Philosophy and Psychology

 Posted by on 1 June 2002 at 4:18 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 012002

In response to a question about whether therapists ought to be trained in philosophy, I recently posted this following comment to the Nathaniel Branden Forum:

The issues of psychology and philosophy are often deeply intertwined, particularly in ethics. In my recent work on honesty, I found great benefit in reading the psychological literature. And that psychological literature often referenced the philosophical literature. In other words, philosophy and psychology are often studying the same subject, just from different perspectives.

However, in the course of my readings on these interrelated issues, I have often noticed a great ineptitude on the part of many psychologists in dealing with the philosophical analysis. They routinely overlook important distinctions, ignore the long-range consequences of the actions in question, fail to consider relevant alternatives, and so on. (For an example of what I mean, see my review of psychologist Paul Eckman’s book
Why Kids Lie.)

Of course, I know that most philosophers are no better when it comes to psychological analysis. Philosophers often construct epistemological and moral theories that are grossly at odds with our scientific knowledge of how people’s minds work. I’m sure they commit other psychological sins that I am simply too ignorant to identify at this point.

So just from an academic perspective, I would argue that philosophers and psychologists need some cross-disciplinary training. (In fact, one of the reasons that I enjoy philosophy so much is that good philosophy requires a knowledge of history, economics, anthropology, psychology, and so on.)

These same problems emerge in the psychotherapeutic context. Moral issues and psychological issues do not neatly separate themselves when a patient enters psychotherapy. And psychotherapists are not necessarily equipped to handle the moral issues that their patients bring to them every day.

This problem of ignorance is one of the reasons why there has been a fair amount of interest lately in philosophical counseling, to deal with precisely these philosophical issues. Additionally, the success of the Dr. Laura Show has much to do with her interesting blend of moral and psychological issues. Dr. Branden’s work, of course, also integrates psychology and ethics in a highly useful way.

I suspect that many of the problems that drive people to therapy start as philosophical problems and end up as psychological ones. Thus I also suspect that more integration of good psychological and philosophical counseling would bring many people great benefit.

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