Scott C. Thompson, “On G. H. Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind, 1874—79″


In Problems of Life and Mind (1874—79), George Henry Lewes posits his theory of “Scientific psychology,” which is founded on a synthesis between the objective study of the mind practiced in physiology and the subjective study of consciousness practiced in philosophy. Problems is an important text because it is one of the last quintessentially “Victorian” studies, a wide-ranging work produced before the full establishment of disciplinary boundaries. It combines a variety of discourses—including philosophy, physiology, psychology, evolutionary biology, and sociology—in order to establish a comprehensive methodology for the scientific study of consciousness. This entry positions Problems into its nineteenth-century psychological and philosophical tradition, as understood by Lewes; provides a summary of the overarching argument of Problems; and outlines the contributing sub-claims made in each of its discrete series.

George Henry Lewes’s magnum opus, Problems of Life and Mind (1874—79), sits at a nexus between two eras in British history and in the development of psychology. His most mature contribution to the physiological psychology field, part of the “new psychology” school which emerged in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, Problems is a sprawling, multi-volume composition that combines both philosophy and science. Though Lewes might be best known as the long-time partner of novelist George Eliot (1819—80), he was also a prominent scientist, philosopher, and literary critic in his own right. An autodidact, Lewes’s interests spanned a variety of discourses and fields, including psychology, physiology, evolutionary biology, philosophy, history, sociology, and literature. These varied interests are reflected in the wide-ranging scope and form of Problems.

Figure 1: George Henry Lewes, by Elliot and Fry, National Portrait Gallery _albumen carte-de-visite_, 1870s.

Problems of Life and Mind, as the title suggests, attempts to understand the relationship between the external world and consciousness. The project began as a series of separate essays on the dynamic relation between the environment and the organism, but, as he revised the essays into book form, he “began to feel confident of having something like a clear vision of the fundamental inductions necessary to the constitution of Psychology” (Foundations 1: vii). In its final form, Problems attempts to restructure the field of psychology into a scientific discipline by combining the objective approach taken by physiologists with the subjective introspection practiced by philosophers. Problems is an under-acknowledged contribution to the establishment of the social sciences as fields open to “objective” scientific study.[1]

Problems is comprised of three series and divided into five volumes. Each series is subdivided into and organized around specific “problems.” The first two volumes, titled The Foundations of a Creed (1874—75), house the first series and six problems. Foundations outlines the theoretical framework for the entire project, which he calls a philosophy of science, arguing for a new category of knowledge based on both objective and subjective analyses. The third volume contains the entire second series and four problems and is titled The Physical Basis of Mind (1877). In it, Lewes uses the theory he establishes in the first series to argue for an expanded understanding of consciousness, based on his physiological experimentation and research. In the final two volumes, the third and final series, Lewes shifts his focus to psychology. The fourth volume, the entire first problem of the third series, is entitled The Study of Psychology: Its Object, Scope, and Method (1879) and was published after his death, though he had completed the manuscript prior. The fifth and final volume, containing the final three problems, does not bear a specific title and was edited and arranged by Eliot. Though incomplete, it furthers the central argument of the entire work: psychological study should combine the objective analysis of physiology and the subjective introspection of philosophy; in order to achieve a complete understanding of consciousness, psychologists must account for the external influences (society, cultural history, personal experience) which affect every individual organism. A product of its time, Problems is quintessentially “Victorian” in that it engages multiple disciplines and is written, on the whole, in accessible prose for a knowledgeable general audience. Lewes’s overarching conception of the mind as a “fluctuating system” informed through a complex series of dynamic relations, his awareness of the historical relativity of knowledge, and Problems’s multifaceted compositional structure evidences the work’s distinctive contribution to nineteenth-century physiological psychology and its anticipation of twentieth-century modernism (Lewes, “Mind as a Function” 52; emphasis in original).[2]

The New Psychology and Problems’s Philosophical Lineage

Lewes was one of the leading figures of the “new psychology” that developed in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The term “new psychology” designates a shift in psychological study from the dominant models of the early nineteenth century—faculty and associationist psychology—toward an understanding of the mind and consciousness as a product of biological and environmental factors. Inherited from the Enlightenment, faculty psychology conceived of the human mind in terms of discrete mental faculties, situated in a hierarchical arrangement. At the top of the hierarchy were the “higher faculties” such as reason and willpower, and at the bottom were “lower faculties” like sensation, bodily appetite, and desire. Faculty psychologists held that the faculties of the mind were innate; experience may affect or refine the faculties, but the faculties themselves exist a priori. Associationist psychology held a competing viewpoint. Associationists, whose modern lineage can be traced to John Locke (1632—1704), believed the mind was created through experience. One’s environment, circumstances, and particular experiences determined one’s mental life. Thus, the mind was directly tied to lived experience and held no innate properties. One major commonality between faculty and associationist psychology, though, was the conception of the mind as a static object: whether as preexisting faculties or a one-to-one association between experience and mental development, the older psychological theories conceived of the mind as a fully-formed or predictably developing entity. The practitioners of the new psychology moved away from this static model of mind toward a dynamic model that drew from a variety of discourses, including evolutionary biology, sociology, and physiology, and took into account various biological and environmental influences.

The new psychology school conceived of consciousness as a series of dynamic relations between body and mind, feeling and thought. In Britain, the school consisted of prominent intellectuals such as John Stuart Mill (1806—73), William Benjamin Carpenter (1813—1885), Alexander Bain (1818—1903), Herbert Spencer (1820—1903), and Lewes. The school was closely aligned with empirical, associationist psychology. There were, however, important differences. The new psychology emphasized the interrelatedness of bodily sensation and mental processes, as the titles of Bain’s major works suggest: The Senses and the Intellect (1855), The Emotions and the Will (1859), Mind and Body (1873). Additionally, the school expanded the scope and importance of the relationship between the environment and psychological development. In The Principles of Psychology (1855), for example, Spencer added a Lamarckian evolutionary view to the study of psychology. Spencer argued that traits acquired by an individual during life could become internalized and passed on to the offspring.[3] Thus, Spencer effectively expanded the associationist emphasis on experience beyond the individual to the human species: “what is a priori to the individual is a posteriori to the race” (Rylance 235). Lewes considered himself part of the empiricist tradition of psychology, which he outlines in the 1871 edition of his popular History of Philosophy, which had been first published in 1845 as The Biographical History of Philosophy. In the 1871 edition, composed while he worked on Problems, Lewes outlines the intellectual heritage into which he places his final text.

Lewes positions himself within the lineage of modern philosophers who rely on experience rather than abstract speculation as their method of inquiry. Lewes traces this method, and positive science, to Francis Bacon (1561—1626), but it is René Descartes (1596—1650) who situated consciousness at the center of modern philosophy. With his famous Cogito, ergo Sum, Descartes “makes Consciousness the basis of all truth” (Lewes, History of Philosophy 144; emphasis in original). Thomas Hobbes (1588—1679) and Locke were the precursors to the physiological psychology that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hobbes’s materialism, Lewes posits, led him to conflate thinking and feeling; thus, Lewes traces the beginning of modern psychology to Locke. Locke attributed the complexity of human thought to the combination of sensory experience and reflection upon sensory experience, while maintaining that the mind was a property of matter. By the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the study of consciousness had splintered into two conflicting approaches, physiology and philosophy.[4]Problems was initially meant to make a case for physiological psychology, building on his previous works, such as his Physiology of Common Life (1859). Lewes cites his initial preparation for Problems beginning as early as 1836 out of a treatise he prepared on “the Philosophy of the Mind in which the doctrines of [Thomas] Reid, [Dugald] Stewart, and [Thomas] Brown were to be physiologically interpreted” (Foundations 1: v). However, Lewes’s exposure to Auguste Comte (1798—1857) and positivism revised his thoughts on physiological psychology.

Lewes believed that Comte ushered in a new era in philosophy. With Comte, philosophy and science finally merged into a coherent system, a philosophy of science. Comte sought to provide a method of inquiry based on experience that could address many branches of knowledge, including ethics and politics. Lewes, in the early portion of his career, was highly influenced by Comte and positivism, even publishing a monograph on Comte’s philosophy in 1853, but by the time of Problems’s conception almost a decade and a half later, he identified what he considered to be a failing in Comte’s philosophy. Comte did not extend his positivist method to the realm of metaphysics, because positive science is founded on experience. Lewes argues that the category of “metaphysics” had been incorrectly defined and that there was a type of metaphysical knowledge available to experience. Thus, Problems picks up where Comte ends. Lewes redefines metaphysics into two new categories, which is the subject of his first series, The Foundations of a Creed.

The First Series: The Foundations of a Creed

Foundations lays the philosophical groundwork, or “foundations,” for Lewes’s theory of psychology. In order to demonstrate how subjective introspection can be studied objectively, he argues that the “Method of Science” can be used to examine scientifically fields of inquiry previously considered too subjective for objective study (Foundations 1: 15). By the “Method of Science,” Lewes means the “Experiential Method”: every type of knowledge that humans can experience is available for scientific study using logic and reasoning (Foundations 1: 14). Previously, philosophers and scientists divided knowledge into two general categories: knowable and unknowable, physics and metaphysics. Only phenomena that could be directly experienced and objectively studied, such as primary actions, could be classified as “knowable.” However, in Foundations, Lewes argues that secondary reactions are a viable source of phenomenological knowledge, as well. Thus, he identifies three types of knowledge: the known, the knowable, and the unknowable.[5]

Lewes’s important revision is to “metaphysics,” which he divides into two new categories: speculative knowledge and metempirics. Speculative knowledge is unknown but knowable through logical deductions from positive knowledge. Metempirics, a term he coins, is the exact opposite of “empirics” and designates “whatever lies beyond the limits of possible Experience” (Foundations 1: 17). He describes the three categories as follows:

1°, the positive or known; 2°, the speculative or unknown though knowable; 3°, the unknowable. The two first are empirical; the third is metempirical. The two first rest either, 1°, on direct Sensation and verified Inference, or, 2°, on Intuition and logical deductions from Intuition, which are verifiable by direct, or indirect, reduction to Sensation. The third rests on no such bases, and is therefore distinguishable from the two former in kind, not simply in degree. (Foundations 1: 29-30; emphasis in original)

Speculative knowledge—his new metaphysics—is knowledge that can be logically inferred from sense experience, though it is not itself perceptible to the senses. He uses the motion of the planets and their satellites as his primary example. Using a telescope, one can observe and document the position and motion of the planets. This is positive knowledge. From the position and motion of the planets, speculative knowledge can be deduced, such as the fact that the planets and satellites—since they demonstrate the same type of motion—both depend on a common principle and derive from a common origin (Lewes, Foundations 1:30). Another example of speculative knowledge is that, because the satellites rotate at the same rate which they rotate around the planet they orbit (we only ever see one side of the moon), it can be deduced that the tidal friction of the planet is acting on the satellite. But beyond these two pieces of speculative knowledge, any attempt to gain further knowledge is a movement into the realm of metempirics. For example, any theorizing as to the purpose behind the planetary rotation is a question not answerable by experience and is therefore metempirical.

One of the defining features of Lewes’s epistemology is his recognition of the relativity of knowledge. Lewes, more than most of his contemporaries, recognized and embraced the limitations of human experience and available knowledge; Lewes rejects the idea of a transcendental “truth” untouched by history. Like the famous image in Middlemarch (1871—2) in which George Eliot describes the way stronger and weaker lenses alter the viewer’s interpretation of a water droplet (and Mrs. Cadwallader), Lewes argues that knowledge is limited by one’s scope of experience and by one’s historical moment. The “limitations of Research,” he writes, are “fixed by the natural limits of Consciousness” (Foundations 1: 202). Because knowledge—and therefore any conception of “truth”—is relative, Lewes emphasizes the importance of methodology in moving beyond particular observations in particular moments in history. Lewes will circle back and expand upon this idea in his third series, but in Foundations of a Creed he attempts to establish a methodology for scientific investigation that will account for the limits of the individual investigator and the historical moment that produced the investigator.

In summary, Lewes’s first series lays the foundations for his new methodological approach to the study of life and consciousness. He attempts to use the experiential method to answer questions of metaphysics, not metempirics, and to move beyond the limitations of any one individual. The experiential method reveals both positive knowledge and speculative knowledge. Speculative knowledge is not directly observed, which is why he calls it “meta”-physics; it is gleaned from observable data through logical deductions. He uses both positive and speculative knowledge in his physiological studies, which are recorded in the second series.

The Second Series: The Physical Basis of Mind

The second series, contained in the third volume, The Physical Basis of Mind, is described by Lewes as analyzing the “material conditions which constitute the organism in relation to the physical world” (Physical Basis v). The material conditions of the mind and body provide half of the data needed for proper psychological inquiry. The historical and social conditions that influence the development of the material conditions furnishes the second half of the necessary data. Between these two sets of data, a full theory of mind can be developed. Physical Basis argues for an expanded understanding of consciousness. Based on his vivisections and dissections of animals, and the fact that both the brain and the spinal cord are made of the same material, Lewes posits that “the whole cerebro-spinal axis” shares the property “Sensibility” (Physical Basis 167). Rather than the mind being the seat of consciousness and the body the vehicle, Lewes extends the concept of “consciousness” beyond the thinking brain to the entire nervous system.

In this series, Lewes addresses the age-old philosophical question about the relationship between mind and body. His conception of the mind-body relationship is monistic: the mind and the body are inherently connected and inseparable. Lewes’s version of monism, though, is not simply materialist monism—the belief that the entire physical world, and therefore both brain and body, derives from a common element. Rather, he identifies as an Organicist. Lewes writes: “Organicism is distinguishable by its consistent carrying out of the hypothesis that organic phenomena grouped under the terms Life and Mind are activities not of any single element, in or out of the organism, but activities of the whole organism in correspondence with a physical and a social medium” (“Spiritualism and Materialism II” 715-16). Lewes’s “organicism” does recognize the brain and nervous system as being comprised of the same material, but it also accounts for the social influences and cultural history that act upon and determine the development of the organism. This belief in the interconnectedness of the mind and body necessitated a redefining of consciousness. Rather than subscribing to the common understanding of consciousness as the equivalent of voluntary thoughts or ideas, Lewes understands consciousness to be the nervous system’s reaction to external stimuli (impressions). Once impressions encounter the body, they are turned into sensations by the nerves and are carried throughout the organism. Consciousness is the body’s physiological reaction to sensations; any reaction to external stimuli impressed on the body that causes a physiological reaction, whether immediately registered by the thinking mind or not, is a form of consciousness.

One of Lewes’s favorite examples to use to express his monistic theory of the mind-body relation is that of a lake with a river flowing into it. The lake (the organism) is altered by the waves (impressions) created by the river (external stimuli). The waves roll across the surface of the lake and reflect off the shore back toward the center. The reflected waves meet and modify the new incoming waves, creating a complex—and always fluctuating—pattern on the surface of the lake. The body is always receiving new impressions from its external environment, and the conscious mind attends to (some of) those new impressions, but the consciousness of the organism (both body and mind, working in tandem) is governed by the combination of both the new impressions and the residual impressions previously received.[6]

Lewes’s epistemological understanding of the phenomenal world is that it is objective but that it is only accessible through subjectivity. There is an objective world “expressible in terms of Matter and Motion, and therefore designated physical” and there is subjective engagement with the objective world “expressible in terms of Feeling, and therefore designated psychical” (Lewes, Physical Basis 333; emphasis in original). But both of these modes are “simply embodiments of Experience” or “Modes of Feeling”: “We know Things absolutely in so far as they exist in relation to us” (Lewes, Physical Basis 333; emphasis in original). Matter, then, cannot be separated from one’s subjective perception of it, which is to say one’s “mind.” But this, Lewes continually clarifies, does not mean that he believes that subjectivity is all there is; he does believe in an objective world, but he recognizes that our only way to access this world is through our subjectivity, which filters and distorts our perceptions.[7] Understanding the relationship between the objective world and one’s subjective relation to it is at the core of Lewes’s new psychological theory and is the subject of his third and final series.

The Third Series: The Study of Psychology

The third series (fourth volume) of Problems, titled The Study of Psychology, addresses two primary concerns: first, the relation between an individual’s consciousness and an individual’s social medium; and second, the relation between objective and subjective analyses. Both of these subjects are key to Lewes’s conception of the model methodology for psychology. Building on Comte and Spencer, Lewes’s first major contribution to psychology is the addition of the social factor as a crucial component in the study of consciousness.[8] Spencer’s The Principles of Psychology, and in particular the 1873 edition, was a major influence on Lewes’s understanding of the role of society and history in psychological development. In the 1873 edition of Principles, published after a “great change of attitude towards the Doctrine of Evolution,” including Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), Spencer applies his theory of evolution to mental development (Spencer, Principles [1873] v).[9] His theory of evolutionary biology gained traction in the psychological field during the 1860s and 1870s because it allowed for an understanding of individual development across a large swath of time, while still adhering to the basic tenets of associationism. Lewes incorporated much of Spencer’s evolutionary biology into his own psychological theory, but with an important addition.

For Lewes, the proper study of psychology combined evolutionary biology and the study of society. Lewes applies Spencer’s Lamarckian view of evolution to Comte’s sociology, which results in a dynamic understanding of the way societies evolve throughout history and the resulting effects on individual psychological development. Lewes’s understanding of sociology derives from Comte, who coined the term. In his monograph on Comte, Lewes defines sociology as “conceiving social phenomena as inevitably subjected to natural laws” (Comte’s Philosophy 251). For both Comte and Lewes, sociology is the study of social relations and developments using the tools of science, such as observation, logic, and reasoning, all of which are founded on experience. Combining this scientific approach to social study with physiological knowledge enables the psychologist to identify the difference between the social influences that affect an individual’s consciousness and the underlying laws of consciousness itself.

In Lewes’s estimation, the over-reliance on subjective introspection was a major fault in the contemporary philosophical and psychological fields. Psychologists who practiced subjective introspection studied the mind out of context and failed to account for the social influences that affect the mind’s functions. Social influences, according to Lewes, work on both the individual and on the individual’s culture throughout its history. The individual develops idiosyncrasies through his or her social customs, education, and personal experiences. And each culture develops particular cultural idiosyncrasies, which in turn dictate the available possibilities of development for each individual consciousness within that culture; the psychological possibilities available to the ancient Greeks, Lewes’s suggests, were different than the ones available to the nineteenth-century British (Psychology 153). Using introspection and sociology, then, the Lewesian psychologist accounts for his or her own idiosyncrasies and his or her culture’s idiosyncrasies so that by “striking off what is individual” he or she can “get at a conception of what is common to all” (Lewes, Psychology 97). In other words, once the personal and cultural particularities are identified, the psychologist can then begin to posit generalizable laws of consciousness, absent of—in theory—the distortions of subjectivity.

Lewes’s psychological theory calls for the combination of objective and subjective analyses. The physiologist studies the brain only as a material substance; this reveals only a biological and anatomical understanding of the brain, and it fails to account for the relations between consciousness and the external world. On the other side, the psychologist who, using the tools of philosophy, only utilizes subjective introspection as his or her method fails to ground consciousness in any observable and comparable scientific facts. Lewes advocates for a synthesis between these two methods. The “feelings and thoughts of others” are accessible to the psychologist the same way all positive and speculative knowledge is accessible: through observation of objective facts and the interpretation of the facts based on one’s subjective perspective (Psychology 98). By observing the actions and reactions of others and comparing them to one’s own actions and reactions, and by accounting for the particular idiosyncrasies of the individual within a cultural history, the Lewesian psychologist can posit general laws of consciousness, based on both objective and subjective facts.

The final volume of Problems was unfinished at the time of Lewes’s death. George Eliot edited and arranged it for publication, with the help of James Sully, psychologist and personal friend of Lewes and Eliot, and Michael Foster, prominent physiologist.[10] The final volume is divided into three primary chapters: “Mind as a Function of the Organism,” “The Sphere of Sense and Logic of Feeling,” and “The Sphere of Intellect and Logic of Signs.” The first chapter is the most complete; the second and third were still being drafted and revised by Lewes at the time of his death. This last volume continues to forward the central premise of the entire work: Problems calls for a synthesis between the objective study of the mind performed by physiologists and the subjective study of consciousness performed by philosophers, taking into account social and cultural influences, in order to create a new methodology for psychological inquiry, which Lewes terms “scientific Psychology” (“Mind as a Function” 4).

Ultimately, the incompleteness of Problems is fitting because it reflects the lack of finality in Lewes’s own theory. Lewes acknowledges the complexity of psychological development—with influences stemming from social factors, individual experiences, and biology—and the relativity of knowledge, which challenges any notions of absolute certainty and transcendent “truth,” and he resists the impulse to oversimplify his conclusions for the sake of achieving a tidy solution or closure. While this could be perceived as a failing, it demonstrates Lewes’s willingness to ask large, problematic questions without forcing an artificial sense of having “solved” them. Lewes, more than many of his contemporaries, would have understood that any solution he offered would be determined by the limits of available knowledge in his particular historical and cultural moment. The questions, the method, are what are important, not the answers. Lewes’s interest was in the problems of life and mind, not the solutions.


Both Problems and Lewes more generally are studied, in large part, by humanities scholars. Most commonly, Lewes is read in relation to his partner, George Eliot. This is done, of course, for good reason. Much of Eliot’s work influenced and was influenced by Lewes and the scientific community of her day. In particular, Eliot’s late novels Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda (1876), written while Lewes was writing Problems, utilize a “dynamic methodology of experimental biology” that coincides with Problems’s dynamic model of consciousness (Shuttleworth 143). Eliot’s last publication, Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879), a series of character sketches and essays written from the first-person perspective of the narrator Theophrastus, also directly engages Lewes’s psychological and sociological theory.[11] While it is a necessary and worthwhile project to account for the interplay between Eliot’s fiction and Lewes’s theories, Problems is also an important work in its own right. It contributes to our understanding of the development of psychology and the human sciences in the nineteenth century.

Problems is one of the last of its kind: a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary, ambitious attempt to engage lofty questions, using a combination of philosophical argumentation and primary experimentation. At the turn of the twentieth century, with the opening of the first experimental psychology laboratories in 1897 and the founding of the British Psychology Society in 1901, psychology became an academic and specialized discipline, putting an end to the era in which a work like Problems could have been written.[12] But Problems looks both backward and forward. Lewes’s recognition of the relativity of knowledge, his conception of life and consciousness as dynamic and relational, and his willingness not to oversimplify his postulates for the sake of teleological structure and closure demonstrate the interconnectedness between the Victorian and modernist periods and solidifies Problems as an important work in the history and philosophy of science in the nineteenth century.

Scott C. Thompson is a Ph.D. student at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of a forthcoming article in Victorian Review on the influence of G. H. Lewes’s psychological theory on George Eliot’s last published work, The Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879) and a forthcoming book chapter that traces the development of sociological method and metaphysics in Eliot’s fiction and Lewes’s psychology.


Thompson, Scott C. “On G. H. Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind, 1874—79.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. [Here, add your last date of access to BRANCH].


Ashton, Rosemary. G. H. Lewes: A Life. Oxford University Press, 1991.

Boring, Edwin G. A History of Experimental Psychology. The Century Co., 1929.

Bourne Taylor, Jenny, and Sally Shuttleworth, editors. Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts 1830-1890. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Collins, K. K. “G. H. Lewes Revised: George Eliot and the Moral Sense.” Victorian Studies, vol. 21, no. 4, 1978, pp. 463-92. JSTOR, Accessed 9 Sept. 2018.

Daston, Lorraine and Peter Galison. Objectivity. Zone Books, 2007.

Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda. Edited by Graham Handley, Clarendon Press, 1984.

—. Impressions of Theophrastus Such. Edited by Nancy Henry, University of Iowa Press, 1994.

—. Middlemarch. Edited by David Carroll, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Garratt, Peter. Victorian Empiricism: Self, Knowledge, and Reality in Ruskin, Bain, Lewes, Spencer, and George Eliot. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2010.

Levine, George. “George Eliot’s Hypothesis of Reality.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 35, no. 1, 1980, pp. 1-28. JSTOR, Accessed 9 Sept. 2018.

Lewes, George Henry. Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences. Henry G. Bohn, 1853.

—.“Spiritualism and Materialism II.” The Fortnightly Review, vol. 19, no. 113, 1 May 1876, pp. 707-19.

—. The Biographical History of Philosophy. Charles Knight & Co., 1845.

—. The Foundations of a Creed. Vol. 1, Trübner & Co., 1874.

—. The Foundations of a Creed. Vol. 2, Trübner & Co., 1875.

—. The History of Philosophy, From Thales to Comte. 4th ed., vol. 2, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1871.

—. “The Mind as a Function of the Organism.” Trübner & Co., 1879.

—. The Physical Basis of Mind. Trübner & Co., 1877.

—. The Study of Psychology: Its Object, Scope, and Method. Trübner & Co., 1879.

“Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind.” Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, vol. 36, no. 946, 13 Dec. 1873, pp. 757-758.

Rylance, Rick. Victorian Psychology and British Culture: 1850-1880. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Shuttleworth, Sally. George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning. Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Spencer, Herbert. The Principles of Psychology. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855.

—. The Principles of Psychology. Vol. 1, D. Appleton and Company, 1873.


[1] Lewes’s first major published contribution to this emerging field was Physiology of Common Life (1859-60). For an introduction to this text and to some of the core principles of psychology expounded in Problems, see Bourne Taylor and Shuttleworth.

[2] For an extended discussion of Problems and its anticipation of modernist and twentieth-century thought, see Rylance, especially pp. 305-311.

[3] For a full discussion of Spencer’s evolutionary psychology, see Rylance.

[4] David Hartley (1705-57), Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757-1808), and Francis Gall (1758-1828) exemplify the school of psychology whose method was grounded in biology and physiology. On the other side, Thomas Reid (1710-96), Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), Thomas Brown (1778-1820), and James Mill (1773-1836) comprise the school of psychology that over-relied on metaphysical inquiry, which lacked experiential verification and was thus not open to scientific study.

[5] Lewes’s division of metaphysics into two new categories is a revision of his earlier, and very well known, argument against metaphysics made in the Introduction to the first edition of his The Biographical History of Philosophy (1845). For a concise summary of his new position on metaphysics in relation to his older one, see the anonymous review of his work, “Lewes’s Problems of Life and Mind” (1873).

[6] To be clear, Lewes does not believe every new impression is consciously attended to by the mind. The ticking of a clock, for example, is not always attended to consciously, though the sound is registered unconsciously.

[7] Lewes is one of many nineteenth-century thinkers to acknowledge subjectivity’s distortion of the objective world. For more discussion of subjectivity and objectivity in this time period, see Peter Garratt’s Victorian Empiricism (2010), which challenges the dominate narrative of Victorian empiricism by demonstrating the complex and often contradictory views of empiricism, knowledge, and experience held by the likes of Alexander Bain, Herbert Spencer, John Ruskin, Eliot, and Lewes. Also see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s Objectivity (2007), which demonstrates how the concept of “objectivity” was constructed in the nineteenth century.

[8] Lewes believed his addition of “the social factor” to psychology was novel. For more, see Ashton, p. 271, and Lewes’s chapter “The Social Factor” in Psychology.

[9] The first edition of Principles foregrounds the philosophical positioning of Spencer’s argument. The second edition opens with and emphasizes Spencer’s evolutionary biology. Spencer’s revision between the two editions evidences the shifting focus of psychological discourse from a philosophical tradition to a physiological and biological one.

[10] Eliot made revisions to Lewes’s writing. For a side-by-side comparison, see the “Appendix” in Collins.

[11] For more on Eliot and Lewes’s Problems, see Shuttleworth, Levine, and Rylance. Though Rylance’s monograph’s focus is Victorian psychology, he embeds throughout a sharp commentary on Middlemarch in relation to scientific developments of the period.

[12] See Boring for an in-depth discussion of the history of experimental psychology.