There can be no doubt that, one of the youngest of the relatively recent branches of social sciences, psychology has been developed considerably over the past century.
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With the help of the discoveries made by the greatest psychologists and sociologists, the psychology doctrines have grown from quite primitive ideas of a human being to more complex systems of knowledge about the ways people interact with each other and the way the social can coexist with the personal.
It is truly worth admiring that within such little amount of time, psychology has stretched from a bunch of slightly related concepts to the scale of full-fledged social science field, with its own theories and concepts.
Nevertheless, even with the recent developments and the reconsiderations of the ideas which have been offered by the most prominent psychologists, there are still a number of ideas worth checking, mostly because of the fact that these ideas have not passed the time test yet.
Among the most topical ones, the question whether psychologists should take the personality or the naturalistic approach to the human consciousness is the first and the foremost issue to consider.
Tracking the progress of the psychological ideas over the past century, one can possibly define the major steps which the humankind has progressed to, as well as determine whether psychologists should consider the naturalistic or the personalistic approach as the key factor in the construction of psychological theories and application of these theories in real-life practice.
Once assessing the previous tendencies in philosophy and understanding its roots, one is likely to find the answer to the question of the future of psychology as a branch of social sciences.
One of the first psychology theorists to be considered will be the man who had lived and created long before psychology was even brought into existence.
Thomas Aquinas, the man whose knowledge of the way the society and the human mind worked was beyond any possible comparison and still probably remains unmatched, Thomas Aquinas was the first to introduce the world to the so-called philosophical antecedents to psychology.
Indeed, taking a closer look at his major works, one can see distinctly that Aquinas made an attempt to approach the mystery of human psychology.
Despite the fact that the philosopher plunged into even more ancient history, analyzing the peculiarities of Aristotle’s Politics, Aquinas offers a number of peculiar ideas which might as well be considered the concepts which created the necessary prerequisites for psychology as a branch of social sciences to emerge. As Keys (2006) explains further on,
Aquinas’s natural law theory comprises a subtle yet significant philosophic version of Aristotle’s framework, incorporating a new theory of the principles of practical reasoning to complement Aristotle’s speculative first principles and adding an account of synderesis and conscience to Aristotle’s psychology. (Keys 2006, 67)
Thus, it is clear that Aquinas not only reconsiders Aristotle’s ideas, but also adds his own considerations to the developing theory. After all, Aquinas rethinks the structure of ideal state which Aristotle offered.
Starting with the basic moral principles and ending with the description of the regimes in different states (Aquinas, 2007), the author makes the connection between the social and the personal an undeniable fact, which is an impressive step considering the epoch and the ideas of the given time slot.
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When it comes to talking about the followers of the Aquinas’s theories and the people who stretched the existing ideas into something even greater and more well-rounded, the name of E. H. Weber comes to mind.
Introducing the world to a completely new branch of social sciences, namely, experimental psychology he managed to convey the key principles of the latter basing on Aquinas’s key concepts and at the same time developing them into something even greater.
The concepts under development could not be called full-fledged psychological movement at the time; however, they offered a rather well-structured string of conclusions which could probably lead to even bigger discoveries.
It is important to mark that at the given stage, psychology and its doctrines could only be established with the help of the results of various experiments, which Weber conducted (1996). According to Gimbel, without these experiments, the world could have lost the chance to develop psychological ideas:
Weber’s experiments and the results he reported changed the direction of psychology. Gustav Fechner was so impressed with Weber’s work that he extended it and tried to derive a mathematical description relating the physical and the mental.
Wilhelm Wundt picked up on Fechner’s work and created the first psychological laboratory. From the observations of Weber, experimental psychology was born. (Gimbel, 2011, 86)
Another epoch features a different step in the development of psychology as a field of social sciences. Thomas Watson and his experimental psychology turn the tables on whether a human being should be considered an integral part of the system or every single person must be taken as an individual, with his/her own specifics, needs and wants.
As Buckley explained, this was literally a breakthrough in the world of psychology – making it possible to develop typical patterns of behavior predetermined by specific factors and causes, Watson opened a new page in the history of psychology as a branch of social sciences. As Buckley (1989) claimed,
Behaviorism called from the same faith in the scientific method to usher in a new era of progress in which the goal was “prediction and control” of behavior. Watson offered the services of psychology to the very class of managers whom Lippmann had characterized and held out the possibility of new professional roles for psychologists themselves. (Buckley, 1989, 83)
It is also worth adding that Watson developed a considerable theoretical framework, much like his predecessor. However, in contrast to Aquinas, Watson did provide certain evidences which supported the efficiency of his theory.
As the latter explained, the key concepts which he offered, cognition being the most essential among them, the pillars of behaviorism were supposed to herald a completely new era in the development of psychology: “Watson believed that, today, we call cognition results from the learned development of stimulus-response connections” (Watson, 1924, xiii).
Taking the idea of behaviorism and stretching it further to the idea primary instincts ruling the mind of a human being, Sigmund Freud, who was, perhaps, one of the most famous psychologists of all times ever, offered another twist into the newly developed field of social sciences.
According to the latter, the assessment and the further predictions of a human behavior should be carried out basing on the principles of the personal needs and wants, namely, the most basic ones – i.e., instincts.
Despite the fact that the given idea could seem quite bold and not exactly justified, judging by the previous assumption and the theories mentioned before, the given theory seems quite legit and even veracious enough. Following the behaviorist concept, the idea that a human being is motivated by the primary needs appears more than adequate. As Wollheim (1981) said,
Sexuality in its earliest phase does not, Freud contented, possess an object. It consists in sexual aims which the infant endeavors to fulfill through its own body, and for this reason Freud applied to the whole period the term “autoerotism:” a term invented, and also (according to Freud) “spoilt,” by Havelock Ellis. (Wollheim, 1981, 125)
Adding a different perspective on the development of an individual, Freud focuses on the general features, which shafts him into the ranks of personalists. According to the author, these are the individual pieces of experience that matter: “The meaning is always determined by the individual moral standpoint” (Freud, 2007, n. p.).
Following the personalistic concepts, one can possibly draw certain parallels between Freud’s ideas and the concepts offered by the the adept of the next psychological theory of development, namely, the theory of social needs, famous Abraham Maslow, and his nonetheless famous pyramid.
Heralding a completely new approach to the psychological issues and the needs and wants of a human being, Maslow became a decent representative of a contemporary movement. Weirdly enough, Maslow always denied the impact of Freud and his concepts on the ideas which Maslow managed to convey in his own theory.
Despite the obvious link between the two, there was a considerable gap which Maslow seemed to be eager to make even bigger; and that gap was the link between the social and the personal, which meant that the final frontier between the personalistic and the naturalistic approach has fallen.
Indeed, as the author himself explained the way he came to his fantastic conclusion about the nature of human needs and wants was developed absolutely despite the Freudian concepts.
However, as Maslow explained further on his final step was taken mainly because he suddenly realized that behaviorism was indeed a key to all facets of human life and human motivations: “Our baby has changed me as a psychologist,” he writes, “It made the behaviorism I had been so enthusiastic about look so foolish I could not stomach it anymore.
It was impossible” (Goble, 2004, 21). Thus, it was obvious that Maslow did try to avoid the stereotypical personalistic approach and focus on the naturalistic one, both heralding and at the same time ending the behaviorism era (Maslow, 1972, 4).
Analyzing the above-mentioned, one must mention that the development of psychology as a social science has been rather steady since the first push and seems to be developing even further.
Despite the fact that psychology as a branch of social sciences has been established comparatively recently, it stems from the ideas offered in the ancient times, which displays the unceasing effort to find and eventually maintain the balance between the personalistic and the naturalistic.
In the constant search for this balance, the researchers have offered a number of theories, some of which have survived the time test and are still topical, which proves once again that the process of search can actually be even more fruitful than the actual discovery of the truth.
Thus, it is obvious that psychology is bound to rely on the personalistic approach rather than on the naturalistic one. With the emphasis on the personal development and the personal accomplishments, it is obvious that the naturalistic ideas should be shifted to the background.
However, if taking the argument above into account and consider the significance of each of the elements, one must admit that the balance between the personalistic and the naturalistic ideas is the exact representation of what should be called the multilateral approach and an opportunity to get an objective picture of one’s personality.
Indeed, it is obvious that the consideration of the inner factors which have had their impact on the personality essential, for it helps to define the exact theory which the exact person requires. Yet on the other hand, without the consideration of the outer factors which have had their effect on the personal development as well, the correct assessment of the facets of the given personality is practically impossible.
Hence, keeping the balance between the naturalistic and the personalistic approaches, one can reach true revelation and achieve considerable effect in his/her psychology practice.
In addition, judging by the facts concerning the development of psychology and the discoveries which have been made so far, especially after comparing one to another, it becomes obvious that the existing ideas are rather diverse and at times even contradictory to each other.
Therefore, it can be observed that considerable changes are likely to occur to the current theories. Perhaps, in a matter of several decades, the psychological doctrine will shift to the sphere of naturalistic or, on the contrary, personalistic approach, neglecting the other one completely. Progressing every day, psychology is bound to offer a number of surprising discoveries.
Aquinas, T. (2007). Commentary on Aristotle’s “Politics” (R. A. Reagan, Trans.). Indianapolis, IA: Hackett Publishing Company. Inc.
Buckley, K. W. (1989). Mechanical man: John B. Watson at the beginnings of behaviorism. New York City, NY: Guilford Press.
Freud, S. (2007). The interpretation of dreams. Sioux Falls, SD: NuVision Publications.
Gimbel, S. (2011). Exploring the scientific method: Cases and questions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Goble, F. (2004). The third force: the psychology of Abraham Maslow. Anna Maria, FL: Maurice Bassett.
Keys, M. (2006). Aquinas, Aristotle and the promise of the common God. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1972). The father reaches of human nature. Anna Maria, FL: Maurice Bassett.
Watson, J. B. (1924). Behaviorism. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Weber, E. H. (1996). On the tactile senses (2nd Ed.). East Sussex, UK: Taylor &Francis.
Wollheim, R. (1981). Sigmund Freud. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.