotism.

Janet seemed to have been deeply fascinated by this psychiatric issue, especially with regard to the process of suggestion. Indeed, although hypnosis was the act of inducing sleep in predisposed subjects through a vivid sensation or gaze fixation, suggestion instead represented a more specific and characteristic operation:

[Suggestion] is the operation through which, during the hypnotic state, or even in some wakefulness’ states yet to be defined, we can, with the aid of certain sensations, especially with the aid of speech, induce in a nervous and well-disposed subject a series of phenomena more or less automatic, and let him speak, behave, think and feel as we want, to, in short, transform him into a machine. (Pa. Janet 1884a, pp. 102–3)

Janet’s description of the peculiar process of hypnotic suggestion was meant to demonstrate that it represented a sound psychiatric instrument to detect and, most importantly, experiment with psychic functions. If, indeed, the hypnotized could be transformed into a machine, the hypnotist undoubtedly had the chance to experiment on this machine at his will. Suggestion lied, in fact, on two main laws: the association of ideas (psychological) and the association of movements (physiological). The first law prescribed that, when two ideas were part of the same act of consciousness, where one was produced the other one immediately followed. The second law instead revealed that, when two movements were executed simultaneously for a long time, they tended to repeat together. Likewise, some ideas could cause the movements with which they were associated and some movements could re-evoke the ideas to which they were connected (Pa. Janet 1884a, pp. 103–4). By employing these principles of suggestion, the hypnotist was thus able to interact, and importantly, to intervene into the psychic faculties of the hypnotized.

As Janet revealed, the first kind of experiments Charcot created through hypnotism consisted in suggestion of movements. The hypnotist started a certain movement on the subject, and the subject continued it automatically (Pa. Janet 1884b, p. 129). The same effect could be produced through the sense of sight: when the hypnotized saw a certain object, the object reawakened a sequence of movements. The sight of a hat, for instance, induced the subject to put the hat on his/her head (p. 130). Likewise, this special law of suggestion worked on induced movements: when, through electrical stimuli, the physician provoked a facial expression on the hypnotized, the hypnotized felt the correspondent emotion (p. 131).

Besides the suggestion of movements—Janet continued—the psychiatrist could also create a suggestion of feelings. During the cataleptic and somnambulant states, the persistence of the sense of sight allowed the hypnotist to impress the subject with some sounds or words that could produce hallucinations (Pa. Janet 1884c, pp. 178–9). Hallucinations were, indeed, provoked in three ways: with the aid of a real object, whose nature the psychiatrist changed (the hypnotist stated that the table was an animal, and the subject actually saw an animal); without an object but with the help of speech; and indirectly through the association of ideas (p. 179). Charcot and Charles Richet (1850–1935) observed that hypnotic suggestion also allowed the psychiatrist to produce retroactive hallucinations, which consisted in instilling false memories in the hypnotized, as well as negative hallucinations, which suggested to the subject that he/she will not see an object or a person after awaking (p. 179).

The third, and final type of suggestion discussed by Paul Janet was the suggestion of acts. This was a very complicated and detailed type, since it merged movements, feelings, words, and thoughts in a coherent, though non-reasoning, stream of consciousness (Pa. Janet 1884d, p. 198). The most interesting example Janet gave of this type was to suggest, during the somnambulant state, that the hypnotized executed a specific action once awakened. Janet referred to an experience recorded by Bernheim:

Last August, I said to somnambulist S…, former sergeant, during his sleep: the first Wednesday of October, you must go to Dr. Liébeaut’s office and there you will find the President of the Republic who will give you a medal and retirement benefits. The 3rd of October, I received the following letter from Liébeaut: “The somnambulist S… arrived in my office at ten to 11 am. I greeted him respectfully, then I heard him saying the word: ‘Excellency’. I asked him to whom he was talking. ‘To the President of the Republic’ he replied.” (Bernheim 1884a, pp. 28–29)

All the examples of suggestion gathered by Janet in his four articles represented ways of experimenting with the somnambulist’s psyche. The psychiatrist could impress, alter, suppress, produce and change a huge variety of perceptions and memories, thereby discovering the laws behind human mind. The outcomes of this experimentation were, indeed, of great interest for psychology: the instillation of a movement, subsequently continued by the hypnotized, showed the power of habit in the individual’s behavior (Pa. Janet 1884b, p. 130); the execution of a command received during the somnambulant state revealed the persistency of sensation in sleep (Pa. Janet 1884d, p. 200); the surfacing of induced memories after awakening demonstrated the existence of a subconscious memory (p. 201).

Yet, although suggestion represented a broad-spectrum psychological device—we experience suggestion everyday, like in the case of yawn and nausea (Pa. Janet 1884a, p. 103) —it became an actual instrument of experimentation only if applied to pathological states. Janet wished to stress this concept to such an extent that he aligned his perspective of hypnotic suggestion to the École de la Salpêtrière and to Charcot’s results —in opposition to Bernheim and the medical school of Nancy (Pa. Janet 1884c, p. 182). In fact, whereas Bernheim and other physicians tended to apply hypnotic suggestion to every kind of subject, Charcot employed this technique only to hysterical individuals. In Salpêtrière, hypnotism indeed was conceived as a therapeutic device as well as an effective experimentation. Moreover, the widespread opinion among these psychiatrists was that experimentation occurred only with pathological states. As Janet highlighted, experimentation on healthy individuals was extremely deceptive, because it did not generate any knowledge for psychology and also disregarded its first medical task: to cure and assist sick people (Pa. Janet 1884a, p. 102).

A controversy quickly grew between Paul Janet and the École de Nancy. The same year Janet’s articles on La Suggestion hypnotique were published, Hippolyte Bernheim sent the Revue politique et littéraire a response in which he criticized Janet’s conclusion and backed the claims of the École de Nancy. This article, however, was surprisingly rejected by the chief editor of the journal, on the ground that its contents seemed too technical and physiological (Bernheim 1884b, p. 3). Nevertheless, the response was published by Octave Doin of Paris, and Bernheim managed to express his concerns to Paul Janet.

You have a boundless faith in every work issued from Salpêtrière; you do not accept what is issued from elsewhere. In your opinion, there everything is demonstrated; there, thanks to a truly scientific method, nothing is contestable: “we start from the most simple and basic facts and then we rise up to the most complex and delicate facts, from physical and apparent facts to psychological and the most interior ones which are difficult to interpret.” To the contrary, you seem to state that in Nancy, by neglecting physical, basic and coarse facts, we try to highlight the facts which are the most extraordinary and striking for imagination; we perhaps pushed suggestion too far (Bernheim 1884b, p. 4).

The weaknesses of Nancy’s method, in Janet’s perspective, were manifold: firstly, the fact of having “pushed suggestion too far,” namely of having experimented on healthy people, instead of limiting it to pathology. Secondly, as Bernheim recalled, Janet rebuked this school for its disinterest towards physiological facts (Pa. Janet 1884a, p. 102). This point is noteworthy. It is, indeed, well known that Bernheim and, in wider terms, the École de Nancy, played a key-role in the introduction of a psycho-therapeutic/psycho-analytic method in France (Ellenberger 1970). The school’s attention to psychological facts, quite independently from the coeval physiological and medical perspectives, led it towards a form of experimentation which included the practice of conversation and reason with the patient.

Janet’s perspective substantially diverged from this approach (Pa. Janet 1857, 799). Associating himself with the contemporary model for the psycho-pathological method, he was inclined to limit experimentation to pathology. This fact explains his alignment with psychiatry and Charcot’s methodology (Brooks 1998; Tallis 2002; Brower 2010; Pérez-Rincón 2010; Hustvedt 2011), but also reveals that in Janet’s spiritualism experimentation continues to belong to the clinical or hospital environment, not yet to the laboratory setting. His engagement with the institutionalization of experimental psychology allows us to better understand his position in this respect.

IV. The Institutionalization of Experimental Psychology. Paul Janet, His Nephew Pierre, and Ribot

By turning to medicine and psychiatry, in the 1880s Janet definitively acknowledged the importance of experimentation for psychology. Whether experimentation took place in nature in the form of madness or was produced by the psychiatrist/hypnotist, it offered psychology a new access-point to psyche able to integrate the purely subjective and introspective method of eclecticism with external experiences. In Janet’s framework this awareness primarily translated into a theoretical position aimed at supporting the close association between psychology and medical science; over the years, it also solidified this close relationship by adopting some institutional measures.

Indeed, already in 1867, as President of the Société médico-psychologique, Paul Janet had opened the first psychiatric congress in Paris with a clear statement:

The Société médico-psychologique […] has gathered and put in contact not only psychology and medicine, but also what I would call philosophical psychology and medical psychology. Because, if I am not wrong, there are two types of psychology: one, subjective, which is made through inner observation: this is the psychology of philosophers who, by analyzing the operations of the mind, try to determine its causes and laws; the other one objective (if you allow me to use these trivial words), made through the observation of other men and which, from their actions, tries to conjecture the state of their mind. (Pa. Janet 1867b, p. 493)

In addition to the theoretical value of the proximity of psychology and medicine, Janet envisioned the creation of a new strain of psychology finally able to integrate and merge the introspective viewpoint with the external and medical one. Thus, the project of institutionalizing a hybrid psychology dates back to 1867. As outlined above, after this speech, Janet had the chance to put psychiatric knowledge on trial and then to strengthen his conception of experimentation through the study of hypnotic suggestion. Indeed, the first more concrete step towards the institutionalization of this new discipline occurred in 1885, when Janet became member of the Société de psychologie physiologique, founded by Ribot in liaison with Charcot and Richet (Dagfal 2002). Existing scholarship has extensively stressed the importance of this society for Ribot and the development of experimental psychology in France (Nicolas 1995, pp. 277–8). Nevertheless, it is worth also pointing out that Janet was the only academic to be included in this society, arguably because of his closeness to Ribot’s perspective: the psycho-pathologic method was seen by both as a scientific model able to offer a biological foundation for psychology (Innamorati 1999).

This becomes quite clear when looking at Janet’s article on the creation of the Chair of Experimental Psychology at the Collège de France. This article, appearing in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1888, presented the public with the birth of a new discipline. The Chair of Experimental Psychology had been created to replace the old Chair of Natural Law and was intended to spur reexamination of the organic conditions of psychological operations (Pa. Janet 1888, p. 518). As Janet showed in the article, the term “experimental psychology” at the time had several meanings, because it gathered together a variety of disciplines, including physiological psychology, and comparative physiology. Nonetheless, within experimental psychology the most advanced and scientific discipline was physiological psychology, which was divided into two main parts: physiology and pathology (pp. 523–4).

Janet’s presentation of the new Chair appeared as a sort of compendium of his previous accounts on the problem of experimentation. Indeed, after having pointed out the heterogeneous nature of this new discipline, Janet proceeded through the history of physiological psychology, showing the role of pathology in its development. This history, at least in the French tradition, had been deeply influenced by the study of pathology. Although the first physiological psychologist was arguably René Descartes (1596–1650), in virtue of his analysis of passions in terms of cerebral movements (Pa. Janet 1888, p. 524), this discipline became experimental only in the nineteenth century. The facts giving shape to this new science were in fact medical ones, such as cerebral localizations, aphasia, heredity, suggestion and the doubling of consciousness (p. 528). Therefore, its scientific guise was provided by pathology, rather than physiology. It is thus no accident that this new Chair position was assigned to Ribot, considering his competence in psychology and pathology—which resulted in his triptych on the diseases of memory, will and personality (Ribot 1881, 1883, 1885).

In spite of the theoretical and professional divergences between Janet and Ribot, the two intellectuals shared many ideas about experimental psychology (cf. Nicolas 1999, pp. 303–4): first and foremost, the centrality of pathology to the experimentation of psychic functions. Ribot himself was not actually an experimenter but rather a theoretician of experimentalism (Dagfal 2002). In fact, beyond his fascination for German psychology (Ribot 1879) and his support for the creation of the psychophysiological laboratory at the Sorbonne under the direction of Beaunis (Nicolas 2011), he never attempted to verify his hypotheses through laboratory experiments.

This peculiar aspect of Ribot’s work helps explain why Janet decided to channel his reflection into the same path and to propose the creation of a similar Chair at the Sorbonne in 1893. Taking Émile Boutroux’s (1845–1921) advice about extending philosophical programs to the evolution of scientific knowledge, Janet proposed during a Faculty meeting to introduce a complementary course of psychophysiology at the Sorbonne, which was afterwards renamed “experimental psychology” by Janet himself. This course was intended to reinstate Ribot’s course, interrupted after he was hired at the Collège de France in 1889, but also to foster consistent teaching on this subject matter. The candidate Janet selected for this new Chair was his nephew, Pierre Janet (Nicolas 2006, p. X).

Beyond the family connection between Paul and Pierre Janet, the selection of the young candidate built on both theoretical and professional reflections (Carroy and Plas 2000). Until then, experimentation on psychic functions had been made only by physicians and psychiatrists. The task to experiment with the psyche through hypnotic suggestion indeed was left up to the psychiatrist, whose primary concern was to define a proper therapy, rather than to grasp all the psychological implications of the treatment. In this sense, the work of experimental psychology was twofold: one the one hand, the psychiatric work of experimentation; on the other, the psychologist’s interpretation of these medical experiments. Pierre Janet seemed to embody both of these two aspects. This fact was immediately clear to his uncle Paul, who, after having acclaimed Pierre’s doctoral thesis, devoted an enthusiastic review to L’Automatisme psychologique (Pi. Janet 1889):

The author has wanted to steal from physicians and physiologists the advantage and the privilege of the experimental method, with the aim of giving it back to the philosophers, to whom it actually belongs. In fact, the psychological method does not consist exclusively of observing ourselves, of recognizing and analyzing our own facts of consciousness, but it also consists in discovering the same facts of consciousness in other men. (Pa. Janet 1890, p. 632)

In his uncle’s views, Pierre Janet was the first to give the experimental method back to philosophy. This was perhaps due to Pierre Janet’s professional path: he had obtained two degrees, one in philosophy and the other in medicine. This allowed him to practice as a physician but with a philosophical attitude. Moreover, as a disciple of Charcot at the Salpêtrière, Pierre Janet quickly came into contact with morbid psychology and hypnotism, thereby encountering experimentation with psychic functions.

Pierre Janet’s unique education made him the most qualified candidate for the new Chair at the Sorbonne—which, in fact, was to be instituted under the Department of Philosophy. Nevertheless, his professorship was foreseen by his uncle also for theoretical reasons. As mentioned above, Paul Janet was deeply fascinated during the 1880s by hypnotic suggestion. Yet, while addressing the psychological virtues of this practice, he learned of a singular and quite controversial experience recorded by Bernheim. The physician had reported a hypnotic experience with a somnambulist who he had ordered to come to his office thirteen days after the hypnosis ended. With regards to this episode, Paul Janet did not hesitate to show his concerns:

What I absolutely do not understand is the awakening on an established day, without other points of attachment than the numeration of time: for example, in thirteen days. “Thirteen days” does not represent a perception; it is an abstraction. In order to explain these facts, we need to suppose an unconscious faculty of time measurement. Now, this faculty is unknown. Here the chain of analogies is completely broken (Pa. Janet 1884d, p. 201).

For Janet, as long as the hypnotist gave an order to the subject by resorting to his/her perception, the behavior of the hypnotized was at the mercy of the basic laws of suggestion, namely the association of ideas and the association of movements. On the contrary, in the experience recorded by Bernheim, neither the perception nor the muscular system were involved. The hypnotic suggestion thus attained the faculty of abstraction. This fact raised many issues with regards to consciousness, since it presupposed the existence of an unconscious faculty—which was, by definition, outside of consciousness.

Paul Janet was interested in the solution to this problem that Pierre Janet offered in L’Automatisme psychologique. By turning to the notions of dissociation and psychological disaggregation,22 Pierre Janet overcame the issue of an unconscious faculty and proposed a new description of the psyche. As his uncle underlined, Pierre argued that:

in the normal state there is an active and synthetic principle which connects all phenomena under the unity of consciousness. This is what we call Self, personality, freedom, healthy state or reason. But, under the influence of some circumstances, which are probably physiological and unintelligible, [this principle] is produced by what the author calls intellectual disaggregation. The weakest level of disaggregation is the fact called distraction. This is a phenomenon that tends to detach itself from consciousness in order to live a quite individual and independent life. […]. These phenomena are not unconscious, as someone has wrongly said; they are, according to the author, subconscious (Pa. Janet 1890, p. 635)

These phenomena were not unconscious, but rather subconscious. This sentence served as the central tenet of Pierre Janet’s study on hypnotism. From this perspective, the hypnotized was able to achieve the task given by the psychiatrist not because of an unconscious faculty, but in virtue of some subconscious powers. Sometimes—Paul Janet argued, reporting his nephew’s results—all phenomena disappeared except for one phenomenon, which could be a fixed idea, a cataleptic state, or absolute automatism. Other times, all phenomena came together to produce a new and distinct Self (Pa. Janet 1890, p. 635). This second Self was the one that, in the case of Bernheim’s somnambulist, counted thirteen days. Its intellectual disaggregation consisted in the detachment of a second personality—a fact that also explained Azam’s experiences—that was independent from and coexistent with the first and primary one. Of course, Paul Janet pointed out, this notion did not entail the divisibility of the consciousness, because it was the same consciousness that synthesized both personalities (Pa. Janet 1897, p. 571).23

In Paul Janet’s views, his nephew inquiry into hypnotism solidified the reconciliation between psychology and medicine. Indeed, as a philosopher-psychiatrist, he could competently conduct experiments for psychological purposes, namely in order to detect the laws of consciousness. Moreover, his contribution to the problem of double personality was crucial not only to the development of psychiatric knowledge, but especially to the legitimization of the spiritualist paradigm. Thanks to Pierre Janet, spiritualist psychology became an experimental discipline and was also able to test and justify its conviction about the unity of the consciousneff. It was on the strength of these theoretical and methodological achievements that Paul Janet managed to assign the Chair of Experimental Psychology at the Sorbonne to his nephew Pierre in 1896.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Paul Janet showed a clear interest in the development of experimental psychology also at an institutional level. Although Janet did not produce grounbreaking conceptual innovations, nor did he develop a distinctive research program that attracted practitioners and started an intellectual tradition, he played a key institutional role. His involvement in various scientific societies, his stable (albeit contentious) relation with Ribot, and his engagement in the creation of new chairs and teachings are elements of great significance. Indeed, if the introduction of a scientific form of experimentation in psychology represented a remarkable break with the previous Spiritualist tradition, it should not be forgotten that the creation of a chair of experimental psychology at the Sorbonne, as part of the Department of Philosophy, was no less revolutionary. Given the rigidity of the Spiritualist syllabus, formulated by Cousin in the 1840s, Janet’s project represented a substantial renewal of the university system. Moreover, since this renewal concerned primarily psychology, namely the spearhead of Spiritualist teachings, it becomes quite clear how Janet played a pivotal role in the main philosophical and academic transformations of the time.

Conclusions

Within French Spiritualism, Paul Janet was the first to theorize the application of an experimental method in psychology. By detaching his reflection from the eclectic theoretical framework, which conceived of “experimentation” primarily as an inner observation, Janet joined philosophy to the medical science, by envisioning the possibility of conducting “experiments” on psychic functions. His conception of experimentalism derived from attentive inquiry into medicine and psychiatry, as well as from his ability to maintain a close dialogue with the prominent physicians and scientists of the time. This dialogue also influenced the evolution of Janet’s thought: the notions of “experience” and “experimentation,” initially conceived as synonyms, acquired different meanings across the years. At first, the only experimentation granted to the psychologist was an indirect experimentation, namely the one conducted by nature in the case of madness and mental diseases. Rather than an actual experiment, the observation of the nature’s work represented a passive experience, which did not allow the direct intervention of the observer. Successively, thanks to the hypnotic practice, Janet started reflecting on the dissimilarity of these very notions. An actual experimentation of psyche was finally possible, and the psychologist’s work opened to experimenting with psyche. Thus, at the end of Janet’s career, the notions of “experience” and “experimentation” denoted two different epistemic categories.

In addition to this, it is noteworthy that Janet’s idea of experimentation was tightly related to the notion of pathology, rather than to the laboratory dimension of experimentation that we recognize today. This feature of Janet’s work is attested by several elements, including his proximity to Ribot’s doctrine and his evident disinterest in Beaunis’s work at the psycho-physiological laboratory at the Sorbonne. Likewise, Janet never attached great importance to the researches done by contemporary experimentalists like Wilhelm Wundt, Ernst Heinrich Weber, Gustav Fechner or Hermann von Helmholtz in Germany, with the exception of a few cursory references to them (Pa. Janet 1879, p. 182–185; 1888, p. 527). Indeed, Janet’s work remained within the boundaries of the French psycho-pathological tradition. After all, Janet was more a theoretician of psychology than an actual experimenter. He was, in fact, primarily fascinated by the explanatory value of experimentation, rather than its therapeutic effectiveness. His interest in the work of the École de la Salpêtrière, instead of that of the École de Nancy, underscores this fact.

What Janet intended to achieve through the study of madness and hypnotic suggestion was thus an understanding of the normal processes of the consciousness. He aimed to use this information as an instrument of verification. Thanks to his deep knowledge of scientific thought, Janet managed to lead Spiritualism out of its methodological and theoretical uncertainties and to create space for a new methodology, one that shared interesting contact points with the experimental psychology of the end of the nineteenth century.

Notes

1. 

Wilhelm Wundt, Ernst Heinrich Weber, Gustav Fechner, Hermann von Helmholtz.

2. 

Cousin qualified philosophy as “eclectic” because of his belief in the possibility to harmonize existing philosophical systems into a comprehensive theory. This philosophical position was afterwards defined “eclectic spiritualism”, since, through the mediation of Maine de Biran’s (1766–1824) philosophy, it conceived the Mind (Esprit) and the Self (Moi) as universal properties of the soul. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that eclecticism and spiritualism are not equivalent terms, the former denoting more a methodological approach than an outright theoretical position. In the course of the nineteenth century, some thinkers, such as Paul Janet or Félix Ravaisson, defined their theories as purely “spiritualist” in the attempt to emancipate them from Cousin’s doctrine and reform this very position from its bases.

3. 

On Francis Bacon’s influence on Cousin’s early philosophy, see the contribution of Antoine-Mahut in this volume.

4. 

On the different meanings of the term “experience” in French philosophical culture, see Lalande [1902] 2010, pp. 321–24.

5. 

The act of consciousness is, by its very nature, immediate. If philosophers want to understand it, they need a form of mediation, represented by the act of reflection.

6. 

The main opponent to Cousin’s idea of psychology was without doubt the physiologist and physician François Joseph Victor Broussais (1772–1838), who bluntly challenged eclectic psychology by highlighting its intrinsic weaknesses (Broussais 1828, p. 426; Broussais 1836, pp. 51–3, 91. Cf. Braunstein 2012).

7. 

Théodore Jouffroy (1796–1842), for instance, was involved in an inflammatory debate with Broussais (Jouffroy 1828a; Jouffroy 1828b; Jouffroy 1829; cf. also Nicolas 2016, p. 23) about the relation between psychology and physiology (Jouffroy [1842] 1872). Likewise, during the 1840s, the eclectic Adolphe Garnier (1801–1864) devoted a text to a comparison of psychology and phrenology (Garnier 1839), which was possibly influenced by the ideas of some spiritualist physicians and neurologists such as Dubois d’Amiens or Michel Arthur Castle (d’Amiens 1842; Castle 1862). The Rapport sur la philosophie en France by Félix Ravaisson (1813–1900) represents an interesting account on the spiritualist description of madness (Ravaisson [1867] 1889, pp. 193–219; cf. Vincenti 2019).

8. 

For Paul Janet’s biography, see Picot 1903.

9. 

These notions will evolve over the course of Janet’s analyses. Initially conceived as synonymous terms, they further acquire different qualifications, up to indicate different epistemic categories. Their semantic evolution follows the development of Janet’s thought: at first he conceives experimentation as a special experience (the one conducted by nature on human beings, as exemplified by the phenomenon of madness), then he identifies an actual form of experimentation: hypnotism—which is not a mere experience but rather an experiment.

10. 

Namely the exam qualifying to be professor in this discipline.

11. 

From this point onward, translations from French to English are by the article’s author.

12. 

It is important to mention that in Janet’s doctrine—contrary to other spiritualists as Maine de Biran or Cousin—the term “consciousness” had a wide semantic spectrum, since it denoted the totality of psychic functions, including those functions that were tightly related to the corporeal sphere (e.g., perception, sensibility, imagination, etc.). The term “consciousness” was semantically wider than the concept of “Self”, which implied reflection and self-awareness. Thus, the Self was just the “tip of the iceberg”, whereas the consciousness represented the psyche in its entirety.

13. 

William Herschel, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill all agreed that pure empiricism was non-sense.

14. 

On experimental philosophy as a conciliation of experience and hypotheses (reason), see Manzo’s contribution to this volume.

15. 

The entire passage seems to be a tribute to Francis Bacon’s doctrine. After addressing the application of the experimental method in physical and chemical sciences, Janet ascribed to nature a role similar to the one that Bacon ascribed to the natural history of preternatural facts. This also recalled the characterization of nature as an artisan, which created irregular/extraordinary phenomena. I thank Silvia Manzo for this interesting reference.

16. 

It is noteworthy that the name of the Société médico-psychologique recalled the title of Pinel’s treatise, the Traité médico-philosophique sur l’aliénation mentale. Nevertheless, while in Pinel’s treatise philosophy was somehow assimilated to psychology, the Psychiatric Society tended to differentiate these two disciplines. The reason of this disciplinary distinction was determined by the philosophical environment of the time: on the one hand, Comte’s description of psychology as a non-scientific discipline, and the spread of several ontological positions (as a result of Cousin’s philosophical project); on the other, the appearance of some philosophical positions increasingly devoted to the study of the mind-body problem (i.e., to psychology). This caracterization was thus necessary in order to trace a line between a generic conception of philosophy and a more specific one. In the view of these psychiatrists, only psychology (among the non-medical disciplines) was able to integrate their conceptions on madness, Cf. Haustgen 2012, p. 410.

17. 

On the political reasons of this election, see Dowbiggin 1991, pp. 81–4.

18. 

Ribot himself, despite his vexed relations with Comte and positivists, acknowledged such a legacy.

19. 

I thank an anonymous referee for this pivotal reference to Comte and Broussais.

20. 

In France, the pathological method—i.e., the method consisting of studying morbid phenomena in order to better understand the physiological ones—represents the main form of experimentation. Unlike German psychologists, who relied especially on the psycho-physiological method (measurement of the stimulus/feeling relation), French psychologists conceived experimentation as primarily based on pathological phenomena. This becomes quite clear by looking at Ribot’s conception of experimental psychology, but, as a matter of fact, such a predilection for pathology dates back to Descartes’ theory and Broussais’ physiology.

21. 

It was a common ground among most of the people interested in hypnosis and suggestions (see Ribot, or James, for instance) that it was a method to explore. Janet thus was no prime mover in that respect. What is interesting is that, as a spiritualist, he was fascinated by this kind of debate and, most importantly, that he conceived hypnosis as a form of experimentation in psychology. Indeed, the idea that spiritual faculties could be experimented on represented an undeniable step forward for spiritualist doctrine. Moreover, it is noteworthy that Janet decided to include this section on hypnotism in a philosophical textbook: his project of renewal of spiritualism was thus intended to reach also the academic syllabus.

22. 

A detailed analysis of this concept can be found in Le Blanc 2001.

23. 

It is noteworthy that Paul Janet’s solution is based on a semantic clarification of the terms involved in the debate. Indeed, Janet conceived the notion of “personality” as a synonymous of “Self” (Moi). Of course, the idea of “personality” had a slightly wider semantic spectrum than the idea of “Self” (denoting the capacity of knowing ourselves through the act of reflection), since it included the ensemble of an individual’s beliefs, emotions, opinions, expectations, etc. Yet, these two concepts were tightly linked together, because the personality implied the capacity of referring each activity to an internal and intentional cause (the Self). At the same time, both the Self and the personality were not perfectly coextensive with the consciousness, which was an ampler concept, denoting the totality of psychic functions. Thanks to this semantic clarification, Janet was eventually able to demonstrate that, in double personalities, the consciousness remained unitary, while the Self split in two different personalities.

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