An Introduction to some of the Fathers of Psychology

Psychology has been around in some form for thousands of years. It seems as though humans have always had a need to understand how their minds work and why. There are many schools of thought in the field of psychology and just as many men who came up with those schools of thought. It can be rather confusing to try to figure out exactly who the father of psychology really was, so many great thinkers contributed to the development of modern day psychology.

Some of those men are well known and are featured in school lessons and some are not so well known outside of the field of psychology. To name every single great thinker who had an impact on psychology in some way would take more time than is allotted here. The other factor to consider is that not everyone can agree on who the fathers of psychology really are, but most can agree that certain men made important contributions.   


Some view Aristotle as the philosopher who laid the groundwork for psychology. He was the first thinker credited with dividing human knowledge into different categories to be better studied and understood. His book “De Anima,” which means “On the Soul” (350 BC), is believed to be the first book about psychology. 

Aristotle was Plato’s best student, although Aristotle’s philosophies were different from his teacher. Aristotle lived from 384-322 BC and was a teacher, philosopher and scientist. 

Wilhelm Wundt

Born in Germany in 1832, Wilhelm Wundt was both a student of physiology and science. He is credited with making the study of psychology an accepted field of science. He accomplished this breakthrough with the use of lab studies. Part of his innovative thinking included the study of introspection. Introspection was how a subject experienced a stimulant, without describing the stimulant itself. 

Wundt published many works in his professional career and even wrote and published an autobiography. His 10-volume work, “Folk Psychology,” has had an interesting impact on the study of psychology, even today. Wilhelm Wundt died in 1920. His introspection theories are not used in modern psychology; however, his contribution to the field is still felt today.  

Sigmund Freud

Born in Austria in 1856, Sigmund Freud would become one of the most influential and controversial psychologists of all time. He is well known for his studies of the ego, as well as sexuality. He is considered the father of psychoanalysis, which is the analysis of a patient by the study and interpretation of his/her dreams, free associations and fantasies.

Many of Freud’s contemporaries felt he put too much emphasis on sexuality and thought it was rather scandalous. Some of his theories and ideas did gain positive recognition after he gave a series of talks in America in 1909. Freud died in London, England, in 1939; he was fighting oral cancer. 

William James

Sometimes James is referred to as the father of American psychology. He taught psychology at Harvard for thirty-five years. James also wrote and published two text books that were used for many years in the psychology classroom. The books were: “The Principles of Psychology” (1890) and “Psychology: The Briefer Course”(1892). James also founded the first experimental psychology laboratory in the United States. 

It is rather interesting to note that William James suffered from health issues, as well as bouts of depression. Perhaps it is these maladies that encouraged him to seek out psychology as a professional study. 

This has been a brief discussion on some of the great thinkers sometimes referred to as fathers of psychology. There is no question that each man (and many more) made significant contributions to modern-day schools of thought on a very broad topic.