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The Importance of The History of Psychology

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The Importance of The History of Psychology essay

Henley (2017) believes that to fully understand the issues in modern day psychology you must first know the roots of its questions, the theories that proposed those questions, and the progressions used to answer those questions. It is important to learn the history of psychology for two specific reasons; to understand the efforts in getting to where we are now (past development) and how the outcomes of those developments continue to change (present development). Understanding the historical past development of psychology is useful in the same way as having a greater understanding of a person’s past experiences is useful to a psychologist (Henley, 2017). In studying the history of psychology, we find that there is a long line of philosophers who systematically explored human behavior, feelings, thoughts, consciousness, and knowledge. We come to understand that these past philosophers were influenced by their political and religious environments and that their theories are often directly related in opposition or surrender. Today psychology continues to be influenced to a significant extent by the foundations of the Greek philosophers as well as the new environmental influences that have brought about paradigm shifts.

Psychology has experienced new waves of thinking based on the culture and technology providing such diversified theories. By studying the systems that helped build psychology we begin to understand the processes used to understand the human psyche and capitalize on the mistakes of the past for a more efficacious science. This brings us to the understanding of the present development of psychology. The history of psychology has shown us that truth changes. Each ancient philosopher held that their view is correct. According to Kuhn (1970) scientific theories are cyclical in nature suggesting that when incongruity occurs that cannot be explained by the current theory and new theory is allowed to emerge. This is important to note since not all theories in psychology have been shown to be valid. Learning from our past psychology history we should be ready to question and challenge current theories. We should not make the mistake of treating science as creed because our current understanding could be discredited as some of the theories we find in the history of psychology. Lastly by studying this history we may be able to revitalize old ideas that are still viable but have either have been unpopular or forgotten (Henley, 2017).

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle: Foundations for Psychology

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle set the foundations for what we call psychology today. They organized their ideas about the world around them and arranged their thinking process in an organized way to reflect upon it. All three Greek philosophers believed in dualism that the mind and body were separate entities and that an individuals thoughts and traits were innate (Henley, 2017). Socrates brought us the idea that the value of life did not exist in the outer world such as in nature or via the gods but rather the internal of the human soul. Socrates used methods of induction where he through dialectics (seeking knowledge by question and answer) he would arrive at generalizations about the essence of the human spirit. This method mirrors a counseling session where a form of inquiry and discussion occurs between two individuals to bring forth illumination of ideas. Much like the modern-day psychology he believed that self-examination of one’s own subjective experience were knowable and would produce moral conduct (Henley, 2017). Cognitive Therapy utilizes Socrates idea of exposing contradictions in one’s own thinking to think clearer. Socrates brought the use of reasoning, logic, and self-examination to lay the foundations of self-examination.

Plato a student of Socrates introduced the idea of forms as the ultimate reality that could only be understood through reasoning (Henley, 2017). Plato believed in rationalism where there was a physical world and a representation of the physical world (form) in one’s mind. According to Rosen (2008) plato proposed the theory that an individuals had a psyche that was responsible for human behavior, reasoning, and urges. The psyche is composed of three parts; intellect (reason and logic), spiritual (emotions and feelings) and appetite (desires). According to Henley (2017) Plato made attempts to associate these aspects with physical locations in the body similar to today’s neuroscience. According to his three-part theory a wholesome mind was balanced and any over use of the three resulted in the manifestation of one’s personality. Plato also believed that diseases of the mind were due to extremes in pleasure and pain and that these extremes did not allow individuals to reason properly (Rosen, 2008). These concepts of three parts mind, pleasure, pain and conflict are similar to the views of psychanalytic theories id, ego, and superego. Aristotle was a student of Plato and wrote a book about the psyche called Para Psyche, ‘About the Mind’ (Henley, 2017).

Unlike Plato who believed in ignoring the physical senses, Aristotle sought knowledge through the examination of the physical senses and nature. Sensory experience was the source of all knowledge. He believed that the formation of the psyche was based on experiences. This provides the foundations for debate between nature and nurture that impacts modern psychological, sociological, and educational theories. Aristotle introduced the idea that the psyche was blank at birth and that experiences would build and define the mind. According to Henley (2017) Aristotle focused heavily on empiricism and dissecting sensory observations. This influence on empirical observation is seen today in behavioral theory. Since sensory observation. Aristotle proposed that everything physical had purpose or entelechy (Henley, 2017). Living things were categorized into soul types; plant soul (vegetative), animal soul (sensitive), and human soul (rational). His theories developed from observation of plants, animals, and humans. His empirical approach serves as the underpinnings for scientific inquiry. All three philosophers provided naturalistic explanations of human behavior as opposed to supernatural explanations. The ability to critique, evaluate, and modify theory is greatly significant in the history of psychology.

Augustine: Shifting Locus of Control

According to Henley (2017) Augustine shifted the locus of control of human behavior from the external of man to the internal of God. Augustine believed that humans have the capability of choosing good or evil. He accepted free will and posited that humans are responsible for their own future. While his thinking may sound similar to the phenomenologist of psychology Augustine also proposes that personal guilt for doing wrong in the eyes of God is an important method of controlling behavior. This duality would become a prominent theme in Christianity later on where an individual would choose between Satan or Jesus, good or evil, heaven or hell, and forgiveness or damnation. Augustine ultimately believed that if individuals accepted church doctrine they would likely choose good because they chose God (Henley, 2017). Augustine also introduced the idea of confession. If an individual disclosed the proposed or actual sin the individual could continue living a good Christian life. For Augustine, arrival at true knowledge requires the passage from an awareness of the body to sense perception, to an internal knowledge of the forms (universal ideas), and, finally, to an awareness of God, the author of the forms (Henley, 2017, p. 74). The shift from external knowledge to internal knowledge is a shift towards God. For Augustine the shift to introspection or one’s inner experiences is the only sense to be trusted.

The Mind Body Interaction: Descartes Contributions to Psychology

Decartes believed that he had discovered the fact that the mind was nonmaterial and the body physical; that is the body occupied space and the mind did not (Henley, 2017, p. 113). This led him to believe that the mind and body were separate. He claimed that the universe was based on two substances; thinking substance and physical substance. His philosophy suggested that the mind has domain over physical experiences although the can influence one another (interactionism or Cartesian dualism) (Sorell, 2000). This idea of mind body dualism has significantly influenced psychology today. To this day researchers, psychologists, and philosophers still debate about the nonphysicality of the mind, it’s location, and its very existence. Descartes believed that the mind had no specific location and saturated the entire body. He also believed our thoughts could be colored by our sensory experiences (Henley, 2017, p. 114). Decartes also made attempts to explain bodily functions. He saw reflexive behavior as mechanistic similar to classical conditionings stimulus response or behaviorisms antecedents and behaviors. Descartes proposed that the brain, specifically the pineal gland, was the point of interchange between the mind and body (Sorell, 2000). He believed the nervous systems to be a system of threads controlled by animal spirits, that connected the brain to the muscles. Today neuroscience puts a heavy emphasis on the brain as the controller of body, nervous system, and creation of mind. Descartes hydraulic model prompted a change in how people saw the world. Philosophers could now begin testing their ideas through observation and experimentation. This has led to empiricism, one Descartes biggest contributions to the scientific world today. Descartes believed that a person had to doubt the truth in order to find real truth. Descartes dualism provided the footing for theorist to be allowed to conduct experimentations, doubt claims being made, and make their own claims without fear of church or religious dogma. These principles form the basis for the scientific method used today.

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