Samuel Johnson and modern psychology



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Samuel Johnson's possible contribution to modern psychology has been ignored by literary critics as well as by modern historians of psychiatry. Johnson's formulation of psychological concepts resembling those assimilated in the twentieth century is further evidence of his astute intellect. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759) is representative of Johnson's expressions on the nature of man. In writing Rasselas, Johnson manifests keen insight into human behavior, particularly in view of the age in which it was written. Two centuries after the writing of Rasselas, Johnson might be categorized as an empiricist or as a personality theorist. For the varied descriptions of human behavior and motivation illustrated in Ra s s el a s, one may easily apply modern psychological terminology. There is evidence of Johnson's understanding of defense mechanisms used by both the normal and the abnormal individual, as well as accurate descriptions of neurotic and psychotic reactions. Recent studies have indicated Johnson's great interest in and use of the scientific method in all of his writings. His ability to observe and mirror accurately and with integrity the facts about a subject; his adherence to scientific rules for critical writing and evaluation; his theories on the normalcy of man; his insistence upon the "presentness" of life, as well as his humanitarian attitude toward the mentally ill, all place Johnson well in advance of many of the eighteenth and nineteenth century writers, indicating that he has been misjudged when placed in a rigidly fixed position in the neo-classical period.