James Mark Baldwin (January 12, 1861 – November 8, 1934) was an American philosopher and psychologist who made important contributions to early psychology, psychiatry, and to the theory of evolution. Baldwin's work, while not as well known as that of several of his contemporaries, profoundly influenced developmental psychology, and proposed the stage theory of development that was later advanced by the cognitive developmentalist Jean Piaget. His ideas, emphasizing the part played by cultural practices in human evolution, also advanced evolutionary thought in psychology, contributing to efforts to understand how human beings have developed, both in terms of their physical and mental abilities. Despite his valuable insights, however, Baldwin failed to recognize that human beings, through self-centeredness, have deviated from a nature that would establish a society in which each person could achieve their full potential.
James Mark Baldwin was born in on January 12, 1861, in Columbia, South Carolina. His early intention was to study ministry, but later, after being influenced by his professor and then the president of Princeton University, James McCosh (1811–1894), he decided to study psychology. He was particularly drawn by the empirical method to psychology that McCosh was emphasizing, which was rare in the time of philosophical psychology. Baldwin’s career was characterized by an empirical approach to his studies.
After graduating from Princeton in 1884, Baldwin received the Green Fellowship in Mental Science to continue his studies in Germany. He studied from 1884 to 1885 with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig and with Friedrich Paulsen at Berlin.
In 1885, he became instructor in French and German at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He translated Théodule-Armand Ribot's German Psychology of Today, and wrote his first paper, entitled The Postulates of a Physiological Psychology. In 1887, while working as a professor of philosophy at Lake Forest College, Baldwin married Helen Hayes Green, the daughter of the president of Princeton Seminary. At Lake Forest, he published the first part of his Handbook of Psychology, in which he directed the attention to the new experimental psychology of Ernst Heinrich Weber, Gustav Fechner, and Wundt.
In 1889, he went to the University of Toronto as the chair of logic and metaphysics. His creation of a laboratory of experimental psychology at Toronto (the first such in Canada) coincided with the birth of his daughters Helen (1889) and Elisabeth (1891), which inspired him to conduct quantitative and experimental research on infant development. His work from this period, Mental Development in the Child and the Race: Methods and Processes (1894), later made a strong impact on Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg.
During this creative phase, Baldwin traveled to France (1892) to visit the important psychologists Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière Hospital, Hippolyte Bernheim, and Pierre Janet.
In 1893, he was called back to his alma mater, Princeton, where he was offered the Stuart Chair in Psychology and the opportunity to establish a new psychology laboratory. He would stay at Princeton till 1903 working out the highlights of his career, as reflected in Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development (1897).
In 1892, he became the vice-president of the international Congress of Psychology held in London, and in 1897–1898 he served as president of the American Psychological Association. He received a gold medal from the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of Denmark (1897), and was an honorary president of the International Congress of Criminal Anthropology held in Geneva in 1896.
By the end of the century, work on the Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology (published in 1902) had been announced and a period of intense philosophical correspondence ensued with the contributors to the project: William James, John Dewey, Charles Sanders Peirce, Josiah Royce, George Edward Moore, James McKeen Cattell, Edward B. Titchener, Hugo Münsterberg, and others. In 1899, Baldwin went to Oxford University to supervise the completion of the Dictionary. There, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in science.
In 1903, partly as a result of a dispute with Princeton President Woodrow Wilson, partly due to an offer involving more pay and less teaching, he moved to a professorship of philosophy and psychology at Johns Hopkins University where he reopened the experimental laboratory that had been founded by G. Stanley Hall in 1884, but later closed with Hall's departure.
In Baltimore, Baldwin started to work on Thoughts and Things: A Study of the Development and Meaning of Thought or Genetic Logic (1906), a densely integrative rendering of his ideas. It was in Baltimore that Baldwin was arrested in a raid on a brothel (1908), a scandal that put an end to his American career. Forced to leave Johns Hopkins, he looked for residence in Paris, France. He was to reside in France till his death in 1934.
However, before moving to France, Baldwin worked in Mexico, advising on university matters and lecturing at the School of Higher Studies at the National University in Mexico City. After five years in Mexico, during which time he completed the three volumes of Thoughts and Things, he took up permanent residence in Paris.
Baldwin's residence in France resulted in his pointing out the urgency of American non-neutral support for his new hosts on the French battlefields of World War I. When in 1916 he survived a German torpedo attack on the Sussex in the English Channel, on the return trip from a visit to William Osler at Oxford, his open telegram to the president of the United States on the affair became front-page news in the New York Times. With the entry of America into the war in 1917, he helped to organize the Paris branch of the American Navy League, acting as its chairman till 1922.
Baldwin died in Paris on November 9, 1934.
James Mark Baldwin was prominent among early experimental psychologists (voted by his peers the fifth most important psychologist in America in a 1902 survey conducted by James McKeen Cattell), but it was in his work in developmental psychology and evolutionary psychology that his contributions were the greatest.
His step-wise theory of cognitive development was a major influence on the later, and much more widely known, stage theory of Jean Piaget. Baldwin constructed his theory based on his interpretation of the observable data in his experimental studies of infant-reaching and its role in mental development. Baldwin noticed that mental development of a child is parallel with its physical development. Moreover, he noticed that child learns behaviors in stages, or “steps.” Every practice of the infant's movement intended to advance the integration of behavior, making them more complex. Baldwin rooted his step-wise theory of individual development in his theory of evolution, which he called “organic selection.”
Baldwin's most important theoretical legacy is the concept of the Baldwin effect or "Baldwinian evolution." This proposes a mechanism for specific selection for general learning ability. Selected offspring would tend to have an increased capacity for learning new skills rather than being confined to genetically coded, relatively fixed abilities. In effect, it places emphasis on the fact that the sustained behavior of a species or group can shape the evolution of that species.
Baldwin proposed that individual learning can explain evolutionary phenomena that appear to support Lamarckian inheritance. He saw the Baldwin Effect, which he called "organic selection," as a reconciliation between Lamarckian evolution and Darwinian evolution. He proposed that the ability of individuals to learn can guide the evolutionary process, facilitating evolution by smoothing the "fitness landscape." Baldwin further proposed that abilities that initially require learning are eventually replaced by the evolution of genetically determined systems that do not require learning. Thus, learned behaviors may become instinctive behaviors in subsequent generations, without invoking the discredited Lamarckian inheritance. Unlike Lamarckian evolution, it does not involve direct transfer of learned abilities from generation to generation.
As an example, suppose a species is threatened by a new predator and there is a behavior that makes it more difficult for the predator to catch their prey. Individuals who learn the behavior more quickly will obviously be at an advantage. As time goes on the ability to learn the behavior will improve (by genetic selection), and at some point it will seem to be an instinct.
Baldwin's proposal, therefore, was that there is a mechanism whereby epigenetic factors come to shape the genome as much as, or more than, natural selection pressures. In particular, human behavioral decisions made and sustained across generations as a set of cultural practices ought to be considered among the factors shaping the human genome.
Baldwin’s contribution to psychology is significant. His biosocial theory of mind, as discussed in Mental Development in the Child and the Race (1895), influenced subsequent generations of thinkers, among the most noted being Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget. His empirical method was an overture to the rise of the functionalist approach that dominated American psychology for the next hundred years. His theory of organic selection was an early pioneering effort to introduce into psychology a mechanism of evolution, which resurfaced again in the late twentieth century with the proliferation of evolutionary psychology.
His contributions to the young discipline's early journals were highly significant as well. Baldwin was a co-founder (with James McKeen Cattell) of Psychological Review (which was founded explicitly to compete with G. Stanley Hall's American Journal of Psychology), Psychological Monographs, and Psychological Index, and he was the founding editor of the Psychological Bulletin.
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