Philosophy of psychology

Philosophy of psychology refers to the many issues at the theoretical foundations of modern psychology.


Some of the issues studied by the philosophy of psychology are epistemological concerns about the methodology of psychological investigation. For example:

  • What is the most appropriate methodology for psychology: mentalism, behaviorism, or a compromise?
  • Are self-reports a reliable data-gathering[1] method?
  • What conclusions can be drawn from null hypothesis tests?
  • Can first-person experiences (emotions, desires, beliefs, etc.) be measured objectively?

Other issues in philosophy of psychology are philosophical questions about the nature of mind, brain, and cognition, and are perhaps more commonly thought of as part of cognitive science, or philosophy of mind, such as:

Philosophy of psychology also closely monitors contemporary work conducted in cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and artificial intelligence, for example questioning whether psychological phenomena can be explained using the methods of neuroscience, evolutionary theory, and computational modeling, respectively.[2][3] Although these are all closely related fields, some concerns still arise about the appropriateness of importing their methods into psychology. Some such concerns are whether psychology, as the study of individuals as information processing systems (see Donald Broadbent), is autonomous from what happens in the brain (even if psychologists largely agree that the brain in some sense causes behavior (see supervenience)); whether the mind is "hard-wired" enough for evolutionary investigations to be fruitful; and whether computational models can do anything more than offer possible implementations of cognitive theories that tell us nothing about the mind (Fodor & Pylyshyn 1988).

Philosophy of psychology is a relatively young field because "scientific" psychology—that is, psychology that favors experimental methods over introspection—came to dominate psychological studies only in the late 19th century. One of philosophy of psychology's concerns is to evaluate the merits of the many different schools of psychology that have been and are practiced. For example, cognitive psychology's use of internal mental states might be compared with behaviorism, and the reasons for the widespread rejection of behaviorism in the mid-20th century examined.

Topics that fall within philosophy of mind go back much farther. For example, questions about the very nature of mind, the qualities of experience, and particular issues like the debate between dualism and monism have been discussed in philosophy for many centuries.

Related to philosophy of psychology are philosophical and epistemological inquiries about clinical psychiatry and psychopathology. Philosophy of psychiatry is mainly concerned with the role of values in psychiatry: derived from philosophical value theory and phenomenology, values-based practice is aimed at improving and humanizing clinical decision-making in the highly complex environment of mental health care.[4] Philosophy of psychopathology is mainly involved in the epistemological reflection about the implicit philosophical foundations of psychiatric classification and evidence-based psychiatry. Its aim is to unveil the constructive activity underlying the description of mental phenomena.[5]

See also


  1. ^ R. Stewart Ellis (2010). "Research data gathering techniques". Kettering University.
  2. ^ Coltheart, Max (January 2006). "What has Functional Neuroimaging told us about the Mind (so far)? (Position Paper Presented to the European Cognitive Neuropsychology Workshop, Bressanone, 2005)". Cortex. 42 (3): 323–331. doi:10.1016/S0010-9452(08)70358-7.
  3. ^ Klein, Colin (14 November 2016). "Brain regions as difference-makers". Philosophical Psychology. 30 (1–2): 1–20. doi:10.1080/09515089.2016.1253053.
  4. ^ Fulford KWM, Stanghellini G. (2008). "The Third Revolution: Philosophy into Practice in Twenty-first Century Psychiatry". Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences. 1 (1): 5–14.
  5. ^ Aragona M (2009). Il mito dei fatti. Una introduzione alla Filosofia della Psicopatologia. Crossing Dialogues. Archived from the original on 2012-03-06.

Further reading

The London Philosophy Study Guide offers many suggestions on what to read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject: Philosophy of psychology.

  • J. Stacy Adams. 1976. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Academic Press, 1976 ISBN 0120152096, 9780120152094.
  • Leonard Berkowitz. 1972. Social psychology. Scott Foresman & Co, 1972.
  • Ned Block. 1980. Readings in Philosophy of Psychology, Volume 1. Harvard University Press, 1980. ISBN 067474876X, 9780674748767.
  • Stuart C. Brown, Royal Institute of Philosophy. 1974. Macmillan, 1974. Original from the University of Michigan
  • Joseph Margolis. 2008. Philosophy of Psychology. Prentice-Hall foundations of philosophy series. Prentice-Hall, 1984. ISBN 0136643264, 9780136643265.
  • Ken Richardson. 2008. Understanding psychology. Open University Press, 1988. ISBN 0335098428, 9780335098422.
  • George Botterill, Peter Carruthers. 1999. The Philosophy of Psychology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521559154, 9780521559157.
  • Craig Steven Titus. 2009. Philosophical Psychology: Psychology, Emotions, and Freedom. CUA Press. ISBN 0977310361, 9780977310364.
  • Jose Bermudez. 2005. Philosophy of Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 9780415368629.
  • Terence Horgan, John Tienson. 1996. Connectionism and the Philosophy of Psychology. MIT Press. ISBN 0262082489, 9780262082488

External links


Anti-individualism (also known as content externalism) is an approach to various areas of thought (both analytic and continental) including philosophy, the philosophy of psychology, French historical studies, literature, phenomenology and linguistics.

The proponents arguing for anti-individualism in these areas have in common the view that what seems to be internal to the individual is to some degree dependent on the social environment, thus self-knowledge, intentions, reasoning and moral value may variously be seen as being determined by factors outside the person. The position has been supported by Sanford Goldberg and by other thinkers such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge.


Behaviorism (or behaviourism) is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals. It assumes that all behaviors are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual's history, including especially reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual's current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Although behaviorists generally accept the important role of inheritance in determining behavior, they focus primarily on environmental factors.

Behaviorism combines elements of philosophy, methodology, and psychological theory. It emerged in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to depth psychology and other traditional forms of psychology, which often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested experimentally. The earliest derivatives of Behaviorism can be traced back to the late 19th century where Edward Thorndike pioneered the law of effect, a process that involved strengthening behavior through the use of reinforcement.

During the first half of the twentieth century, John B. Watson devised methodological behaviorism, which rejected introspective methods and sought to understand behavior by only measuring observable behaviors and events. It was not until the 1930s that B. F. Skinner suggested that private events—including thoughts and feelings—should be subjected to the same controlling variables as observable behavior, which became the basis for his philosophy called "radical behaviorism." While Watson and Ivan Pavlov investigated the stimulus-response procedures of classical conditioning, Skinner assessed the controlling nature of consequences and also its potential effect on the antecedents (or discriminative stimuli) that strengthens behavior; the technique became known as operant conditioning.

Skinner's radical behaviorism has been highly successful experimentally, revealing new phenomena with new methods, but Skinner’s dismissal of theory limited its development. Theoretical behaviorism recognized that a historical system, an organism, has a state as well as sensitivity to stimuli and the ability to emit responses. Indeed, Skinner himself acknowledged the possibility of what he called “latent” responses in humans, even though he neglected to extend this idea to rats and pigeons. Latent responses constitute a repertoire, from which operant reinforcement can select.

The application of radical behaviorism—known as applied behavior analysis—is used in a variety of settings, including, for example, organizational behavior management, to the treatment of mental disorders, such as autism and substance abuse. In addition, while behaviorism and cognitive schools of psychological thought may not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in cognitive-behavior therapies, which have demonstrated utility in treating certain pathologies, including simple phobias, PTSD, and mood disorders.

Clinical pluralism

Clinical pluralism is a term used by some psychotherapists to denote an approach to clinical treatment that would seek to remain respectful towards divergences in meaning-making. It can signify both an undertaking to negotiate theoretical difference between clinicians, and an undertaking to negotiate differences of belief occurring within the therapeutic relationship itself. While the notion of clinical pluralism is associated with the practice of psychotherapy, similar issues have been raised within the field of medical ethics.

Cognitivism (psychology)

In psychology, cognitivism is a theoretical framework for understanding the mind that gained credence in the 1950s. The movement was a response to behaviorism, which cognitivists said neglected to explain cognition. Cognitive psychology derived its name from the Latin cognoscere, referring to knowing and information, thus cognitive psychology is an information-processing psychology derived in part from earlier traditions of the investigation of thought and problem solving.Behaviorists acknowledged the existence of thinking, but identified it as a behavior. Cognitivists argued that the way people think impacts their behavior and therefore cannot be a behavior in and of itself. Cognitivists later argued that thinking is so essential to psychology that the study of thinking should become its own field. However, cognitivists typically presuppose a specific form of mental activity, of the kind advanced by computationalism.

Eddy Zemach

Eddy M. Zemach (born in Jerusalem) is Ahad Ha'am Professor Emeritus in the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1965. His main research interests are aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of psychology, and philosophy of language.


Introspection is the examination of one's own conscious thoughts and feelings. In psychology, the process of introspection relies exclusively on observation of one's mental state, while in a spiritual context it may refer to the examination of one's soul. Introspection is closely related to human self-reflection and is contrasted with external observation.

Introspection generally provides a privileged access to one's own mental states, not mediated by other sources of knowledge, so that individual experience of the mind is unique. Introspection can determine any number of mental states including: sensory, bodily, cognitive, emotional and so forth.Introspection has been a subject of philosophical discussion for thousands of years. The philosopher Plato asked, "…why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?" While introspection is applicable to many facets of philosophical thought it is perhaps best known for its role in epistemology; in this context introspection is often compared with perception, reason, memory, and testimony as a source of knowledge.

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology

The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology is a peer-reviewed academic journal published by the American Psychological Association on behalf of APA Division 24 (Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology). The journal was established in 1986 and "is devoted to fostering discussion at the interface of psychology, philosophy, and metatheory". The current editor-in-chief is Brent D. Slife.


Logos (UK: , US: ; Ancient Greek: λόγος, romanized: lógos; from λέγω, légō, lit. 'I say') is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse". It became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus (c.  535 – c.  475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.Ancient Greek philosophers used the term in different ways. The sophists used the term to mean discourse. Aristotle applied the term to refer to "reasoned discourse" or "the argument" in the field of rhetoric, and considered it one of the three modes of persuasion alongside ethos and pathos. Pyrrhonist philosophers used the term to refer to dogmatic accounts of non-evident matters. The Stoics spoke of the logos spermatikos (the generative principle of the Universe) which foreshadows related concepts in Neoplatonism.Within Hellenistic Judaism, Philo (c.  20 BC – c.  50 AD) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy.

Philo distinguished between logos prophorikos ("the uttered word") and the logos endiathetos ("the word remaining within").The Gospel of John identifies the Christian Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos), and further identifies Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos. Early translators of the Greek New Testament such as Jerome (in the 4th century AD) were frustrated by the inadequacy of any single Latin word to convey the meaning of the word logos as used to describe Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John. The Vulgate Bible usage of in principio erat verbum was thus constrained to use the (perhaps inadequate) noun verbum for "word", but later Romance language translations had the advantage of nouns such as le mot in French. Reformation translators took another approach. Martin Luther rejected Zeitwort (verb) in favor of Wort (word), for instance, although later commentators repeatedly turned to a more dynamic use involving the living word as felt by Jerome and Augustine. The term is also used in Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

Despite the conventional translation as "word", it is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις, léxis) was used. However, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb légō (λέγω), meaning "(I) count, tell, say, speak".

Mentalism (psychology)

In psychology, mentalism refers to those branches of study that concentrate on perception and thought processes: for example, mental imagery, consciousness and cognition, as in cognitive psychology. The term mentalism has been used primarily by behaviorists who believe that scientific psychology should focus on the structure of causal relationships to conditioned responses, or on the functions of behavior.Neither mentalism nor behaviorism are mutually exclusive fields; elements of one can be seen in the other, perhaps more so in modern times compared to the advent of psychology over a century ago.


Metapsychology (Greek: meta 'beyond, transcending', and ψυχολογία 'psychology') is that aspect of any psychological theory which refers to the structure of the theory itself (hence the prefix "meta") rather than to the entity it describes. The psychology is about the psyche; the metapsychology is about the psychology. The term is used mostly in discourse about psychoanalysis, the psychology developed by Sigmund Freud, which today is regarded as a branch of science (with roots in the work of Freud's scientific mentors and predecessors, especially Helmholtz, Brucke, Charcot, and Janet) and/or a hermeneutics of understanding (with roots in Freud's literary sources, especially Sophocles and, to a lesser extent, Goethe and Shakespeare). Emphasis on the scientific status of psychoanalysis has been renewed in the emerging discipline of neuropsychoanalysis, whose major exemplar is Mark Solms. The hermeneutic vision of psychoanalysis is the focus of influential works by Donna Orange.

Philosophy of science

Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.

There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all. In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.

While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivism movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements' meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a "paradigm," the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period. Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology.

Subsequently, the coherentist approach to science, in which a theory is validated if it makes sense of observations as part of a coherent whole, became prominent due to W.V. Quine and others. Some thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould seek to ground science in axiomatic assumptions, such as the uniformity of nature. A vocal minority of philosophers, and Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) in particular, argue that there is no such thing as the "scientific method", so all approaches to science should be allowed, including explicitly supernatural ones. Another approach to thinking about science involves studying how knowledge is created from a sociological perspective, an approach represented by scholars like David Bloor and Barry Barnes. Finally, a tradition in continental philosophy approaches science from the perspective of a rigorous analysis of human experience.

Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein's general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.

Philosophy of the Unconscious

Philosophy of the Unconscious: Speculative Results According to the Induction Method of the Physical Sciences (German: Philosophie des Unbewussten) is an 1869 book by the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann. The culmination of the speculations and findings of German romantic philosophy in the first two-thirds of the 19th century, Philosophy of the Unconscious became famous. By 1882, it had appeared in nine editions. A three volume English translation appeared in 1884. The English translation is more than 1100 pages long. The work influenced Sigmund Freud's and Carl Jung's theories of the unconscious.

Ragna Ingólfsdóttir

Ragna Björg Ingólfsdóttir (born 22 February 1983) is an Icelandic badminton player. She represented Iceland in 2008 Beijing and again at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. She trained at the Tennis og badmintonfélag Reykjavíku, and educated philosophy of psychology at the University of Iceland. In 2011, she commented on skirts boosting popularity in badminton.


Rationality is the quality or state of being rational – that is, being based on or agreeable to reason. Rationality implies the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons to believe, and of one's actions with one's reasons for action. "Rationality" has different specialized meanings in philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, evolutionary biology, game theory and political science.

To determine what behavior is the most rational, one needs to make several key assumptions, and also needs a logical formulation of the problem. When the goal or problem involves making a decision, rationality factors in all information that is available (e.g. complete or incomplete knowledge). Collectively, the formulation and background assumptions are the model within which rationality applies. Rationality is relative: if one accepts a model in which benefitting oneself is optimal, then rationality is equated with behavior that is self-interested to the point of being selfish; whereas if one accepts a model in which benefiting the group is optimal, then purely selfish behavior is deemed irrational. It is thus meaningless to assert rationality without also specifying the background model assumptions describing how the problem is framed and formulated.

Seminars of Jacques Lacan

From 1952 to 1980 French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan gave an annual seminar in Paris. The Books of the Seminar are edited by Jacques-Alain Miller.

The Principles of Psychology

The Principles of Psychology is an 1890 book about psychology by William James, an American philosopher and psychologist who trained to be a physician before going into psychology. There are four methods from James' book: stream of consciousness (James' most famous psychological metaphor); emotion (later known as the James–Lange theory); habit (human habits are constantly formed to achieve certain results); and will (through James' personal experiences in life).

The Varieties of Religious Experience

The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature is a book by Harvard University psychologist and philosopher William James. It comprises his edited Gifford Lectures on natural theology, which were delivered at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1901 and 1902. The lectures concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science in the academic study of religion.

Soon after its publication, Varieties entered the Western canon of psychology and philosophy and has remained in print for over a century.

James later developed his philosophy of pragmatism. There are many overlapping ideas in Varieties and his 1907 book, Pragmatism.

Theoretical psychology

Theoretical psychology is concerned with theoretical and philosophical aspects of psychology. It is an interdisciplinary field with a wide scope of study. It focuses on combining and incorporating existing and developing theories of psychology non-experimentally. Theoretical psychology originated from the philosophy of science, with logic and rationality at the base of each new idea. It existed before empirical or experimental psychology. Theoretical psychology is an interdisciplinary field involving psychologists specializing in a wide variety of psychological branches. There have been a few prominent pioneers of theoretical psychology such as Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud, and John B. Watson. There has also been a number of notable contributors which include Jerome Kagan, Alan E. Kazdin, Robert Sternberg, Kenneth J. Gergen, and Ulric Neisser. These contributors often publish in a variety of journals including the most prominent for theoretical psychology, the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. Many other organizations are beginning to recognize theoretical psychology as a formal subdivision of psychology.

Zettel (Wittgenstein)

Zettel (German: "slip(s) of paper") is a collection of assorted remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein, first published in 1967.

It contains several discussions of philosophical psychology and of the tendency in philosophy to try for a synoptic view of phenomena. Analyzed subjects include sense, meaning, thinking while speaking, behavior, pretense, imagination, infinity, rule following, imagery, memory, negation, contradiction, calculation, mathematical proof, epistemology, doubt, consciousness, mental states, and sensations.Editions include a parallel text English/German edition edited by Elizabeth Anscombe and Georg Henrik von Wright first published by Blackwell (UK) and University of California Press (USA) in 1967.

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