Classics in the History of Psychology

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

(Return to index)

Classics Editor's note: The original page numbers of the Judd translation are given in square brackets. The page numbers given in round brackets are Wundt's own references to earlier parts of the translation.

Outlines of Psychology

Wilhelm Max Wundt (1897)

Translated by Charles Hubbard Judd (1897)



1. There are three general psychological laws of relation. We designate them as the laws of psychical resultants, of psychical relations, and of psychical contrasts.

2. The law of psychical resultants finds its expression in the fact that every psychical compound shows attributes which may indeed be understood from the attributes of its elements after these elements have once been presented, but which are by no means to be looked upon as the mere sum of the attributes of these elements. A compound clang is more in its ideational and affective attributes than merely a sum of single tones. In spacial [sic] and temporal ideas the spacial [sic] and temporal arrangement is conditioned, to be sure, in a perfectly regular way by the cooperation of the elements that make up the idea, but still the arrangement itself can by no means be regarded as a property belonging to the sensational elements themselves. The nativistic theories that assume this implicate themselves in contradictions that cannot be solved; and besides, in so far as they admit subsequent changes in the original space-perceptions and time-perceptions, they are ultimately driven to the assumption of the rise, to some extent at least, of new attributes. Finally, in the apperceptive functions and in the activities of imagination and understanding, this law finds expression in a clearly recognized form. Not only do the elements united by apperceptive synthesis gain, in the aggregate idea that results from their combination, a new significance which they did not have in their isolated state, but what is of still greater importance, the aggregate idea itself is a new psychical content that was made possible, to be sure, by these elements, but was by no means contained in them. This appears most strikingly in the more complex [p. 322] productions of apperceptive synthesis, as, for example, in a work of art or a train of logical thought.

3. The law of psychical resultants which expresses a principle which we may designate, in view of its results, as a principle of creative synthesis. This has long been recognized in the case of higher mental creations, but generally not applied to the other psychical processes. In fact, through an unjustifiable confusion with the laws of physical causality, it has even been completely reversed. A similar confusion is responsible for the notion that there is a contradiction between the principle of creative synthesis in the mental world and the general laws of the natural world, especially that of the conservation of energy. Such a contradiction is impossible from the outset because the points of view for judgment, and therefore for measurements wherever such are made, are different in the two cases, and must be different, since natural science and psychology deal, not with different contents of experience, but with one and the same content viewed from different sides (§ 1, p. 3). Physical measurements have to do with objective masses, forces, and energies. These are supplementary concepts which we are obliged to use in judging objective experience; and their general laws, derived as they are from experience, must not be contradicted by any single case of experience. Psychical measurements, which are concerned with the comparison of psychical components and their resultants, have to do with subjective values and ends. The subjective value of the whole may increase in comparison with that of its components; its purpose may be different and higher than theirs without any change in the masses, forces, and energies concerned. The muscular movements of an external volitional act, the physical processes that accompany sense-perception, association, and apperception, will follow invariably the principle of the conservation of energy. [p. 323] But the mental values and ends that these energies represent may be very different in quantity even while the quantity of these energies remains the same.

4. The differences pointed out show that physical measurement deals with quantitative values, that is, with quantities that admit of a variation in value only in the one relation of the quantity of the phenomena measured. Psychical measurement on the other hand, deals in the last instance in every case with qualitative values, that is, values that vary in degree only in respect to their qualitative character. The ability to produce purely quantitative effects, which we designate as physical energy is, accordingly, to be clearly distinguished from the ability to produce qualitative effects, or the ability to produce values, which we designate as psychical energy.

On this basis we can not only reconcile the increase of psychical energy with the constancy of physical energy as accepted in the natural sciences, but we find in the two reciprocally supplementary standards for the judgment of our total experience.. The increase of psychical energy is not seen in its right light until it is recognized as the reverse, subjective side of physical constancy. The former, being as it is indefinite, since the measure may be very different under different conditions, holds only under the condition that the psychical processes are continuous. As the psychological correlate of this increase we have the fact which forces itself upon us in experience, that psychical values disappear.

5. The laws, of psychical relations supplements that of resultants; it refers not to the relation of the components of a psychical interconnection to the value of the whole, but rather to their reciprocal relation. The law of resultants thus holds for the synthetic processes of consciousness, the law of relations for the analytic. Every resolution of a conscious content into its single members is an act of relating analysis. [p. 324]

Such a resolution takes place in the successive apperception of the parts of a whole which is ideated at first only in a general way, a process which is to be seen in sense-perceptions and associations, and then in clearly recognized form in the division of aggregate ideas. In the same way, every apperception is an analytic process whose two factors are the emphasizing of one single content and the marking off of this one content from all others. The first of these two partial processes is what produces clearness, the second is what produces distinctness of apperception (p. 208, 4). The most complete expression of this law is to be found in the processes of apperceptive analysis and the simple relating and comparing functions upon which it is based (p. 250 and 260). In the latter more especially, we see that the essential content of the law of relations is the principle that every single psychical content receives its significance from the relations in which it stands to other psychical contents. When these relations are quantitative, this principle takes the form of a principle of relative quantitative comparison such as is expressed in Weber's law (p. 254).

6. The law of psychical contrasts is, in turn, supplementary to the law of relations. It refers, like the latter, to the relations of psychical contents to one another., It is itself based on the fundamental division of the immediate contents of experience into objective and subjective components, a division which is due to the very conditions of psychical development. Under subjective components are included all the elements and combinations of elements which, like the feelings and emotions are essential constituents of volitional processes. These are all arranged in groups made up of opposite qualities corresponding to the chief affective directions of pleasurable and unpleasurable, exciting and depressing, straining and relaxing feelings (p. 83). These opposites obey in their succession the [p. 325] general law of intensification through contrast In its concrete application, this law is always determined in part by special temporal conditions, for every subjective state requires a certain period for its development; and if, when it has once reached its maximum, it continues for a long time, it loses its ability to arouse the contrast-effect. This fact is connected with the other, that there is a certain medium, though greatly varying, rate of psychical processes most favorable for the intensity of all feelings and emotions.

This law of contrast has its origin in the attributes of the subjective contents of experience, but is secondarily applied to the ideas and their elements also, for these ideas are always accompanied by more or less emphatic feelings due either to their own content onto the character of their spacial [sic] and temporal combination. Thus the principle of intensification through contrast finds its broader application especially in the case of certain sensations, such as those of sight, and in the case of spacial [sic] and temporal ideas.

7. The law of contrast stands in close relation to the two preceding laws. On the one hand, it may be regarded as the application of the general law of relations to the special case where the related psychical contents range between opposites. On the other hand, the fact that under suitable circumstances antithetical psychical processes may intensify each other, while falling under the law- of contrast, is at the same time a special application of the principle of creative synthesis.