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Philosophy of psychology refers to issues at the theoretical foundations of modern psychology. Some of these issues 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 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:
- What is a cognitive module?
- Are humans rational creatures?
- What psychological phenomena come up to the standard required for calling it knowledge?
- What is innateness?
Since antiquity, questions that are now treated within psychology were subsumed within philosophy and it is only relatively recently that the relationship between psychology and philosophy has been redrawn. 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.
The relationship between philosophy and psychology has not always been easy. For example as Harre & Secord (1972) wrote:
When a behavioural scientist reads philosophical writings he often feels that the philosopher is being dogmatic and arbitrary, that he is legislating truth instead of leaving it to empirical investigation to discover. When a philosopher reads psychology, he often thinks that the conceptual basis of the study is naive and ill-secured, and developed in a haphazard manner without adequate critical thought, so that the empirical work is vitiated because it is ultimately confused, overlooking distinctions that seem to him obvious.
However in recent years a fruitful two-way dialogue has developed between scholars in the two fields covering most of the areas of philosophy.
Philosophy of mind
Topics that fall within philosophy of mind, of course, 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.
Philosophy of psychology now 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. 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).
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. 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.
Philosophy of science
- Experimental philosophy
- History of psychology
- Philosophical method
- Philosophy of social science
- O'Donohue, W. and Kitchener, R.F. (1996). The Philosophy of Psychology. London:Sage.
- Harre, R. & Secord, P. (1972). The Explanation of Social Behavior. Oxford:Blackwell.
- 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.
- Aragona M (2009). Il mito dei fatti. Una introduzione alla Filosofia della Psicopatologia, Crossing Dialogues.
- The London Philosophy Study Guide offers many suggestions on what to read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject: Philosophy of psychology
- Part 7 of MindPapers: Philosophy of Cognitive Science (contains over 1,500 articles, many with online copies)
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