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Author of Psychology: An Introductory Study of the Structure and Function of Human Consciousness (1906); Chapters from Modern Psychology (1912); American Education (1937).

The Chicago school of functionalism came about in large part because of the scholarship of James Rowland Angell (8 May 1869–4 March 1949), while working with John Dewey at the University of Chicago.

Angell, who became the formally recognized leader of functionalist psychology, was born in Burlington, Vermont, into a family of academics. His maternal grandfather, Alexis Caswell, was Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, and President of Brown University. His father, James Burrill Angell, was Professor of Modern Languages at Brown University, President of the University of Vermont, and President of the University of Michigan. Angell’s brother, Alexis Caswell Angell, was a prominent lawyer, federal judge, and lecturer at the University of Michigan Law School. His father’s position as President of the University of Michigan brought young James into contact with many well-known figures of the time who contributed to his early education—Matthew Arnold, Andrew White, Canon Farrar, and Grover Cleveland.

Angell received his bachelor’s degree in 1890 and his master’s degree in 1891 from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. While at Michigan, Angell worked closely with Dewey, from whom he took courses in ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and Hegel’s logic. After a graduate seminar on William James’s Principles of Psychology in 1890, Angell went to Harvard to study with James and work in his newly created psychology laboratory.

Angell spent one year at Harvard before going abroad to study with Wilhelm Wundt at the Leipzig laboratory in Germany. Wundt’s laboratory was full, however, so Angell instead worked with Professor Hans Vaihinger at the University of Halle. During his second semester, Angell presented himself as a candidate for a doctorate degree. He presented his thesis on the treatment of freedom in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) compared with the treatment of freedom in the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). His thesis was accepted with the stipulation that he translate it into acceptable German. While revising his thesis, Angell was offered a position at the University of Minnesota as an instructor in Philosophy and Psychology, which meant he would be unable to complete his degree at that time. Angell chose to take the position, with plans to complete his degree at a later time. The opportunity to finish his degree, however, never presented itself.

Angell spent a year at the University of Minnesota, and in 1894, accepted a position at the University of Chicago as Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Dewey was the newly appointed head of the department. Angell spent the next 26 years at the University of Chicago during which time his work in psychology began to influence the field in significant ways.

In 1898, Edward Titchener declared a separation between structural and functional psychology. He cited Angell and Moore’s “Studies from the Psychological Laboratory of the University of Chicago: 1. Reaction Time: A Study in Attention and Habit (1896), as well as Dewey’s 1896 The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology, as being instrumental in the separation. Because Angell, Moore, and Dewey were all at the University of Chicago at that time, James named the new approach the “Chicago School.”

Prior to the 1890s, psychology and philosophy were studied together. Angell instead focused on the “why” of consciousness, rather than the “what” of consciousness, and began to imply that psychology was a branch of biological science. Angell’s seminal textbook, Psychology: An Introductory Study of the Structure and Function of Human Consciousness (1904) was the first to articulate the doctrine of functional psychology. Angell’s accomplishments in psychology were recognized in 1906 with his election as President of the American Psychological Association. In 1910, Angell gave the opening series of lectures on the newly established Spencer Foundation at Union College. These lectures were published as Chapters from Modern Psychology (1912).

Angell continued to be a leader of functionalism until 1913; behaviorism, however, began to replace functionalism as the leading approach in psychology. Angell continued to impact psychology through the graduate students who earned doctoral degrees under his supervision. Angell’s most famous student, John B. Watson, became the founder of behaviorism.

Angell was promoted to Associate Professor in 1901 and then to Professor in 1904 at the University of Chicago. Angell was named head of the Department of Psychology in 1905 when psychology finally separated from philosophy. As his interest in the administrative side of academia grew, he accepted the position of Dean of the Senior College at the University of Chicago. In 1911, Angell accepted the position of Dean of the Faculties and served as Acting President of the University of Chicago when President Judson was away on government service. Eventually, Angell had to choose between administration and his work as a scholar. While the decision was hard, he chose to pursue the administrative side of academia.

In the summer of 1917, Angell served on the Committee on Classification after the United States entered World War I. He later transferred to the Committee on Education and Special Training. At the end of the war, Angell was appointed Chairman of the National Research Council. While chairman of the National Research Council, Angell was invited to become President of the Carnegie Corporation, making him the first president after Mr. Carnegie. The next year, Angell accepted an invitation to succeed President Hadley as President of Yale University. He served as President of Yale from 1921 to his retirement in 1937. Angell was inducted into Kappa Delta Pi in 1933. After retiring from Yale University, he became educational counselor of the National Broadcasting Company.

Contributed by: Chelleye L. Crow, Baylor University

Angell, J. R. 1936. James Rowland Angell. A History of Psychology in Autobiography. In The Chicago School of Functionalism, vol. 3, ed. C. Murchison and J. R. Shook. Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Press. Backe, Andrew. 2001. Introduction. In The Chicago School of Functionalism, vol. 3, ed. J. R. Shook. Bristol, U.K: Thoemmes Press.

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