[Editorial note: “Book notices” will be a new type of post on this blog where I give brief summaries of books I have recently read]
Whyte convincingly argues for the thesis that “the general conception of unconscious mental processes was conceivable (in post-Cartesian Europe) around 1700, topical around 1800, and fashionable around 1870-1880.” Whyte’s aim is to show that, contrary to popular opinion, Freud did not “invent” the concept of the unconscious. In fact, the concept had been percolating in the general intellectual atmosphere for quite some time prior to Freud. Whyte employs a heavy battery of quotations from a diverse array of sources, most of the whom I had never heard of before. Although Whyte’s own understanding of psychology is rather dated and has a lighter significance compared to those he is quoting, his historical scholarship is top notch and surely represents a significant amount of time scouring libraries, a feat even more impressive given Whyte published the book in 1960 well before the advent of internet research.