10 May

The Philosophical Implications of Psychology

Posted By polity_admin_user

By Kengo Miyazono & Lisa Bortolotti

Research in the philosophy of psychology is expanding rapidly and the range of topics has also been increasing in recent years. We find it useful to divide research in the philosophy of psychology into two sub-areas: ‘foundational’ and ‘implicational’ philosophy of psychology.

Foundational research is concerned with core concepts in psychology, such as the concepts of  ‘representation’, ‘computation’, and ‘empathy’, and general hypotheses in psychology, such as the hypothesis that the human mind is massively modular  (Fodor 1983) and the hypothesis that some unconscious mental mechanisms are the result of natural selection and are adaptive (Wilson 2002). Questions in foundational philosophy of psychology include: ‘What are representations?’, ‘How does computation work?’, ‘Is the massive modularity hypothesis plausible?’, and so on.

In contrast, implicational research focuses on the results of particular psychological studies (rather than their theoretical foundations) and investigates their implications for issues that are philosophically relevant. For example, on the basis of  a series of influential studies on reasoning biases (Tversky & Kahneman 1974; Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky 1982), we can ask whether humans are irrational. On the basis of studies on the limitations of memory (Loftus 2003; Schacter & Addis 2007), we can ask whether eye-witness testimony is fundamentally unreliable.

Both dimensions of philosophy of psychology are important, but our new textbook, Philosophy of Psychology: An Introduction, concentrates on implicational philosophy of psychology. There are three reasons for this. First, implicational issues have recently stimulated very lively discussions in philosophy of psychology research (which used to be dominated by foundational issues). We wanted the book to reflect this trend. Second, existing  philosophy of psychology textbooks mainly focus on foundational issues, leaving the implications largely unexplored. The book is motivated by our frustration with the lack of accessible resources for discussing implicational issues. Finally, we are committed to the idea that scientific and philosophical research matters: becoming aware of the limitations of our cognitive capacities and investigating what sustains our motivation to do good can help us take measures to align our behaviour with our aspirations, as individuals and as a society. It is important to create opportunities to discuss how successful psychology is in giving us the means to improve our lives.

Kengo Miyazono is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hokkaido University and Lisa Bortolotti is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Their book, Philosophy of Psychology: An Introduction, is available in Europe from May 14th and globally from July 9th.