BAIN Alexander—philosopher and psychologist, b. in Aberdeen in 1818, d. in Aberdeen in 1903.
Alexander Bain studied in Marischal College in Aberdeen. He was a professor and lecturer of the philosophy of nature at the University of Glasgow (from 1845), and of logic in Aberdeen (1860–1880), where he also held the post of rector. He initiated the publication of “Mind” (from 1876), a scientific journal dedicated to studies on the border of philosophy and psychology.
In his works: The Senses and the Intellect (Lo 1855, 18944); The Emotions and the Will (Lo 1859, 18994; Logic (I–II, Lo 1870; Logika [Logic], I–II, Wwa 1978); Mind and Body (Lo 1873, 18765; Umysł i ciało [Mind and body], Wwa 1874); Education as a Science (Lo 1879; Nauka wychowania [Science of education], Wwa 1880); John Stuart Mill. A Criticism (Lo 1882, NY 1969); Autobiography (Lo 1980), Bain presented the major theses of empiricism in philosophy and psychology. In his philosophical thought he was the most active and creative continuator of British empiricism. He is regarded as a thinker whose views are a unique bridge between the philosophy of J. S. Mill (1806–1873) and J. Mill (1773–1836), and (in psychology) D. Hartley (1705–1757), and the philosophy of K. Pearson (1857–1936). With Pearson he is regarded as the chief representative of scientism. Bain thought that the only valid type of knowledge is strictly scientific knowledge. Only this kind of knowledge is a condition of progress of individuals and entire societies. He carried on the critical position toward all attempts to build a system of metaphysics as the branch of philosophy that claims to show the properties of things and phenomena. In his epistemological agnosticism he held that metaphysics is not able to assert the existence of the world beyond doubt. All philosophical knowledge can be reduced to impressions alone.
In ethics Bain was a declared utilitarian. He believed that the whole world (including all man’s action) is subject to complete determination. One effect of this position is an empiricist conclusion on the origin of morality: morality is a simple effect of experience broadly understood and it is the fruit of various social pressures and sanctions (ethical sociologism). We see here explicitly utilitarian thought, although in many passages Bain tried to break through the principle of utility that was generally binding in this doctrine and thought that many other factors must be taken into account. From the psychologist’s point of view, he sought the empirical foundations of moral obligation. He did not want to construct an a priori theory of ethics, but wanted to consider in his studies the role of conscience as an “internal power” and a feeling of obligation.
In his psychology as in his philosophical thought, Bain’s ideas were focussed on the major principles of the thought of the British empiricists, especially associationism based on the belief that man’s psychological life is regulated by laws of association; this is the fundamental psychological process concerning human impressions and mental images. Bain’s aspirations went further—he wanted to construct empirical psychology as a distinct science that used the method of introspection and what have as its basic task to treat the human psyche in purely mechanistic terms. Here Bain connected strictly psychological processes (the volitional and emotional aspect of man’s life) with their foundations of a physiological nature (so-called physiological psychology), which would indicate a materialistic interpretation of his views and—despite pushing on the margins of metaphysical question—seem to represent in this respect a position close to subjectivistic idealism.
G. S. Brett, A History of Psychology, I, Lo 1912, 19622 (Historia psychologii [History of psychology], Wwa 1969); E. Tegen, Moderne Willenstheorien, I, Up 1924; E. G. Boring, A History of Experimental Psychology, NY 1929, 1950, 233–240; Copleston HPh VIII 97–102.