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Philosophical Psychology

The area of study where psychology and philosophy intersect, focusing on metaphysical and speculative problems in the study of mental processes.

One of the central questions in philosophical psychology has been the relationship between the mind and body, a perennial area of inquiry throughout the history of philosophy. Other topics considered in this discipline include memory, perception, and consciousness; the nature of the self; the existence of free will; the relationship between thought and emotion; and so-called irrational phenomena, such as self-deception.

The study of the mind and mental processes was traditionally the province of philosophers, but philosophy and psychology began to diverge with the advent of experimental psychology as practiced by such figures as Gustav Fechner (1801-1887) and Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the separation of the two disciplines became standard in American universities, resulting in the establishment of professional associations and journals devoted to psychology and its practitioners. This schism was further entrenched with the rise of behaviorism, which advocated behavior as the sole focus of psychology and rejected introspective inquiry and the study of consciousness. In 1925, the prominent American behaviorist John Watson predicted the demise of philosophy as a field of inquiry altogether.

In the 1950s, however, psychologists and philosophers increasingly found themselves once again on common ground. The "cognitive revolution" shifted the focus of psychology back to mental processes and such topics as language acquisition and mental representation. In turn, philosophy has demonstrated a growing interest in the empirical side of psychology; philosophers have studied the clinical foundations of psychoanalysis as well as topics such as behavior modification. Representative journals in philosophical psychology include Philosophy of Science, Mind, British Journal of Psychology, and The Philosophical Review.

Further Reading

Russell, Bertrand. The Analysis of Mind. New York: Macmillan, 1921.

Strawson, Peter. Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaBranches of Psychology