The History of Psychology


Your course

This course is designed to give you some insight into the historical context surrounding famous events in the history of psychology. We will review the progression of psychological thought and inquiry, examine major theories, methods, and assumptions, and study the individual contributors that helped shape the emergence of the field of psychology and its changes over time.

Why the history of psychology?

A history of psychology reflects the philosophical and cultural shifts that have shaped the field; it is also reflects how we view ourselves. Therefore, a history of psychology goes well beyond an account of who devised what and when. It is a history of humanity.

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Why we should begin with the first philosophers

Why look at the beginning of psychology with Greek thinkers and not, as one would expect, with German physician Wilhelm Wundt who founded the first psychology laboratory in 1879? Because 2,500 years ago Greek philosophers asked some of the most important questions about human beings and their relationship to the world. The issues they explored continue to challenge and inform us. What is the world made of? Is reality stable and permanent or is it always changing? Is sensation a reliable guide? Is knowledge innate? What is happiness? Their profound interest in human behavior gave the field its fundamental ideas long before Wundt and his successors did.

The Greek legacy

Greek philosophers attempted to get clear about reality, meaning, and morality, questions that did not belong to the other arts and sciences.

They gave us three basic categories of philosophy:

1. Metaphysics, the part of philosophy that asks questions such as “What is the world made of?" and "What is the ultimate substance of all reality?”

Greek philosophers were the first to suggest that a true reality lies beneath the apparent reality of the world around us. Materialists claimed that this true reality is made up of matter and energy (it is more physical), whereas idealists believed that reality lies in ideas and ideals (it is something more mental).

2. Epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge that asks, "how do we know what is true or false, what is real or not?" "Can we know anything for certain, or is it ultimately hopeless?"

Philosophers outlined two opposing approaches to the problem of knowledge:

Empiricism, which claimed that all knowledge comes through the senses;

rationalism, which believed that knowledge is a matter of reason, thought.

3. Ethics, the philosophical understanding of good and bad, right and wrong, asked, "What does it mean to be a good person?" "What is the best kind of life for a human being to lead?" In turn, these fundamental questions led thinkers to examine "What is it to know something, rather than just have an opinion?" "How do we learn?" "What kind of society would be best for us all?"

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As you are introduced to how fundamental concerns were motivated for ancient thinkers, consider the question of which of these problems remain alive in the contemporary world.

Enjoy the readings and enjoy the week!