Philosophy and Psychology: Kindred Disciplines

Philosophy and Psychology: Kindred Disciplines

Well, hello there.

For my first posting on Philosophy Matters, I want to emphasize the interrelatedness between philosophy and psychology.  As Swalters can tell you, the Greek origins for the former indicate a “lover/friend of wisdom,” whereas those of the latter a “study of the soul.”  Thus, even the mutual etymology suggests a special relationship.  To be overly general, philosophers ask questions to study the essence of things with the hopes of formulating guiding principles (e.g., “what is a chair?”), and psychologists somewhat more specifically investigate matters of the mind and behavior (American Psychological Association, 2012).  In fact, it would be fair to consider psychological science as a sort of “applied philosophy.”  One can philosophize without psychology, but one cannot psychologize without an underlying philosophy.

In psychology, counseling, and psychotherapy, there are at least 250 different theoretical orientations, but most can be placed under just a few philosophical schools of thought (Halbur & Halbur, 2011).  Personally, my preferred categorization scheme is based on the work of Joseph F. Rychlak (1981).  Using common philosophical undertones, Rychlak sorted all psychological theories into one of three categories:  Kantian Models, Lockean Models, and Mixed Kantian-Lockean Models.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant is considered a follower of idealism, and this school of thought essentially believes that that the only reality is the world of ideas (Ozmon & Craver, 2008).  Furthermore, the Kantian model primarily considers knowledge only able to be found in ideas.  What this idea essentially means is that knowledge can thus never be completely known or understood.  These ideas have influenced many famous psychologists and their theoretical tenets.  Some notable Kantians are Carl Rogers (person-centered psychology), Irvin Yalom (group therapy), and Jean Piaget (developmental psychology).

John Locke was a British philosopher who is strongly associated with realism.  The realist school of thought believes that reality exists independently of the mind (Ozmon & Craver, 2008).  Another distinguishing feature of realism and the Lockean model is the belief that knowledge and truth can be discovered empirically.  These principles are somewhat synonymous with what most consider “traditional” scientific inquiry:  experiments and observations are used to discover how the world works.  I suspect many readers will recognize many of the famous Lockean behaviorists:  John B. Watson, B. F. Skinner, and Albert Bandura.

The last category of psychological theories is the Mixed Kantian-Lockean Model (Rychlak, 1981).  As might be expected, this model falls somewhere in between the previous two in that it proposes that some knowledge can be known, but some cannot be found.  Interestingly enough, this moderate philosophical viewpoint formed the basis for the works of the classical psychodynamicists.  Ever heard of Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis), Carl Jung (analytical psychology), or Alfred Adler (individual psychology)?

In summary, philosophy and psychology are inseparable and influence many aspects of our daily lives (more about that in future posts).  I hope you found this post both informative and interesting, but I do apologize for the juxtaposed jargon and recrementitious references—but not the alliterations.  Until next time, psych yourself up!


American Psychological Association. (2012). How does the APA define “psychology”?. Retrieved from

Halbur, D. A., & Halbur, K. V. (2011). Developing your theoretical orientation in counseling and psychotherapy (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Ozmon, H. A., & Craver, S. M. (2008). Philosophical foundations of education (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Rychlak, J. F. (1981). Introduction to personality and psychotherapy: A theory-construction approach (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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