Philosophical, and Empirical Foundations of Psychology Argument Term Paper

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¶ … Philosophical, and Empirical Foundations of Psychology


Pre-Modern Period (to 1650's)

Classical Period

Western Civilization, its intellectual and social aspects, was still dominated by Christianity, as it had been throughout the dark ages. Christianity was chiefly concerned with the "why," the question of why we exist. It held that we exist in order to do God's willing, follow God's law, and eventually be judged by God for how we have lived. Christian theology, which held that God created the universe and was responsible for all things and occurrences within it, inhibited reason and free inquiry during the dark ages and middle ages. Ideas that contradicted Christian theology in any way were suppressed and their hosts persecuted.

Aristotle the Good Life and Habitsand Habits

In Ethics, Aristotle is concerned with the question of what is good. He thinks this question is important because every choice and action humans take is aimed at some good. Aristotle defined happiness as the ultimate good. Thus, the question "what is the good life?" is asking "how do we achieve happiness?" Aristotle believed that a man was what he did repeatedly, a product of his habits.

Hippocrates' and Galen's Theory of Humors

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The Greek physician Hippocrates posited that the human body was, like everything else in the world, was made from four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Hippocrates believed that the four elements were associated with the different "Humors" of the human body: Earth with black bile, air with yellow bile, fire with blood, and water with phlegm. (40). He believed that illness was caused by an imbalance among these humors.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Philosophical, and Empirical Foundations of Psychology Argument Assignment

Hippocrates' Theory of Humors gave rise to Western civilization's first attempt to explain human traits and behaviors. In the Second Century a.D., the physician Galen created a rudimentary theory of personality based on the Theory of Humors. (41). In Galen's system, the phlegm humor was associated with the sluggish and emotional Phlegmatic temperament, the blood humor with the cheerful Sanguine temperament, the yellow bile humor with the fiery Choleric temperament, and the black bile humor with the sad Melancholic temperament.

Galen theorized that each individual's body is dominated by one of these humors, bequeathing a particular temperament to the individual. Galen's temperaments were defined by personal traits, such as cheerfulness, sadness, or sluggishness. Thus, a person who we would today diagnose as Dysthymic might just been considered to be of Melancholic temperament, sad by nature. If the person was undergoing physical illness, Galen would try to trace them to organic causes such as an excess of black bile.

Galen recognized that physical illnesses sometimes did not have organic roots and traced certain symptoms to the non-naturals such as the "passions or perturbations of the soul."

Under Galen's system, illnesses were addressed through the body and the mind. He believed that some illnesses were caused by "errors of the soul," the failure to control one's passions, or emotions. Galen, echoing Plato, recommended the control of the passions through the application of reason. Reason was applied through moral examination of awareness of harmful emotions, such as anger and lust, which we all men are prone to. Galen recommended a technique of conscious verbalization, where the individual would ponder moral maxims, remind himself of his faults, and recite them maxims aloud.

Galen's Theory of Humors and Temperaments and diseases of Passion dominated Western medicine until the 17th Century. In fact, they continue to be influential in the realm of personality theory as we. Although Galen's explanations of human behavior may appear primitive, it identified the psycho-somatic elements of illness which were later neglected during the modern period. In this way, it anticipated the creation modern psychosomatic medicine, which combines psychological, behavioral, and biomedical approaches to illness.

The Christian Age (412 AD -- 1650 AD)

Galen's theories regarding the influence of emotions on illness became a cornerstone of medical diagnosis until the 17th century. Although Galen's psychosomatic approach to illness dominated throughout. The primary epistemological basis for psychology during the Christian period was the Word of God. This knowledge, which was considered the Ultimate Truth, was revealed through authoritative sources, such as priests or holy books. These authoritative sources held that God created the universe and was responsible for all things and occurrences within it.

Because of the influence of Christian theology and its explanation of occurrences, new explanations for mental illnesses arose alongside Galen's theories. For certain instances of mental illness that did not respond to Galenic medicine, the cause was traced to the work of God. Some priests would explain the illness as punishment for sin. In the most unfortunate cases, the person would be determined to be possessed by a demon and locked up in an infirmary or burned at the stake.

Modernism (1650-1950s)

The Enlightenment, the age of reason, was a period of intellectual and cultural flowering in 17th and 18th Century Western Europe. The Enlightenment promoted the use of reason, instead of Revelation, for understanding the world. Isaac Newton exemplified this shift by providing a mechanistic explanation for natural processes such as gravity, instead of the teleological explanation attributing those processes to God. This suggested that all physical processes had physical causes.

Philosophical Foundations

In the 1600's, Rene Descartes, considered the first modern philosopher, separated the world into mind and matter, with mind represented by thoughts and matter represented by physical substances. Descartes used this framework to classify human behavior, distinguishing humans from "automata" (machines), which acted through mechanistic, natural impulse. He believed that humans acted with a higher level of thought and classified them as "machines" with "minds."

Another Enlightenment philosopher, John Locke held that people were born without innate ideas. This idea, that the human mind was a blank slate, and that all of an individual's knowledge and character were determined by experience. This idea was hugely influential for the study of human behavior because it implied that all behavior was learnt, laying the philosophical foundations for the school of Behaviorism.

Epistemological Foundations

The two dominant epistemological authorities in this period were empiricism and pure reason or logic. Empirical knowledge was obtained through the senses, such as through observation, and formed the basis of modern science. The second epistemological authority was reason or logic. Often, science and reason worked in conjunction, especially where empirical methods could not be fully applied to a question.


Structuralism was the first school of Modern psychology. It was concerned with understanding the structure of the mind. It sought to do this through by the examination of mental processes, such as sensations, impressions, and affections. The school's founder, Edward Titchener, sought to understand mental processes through the observation of conscious events (276-77). Structuralism, however, was concerned with mental processes in general, not mental processes in the particular. Thus, Structuralism ignored issues like psychological development, abnormal behavior, or personality, or individual differences. (289).


Structuralism was greatly influenced by the Newton's mechanical explanations of physical processes and sought to understand the mind's mechanisms in the same manner. Its founder, Titchener, considered his methods perfectly scientific

Epistemological Foundations

Although Structuralists employed empirical methods, these methods could not obtain information about mental processes. Thus, Structuralisms relied heavily on introspection, the observation of conscious events, to determine the contents of the mind. Structuralism never overcame this epistemological challenge and the method of introspection was considered by many, especially Behaviorists like Skinner, to be unreliable as a method of observation.


Related to the school of Structuralism was Voluntarism, which relied on the same philosophical and epistemological foundations. Voluntarist William Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology, was concerned with voluntary and involuntary mental processes. (289). He believed that the mind was capable of voluntary processes like attention. However, he did not believe that volitional activities like these constituted free will, making him a Determinist. Wundt believed that all volitional acts operated according to mental laws that acted on the contents of consciousness. (271).


Functionalism, unlike Structuralism, sought to understand the functions of the mind instead of just describing its contents. It envisioned a practical application of its findings, such as through the improvement of personal life, education, and industry. (337-38). Also, Functionalists were interested in understanding the differences between individuals, leading them to study issues such as personality, abnormal behavior, and motivation. (338). Because the various functions of the mind were numerous, Functionalism was highly diverse in its subjects of study.

The Functionalists were heavily influenced by Darwin's theory of evolution and believed that every process had a particular purpose or function. The Functionalists, unlike the Structuralists and Behaviorists, sought to understand both mental processes and behavior, specifically why they occur, or for what function. Although they used empirical observation and introspection as well, Functionalist methods were more sound because they did not seek to understand the mechanism of mental processes, only their functions.

Functionalism did not fade because its findings were rejected, but because they were so widely accepted. The school's findings, research interests, and methodologies were adopted and absorbed by many subsequent schools, and are still… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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