It is easy to confuse psychology and philosophy between them, perhaps because both can be applied in a wide variety of fields and address issues that go beyond what is material and constant over time. There is a vague notion that advice can be issued from both and rules, conduct guidelines, and life lessons can be proposed, but knowing where the field of study of one begins and where that of the other ends is not so simple.
However, that is not to say that there aren’t clear lines separating each of its realms of research and application. Here I propose six differences between psychology and philosophy that can serve to guide you better in this type of question.
Main differences between philosophy and psychology
This is a summary of the ideas to take into account to distinguish between philosophy and psychology.
1. They are learned differently
The teaching of psychology is based on methodologies in which very specific tools are incorporated and that go far beyond the careful reading of texts: experimentation with volunteers, observation of body parts under a microscope, use of statistical programs, etc.
Philosophy, although it can also use certain instruments such as those mentioned, does not have such a broad consensus regarding which methodologies to follow. If something defines it, it is precisely the flexibility when it comes to establishing what its purpose should be and what the ways of reaching it should be (that is, the reflection on that itself can already be considered philosophy).
Thus, while in psychology there is a more or less clear accumulation of knowledge, in philosophy it is possible to make important advances starting almost from scratch. For example, while learning psychology involves being aware of the most important research that has been taking place in recent years or even months, in philosophy this is not necessary. As a consequence, works in the field of philosophy can give rise to lines of research that are relatively isolated from each other, while in psychology the creation of knowledge that can lead to consensus is encouraged.
2. They investigate with different methodologies
One of the main differences between psychology and philosophy is found in the type of methodologies that, in practice, are used in each one. Philosophy is independent of the scientific method since it works rather with the conceptual categories and the relationship established between them, Therefore it can use practically any instrument and method for its investigations. Psychology, on the other hand, relies on empiricism to develop hypotheses about behavior and perception. of the human being. For this reason, quantitative (wildly experimental) research and statistics are of great importance in psychological research, which means that taking small steps in understanding the psyche is expensive and involves many people.
3. Their goals are different
Classically, philosophy has had intellectual purposes, and its main goal has been the creation of categories and philosophical systems that serve to explain reality (or realities) in the best possible way. Philosophy tends to study a whole, rather than specific components of reality. It can also serve as a tool for collective emancipation, as proposed by some philosophical currents inheriting Marxism, and therefore addresses the usefulness of certain cultural and interpretive frameworks to understand reality.
Psychology, despite having countless applications, delimits a more specific object of study: human behavior and its emotional and subjective dimension. For this reason, his hypotheses and theories always start from the human body or the subjectivity of people, alone or about one another. It hardly ever deals with the search for a reality foreign to the existence of people, something that has historically occurred in some philosophical proposals.
4. They use different languages
Much of psychology consists of research through the scientific method and therefore seeks empirical bases to help it propose theoretical models well received by the scientific community. As a consequence, agreement on the meaning of words is constantly being sought to speed up research in certain areas so that several researchers from various parts of the world can collaborate in the same line of research.
Philosophy, on the other hand, can be found in philosophical systems formulated by a single person. That is why the main personalities in philosophy use a personal and idiosyncratic language, do not agree with others, and the same word or expression can mean very different things depending on the philosopher who formulates it. Philosophy students need to spend a lot of time studying each of the authors before coming to understand what they mean in each case.
5. Philosophy permeates everything, psychology is specific
Philosophy provides all the sciences with the analytical categories from which to study reality, while it does not have to be affected by scientific discoveries. But philosophy goes beyond science and came into existence before science. When writing this text I am doing something more similar to philosophy than to psychology, because I am deciding from which perspective to approach each of the concepts, which aspects to highlight, and which to omit.
Psychology, as part of one of the different layers of science, is crossed by these philosophical debates that do not have to be part of the subject it intends to study. However, it goes beyond philosophical activity, trying to create knowledge through science. Of course, this information provided by the investigations (and the data on which that information is based) must be interpreted from a certain point of view and knowing which is the best forces researchers to ask themselves questions of a philosophical nature.
6. Philosophy addresses morality, psychology does not
Philosophy wants to explain everything that can be explained, and this includes the study of the correct ways to behave. That is why many of the great figures in this discipline have offered their ways of understanding the categories of “good” and “bad”, sometimes to create universal ethical criteria, and sometimes to create so only a moral for certain human communities.
Psychology remains on the sidelines of this type of debate and, in any case, will provide information on what type of behavior can be useful to get closer to a goal, adopting a more pragmatic logic. Furthermore, it is possible that a researcher will study the psychological foundations behind different types of morality in different cultures, but will not study morality itself, but its origins.
In addition, the contributions from psychology can be used to propose the establishment of ethical scales and theories of morality.
- Dear, P. (2007). The scientific revolution. Madrid: Martial Pons History. Green, CD; Groff, P.R. (2003). Early psychological thought: Ancient accounts of mind and soul. Westport: Praeger.
- Shapin, S. (1998). The Scientific Revolution (1st ed.). University of Chicago Press.