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The Great Ideas of Psychology

Get a complete overview of the exciting field of psychology in this comprehensive course that explains the fascinating debates over the continuing mysteries of the mind.
The Great Ideas of Psychology is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 59.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Grate content; great delivery, superb insight Dr Robinson was again terrific as a lecturer throughout this course and provides clear explanations to complex topics with style and insight. As an introduction to the subject or for further reading; this course is first rate.
Date published: 2021-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive Course This was the best course I've taken on Great Courses. He is masterful in his both his knowledge and presentation. It is long but comprehensive and not rushed. I enjoyed listening and would take another course by him if available. I highly recommend this if you want a comprehensive course.
Date published: 2021-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Secondary Benefit Only a gifted teacher can use vocabulary that is over the head of some of his students but put it in context in such a way as to make it understood so the student can not only learn the content of the class but new vocabulary as well. Dr. Robinson is a gifted teacher.
Date published: 2021-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love my courses I love listening to the various courses at my on rate. It’s great!
Date published: 2020-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best lecturers I’ve heard. This was the first course by Dr Robinson that I had taken. Enjoyed it so much that I decided to get his Great Ideas of Philosophy when it came available at a lower price. I would recommend it for anyone who might wonder about his or her own interest in the subject.
Date published: 2020-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superlative Dr. Robinson is easily one of the five greatest teachers I've encountered in life. That includes 5 years studying Philosophy and Zoology. Having listened to the CD set I'm getting the DVD so I can give a copy to one of my grandchildren who is heading off to college this year. Having read the negative reviews I find them baffling. That there are any negative reviews is baffling. Dr. Robinson uses a vocabulary that fits the subject matter and does not talk down the listener. If you do not read philosophy or psychology I recommend keeping a dictionary handy even though many of the terms can be deciphered by context. His other lectures are equally great.
Date published: 2019-06-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Excellent Summary Greeat backgound and related information.. Focus is more advanced high school level. Need more direct connections to current clinical practices. Presentation should be more energetic and engaging.
Date published: 2018-12-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Terrible! My fault or the professor's? I have purchased over a hundred courses from The Great Courses (and listened to over 60! :) and have only ever returned two. This will be the third. Perhaps the fault is mine rather than Professor Robinson's in that I didn't sufficiently read the full description or the reviews. But to be fair, the description would still have led me astray, to wit, "[H]e brings clarity, coherence, and comprehensiveness to this stimulating treatment of psychological speculation, debate, and investigation through the ages". This course brought no clarity, less coherence, and even less comprehensiveness to the subject of "psychology", that is, the science of human behavior. Professor Robinson is clearly a great scholar of philosophy, and it appears he wanted to teach a course on the history of philosophy as it impinges (only occasionally) on the field of psychology. Consider some examples. Lecture 1 - Defining the subject - In a course titled "The Great Ideas of Psychology" one would have expected "the subject" to be psychology. Instead, this lecture focuses of the philosophical definition of "science". Professor Robinson does eventually get to the question of whether a science of human behavior or a science of the mind can even be a science. But this is purely a philosophical inquiry. He provides no definition of psychology that I could perceive. Lecture 2 - Ancient Foundations - Greek philosophers and physicians - the website description of this lecture is as follows: "The ancient philosophers, in wrestling with the problems of knowledge, good and evil, governance, and how mankind should live - lay the foundations for the discipline of psychology." All right. Fair enough. An honest description of the topic. Note: no actual discussion of psychology. Lecture 3 - Minds possessed - Witchery and the Search for Explanations - This is a lecture on the history of the persecution (and prosecution) of witchcraft. Interesting, no doubt, but no discussion of psychology. (Anyone reading the course overview and seeing this lecture title would hope for a discussion of the psychological theories as to what animated the underlying behavior: both of the prosecutors and the victims. One would be disappointed....) I could go on - lecture by lecture. Of the 48 lectures, 48 are devoted to philosophy, history, jurisprudential theory (on which Professor Robinson is, to my mind, no expert) occasional forays into the biological sciences, but no discussion of physiology. - I exaggerate, but only a little. I'd like to quote the course objectives from the guidebook: Upon completion of this course, you should be able to: 1. Identify the broad historical and conceptual foundations of psychology from its origins in classical philosophy to the present; 2. Identify the major research methods and findings that characterize contemporary psychology; 3. Explain the principal claims and the main points of contention between and among the major schools and systems of psychology, including the behavioristic, the psychoanalytic, the neurocognitive, and social constructionist; 4. Explain the dependence of these issues on the larger framework bequeathed by the history of ideas. With respect to number 1 - there was, to the best of my knowledge, no discussion of the "conceptual foundations" of psychology. History aplenty, but mostly philosophy, no psychology. Number 2 gets touched on, in that he does discuss several specific studies and goes into detail about their methodology. But everything in this arena is anecdotal. There is no effort to offer any structured overview or discussion of research methods per se or the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches or methods. Number 4 Professor Robinson knocks out of the park. If I'd wanted a history of ideas, there is lots of that here. I expected the entire course to focus on number 3 - the major schools and systems of psychology. I can say that despite listening to the entire course (to my eternal regret) and paying close attention, I can not "explain the principal claims and the main points of contention between and among the major schools and systems of psychology". I don't even know what they are! We do get some discussion of behaviorism (largely historical rather than theoretical) and psychoanalysis (anecdotal rather than theoretical or systematic). To the best of my knowledge, there was no discussion of the neurocognitive or social constructionists schools. They are certainly not labeled as such during any discussion and are not presented as "schools" or "systems" of psychology. Ultimately, this is the greatest failure of this course. There is no structured presentation of the schools or systems of psychology. Had there been, this course might have been interesting. Without it, this is a rambling discourse, largely focussed on the history and philosophy of human ethical guidance. But it is not a course on phycology. I do not have any real background in psychology, but I had hoped to get some from this course. I am completely disappointed. Perhaps some of the good reviews come from those who love philosophy, and they were happy to get another course on the history of philosophy. I cannot account myself among them.
Date published: 2018-02-08
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This introduction to psychology stands out because it brilliantly analyzes the larger intellectual context in which the discipline has grown up. From Plato and Aristotle to Freud and Jung, you follow the fascinating debates that occur and recur as one school of thought after another seeks answers to the continuing mysteries of the mind.


Daniel N. Robinson
Daniel N. Robinson

Developments in philosophy are chiefly in the form of greater clarity, an ever more refined sense of just what makes the problem problematic. If ignorance is not thereby totally overcome, at least it is exposed.


Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University

Dr. Daniel N. Robinson (1937–2018) was a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he lectured annually since 1991. He was also Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Georgetown University, on whose faculty he served for 30 years. He was formerly Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and he also held positions at Amherst College and at Princeton University.

Professor Robinson earned his PhD in Neuropsychology from City University of New York. He was president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association: the Division of History of Psychology, from which he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, from which he received the Distinguished Contribution Award.

Professor Robinson was the author or editor of more than 40 books, including Wild Beasts & Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense from Antiquity to the Present, An Intellectual History of Psychology, The Mind: An Oxford Reader, and Aristotle's Psychology. He was the editor of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. He also published widely on the constitutional history of the US and its philosophical foundations, with original research appearing in the International Journal of Constitutional Law and The American Journal of Jurisprudence. He was coeditor of The American Founding: Its Intellectual and Moral Framework (London: Continuum, 2012).

By This Professor

The Great Ideas of Philosophy, 2nd Edition
Defining the Subject

01: Defining the Subject

Is psychology really science at all? A look at the controversy that has engulfed psychology for centuries.

30 min
Ancient Foundations-Greek Philosophers and Physicians

02: Ancient Foundations-Greek Philosophers and Physicians

The ancient philosophers-in wrestling with the problems of knowledge, good and evil, governance, and how mankind should live-lay the foundations for the discipline of psychology.

29 min
Minds Possessed-Witchery and the Search for Explanations

03: Minds Possessed-Witchery and the Search for Explanations

A look at how abnormal conduct-whether considered insanity or the act of a "witch"-has attracted society's special attention, sometimes with horrifying consequences.

28 min
The Emergence of Modern Science-Locke's

04: The Emergence of Modern Science-Locke's "Newtonian" Theory of Mind

A new emphasis on experimental investigation produces great achievements in natural science and technology, as well as insistent questions about whether the same methods can explain the workings of the mind and society.

29 min
Three Enduring

05: Three Enduring "Isms"-Empiricism, Rationalism, Materialism

An examination of the great debate over how knowledge and belief come to be and what this means for the definition of psychology.

30 min
Sensation and Perception

06: Sensation and Perception

An introduction to the methods by which sensation and perception are investigated and measure, including an introduction to the science and psychophysics.

30 min
The Visual Process

07: The Visual Process

One of the more scientific sides of experimental psychology is revealed in this look at the discipline's most studied and best known system-a true miracle of organization and function.

30 min

08: Hearing

A look at another of the body's most acute senses-and the threats posed to this complex and delicate system by the constant auditory assault of 20th-century industrial and urban life.

30 min
Signal-Detection Theory

09: Signal-Detection Theory

The more difficult a discrimination or detection task is, the harder it is to measure. A look at how signal-detection theory is providing answers, especially in the particularly difficult area of measuring perception.

30 min
Perceptual Constancies and Illusions

10: Perceptual Constancies and Illusions

Can we really trust our senses? A surprising look at how knowledge and perception work together.

30 min
Learning and Memory: Associationism-Aristotle to Ebbinghaus

11: Learning and Memory: Associationism-Aristotle to Ebbinghaus

A first look at the fascinating area of memory and how it works, including an introduction to the use of "mnemonics."

30 min
Pavlov and the Conditioned Reflex

12: Pavlov and the Conditioned Reflex

The famous "salivating dog" experiments were a harbinger of the behaviorist era to come but went well beyond what we learned about in school.

30 min
Watson and American Behaviorism

13: Watson and American Behaviorism

An impatient crusader casts his vote for a pragmatic and scientific psychology confined to observable behavior.

30 min
B.F. Skinner and Modern Behaviorism

14: B.F. Skinner and Modern Behaviorism

A first look at one of the most influential and controversial psychologists of our time and his theory of conditioning human response.

30 min
B.F. Skinner and the Engineering of Society

15: B.F. Skinner and the Engineering of Society

Skinner's theories as the model for completely changing child-rearing, education, behavior, and ultimately, society itself.

30 min

16: Language

Skinner publishes his theory of language and the resulting critique, led by the then-unknown Noam Chomsky, points the way toward a more "cognitive" interpretation of psychology.

30 min
The Integration of Experience

17: The Integration of Experience

For most developed species, survival requires more than passive absorption of disconnected stimuli. An examination of how experience is organized to help creatures actually live.

29 min
Perception and Attention

18: Perception and Attention

If perception weren't selective, we would drown in an unending flood of stimuli. A look at how we filter the input from the outside world down to what is important.

30 min

19: Cognitive "Maps," "Insight," and Animal Minds

Is man the only animal that can think? A fascinating glimpse of both sides of the argument over anthropomorphic explanations suggest a surprising answer.

30 min
Memory Revisited-Mnemonics and Context

20: Memory Revisited-Mnemonics and Context

A return to the subject of memory for a deeper discussion of how we process, store, and recover experience, including the problem of "eyewitness" testimony and reconstructed memories.

30 min
Piaget's Stage Theory of Cognitive Development

21: Piaget's Stage Theory of Cognitive Development

A search for an explanation of how our mental powers are formed leads to the influential work of Jean Piaget and his theories of cognitive development in children.

31 min
The Development of Moral Reasoning

22: The Development of Moral Reasoning

Is moral development different from cognitive development as a whole? An examination of what we know about how moral reasoning evolves.

31 min
Knowledge, Thinking, and Understanding

23: Knowledge, Thinking, and Understanding

How we solve problems-how we actually function in our daily lives-including the essential psychological short-cut that makes the process possible.

31 min
Comprehanding the World of Experience-Cognition Summarized

24: Comprehanding the World of Experience-Cognition Summarized

A summary of the finding that laid the foundation for the "cognitive revolution's" alternative to the empiricistic psychologies favored by the behaviorist school.

30 min
Psychobiology-Nineteenth-Century Foundations

25: Psychobiology-Nineteenth-Century Foundations

What is the relationship between physical and mental processes? A look at how researches have answered the question, including the strange system of phrenology and its role in the foundation of modern "brain science."

30 min
Language and the Brain

26: Language and the Brain

Injuries to the brain-and resulting functional deficits-have taught us a great deal about brain function and organization, especially regarding the way language is processed.

31 min
Rationality, Problem-Solving, and Brain Function

27: Rationality, Problem-Solving, and Brain Function

A continuing examination of the workings of the brain, including the organ's remarkable ability to compensate for damage early in development.

32 min

28: The "Emotional" Brain-The Limbic System

Pleasure. Pain. Motivation. Rage. Fear. What we know about the fascinating part of the brain associated with these and other emotional states.

30 min
Violence and the Brain

29: Violence and the Brain

Is criminality really a pathology better understood in scientific than in moral terms? Is insanity truly a defense?

30 min
Psychopathology-The Medical Model

30: Psychopathology-The Medical Model

Is all psychopathology, all "mental" illness, ultimately the consequence of a medical or biological disturbance? A look at this viewpoint and the criticisms it has faced.

30 min
Artificial Intelligence and the Neurocognitive Revolution

31: Artificial Intelligence and the Neurocognitive Revolution

Yes, computer programs can now contend with world-class chess players-to a point. But can computers be made to actually think? A beginning discussion of the pros and cons, along with the staggering ethical implications.

30 min
Is Artificial Intelligence

32: Is Artificial Intelligence "Intelligent"?

Do the proponents of artificial intelligence understand what "intelligence" really is? Many say no.

30 min
What Makes an Event

33: What Makes an Event "Social"?

Why a purely scientific examination of events involving people is impossible-and how researches have developed the kind of model necessary to interpret the meaning of these social events.

30 min
Socialization-Darwin and the

34: Socialization-Darwin and the "Natural History" Method

How we examine a species within its own natural context, accounting for its defining features by matching these with the conditions faced by members of the species.

30 min
Freud's Debt to Darwin

35: Freud's Debt to Darwin

Darwin's works are among the most "well-worked-over" in Freud's restored London library. This lecture explores the influence of the world's most famous naturalist on its most famous psychiatrist.

30 min
Freud, Breuer, and the Theory of Repression

36: Freud, Breuer, and the Theory of Repression

Hysterical symptoms are unlike those produced by genuine neurological disorders. This lecture discusses the discovery of the "talking cure" and how it led to Freud and Breuer's theory of repression.

30 min
Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development

37: Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development

Freud's explanation of psychosexual development as the individual's progression from infantile stages of sexual gratification-such as thumb-sucking-to adult heterosexual activity.

30 min
Critiques of Freudian Theory

38: Critiques of Freudian Theory

Freud believed that psychodynamic processes are universal and largely independent of culture and society, but his biological interpretation has been rejected in favor of socially and culturally oriented theories.

30 min
What Is

39: What Is "Personality"?

The question has still not been answered definitively and has furnished the grist for many since-refuted theories. This lecture examines the debate.

30 min
Obedience and Conformity

40: Obedience and Conformity

Several classic experiments have shown the powerful influence of social context on conduct and have offered a strong challenge to both the dominant theories of personality.

30 min

41: Altruism

Why do some people act heroically? Once again, social context proves critical in determining human behavior, though a highly developed self-perception can help a person rise above the common in unlikely circumstances.

30 min
Prejudice and Self-Deception

42: Prejudice and Self-Deception

Acts of prejudice call for a reinterpretation of context and even a reinterpretation of self to justify the action. An exploration of the darker side of human behavior.

30 min
On Being Sane in Insane Places

43: On Being Sane in Insane Places

What is sanity? What is insanity? As a chilling study demonstrates, the answers often depend on who is controlling the labels.

31 min

44: Intelligence

The history of I.Q. and other so-called "intelligence" tests offer valuable lessons in what is and is not "predictable."

30 min
Personality Traits and the Problem of Assessment

45: Personality Traits and the Problem of Assessment

Is there really a test that can reveal the "underlying personality" of an individual? A look at the fundamental problem of devising such a measuring stick.

30 min
Genetic Psychology and

46: Genetic Psychology and "The Bell Curve"

The issue of whether a given trait is rooted in genetics or the environment-long a controversial issues in the public arena-is when predicting the potential of an individual.

30 min
Psychological and Biological Determinism

47: Psychological and Biological Determinism

An exploration of the notion of determinism reveals it to be both counterintuitive and, in some respects, self-refuting.

30 min
Civic Development-Psychology, the Person, and the Polis

48: Civic Development-Psychology, the Person, and the Polis

In many ways, the fullest and most systematic theories of psychology are still those provided by Aristotle. An exploration of how rational creatures can flourish when the biological, social, and political are truly integrated.

32 min