Monday 25 June 2018

Four possible bottom-lines for Psychology

1. Functional - social/ economic
2. Hedonic - happiness, health and lifespan
3. Evolutionary - reproductive success
4. Religious - salvation and theosis

Psychology may be, broadly, defined as the science (or more accurately systematic-knowledge; Wissenschaft) that is related-to behaviour - including all forms of thinking (mental activity) as behaviours.

1. Functional - this sees psychology in terms of the perfomance of social functions, including economic activites; and normal everyday functions such as vision and hearing. The idea is that human cognition and behaviour are 'for' doing the things that people do, when they are being functional. This type of psychology is human orientated - interested my memory, learning etc - it was the original kind of psychology of Wilhelm Wundt's or Pavlov's lab work, and William James's Principle of Psychology textbook. When applied to animals, it regards the animals everyday-functioning as the subject - and in that sense is not really biological.

2. Hedonic - this sees psychology is a more humanistic' - way, as being about happiness, fulfillment, misery, alienation as immediate outcomes; and about living a long and healthy life as a long-term outcome. It is the psychology of Freud, Jung, Maslow, Rogers and Self-Help.

3. Evolutionary - this sees psychology as a branch of biology (man as an animal); hence with reproductive success and natural selection as the bottom-line. It focuses on selection pressures, adaptations, and has a timescale of generations.

4.  Religious - this sees human psychology in terms of its interactions with outcomes such as salvation, theosis (becoming more divine), karma, reincarnation... whatever are the main outcomes in a particular religion; how to modify behaviour in pursuit of desired religioous goals (such as conversion, obedience, devoutness); and what kinds of being, thinking, and doing that affect these kinds of outcomes.

One can see that it makes a qualitative difference how psychology is defined in terms of its bottom-line; and there is no reason why we should expect one kind of psychology to map-onto, be integrable-with, another kind. They are doing different things.


Chent said...

Very enlightening. Thank you for sharing

Chiu ChunLing said...

While it is necessary to decide what the essential purpose of psychology is to the marginalization or partial exclusion of other purposes, it is counterproductive to so limit the origins from which we understand psychological effects to arise.

Evolutionary psychology is not usually concerned with reproductive success as an end in itself, but rather with understanding how the reproductive impact of possible behaviors cause them to be instinctively manifested despite their interference with the conscious goals of the individual. Each of the other types of psychology could be similarly approached, understanding the effects each teleological orientation produces rather than seeing them as the purpose to which the individual should aspire.

Ultimately, while any application of psychology must ultimately decide which ends to pursue, it is counterproductive to avoid studying the effect which other desires have on the ability of the individual to consistently pursue those ends.

For most psychological effects, understanding the sources is more like the efforts of etymologists to understand insects, the main application of knowing about bugs is to better exterminate (or at least control) them.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Actually, CCL, the efforts of etymologists to understand insects are centered on tracing the linguistic history of that word -- from the Latin insectum (meaning "divided" or "cut up"), coined by Pliny the Elder as a calque of the Greek ἔντομον, whence also the English entomology. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

I agree with CCL that evolutionary psychology doesn't fit well into this list, since it does not represent a goal of psychological practice the way the others do. Evolutionary psychologists do not ask themselves "How can I best increase my patients' inclusive fitness?" Rather, they consider selection pressures and such in order better to understand the etiology of various psychological phenomena.

I think you need to distinguish approaches to psychological etiology from assumptions about the goals of psychological practice. The former would include, for example, evolutionary psychology, the Freudian theory of the importance of early childhood experience, and, I suppose, a religious theory to the effect that we are the way we are because that's how God made us. The latter would include your functional, hedonic, and religious approaches. The various etiological theories are attempts to explain the facts of human psychology, and as such they all operate in the same domain and are in direct competition with each other. The various goals for psychology, on the other hand, cannot be "true" or "false" in the way that etiological theories can be, and it is correct to consider them more-or-less non-overlapping magisteria that are, as you say, "doing different things."

Chiu ChunLing said...

I can never get those two terms straight.

Perhaps because I secretly think of words as bugs.