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Psychology and Philosophy

  1. William O'Donohue

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0732

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

O'Donohue, W. 2010. Psychology and Philosophy. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–2.

Author Information

  1. University of Nevada, Reno

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Concerns that are now typically part of contemporary psychology—What is the nature of the mind? What causes human happiness? How do humans come to believe or know?—were, until the end of the nineteenth century, the concerns only of philosophers. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, investigators such as Wilhelm Wundt took an experimental approach to these questions, or at least certain aspects of these questions, and contemporary scientific psychology was born. Although empirical and experimental methods allow psychologists to address questions commonly outside the scope of philosophy (e.g., What is the incidence of depression?), philosophical concerns continue to influence these empirical pursuits. One clear example of such influence is the general agreement among psychologists that research takes place within a context of philosophical assumptions: What is science? What counts as evidence? What inferences are legitimate to make given the data? What are morally permissible research or clinical methodologies? Relatedly, analytic philosophers often engage in conceptual explication, and psychologists are often still puzzled by their concepts, for example, What is intelligence? What is clinical depression? Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953), in his Philosophical Investigations, famously wrote the following:

The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a “young science”; its state is not comparable with that of physics, for instance, in its beginnings. (Rather with that of certain branches of mathematics. Set theory.) For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion…. The existence of the experimental method makes us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and method pass one another by.


  • ethical issues;
  • moral issues;
  • philosophy in psychology;
  • psychology in philosophy;
  • values