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History of Psychology Copyright 2003 by the Educational Publishing Foundation

2003, Vol. 6, No. 2, 123–142 1093-4510/03/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1093-4510.6.2.123


Giovanni Pietro Lombardo and Renato Foschi
University of Rome “La Sapienza”

Since the 1920s, the road to the acknowledgment of personality psychology as a

field of scientific psychology that has individuality as its object began with the
founding of the discipline by Gordon W. Allport. Historians of psychology have
made serious attempts to reconstruct the cultural, political, institutional, and chro-
nological beginnings of this field in America in the 20th century. In this literature,
however, an important European tradition of psychological studies of personality
that developed in France in the 2nd half of the 19th century has been overlooked.
The aim of this article is to cast some light on this unexplored tradition of
psychological personality studies and to discuss its influence on the development of
the scientific study of personality in the United States.

One of the historical criteria that have been proposed to determine the birth
of a subdiscipline is the publication of one or more handbooks containing the
basic notions, history, and methods of the new research field (Gourevitch, 1995).
In 1937, as is well known, the books Personality: A Psychological Interpretation,
by Gordon W. Allport (1897–1967), and Psychology of Personality, by Ross
Stagner (1909 –1997), were published, followed in 1938 by Exploration in Per-
sonality, edited by Henry A. Murray (1893–1988). In particular, Allport’s Per-
sonality and Murray’s Exploration were to have a great effect on the development
of a new “personality psychology.” From here an “American” genealogy of the
discipline is usually traced, which conventionally considers 1937 its inaugural
From 1937 on, there is said to be a shift from a scientific psychology that
studied only a few psychological functions, seeking laws that were common to the
majority of individuals, to a new perspective on psychological studies that had as
its object “individuality” in the widest sense and that was capable of integrating
the studies carried out in the other fields of psychology. Differentiating itself from
an original Wundtian psychology that studied psychic functions in general, a new
conception of psychology thus appeared, which tended to favor, within the study

Giovanni Pietro Lombardo is professor of personality psychology and history of psychology at

the University of Rome “La Sapienza.” He is the author of several publications, most related to the
history of personality psychology, Italian psychology, and clinical psychology.
Renato Foschi is a contract professor at the University of Rome “La Sapienza.” His research
interests include personality psychology and history of psychology.
This article is the result of a research project led by the authors and financed by the University
of Rome “La Sapienza” and by the Faculty of Psychology 1, which aims to describe the historical
foundations of personality psychology.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Giovanni Pietro Lombardo or
Renato Foschi, Facoltà di Psicologia 1, Università “La Sapienza,” via dei Marsi 78, 00185 Roma,
Italy. E-mail: giovannipietro.lombardo@uniroma1.it or renatofoschi@hotmail.com


of the empirical subject, an integrated and unitary scientific approach. Whereas

the first psychology favored laboratory studies, the more modern psychology’s
research perspective appeared to be founded on a wide methodological pluralism.
Furthermore, with the American personality psychology an important paradig-
matic revolution took place: The notions of temperament and character were
progressively replaced by that of personality, and psychologists began to deal for
the first time with nonpathological personality (Craik, Hogan, & Wolfe, 1993).

Personality Psychology in Contemporary Historiography

There has been recent renewed interest in the history of personality psychol-
ogy and the naive assumption that personality psychology was born at the end of
the 1930s (Barenbaum, 1997, 2000; Danziger, 1990, 1997; Nicholson, 1996,
1997a, 1997b, 1998, 2000; Parker, 1991; Winter, 1997; Winter & Barenbaum,
1999). Most of these studies have attempted to give a detailed picture of the
American situation in the period leading up to the publication of the three
founding handbooks, and they grant a special place to Gordon Allport in institu-
tionalizing the discipline. Danziger (1997), among others, attempted an original
examination of those “situational mutations” that led to a “point of no return”
represented by personality psychology. According to Danziger (1997), the deci-
sive precondition for the “naturalization” of personality was its medicalization,
carried out in 19th-century France, and William James’s (1842–1920) adoption of
this point of view. “Certain French doctors” began to consider personality no
longer as a metaphysical principle but rather as an “embodied entity as much
prone to disease as other such entities.” Théodule Ribot (1839 –1916) defined
personality as a tout de coalition (an associated whole), a structure of empirically
measurable dimensions.
Thus the path was cleared for the componential model of personality as a
metahistorical object of knowledge, which was assimilated by American philo-
sophic and scientific culture. After all, American psychologists between 1910 and
1920 were mainly interested in collecting data about large masses of individuals,
having widely accepted the Galtonian paradigm of the measurement of individual
differences in “intellectual” phenomena by means of mental tests. American
society was experiencing a rapid growth of “demand for rationalized, impersonal
methods of social selection on a mass scale” (Danziger, 1997, p. 126); in
accordance with social management and control, it became essential to elaborate
methods for measuring and differentiating nonintellectual traits on the occasion of
U.S. mobilization for the first world war (Parker, 1991; Winter & Barenbaum,
Between 1920 and 1930, the mental hygiene movement provided a frame
within which psychologists began to measure nonintellectual dimensions to
identify cases of potential maladjustment and to prescribe therapeutic treatment;
these dimensions were studied not only as medical or pathological objects but also
as guides to foresee and prevent future psychological disturbance (Danziger,
1990; Parker, 1991). Works of applied psychology concerning nonintellectual
traits became so numerous as to require a specific subdiscipline to serve as
context; the notion of personality, already popularized and used in applications,
was adapted to define the new discipline in place of the term character, which

presented moral overtones, and the term temperament, which might appear to
psychologists to be compromised by physiological reductionism (Danziger,
1997). According to this view, starting in the 1920s, personality became inde-
pendent of abnormal psychology, which was considered a domain of psychiatry,
by both the mental hygiene movement and by social psychologists and became the
basis of a new field of scientific psychology (Barenbaum, 2000; Nicholson, 2000).
In our opinion, although this interpretation is immensely useful to explain
current American personality psychology, it overlooks some European psycho-
logical traditions that were the basis of the modern psychological study of
personality (Lombardo & Foschi, 2002). Among these traditions one must em-
phasize that of French scientific psychology, in which, as Danziger (1997) noted,
the notion of personality became for the first time a “natural object” of psycho-
logical knowledge. Danziger’s hypothesis in particular requires a closer look at
the scientific category of personality emerging in 19th-century French psycho-
logical experimentalism.
In 1987, American psychologists commemorated, in a series of celebrations,
the 50th anniversary of the birth of personality psychology. Stagner himself
considered the designation of 1937 as the year in which the discipline was born
to be a mere convention: He noted that whereas on the one hand German
experimentalists ignored the phenomena that today belong to the domain of
personality, on the other hand in the writings of Jean Martin Charcot (1825–1893)
and Pierre Janet (1859 –1947) can be discerned as “ancestral influences” on
personality psychology (Stagner, 1993, p. 24). Stagner therefore located in the
French rather than the German scientific tradition some of the original foundations
of what subsequently became the scientific study of personality.

French Origins of the Scientific and Psychological Notion of Personality

To what extent was the scientific concept of personality elaborated in France
in the 19th century? Furthermore, can a historiographical analysis reveal funda-
mental notions of the previous French research assimilated and elaborated in
subsequent personality psychology?
In France the year 1870 marks the foundation of a scientific tradition of
psychological studies with characteristics that differentiated it from the British
and German traditions. Hippolyte Taine (1828 –1893) and Ribot are remembered
as the major representatives of this current of studies; Ribot especially is consid-
ered the founder and major organizer of French psychology (Carroy & Plas, 1993,
1996; Mucchielli, 1998; Nicolas, 2002; Nicolas & Murray, 1999). Thanks to
Ribot’s work, the French psychological tradition was initially characterized by the
study of pathology, from which it is also possible to detect basic components of
normal psychology. In this sense, French experimental psychology has been a
pathological psychology in which clinical phenomena are considered as experi-
ments spontaneously offered by nature to the observer (Ribot, 1910; see also
Carroy & Plas, 1993, 1996). The volume Les Maladies de la Personnalité (The
Diseases of the Personality; Ribot, 1885) was the third of a series that also dealt
with diseases of the memory and the will, composing a sort of model on the basis
of which Ribot defined the most relevant fields of French scientific psychology.
Thus, it is legitimate to see in France the birth of a positive psychology founded

on the study of personality. Characteristic of this birth was the institution of a new
chair—psychologie expérimentale et compareé (experimental and comparative
psychology)— offered to Ribot in the Collège de France, that replaced an already
existing chair— droit de la nature et des gens (law of nature and of people; Nicolas
& Charvillat, 2001). It is no coincidence that Paul Janet (1823–1899), a philos-
opher, influential scholar, and uncle of Pierre Janet, intervening during the intense
academic debate that followed the change of title, included the psychological and
psychopathological facts linked to the notion of personality in the domain of the
“new” psychology so that experimental psychology could be distinguished from
“philosophical” psychology (Janet, 1888, pp. 540 –542).
Starting in the 1870s, various publications appeared in France dealing with
normal and pathological mutations of personality, dissociation and doubling of
personality, memory and personality, and consciousness and personality. An
extensive chapter concerning the person and the moi can be found in Taine’s
(1870) book De l’Intelligence (On Intelligence; 1870, Book I, Section IV, chapter
3). Taine claimed that the feeling of the moi, which represents the person in its
wholeness, is an integrated aggregate, not a mere sum of parts, of psychological
events (ideas, images, feelings), detached from physiological ones. Subsequently,
Taine would confirm his model of the moi on the basis of clinical observations
collected by others (Taine, 1876; see also Foschi, 2002). At roughly the same
times, Emile Littré (1801–1881), a famous lexicographer, historian, and positivist,
in his dictionary of the French language, defined personality as “what belongs
essentially to one person, what makes it that one and not another one” and added,
quoting Charles Bonnet (1720 –1793), that personality is founded on memory
(Littré, 1873). Bonnet himself, a central figure in 18th-century scientific and
psychological research, provided a seminal description of personality in the Essai
Analytique Sur les Facultés de l’Âme (Analytic Essay on the Faculties of the Soul;
1760) and in Contemplation de la Nature (Contemplation of Nature; 1764).
Bonnet described personality as an existence that coordinates through memories
and feelings and as a conscious moi, which is in turn the result of the reflection
and integration of such feelings (Bonnet, 1760, pp. 80 – 81).
In 1875, Littré published an essay in La Philosophie Positive, a journal he
edited, called “La Double Conscience. Fragment de Physiologie Psychique”
(Double Consciousness. Fragment of Psychic Physiology), which has personality
as its main theme and presents the outlines of theory of psychologie pathologique.
This article summarizes several clinical accounts that emphasize a particular
sensation, communicated by the patient, of a double existence, or describe
genuine alternative existences in the same person. On the basis of such empirical
examinations, Littré treated consciousness as the main constitutive element of
personality and showed its discontinuity, as demonstrated by the two parallel
existences in the same person that are unaware of each other. In Littré’s (1875)
words, “Consciousness or personality . . . is a product, created by the aggregation
and integration of psychic properties,” and “pathology is a perpetual experiment,”
providing data that could not be obtained in any other way (p. 335). Through the
observation of pathological facts, one can detect a disjunction (disjonction) of
consciousness or of the components of personality, which function in a unitary
way in the normal state. Littré (1875) ultimately criticized all those metaphysical
and spiritualist positions that, on the basis of revelation or philosophical intuition,

consider intellect, consciousness, and personality as a unitary product of the soul,

supporting instead a doctrine of psychic functions based on scientific observation
and rooted in what he defined as “positive philosophy” (pp. 335–336).
It is clear that Littré’s intervention took on enormous importance in the battle
against spiritualist philosophical doctrines that considered psychic facts to belong
to their own domain and did not appreciate scientific treatment of those facts. Yet
Littré, as a pupil of Auguste Comte (1798 –1857), preferred to discuss personality
in the field of psychic physiology rather than psychology, a term he considered to
have metaphysical connotations (Nicolas, Marchal, & Isel, 2000). Besides, in
1873 there was a certain agitation in the philosophical world because of the idea,
expressed in the third chapter of Ribot’s thesis, that even personality and the most
intimate components of the moi were dependent on the laws of heredity (Ribot,
1873; see also Brooks, 1998). The notion of personality became, therefore, the
battleground where old and new conceptions of psychological research confronted
each other.
From the second half of the 1870s on, various articles on psychology in the
pages of the Revue Scientifique, an important journal of the time, revealed a new
interest in the discipline and led to genuine debates by correspondence on central
research topics such as the question of measurement. The same journal also
published Ribot’s first articles on Wilhelm Wundt’s physiological psychology
(Nicolas & Murray, 1999; Nicolas, Segui, & Ferrand, 2000). In 1876, the Revue
Scientifique contained a debate between Eugène Azam (1822–1899) and Paul
Janet on the notion of personality, arranged by the editor, Émile Alglave (1842–
1928). The debate was sparked by the publication of Azam’s famous presentation,
at the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, of the case of Félida. Azam’s
first contribution to the debate describes the particular phenomena of doubling of
personality during the last 20 years of Félida’s life; then the case is placed in its
scientific context (Azam, 1876/1992; see also Carroy, 1991, 2001). In our opinion,
the main innovation found in the presentation concerns Azam’s attempt to provide
an objective description, through diagrams, of the empirical elements that make
up personality and that caused Félida’s ailments. Azam (1876/1992) asserted that
the main element of personality is memory and that Félida’s doublings of
personality are mostly definable as periodic amnesias and therefore as disconti-
nuities in the perception of existence. He kept close to a neurological explanation
of Félida’s personality pathology, which he believed originates in a shrinking of
cerebral blood vessels and consequent dysfunction of the cerebral “seat” dedi-
cated to memory.
We find in Azam’s (1876/1992) argument echoes of Bonnet’s personality
concept and a fascinating anticipation of the methods of modern neuropsychol-
ogy. This work would be seen by Taine as an empirical confirmation of his idea
of the moi (Carroy & Plas, 1993). Its importance is confirmed by the fact that, as
noted, Alglave requested a comment from Paul Janet, the prestigious representa-
tive of French eclectic spiritualism. This comment, significantly, was called “La
Notion de la Personnalité” (The Notion of Personality) (Janet, 1876). For Janet,
cases of double consciousness provide, more than dreams and somnambulism, a
chance to define what personality means. If the moi presents itself as double, what
becomes of its unity, which is the foundation of spiritualist psychological doc-
trine? Identifying personality with consciousness, Janet (1876) concluded that if,

on the one hand, personality is based on a fundamental and indivisible feeling of

the existence of the moi, on the other hand it is also based on the “feeling of
individuality” (sentiment de l’individualité), which, on the contrary, is “made up
of a variety of elements, some of which are external to the true moi” (p. 574).
There are, therefore, an internal, intimate, and indivisible moi and an external,
empirical, and social moi. Janet considered the intimate and unitary concept of the
moi a philosophical issue, but at the same time he approved the scientific study of
the external elements of personality that change and, as the clinical cases dem-
onstrate, are discontinuous. Incidentally, we should add that a comparison be-
tween Paul Janet’s conception of the moi and the 10th chapter of James’s (1890)
Principles, “Consciousness of Self,” show certain truly surprising similarities in
the argumentation.
This first debate on Félida, in the Revue Scientifique, continued until 1879.
Charles Dufay, a doctor and member of Parliament, also took part in the discus-
sion, and on the basis of his clinical experience confirmed Azam’s observations
but criticized his etiological ideas (Dufay, 1876, 1879). It is interesting to note
how Azam, after the criticism of his first presentation, accepted Janet’s compro-
mise solution, which he called “ingenious and subtle” (1876, p. 268), and left to
others the psychological consequences of his observations. In the contributions
that followed, Azam restricted himself to enriching his account and to examining
the hypothetical causes of Félida’s crises. He later claimed that they depended on
circulatory problems in the right hemisphere, which, after Paul Broca’s (1824 –
1880) discoveries about the left hemisphere, he considered the seat of memory
(Azam, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1879).
During the 1880s, the argument about personality was undoubtedly one of the
most important themes of French research. In 1880, in the pages of the Revue
Philosophique, a journal founded by Ribot and the first fundamental point of
reference of the nascent French scientific psychology, appeared an article by
Frédéric Paulhan (1856 –1931) entirely dedicated to personality. Paulhan, whose
training was philosophical, contributed frequently to the Revue Philosophique,
writing on and reviewing topics of psychology, especially personality and char-
acter. He started his initial article by questioning the idea of personality in French
spiritualist philosophy, using evidence that “positive psychology” was beginning
to provide (Paulhan, 1880). He claimed that the moi, if observed from the
empirical or “positive” point of view, is a totally different concept from the moi
of spiritualist philosophers, which turns out to be metaphysical. The empirical moi
“presents itself as a more or less continuous chain of phenomena of conscious-
ness,” whereas the metaphysical moi is nothing but a unified “representation,”
which is conditioned by the laws of representation (p. 67). Paulhan’s (1880)
contribution therefore attempted to distinguish between a metaphysical and ap-
parent conception of personality and a psychological and positive one, which with
its laws determines the first one.
In 1881, the first psychological monograph of Ribot’s famous trilogy, Les
Maladies de la Mémoire (Diseases of Memory), was published. In this work Ribot
dealt systematically with the problem of personality, taking as his main starting
point the debate on Azam’s (1876/1992) presentation. Ribot claimed that person-
ality, or the moi, is not reducible to a distinct and unitary entity but is a
combination, a result of complex states rooted in memory. Normal personality, for

Ribot, was essentially made up of two elements: (a) the sensorial feeling of one’s
body and (b) conscious memory. Illness would therefore derive from variations
among the elements that make up personality and from continuity or discontinuity
of memory (Ribot, 1881, chapter 2, paragraph 3).
Ribot’s ideas called forth other scientific presentations on the theme of normal
and pathological variations of personality. In 1882, the Revue Philosophique
published Paulhan’s essay on “Les Variations de la Personnalité a l’État Normal”
(Variations of Personality in the Normal State), and in 1883 the Revue Scientifique
contained Azam’s “Les Altérations de la Personnalité” (Alterations of Personal-
ity). Paulhan’s analysis in particular is a description of the normal functioning of
personality on the basis of his pathology and the work of Littré, Azam, Dufay, and
Ribot. He began:
Pathological phenomena seem to be an exaggeration of physiological phenomena,
and they allow us to explain the true nature of the latter and to recognize in the
normal states what would not have been possible without an analysis of patho-
logical phenomena. (1882, p. 640)

For Paulhan, personality was made up of many connected “tendencies”

which, in pathological cases, result in various “personalities” in the same indi-
vidual. The tendencies that make up personality approach unity, but the truly
unitary element in which they are rooted is the organism (1882, p. 653).
For his part, in “Les Altérations de la Personnalité,” Azam (1883) aimed to
study personality not from a physical point of view but from an intellectual or
moral one. In fact, his article is exclusively a description of behaviors observable
in particular cases caused by intoxication, cerebral pathologies, hypnosis (som-
nambulisme provoqué), and double consciousness. The article does not add much
to what Azam had already published in the first debates about Félida, with the
exception of a note he added at the end, in which he stated that he was acquainted
with an “eminent philosopher” who was about to publish a book about personality
diseases from a psychological point of view and claimed that he had dealt with the
same theme in a medical light. He hoped that the work of both writers is
completed, so as to shed light on a topic that is still highly obscure (p. 618). Azam
then introduced readers to Ribot’s Les Maladies de la Personnalité, a remarkably
successful book that appeared in a succession of editions and translations begin-
ning in 1885.
In 1883 and 1884, in fact, Ribot published three extensive articles in his Revue
Philosophique, dedicated to the organic conditions, and the affective and intel-
lectual bases, of personality. The combination of these three articles made up the
whole 1885 monograph (Ribot, 1883, 1884a, 1884b). The order of publication of
the articles reflected two key points on which Ribot’s theory was based: (a)
personality is made up of organic, affective, and intellectual dimensions, and (b)
such dimensions represent the evolutionary context in which personality should
be dealt with. The organic roots are the first elements of personality, followed by
affective dimensions and, finally, the intellectual elements are capable of account-
ing for consciousness, the highest form of individuality. Sickness sets off a
process of involution whereby these elements “dissolve” in reverse order, begin-
ning with the intellectual, then the affective, and finally the organic. Ribot’s study
of personality therefore aimed to describe scientifically individuality and “the

concrete and complex whole” of elements that constitute it—tout de coalition—

using pathology as a source of data with the ability to separate elements that
normally work in a coordinated way (Ribot, 1883, p. 620). It must be emphasized
that in his conclusions he returned to the debate with the spiritualists in order to
observe, once again, that the philosophical idea of personality as a single and
indivisible moi is not acceptable. From the psychological point of view, he
insisted, the moi is a coordination that “oscillates between pure unity and absolute
non coordination” (Ribot, 1884b, p. 446).
From 1885, personality became one of the busiest research fields for the first
generation of French psychologists (Foschi, 2002). From a perspective different
from Ribot’s, Alfred Binet (1857–1911) also undertook the study of pathological
phenomena in order to analyze normal psychology. It has been shown that he was
influenced by an alternative version—supported by Taine— of the pathological
method (Carroy & Plas, 1993). He concentrated on “singularities,” “abnormali-
ties,” and “uniqueness” in certain individuals who, being “exceptional,” could
enlighten researchers about aspects of psychic life (Plas, 1994). In this context,
Binet repeatedly returned to the study of personality. Among other things, he
published On Double Consciousness in English in 1890, and in 1892 Les Altér-
ations de la Personnalité (Alterations of Personality), a book dedicated to Ribot.
In Les Altérations de la Personnalité, Binet claimed that he wanted to take a step
beyond what was written in Les Maladies de la Personnalité. Whereas Ribot
considered the moi and personality as a coordination of more or less clear states
of consciousness, accompanied by a variety of nonconscious physiological phe-
nomena, Binet tended to make distinctions among the moi, consciousness, and
personality. Even without reaching a definitive theory on the basis of experiments
conducted through hypnosis, he refined Ribot’s thesis and attributed a particular
centrality to the study of “superior phenomena” of psychic life and therefore of
consciousness in describing the dimensions of personality that seem to be uncon-
scious (Binet, 1892, p. 316).
Binet’s inclination toward the study of “singularities” and of “superior phe-
nomena” would be incorporated, from 1895 on, in the project of developing an
individual psychology (psychologie individuelle). In this project his objective was
above all to describe the way in which psychic dimensions integrate in the
individual, rather than to classify the “average” functioning of psychic facts. Binet
would explicitly distinguish his approach from German experimental psychology,
from English anthropometrics, and from Lombrosian “anthropology” through the
particular emphasis he placed on individuality and superior psychic phenomena
and on the original use of a variety of testing techniques to measure them (Binet
& Henri, 1896; see also Binet, 1897, 1898). Therefore, Binet anticipated several
themes and methodological considerations in the scientific approach to individ-
uality of Allport’s personality psychology. Although the project of an individual
psychology gradually faded in its original formulation, it led to the events that
brought Binet, in cooperation with Theodore Simon (1873–1961), to the formu-
lation of his famous intelligence test (Fancher, 1998).
Pierre Janet’s contribution to the study of personality needs to be examined
from a different point of view. In all of Janet’s work, in fact, personality is a
crucial element. In his earliest articles, which appeared in the Revue Philos-
ophique from 1886 on, he already was dealing with the theme of dissociation of

personality; in 1889, the notion became of central importance in Janet’s philos-

ophy dissertation, L’Automatisme Psychologique: Essai de Psychologie Expéri-
mentale sur les Formes Inférieures de l’Activité Humaine (Psychological Autom-
atism: An Essay of Experimental Psychology on the Inferior Forms of Human
Activity). Carroy and Plas (2000a, 2000b) have recently provided an acute
historical analysis of Janet’s first period of research on personality, emphasizing
its links with the previous philosophical tradition. They consider Janet’s work as
paradigmatic of a context in which the birth of French scientific psychology, far
from constituting a “fracture” with the previous philosophical tradition, turns out
in reality to be deeply indebted to it. In particular, Carroy and Plas have proved
the paradoxical thesis that spiritualist psychology, sharply attacked by Taine and
Ribot, had actually anticipated some themes of the new pathological psychology.
Pierre Janet’s work should therefore be considered as an effort to salvage concepts
elaborated by some French philosophers, especially Maine de Biran (1766 –1824),
for the new scientific psychology, based on the pathological method.
To supply further explanation it is useful to make brief reference to the
historical analysis of studies on personality that Janet made in December 1895, on
the occasion of his first lesson as Ribot’s substitute in the course of experimental
and comparative psychology at the Collège de France (Janet, 1896). Janet’s
(1896) goal was to show the historical mutations through which, from an original
metaphysical matrix, the study of personality developed into a field of experi-
mental psychology (p. 97). He thus discussed the notion of personality in philos-
ophy from ancient times to the 19th century, but in describing the transition from
philosophical psychology to scientific psychology Janet showed a certain intol-
erance toward a psychology that was still tied to metaphysics and that, with its
continuous argumentation, tended not to be satisfied with small facts but always
wanted to discuss large problems. He emphasized that the methodological limi-
tation of this psychology lies in its use of the self-observations of the phenomena
of consciousness, which in his view suffered from an excessive subjectivity and
led to abstract psychological theories. The pathological method alone, he claimed,
provides an empirical basis capable of making psychology scientific and objective
(p. 101). Janet went on to state that philosophers such as Maine de Biran,
hypnotizers, doctors, and alienists had already furnished many observations based
on the pathological method. In this sense Ribot has the merit of reassembling
these observations scattered in medical and philosophical research and thus of
creating a new scientific psychology that distinguished itself from the other
19th-century experimental traditions by its use of the psychological method.
The argument led Janet (1896) to conclude that (a) the psychological study of
personality does not refer to any metaphysical school and leaves any theoretical
position on the soul possible; (b) to study personality it is necessary to consider
feelings, images, acts, and functions of synthesis that constitute it; and (c) the
study of personality can be considered experimental because it approaches vari-
ations of the dimensions of personality from a clinical perspective. The clinical
observation of pathological phenomena is thus the only way to make the elements
and functioning of personality evident and objective (p. 103).
For Janet, personality therefore represents a boundary between the old and
new psychology. Although he tended constantly to recall and refer to psycholog-
ical concepts already elaborated in philosophy, Janet assumed that personality is

now the domain of experimental psychology and that as such it should be

considered independent from any metaphysical tradition. Incidentally, it is worth
recalling that throughout the first decades of the 20th century Janet was devel-
oping his own “personality psychology”— empirical, social, and developmen-
tal—at the same time that Allport’s model was about to emerge as the only one
capable of integrating all psychological knowledge in a precise and delimited field
of psychology, dedicated to personality (Janet, 1929).

“Personality” in American Psychology

As Danziger (1990) noted, during the 19th and 20th centuries psychological
experimentation developed throughout Europe according to three main and, in
some ways, alternative paradigms that inspired different epistemological points of
view in subsequent research: (a) Wundtian experimentalism, inaugurated in the
Leipzig laboratory; (b) the French model of clinical experiments; and (c) the
British psychometric tradition linked to the name of Francis Galton (1822–1911).
The study of personality does not seem to belong to the scientific domain of
Wundtian experimental psychology (Wundt, 1873–1874). In the works of Edward
Bradford Titchener (1867–1927), a psychologist of British origin usually remem-
bered as the most important proponent of the Wundtian tradition in the United
States, one finds no research devoted to personality (Titchener, 1896, 1901–1905).
In American scientific psychology the notion of personality was introduced by
William James (Coon, 2000; Leary, 1990; Taylor, 1996). The 10th chapter of
Principles of Psychology (James, 1890) contains a description of the construct of
the “self” and definitions of phenomena linked to the notion of personality. In it,
James introduced the themes of the conflict between different selves and of
personal identity. He maintained that identity is formed by the individual percep-
tion of transitive states of consciousness; such states are perceived as memories
that show an inherent constitutive discontinuity. Identity therefore presents mu-
tations that reveal themselves especially in the pathology of psychological phe-
nomena. The main reference here is to the French tradition of experimental
psychology; James referred to, and showed a close acquaintance with, Azam,
Taine, Ribot, Binet, and Pierre Janet. Janet is the most quoted author in the 10th
chapter of the Principles (Ferreri, 2000). James’s 1890 essay “The Hidden Self”
is a true homage to Janet’s “clinical experimentation” and to the French tradition
of personality studies (James, 1890/1983a; see also Taylor, 1996).
As Taylor (1996) noted, James elaborated an original formulation of the
concept of personality in “Person and Personality,” an encyclopedia entry pub-
lished in 1895 (James, 1895/1983b). In it, he deals with some theoretical and
scientific problems linked to the notion. Quoting John Locke (1632–1704), he
claimed that personality is the effect of consciousness and individual memories.
For James, the observation in a single individual of simultaneous or successive
different consciousnesses gives scientific and psychological importance to per-
sonality. Discontinuities of memory—memories that alternate between oblivion
and reminiscence during wakefulness, sleep, or hypnosis— empirically demon-
strate the existence of particular states in individual consciousness. Cases of
alternate personalities, trance, and demonic possession are “facts” that pose a
scientific question about the unifying principle of personality and take on critical

relevance in the face of idealist and spiritualist philosophical trends. An urgent

task of psychology, James insisted, is to analyze the meaning and the limitations
posed by the phenomena studied during early scientific research on personality
and individual consciousness.
In the first decades of the 20th century, in the works of Morton Prince
(1854 –1929), one finds further references to the experimental and clinical study
of personality from which a debt to the French psychological tradition can be
inferred (Prince, 1929). In 1906, Prince published The Dissociation of a Person-
ality, in which the famous case of Miss Beauchamp was described, and in the
same year he founded the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, which published
various articles about personality and, during the first years of its activity, many
essays by Pierre Janet, including the first article in the first volume (Janet, 1906).
Renamed the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology in 1921,
the journal dedicated many articles to topics that would turn out to be fundamental
for the development of personality psychology (Barenbaum, 2000). A thorough
review of its issues shows a discontinuity between a French clinical model and a
Galtonian psychometric model of experimentation on personality. Danziger
(1990) indeed remarked that in 1925 the journal, on becoming a publication of the
American Psychological Association and newly retitled as the Journal of Abnor-
mal and Social Psychology (JASP), showed a drastic change in the methodolog-
ical approach of published articles. Whereas in 1924, 80% of the empirical articles
published were based on the study of individual cases, this proportion fell to 25%
in the following year, when there was a preponderance of empirical articles using
the psychometric model. At the same time, JASP published some of Gordon
Allport’s early articles on the notions of trait and personality (F. H. Allport &
Allport, 1921; G. W. Allport, 1924, 1929, 1931).
In our opinion, James’s (1890) Principles and Wundt’s (1873–1874) Grund-
züge were genuine prototypes of the systemization of psychology in subsequent
handbooks. As an example, one might cite the work of Robert Session Wood-
worth (1869 –1962). In the last chapter of Psychology: A Study of Mental Life
(1921), Woodworth described personality in terms of “the individual as a whole,
integrated or partially dissociated”; the references here are to James, Janet, Prince,
and Sigmund Freud (1856 –1939). On the other hand, Woodworth’s Experimental
Psychology (1938), a text constructed more closely on the Wundtian model,
dedicates no space to the treatment of personality. One might expect that Wood-
worth, one of the most influential popularizers of psychology in the 20th century,
would take into consideration on the one hand psychology tout court, inspired by
functionalism and open to applications, and on the other hand an experimental
psychology of Wundtian inspiration. All psychological phenomena studied in a
systematic way, including individual differences, belong to the domain of the
former, whereas the latter is limited to the exclusive study of those psychophys-
iological phenomena that are best suited to experimental and laboratory research.
Subsequent editions of Woodworth’s Psychology show the same discontinuity
found in JASP. In 1921, the chapter on personality is based on the methodology
and concepts of the French experimentalist tradition, but in the second edition of
1929 and the third edition of 1934 this tradition is gradually replaced by the
psychometric perspective of traits and of large-scale tests that represents the

dominant paradigm from which American personality psychology would derive

(Parker, 1991).
From the 1920s onward, personality psychology emerged as a sector of
scientific psychology. Through his publications, Allport became the greatest
inspirer of the “new” field of study. In his first article one sees that there is already
an attempt to move away from previous theorizations, which Allport called
“rag-bag theories of personality” because they include in a chaotic way tenden-
cies, impulses, appetites, instincts, and in general all the innate and acquired
dispositions (G. W. Allport, 1921, p. 442). A formative experience for Allport was
a postdoctoral fellowship in Germany in the fall of 1922; from this time on the
influence of William Stern’s (1871–1938) personalistic psychology, Wilhelm
Dilthey’s (1833–1911) and his pupil Eduard Spranger’s (1882–1963) “under-
standing” psychology, and the theoretical and methodological approach intro-
duced by the Gestalt psychologists were fundamental to Allportian personality
psychology (Nicholson, 1996, 2000). Along these lines, Allport published “The
Study of Undivided Personality” in JASP, in 1924. In it, he laid out the funda-
mental methodological principles of his personality psychology. To study per-
sonality, he claimed, it is necessary to study “the way in which traits are joined
together,” and this integrated totality is different from the sum of the single traits.
Allport (1924) added: “This form of combination, or form-quality, is irretrievably
lost in any scheme for the analysis of personality” (p. 140). Allport’s references
are to both Gestalt psychology and “understanding” psychology.
Allport once again dealt with the topic of “concepts of trait and personality”
in a 1927 article published in Psychological Bulletin. Allport went so far as to
claim that in carrying out a scientific study of personality one should consider the
trait as the simplest element, that it is possible to show a hierarchy among traits,
and that it is necessary to represent personality “as a Whole.” In Allport’s
psychology, personality is therefore conceived as a structure made up of different
elements that is qualitatively different from the sum of its parts. At the same time
personality is also seen as a unitary structure, describable as a stratification of
planes and as the integration of empirically detectable components.
As Nicholson (1996) pointed out, in the articles he published in the 1920s and
1930s Allport gradually elaborated the basic notions and constructs developed in
his 1937 book. An analysis of these contributions clearly shows that Allport’s
work represents an important junction in psychology: His conception of the
discipline integrates the most important psychological traditions (Lombardo &
Foschi, 2002). It was Allport who gave a single scientific dimension to these
traditions and thus made possible the emergence of a common focus for psycho-
logical research on personality. (For this purpose Allport promoted the use of
personality instead of character or temperament as an object of study in scientific
psychology). With the institutionalization of personality psychology in American
psychology, however, the French roots of the scientific study of personality were
ignored, considered as belonging more appropriately to psychopathology or
medical science; the only acknowledged European influences were the Galtonian
psychometric paradigm, personalistic psychology, “understanding” psychology,
Gestalt psychology and, finally, psychoanalysis (Nicholson, 1996; Parker, 1991).

Personality and Its Different Contexts

Both Ellenberger’s classic contribution (1970) and Hacking’s more recent
work (1995) follow the development of discoveries on personality along rigorous
philological lines, with particular reference to the French context. Ellenberger
discussed personality as a subtopic of dynamic psychiatry, regarding Janet as
essentially a doctor, a pupil of Charcot; Hacking, on the other hand, despite
dealing with the scientific study of personality as a psychopathological topic,
underlined the essential rule of French experimental psychology in the elaboration
of the scientific construct of personality. Danziger (1997) asked more resolutely
how the idea of “personality,” which once belonged to a theological, juridical, or
ethical context, became a psychological topic. As we already have remarked, he
found in the medicalization of the idea, which took place in 19th-century France,
the beginning of a process that tended to differentiate the notion from its previous
meanings and to insert it in the domain of scientific psychology.
This finding is in our opinion somewhat incomplete in supposing that the
scientific notion of personality was medicalized only thanks to “certain French
doctors,” underestimating the significance of the fact that Ribot, who was not a
doctor, used clinical observations mainly as empirical proof for a renewed
foundation of psychology; furthermore, Ribot’s argument is often rooted in
philosophy rather than in medicine (Brooks, 1998; Guillin, 1998; Nicolas, 2002).
Pierre Janet himself, during a conference at Harvard in 1906, noted that Félida’s
case was the most important empirical argument supporting the new psychology
against spiritualist philosophers and that, had it not been for Félida, it is not clear
whether it would have been possible to establish a chair of experimental psychol-
ogy at the Collège de France (Janet, 1907). The field of personality, from its
origins, was thus principally a field for confrontation with the spiritualist philos-
ophers in order to create a new psychological and “positive” point of view a prime
example of what Carroy and Plas (2000a, p. 238) called the “ambivalent relations
between psychology and the philosophical roots of the discipline.”
It is well known that in France, up to the middle of the 20th century, there was
a tradition of university education in psychology according to a philosophical and
medical model that did little to assist the discipline in its struggle for autonomy.
It is also true that the French approach to the study of personality, although it
underwent important development in national publications, suffered a kind of
eclipse in an international context. In Allport’s early personality psychology there
are no references to the French experimental tradition. This influenced historians
of psychology, who traced a discontinuity between personality of abnormal
psychology, which refers to French psychological experimentalism, and person-
ality in personality psychology. The former was thought to belong to the domain
of medical science and psychiatry, the latter to the domain of psychology.
Allport’s idea of personality, besides, was defined as a psychology of normal and
mature personality (Winter, 1997).
This conception of normality and maturity in Allport’s psychology certainly
has its roots in Stern’s personalistic psychology. In one of his last and fundamen-
tal contributions, Stern (1935/1938) explicitly excluded abnormal psychology
from the field of general psychology regarded from the personalistic standpoint.
In our opinion, however, Binet’s individual psychology project, born in the

theoretical and methodological context of French experimentalism, was a vital

reference point for Stern’s work; in the 1911 volume Die Differentielle Psycholo-
gie in ihren methodischen Grundlagen (Methodological Foundations of Differ-
ential Psychology), Binet is the most quoted author, with more than 50 references.
We would add that psychologie pathologique already constituted a specific
research field (different from the psychiatric one) at the first international psy-
chology congress (organized by the French in 1889) and that it remained such
until the international congresses held in the 1910s.
In 1937, Allport made only one important historical reference that concerns
France. Allport in fact considered that Franz Joseph Gall’s (1758 –1828) psychol-
ogy of faculties played a central role in the elaboration of a modern scientific
approach to individuality. Although he referred to various European traditions,
Allport seemed to lose sight of the French scientific tradition of the study of
personality, which had had a great influence on James. In Allport’s program
certain methodological presuppositions of French psychology are marginalized,
such as the use of the pathological method, which for Allport did not have the
importance one encounters in the French tradition. He probably considered the
French research on personality exclusively “psychopathological” and as such not
fully adaptable to his program for the foundation of a psychological discipline.
The pathological method, as a matter of fact, is not considered adequate to define
personality under the domains of general and applied psychology.

In Allport’s conception one can also note the effect of what has been called
the “enterprise culture” of 20th-century society: American personality psychology
chose as its scientific object the individual, perfectly self-conscious and therefore
normal, mature, and responsible. In enterprise cultures, high levels of individual
responsibility and cognitive maturity are required; individuals who do not mea-
sure up to these standards are inevitably marginalized, “pathologized,” and
exploited and tend to disappear from the cultural point of view as subjects of
knowledge. The techniques, objects, applications, and history of scientific re-
search are not immune to the ethical and political pressures at work in the culture
in which they exist (Douglas, 1992; Douglas & Ney, 1998; Rose, 1996; see also
Foucault, 1954, 1987).
In alternative cultures, such as that of early Third Republic France, every
individual, even the most “bizarre,” is accorded a place in society—perhaps at the
lowest level—and thus his or her own “subjectivity.” In this situation it is possible
that the story of a girl with a discontinuous consciousness may even favor the
growth of a new academic discipline: experimental psychology (Janet, 1888;
Janet, 1907). Félida thus becomes an unconscious protagonist in the “battle
between the old school and new school, the eclectic spiritualists and the positiv-
ists. . . . That humble woman, Félida, was part of the republican armory” (Hack-
ing, 1995, p. 165).
As we have noted, personality psychology spread its roots in American
science in conjunction with the need for the management and control of historical
and social phenomena, setting “normalization” as a further goal (Parker, 1991;
Winter & Barenbaum, 1999). This emphasis on normality, measurement, appli-

cations, and tests led to the predominance of the Galtonian tradition and to the
rejection of French clinical experimentalism. Although in the hierarchical and
positivistic culture of the Third Republic one could locate the rationale of a
scientific subject in the study of abnormal, bizarre, or automatic forms of behav-
ior, this was not possible in American enterprise culture in the first half of the 20th
century, in which the normal, aware, and morally responsible person was con-
sidered indispensable (Hacking, 1995; see also Nicholson, 1998). It is as if the
scientific tradition inaugurated by Ribot, despite its organizational and popular-
izing efforts, was seen by 20th-century American psychologists as poorly repre-
sentative and almost irrelevant to the process of constituting the discipline.
In reading the sources, however, one comes across a few important presup-
positions that were elaborated in the French psychology of the second half of the
19th century and can be found in 20th-century personality psychology.
1. Personality begins to be considered a psychological topic, and the study of
personality is considered a specific part of scientific psychology.
2. A scientific vision of individuality that is not exclusively that of the average
man studied through the laboratory, anthropometry, or psychometry is elaborated.
3. Personality takes on the shape of the research structure aimed to describe
and empirically evaluate the components of individuality. In this sense, there is a
conception of tout de coalition that anticipates 20th-century definitions of per-
sonality “as a whole.” There is therefore the beginning of a notion of personality
that considers different levels of integration of individuality studied through a
methodological pluralism.
4. The self (the moi) becomes a central structure of the notion of personality
and begins to be described in both empirical and social terms.
These historiographic elements are intriguing and suggest the necessity of
further research to establish the specific meaning that should be given to the
continuity and discontinuity between French psychological experimentalism and
the methods, objects, and subdisciplines of 20th-century scientific psychology.

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Received July 30, 2001
Revision received April 8, 2002
Accepted June 13, 2002 y