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|Pierre Janet’s Evolutionism : A Guideline For Assessment and Reformulation|
I. Saillot, PhD
Institut Pierre Janet
I. Saillot, PhD.
Institut Pierre Janet
23 rue de La Rochefoucauld
75009 Paris, France
tél : + 33 (0)6 61 78 76 04
fax : + 33 (0)1 42 81 11 17
Pierre Janet’s views on evolution pertain to a historical model with many facets bearing specific roles in his psychology grounding. A detailed investigation of such conceptual elementary components will be attempted here, from quotations from his works will help finding a definition fitting his views, showing that Pierre Janet adopted the prevalent views around 1900. This diagnostic of Pierre Janet’s evolutionism will be compared to some critiques that have been made to theories close to his own, rooted in this nineteenth century biology also. Since Pierre Janet expressed his evolutionary system, evolutionary biology underwent major paradigmatic changes : the question of how the components of Pierre Janet’s psychology grounding suffered from these biological research advances will be addressed.
Pierre Janet’s evolutionism lies in his psychology more than in his psychiatry
Pierre Janet’s evolutionism has been attested by historians (Ellenberger, 1970; Prévost, 1973a/73b; Braunstein, J.-F. & Pewzner, E, 1999), who generally agree that he became evolutionist around the 1920s. The situation seems in fact more complex, because chronology is not the only parameter, but also his kinds of writings. Pierre Janet’s work can be divided into four parts : research articles (1885 – 1946), Lessons at The College de France (1901 – 1934), books (1889 – 1932) and other writings that don’t enter the three first ones, such as occasional discourses or book reviews. As for the three first ones, these works display different uses of evolutionary concepts, related to their proportion of psychology vs. psychiatry. I will call Pierre Janet’s « psychiatry » this part of his work dealing with diagnosis and treatment of the neuroses, while Pierre Janet’s “psychology” will be the part of his work addressing the psychological interpretation of his psychiatry, and all of his works focused on conducts, ideas, beliefs, feelings and will, as theoretical main issues.
Pierre Janet’s psychiatry has never been strongly rooted in evolutionism, it’s his psychology that used an evolutionary grounding. From his first articles on hysteria to his last ones, Pierre Janet’s diagnosis and treatment methods scarcely relied on evolutionary concepts. Till 1926, all of his books made an important room to psychiatric concerns : hence, till 1926 none of them were profoundly dependant on evolutionary biology, while about 70% of his research articles dealt with medical issues, and addressed evolution no more than his books.
In 1926, with « De l'angoisse à l'extase. Études sur les croyances et les sentiments », (Janet, 1926-28), Pierre Janet’s books became less psychiatric, and more focused on psychology. These works have been rooted in evolutionary biology since the beginning. His Lessons at The College de France, being psychological by definition of his Chair, started to be overtly evolutionary earlier. As soon as in 1909, he was already writing « Les tendances sont des sytèmes de faits physiologiques et psychologiques associés entre eux au cours de l’évolution… » (Janet, 1909a). After 1926, 50% of Pierre Janet’s research articles being psychological, depended on evolutionary issues too.
We assume that Pierre Janet’s psychiatry didn’t involve much biology because it was grounded in his psychology. There are certainly advanced epistemological studies about the nature of the « grounding » relationship between two theories, and it would be most relevant to go into this more in depth. But here, let’s chose a very simple definition, stating that when a field is grounding by another field, they’re linked by a law of causality, the first one « explaining » the second one. According to this, within Pierre Janet’s works, the laws of psychology explain the psychiatric facts, in other words, psychiatry is applied psychology. Both field can be regarded autonomous nevertheless: breaking the causality bond between them renders psychology theoretical, and psychiatry descriptive. Stating that Pierre Janet’s psychology is grounded in evolutionary biology lead to the same pattern. With its causality inside biology, Pierre Janet’s psychology is applied biology. Without this causality bond, Pierre Janet’s psychology is descriptive, and autonomous.
Pierre Janet often stated that his works were descriptive, arguing that the psychological « sciences » were not advanced enough to produce explanations, but only descriptions. Those statements account for his strong involvement in clinical psychology (i.e. descriptions of the individual cases), and lead Claude Prévost to compare Pierre Janet’s psychology with Husserl’s phenomenology. However, it seems that Pierre Janet has not always followed pure descriptive intentions. In fact, he interpreted his clinical cases, often overtly claiming to do so. This accounts for his psychiatry being grounded in psychology. But there’s more, he even interpreted his own psychological results (themselves interpretations of his psychiatric cases), and there lies the grounding of his psychology into evolutionary biology.
Because epistemologically this grounding relationship can be broken in principle, Pierre Janet’s psychology can be said autonomous, and surely is. Nevertheless, the scope of this article is not to show how Pierre Janet’s psychology is autonomous (this would require an entire study), but on the contrary to show the limits of its autonomy. These limits can be investigated simply, as a preliminary study, by tracking a few concepts clearly rising at the borderline : evolution, development, adaptation, progress, stages and a few others that Pierre Janet’s quotations will provide. It will be claimed here that these concepts don’t belong to Pierre Janet’s psychology main results, hence rescuing his psychology autonomy and validity, but are nevertheless the ones modern Janetian research must be particularly cautious about.
Pierre Janet’s evolutionary biology
Because Pierre Janet gave much importance to the evolutionary grounding of his psychology, and because he is mostly remembered and quoted, paradoxically, as a evolutionist alienist, it is certainly an important issue to understand what he meant by this concept of « evolution ».
Unfortunately, he doesn’t give an accurate definition of what he thought about. Even when he addresses the issue directly, for instance in a chapter dedicated to « L’Evolution » in « L’Évolution de la mémoire et de la notion du temps » (Janet, 1928b), as well as in a related article (Janet, 1928a), it seems that he takes for granted that the audience will understand the meaning, and will merely need his point of view and examples. Nevertheless, he wrote very much about evolution, and some quotations from his work will make it possible to build a pattern fitting his views about what evolution is, how it works, and what are its consequences, summarized here in 6 points.
1 – Evolution is double sided. On one hand it’s a gradual transformation of the individual during its daily life, on the other hand, it is the transformation of its « race », which takes place over longer periods.
2 – Conducts evolve and develop to adapt ever better to circumstances : they are useful. As a consequence, evolution goes towards perfection.
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