Philosophical and Empirical Foundations of Term Paper

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  • Subject: Psychology
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Behaviorism sought to understand observable behavior instead of the workings of the mind or even its functions. Some psychologists even insisted that psychology was the science of behavior. Watson denied the existence of a separate realm of conscious events. The purpose of Behaviorism, according to John Watson, was to predict and control behavior by understanding the effect of the environment on one's behavior. Watson was also influenced by Locke's blank slate theory, and believed that an individual's character and behavior was determined solely through experience.

Because Behaviorism was not concerned with what the mind and what went on inside it, they had no need for introspection and rejected it. Instead, they relied exclusively on the methodical, observable, and scientific observation of behavior. Their dominant method was the stimuli-response method, where the scientists presented the subject with a stimulus and observed its responses.

Behaviorism produced many findings, frameworks, and research questions that are still employed today. Pavlov, believed that all actions were reflexive and created the concept of conditioning, which posited that behavior was shaped by certain previous experiences, which he called stimuli. Later Behaviorists, such as Skinner, believed that behavior was also controlled by the consequences that followed it, that it was meant to produce a certain response in the environment. He called this operant behavior. (445). Skinner proposed the concept of operant behavior

Because of the Behaviorist position that one's behavior can be controlled by altering one's environment, Behaviorism had wide practical application and institutional support. Behaviorist theories and methodologies are still influential today, particularly in the fields of learning, motivation, and development psychology. Skinner's brand of Behaviorism, particularly the concepts of operant conditioning and reinforcement in order to control behavior, is particularly popular. However, the Behaviorist position that environment alone controls behavior has lost favor, especially among evolutionary psychologists, because of recent discoveries regarding the role of genetics in behavior and predispositions. (Workman and Reader, 2004, 1).

Gestalt psychology

The German school of Gestalt psychology, unlike the Behaviorists, sought to understand consciousness. The Gestaltists distinguished the geographical (physical) environment from the behavioral (subjective) environment. They believed that the behavioral environment governed behavior, meaning that the stimuli perceived by an individual was a product of his own subjective experience, his perception of the event. For this reason, Gestalt psychology pointed to the importance of an individual's subjective experience and perception of his environment in explaining behavior..

The Gestaltist wer heavily influenced by Immanuel Kant's ideas on sensory experience. Kant believed that "the mind adds something to our conscious experience that sensory stimulation does not contain." (Kant, Prologemenna). The Gestaltists believed that the brain changes sensory experience to making it more structured and organized in order to making meaningful to us. Thus, there is a crucial difference between sensory experience and our perception of that experience. Lewin was an early Gestaltist who believed that psychology should not categorize people into types or emphasize inner essences. (482).

The Gestaltists used introspection in order to study the dynamics of consciousness. They were not concerned with making psychology a hard science such as the Behaviorists and Structuralists, who they believed were more concerned with validity than gaining insight into the human mind. In this way, they were much like the Functionalists, who were concerned with the Gestalt psychology had big implications for modern psychology because it implied that an individual's mind and behavior can be altered by changing the individual's perception Although the Gestalt school is no longer active, many of its insights have been incorporated into modern psychology. It created a new focus on the holistic aspects of behavior and consciousness, instead attempting to explain psychology through narrow elemental terms. It has been particularly influential in Humanistic psychology and cognitive psychology.


The School of Psychoanalysis sought to understand a part of the mind that was ignored by other schools, the mind's unconscious processes. As a physician, Freud was initially interested in the unconscious because he wanted to understand the causes of abnormal behavior and mental illness in order to help cure cases of mental illness. This is why Psychoanalysis still has such a strong psychologist-patient element. (515).

Freud posited that life is the individual's quest for instinctual freedom, which is denied to him by society. (Freud, 8). Freud believe humans are instinctually driven towards the gratification natural impulses, such as pleasure and domination. Freud held that people are forced to repress these instincts by society out of rational self-interest. Man's subjugation of himself to society is compulsory, a compromise made out of self-interest and fear of retribution. (Freud, 14).

Although the individual represses these instincts, his primordial instinctual drives remain. The constant repression of the individual's appetites by society are the source of his inner conflict and incessant anxiety. Freud believed that this aggression can only expresses itself by turning inward, back at the ego. (Freud, 33).

Freud was influenced by German idealists, such as Schopenhauer and Nietszche, who were concerned with the inner conflicts affecting the individual. From Schopenhauer, Freud learned the concepts of sublimation, repression, and resistance in the individual mind. From Nietschze, Freud learned the notion that the individual was engaged in an inner conflict between his irrational impulses and his rational efforts. (516).

Freud used the innovative practice of Pyschoanalysis, a form of introspection. One popular form of Psychoanalysis was dream analysis. Freud believes that dreams have to be interpreted from the standpoint of wish-fulfillment. According to Freud's theory, all dreams are a cathartic performance of the person's true wishes and desires. However, the true content of these desires, the "latent" content, is usually distorted and disguised by the pre-conscious and must be decoded in order to discern the real meaning of the dream.

Although Freud's ideas have been hugely influential in Western society, popular culture, and the arts, they have come under increasing criticism from the field of experimental psychology, which has found his theories to be overly speculative, unscientific, and unfalsifiable. (Stanovich, 2004, p. 26). However, Freud's focus on mental illness and treatment has made is ideas influential in abnormal psychology, which have adopted his focus on anxiety, neuroses, unconscious repression, and defense mechanisms. (545). His method of psychotherapy has also been influential in the treatment of mental illness by therapists and medical psychiatrists.

Post-Modernism (1950-Present)

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic Psychology was a reaction against the fields narrow focus on behavioral oddities and abnormal psychology. Humanism was concerned with the future, or how psychology could be used to provide guidance for human living. Humanists were concerned with the human experience of life and how to enrich that experience. Humanists believed that subjective reality is the guide for human behavior. (586). They believed that psychology should formulate a description of what it means to be a human being. (586).

Humanistic psychology is very influenced by the Existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Nietszche. Existentialist philosophers emphasized the importance of meaning in an individual's life. They recognized that the discrediting of Christianity and its promises of personal salvation had left a huge void in Western society. Because life had no intrinsic meaning, individuals would naturally suffer the pain of a nihilistic existence until they created meaning for themselves. Because of its emphasis on the efforts of the individual, Existentialism emphasizes the importance of individual willpower, as indicated by Nietschzes quote that "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." (Nietsczhe, 1889).

Humanist Abraham Maslow developed a model of personal development called the hierarchy of needs. An individual would first have to secure his physiological needs, then the need for security, then the need for love, and the need for esteem before he could reach his life's goal of self-actualization, where he reaches his full potential as a human being. A self-actualized human being is joyful, accepting, natural, fulfilled, creative, universal, ethical, inner-directed, and possess a deep love of life that cannot be shaken by external conditions. (588; Maslow, 1968, 4).

Although the school of Humanistic Psychology faded during the 1980s, it is still influential in contemporary psychology. (Clay, 2002). Its greatest contribution to the field was its reexamination of the utility and purpose of psychology, which receiving much attention from the dominant schools of Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis. The ideas and approach of humanistic psychology spawned a self-help industry.

Positive Psychology

The new field of Positive Psychology has continued the exploration of positive human attributes to serve as a guide for human behavior. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000). It posits that the ultimate aspiration for all human beings is human flourishing, where the person is functioning optimally in their personal and social lives. (Keyes, 2007, 95). However, scientific methods play a larger role in Positive Psychology, which seeks to adapt what is best in the scientific method to the unique problems that human behavior presents to those who wish to understand it in all its complexity. (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000).

For instance, Csikszentmihalyi's work on optimal experience has made use of Behaviorist studies regarding performance and motivation. With this research, he identified…

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