E. L. Thorndike Criticism - Essay

Henry Davidson Sheldon (review date 1904)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Educational Psychology, in The Dial, Vol. XXXVI, No. 428, April 16, 1904, pp. 263-65.

[In the following excerpt, Sheldon praises Educational Psychology but points out that progress in the field will be slow despite Thorndike's work.]

Students of genetic psychology or child study have long been waiting for some well-organized general survey which should present in readable form the results of the many studies in this field. Prof. E. A. Kirkpatrick, in his Fundamentals of Child Study, has attempted to meet this demand and at the same time write a text-book for class use in normal schools and colleges. The larger half of his book is devoted to a discussion of the different human instincts from infancy to manhood; the author by this method avoids the necessity of marking off and characterizing the periods of growth. Aside from instincts, the subjects dealt with are physical growth and development, native motor activities and general order of development, development of intellect, heredity, individuality, abnormalities, and child study applied in schools. Appended to each chapter is a list of questions bearing on the text but not covered by it, designed to stimulate independent thought among the students. Each chapter also contains a bibliography, well adapted for class use, of the materials used. The general bibliography at the beginning of the book is by no means as judiciously selected, works of great value by such men as Preyer, Baldwin, Sully, and Compayré being mentioned by the side of Wiggin's Children's Rights and Du Bois's Beckoning of Little Hands. This, however, is a matter of small importance. Considering the difficulties of the subject, Professor Kirkpatrick's book must be pronounced a success of the first order. The author's thorough knowledge of psychology has protected him from crude generalizations; his sense of proportion is good; the material is well digested, and the practical suggestions that he ventures upon from time to time are...

(The entire section is 846 words.)

The Dial (review date 1905)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Elements of Psychology in, The Dial, Vol. XXXIX, No. 457, July 1, 1905, p. 19.

[In the following review of Elements of Psychology, the critic praises the book but notes a lack of “desirable literary value and consistent exposition.”]

A text-book of Elements of Psychology, recently added to the considerable group that reflects the present-day interest in the subject, brings as its distinctive contribution the emphasis upon the practical reaction which the student is induced to make to the principles set before him. The author is Professor Thorndike, of the Teachers' College of Columbia University, who brings to his task vigor and insight, as well as the practical temper of one engaged in training teachers. By the constant facing of questions and exercises, the student is compelled to assume an active attitude to the pages of his text, and to reinterpret in the light of experience and reflections the conclusions which are embodied in accepted psychological doctrine. Particularly for introductory study does this method possess advantages, although it inevitably deprives the text of a desirable literary value and consistent exposition. Admitting the pertinence of the method (and there are doubtless many classes in need of this form of stimulation), one obtains from a survey of the pages an impression of decided appreciation of the students' needs and shortcomings, and likewise of the probable success with which the work will meet the needs of the situation. The excellence and completeness of the chapters on the nervous system deserve special commendation. The book is published by A. G. Seiler, New York.

Margaret Floy Washburn (review date 1912)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Animal Intelligence: Experimental Studies, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 7, March 28, 1912, pp. 193-94.

[In the following review, Washburn praises Animal Intelligence: Experimental Studies.]

All psychologists will be glad to have Thorndike's experimental work on the intelligence of animals brought together in this convenient form. The thesis on “Animal Intelligence,” which was for many of us the first intimation that a real science of comparative psychology was possible, has been for some time out of print. It is here reprinted, together with the paper on “The Instinctive Reactions of Young Chicks,” the “Note on the...

(The entire section is 1144 words.)

F. C. Bartlett (review date 1945)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Man and His Works, in Mind, Vol. LIV, No. 213, January, 1945, pp. 161-71.

[In the following review, Bartlett asserts that his impression of Thorndike as an ingenious researcher was confirmed after reading Man and His Works.]

Professor Thorndike plunges at once into a discussion of Nature's gifts to Man [in Man and His Works]. He prefers genetic language, and calls the gifts in which he is most interested ‘genes’. Others have called them ‘tendencies’, ‘predispositions’, ‘instincts’, and even, sometimes, ‘faculties’. Whatever name they are given they are always supposed to have some special concern with action. They...

(The entire section is 5243 words.)

Simeon Potter (review date 1945)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Man and His Works, in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 40, No. 3, July, 1945, pp. 149-50.

[In the following review, Potter finds the lectures collected in Man and His Works “eminently readable: shrewd, witty and vivacious.”]

The William James Lectures, delivered recently at Harvard by Edward Lee Thorndike, have now been published in an attractive volume bearing the comprehensive title Man and His Works. These lectures are eminently readable: shrewd, witty and vivacious. Their themes range from the inherited causative agents or ‘genes’ of the mind to the laws of man's ‘modifiability’, human relations in general, and...

(The entire section is 607 words.)

Edward L. Thorndike (essay date 1949)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Selected Writings From A Connectionist's Psychology, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1949, pp. 1-11.

[In the following introduction to Selected Writings from a Connectionist's Psychology, Thorndike provides an autobiographical account of his life and work.]

I have no memory of having heard or seen the word psychology until in my junior year at Wesleyan University (1893-1894), when I took a required course in it. The textbook, Sully's Psychology, aroused no notable interest, nor did the excellent lectures of Professor A. C. Armstrong, though I appreciated and enjoyed the dignity and clarity of his presentation and admired...

(The entire section is 3789 words.)

Geraldine M. Joncich (essay date 1962)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Science: Touchstone for a New Age in Education,” in Psychology and the Science of Education: Selected Writings of Edward L. Thorndike, edited by Geraldine M. Joncich, Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1962, pp. 1-26.

[In the following essay, Joncich explains the revolutionary influence of Thorndike's scientific method of educational psychology.]


Much has been written, both perceptive and foolish, of the influence of philosophy, politics, and business on education. Far too little, however, has been said of the influence of science. Yet science is probably the most significant fact of contemporary life,...

(The entire section is 8397 words.)

Geraldine Joncich (essay date 1968)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Thesis: A Classic in Psychology,” in The Sane Positivist: A Biography of Edward L. Thorndike, Wesleyan University Press, 1968, pp. 126-48.

[In the following excerpt from her book The Sane Positivist: A Biography of Edward L. Thorndike, Joncich explicates the major points in Thorndike's thesis “Animal Intelligence” and discusses its reception in the academic community.]

As the year 1898 opens, it finds Thorndike “covering yards of paper with ink.” While his experimental work continues until mid-February, writing has already begun on the project conceived and begun at Harvard in 1896. “The title of my thesis,” he writes Bess [Elizabeth...

(The entire section is 9212 words.)

Geraldine Joncich Clifford (essay date 1968)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “E. L. Thorndike: The Psychologist as Professional Man of Science,” in Historical Conceptions of Psychology, edited by Mary Henle, Julian Jaynes, and John J. Sullivan, eds., Springer Publishing Company, Inc., 1973, pp. 230-45.

[In the following essay, which appeared in an unabridged form in American Psychologist in 1968, and was published in 1973 in Historical Conceptions of Psychology, Clifford discusses the ways in which Thorndike propelled the notion of psychologists and educators as scientists.]

During the celebration of Thorndike's twenty-fifth year at Teachers College, Columbia psychologist James McKeen Cattell (1926) quoted William...

(The entire section is 6700 words.)

Clarence J. Karier (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Edward L. Thorndike: Toward a Science of Psychology,” in Scientists of the Mind: Intellectual Founders of Modern Psychology, University of Illinois Press, 1986, pp. 89-105.

[In the following essay, Karier explores the larger cultural and ethical implications of Thorndike's focus on the science of education.]

In one of his rare ventures into fictional writing, Edward L. Thorndike, America's most influential educational psychologist, wrote a very revealing morality play, The Miracle. In it he assumed the character of Dr. Richard Cabot, who, discoursing with a traditional clergyman, said:

My God is all the good in...

(The entire section is 6334 words.)

Barbara Beatty (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “From Laws of Learning to a Science of Values: Efficiency and Morality in Thorndike's Educational Psychology,” in American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 10, October, 1998, pp. 1145-52.

[In the following essay, Beatty discusses the ways in which Thorndike developed and then marketed his notions about using scientific methodology in educational psychology to create an empirical way of measuring morality and character.]

In the first sentence of the expanded 1911 edition of Animal Intelligence Edward L. Thorndike listed “intellect” and “character” (Thorndike, 1911, p. 1) as the two topics of behavioristic psychology. Thorndike researched and...

(The entire section is 6840 words.)

Donald A. Dewsbury (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Celebrating E. L. Thorndike a Century After Animal Intelligence,” in American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 10, October, 1998, pp. 1121-24.

[In the following essay, Dewsbury provides an overview of Thorndike's life and career.]

This is a year in which to celebrate the career of one of the most productive and influential of all American psychologists, Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949). It is the centenary of the publication of his doctoral dissertation, “Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of the Associative Processes in Animals” (E. L. Thorndike, 1898), a key work in shifting the focus of much thought about animal behavior and in the...

(The entire section is 2760 words.)

Bennett G. Galef, Jr. (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Edward Thorndike: Revolutionary Psychologist, Ambiguous Biologist,” in American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 10, October, 1998, pp. 1128-34.

[In the following essay, Galef argues that while Thorndike's contributions to the field of comparative psychology as an empiricist are invaluable, his misconceptions about biology remain damaging to his discipline.]

Publication in June 1898 of Edward Thorndike's doctoral thesis, [Animal Intelligence] the first dissertation in psychology in which animals served as subjects, marked a turning point in the history of the study of behavior in North America. There can be little question that Thorndike knew that his thesis...

(The entire section is 5122 words.)