Bain, Alexander

Bain, Alexander,

1818–1903, Scottish philosopher and psychologist. He was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he later taught for three years. He taught one year (1845) at Anderson's Univ., Glasgow, but resigned to do freelance work in London. There he joined a brilliant circle including George Grote and John Stuart Mill, with whom he already had close literary relationships. From 1860 to 1880 he held the chair of logic and English at the Univ. of Aberdeen, where he worked for educational reform. After his retirement he was twice elected lord rector of the university. His major contributions were in psychology. Remaining in the associationalist tradition of the Mills and sharing their distrust of metaphysics, he developed the current psychology in several directions. In discussing the will, he favored physiological over metaphysical explanations, pointing to reflexes as evidence that a form of will, independent of consciousness, inheres in a person's limbs. He sought to chart physiological correlates of mental states but refused to make any materialistic assumptions. Besides being the founder of the first psychological journal, Mind, in 1886, Bain was the author of The Senses and the Intellect (1855), The Emotions and the Will (1859), Mental and Moral Science (1868), Education as a Science (1879), James Mill (1882), John Stuart Mill (1882), and an autobiography (pub. posthumously with a bibliography of his works, 1904).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bain, Alexander


Born 1818, in Aberdeen; died there Sept. 18, 1903. British philosopher, psychologist, and educator. Professor of logic and English (1860-80) and later rector of the University of Aberdeen. Founder of the journal Mind (1876).

Bain was one of the most important representatives of associationism in 19th-century psychology. While considering phenomena of consciousness to be subordinate to purely psychological laws of association, Bain nevertheless attempted to link them with bodily processes. Thus he studied reflexes, habits, instincts, and motor activity of organisms. New forms of the last category, according to Bain, come into being as the result of the selection of useful movements based on the mechanism of trial and error. The doctrine concerning this mechanism subsequently acquired an enormous popularity in psychological investigations of behavior. Although he defended the indivisibility of the psychological and the physiological, Bain nevertheless denied the causal connection between them, and he continued to maintain the position of psychological parallelism. Bain’s works, especially The Senses and the Intellect (1855) and The Emotions and the Will (1859), played an important role in drawing the attention of psychologists to the experimental study of psychic processes. They also prepared the way for the transformation of psychology into an independent experimental science.


Mental and Moral Science. London, 1868.
Logic, parts 1-2. London, 1870.
Mind and Body. London, 1873.


Iaroshevskii, M. G. Istoriia psikhologii. Moscow, 1966. Chapter 9. Brett, G. S. History of Psychology. London, 1953.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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