Toward a Philosophic Psychology

In psychology and psychiatry, many different words are used to describe the standard against which diagnoses are made, beginning with the standard of the “normal.” Words used in the opening chapter of my text on “Abnormal Psychology” include dysfunction, disorder, and maladaptive, followed closely by standards which, as C. Pfeiffer notes, emphasize conformity, such as compliant and non-compliant. These are all attempts to speak scientifically about the standard assumed, trying to speak in a way that is objective and sanitized of personally inserted “value judgments.” Freud seems to have popularized this standard of the “normal.” Because of the attempt to be a medical, scientific and biological psychiatry, Freud was uncomfortable looking into the questions of the ends or goals, the purposes of thought and action, preferring to look to the origins and to the body in the attempt to understand the soul. This preference is itself not scientific or established by science. Psychology, for its first principles, depends on something from outside the science. While Freudian psychology is depth psychology, looking within and emphasizing the unconscious, B. F. Skinner tried to limit study to the observable things outside, subject to experiment. Notoriously, one of the great limitations of the behaviorist psychology is that it produces an instrument to be used toward whatever ends the humans seek, easily prostituting the science of the soul to the common human ends of wealth and power. It is philosophy or philosophic psychology that takes up these questions of the ends themselves, the relative value of each of the goals, and the corresponding hierarchy of ends that is the basis of the priorities and the orders of each of the souls.

And what does the science at the root of psychology and psychiatry have to say about the normal, the functional, the adaptive, the orderly and the compliant? Do they practice a scientific inquiry into these things? Our text presents a scale of functioning graded from 1-100, like a Community College course, with for example those that are a danger to themselves and others at a 20, those who can show up for work, about a 60, and those who can give them a job, about 80-90. One wonders if those practicing the art of psychiatry have spent much time at all scientifically considering these things, the function of the soul or man, the best orders of the soul, what it means to be “adaptive” or not abnormal. Psychiatry is dependent for its first principles on either common sense, tradition, fashionable opinion, or philosophic ethics. Our American psychology will surely involve the American ideal of “success” in the most common understanding of the standard.

Do these words even cohere? That is, is the adaptive the same as the functional and the normal? What if the well ordered soul is rare? And where do we find a scientific study of the well ordered soul, so that we know what is orderly and disorderly when we see it”? And is not the best adapted, according to the Darwinian standard, not the one best at survival and reproduction? Is this not the unjust man, the tyrant and rapist that, while being unjust, appears just, gaining all the social rewards of justice, while gaining the worldly advantages of injustice? Psychiatry simply takes up the wisdom of common sense and fashionable opinion to bolster its profession and its authority, for example to prescribe drugs, to the great profit of all concerned, except perhaps the patient.

Hence, we argue that in the most important respects, modern psychology and psychiatry do not know what they are doing, especially when they drug people. The profession is necessary for practical reasons, and might be humbled and moderated by the recognition. Like Nurse Ratchet, Psychiatry ends by imposing its own interests, based on practical concerns extraneous to science, and imposing these with the authority of medicine and science. Indeed, “compliant” may be a synonym of “adaptive.”

We contend that a new psychology might be pursued by following the example of what occurred in ancient Greece, when pre-Socratic philosophy gave rise to the Socratic study of the human things. Rather than begin from “nothing,” Socratic philosophy begins from common sense, questioning opinions in an attempt to ascend toward knowledge. Famously, Socrates would ask the question of what each thing is, for example, “what is virtue?” or “what is sanity?” and what is moderation and what madness. His famous teachings, such as that virtue is knowledge, that knowledge or wisdom is the health of the soul, that knowledge is knowledge of ignorance, the fear of death, a thinking we know what we do not know, the soul more important than the body, revenge is unjust, learning is remembering, wisdom the highest good, on which the others depend, etc. Aristotle, who is also one of the Socratic philosophers, presents the classical standard most often cited: the end or goal is happiness. To understand his teaching of happiness, though, one must read his Ethics, which is itself a reading of Plato’s Republic.

We think that modern psychology is not serious in its claim to be the science of the soul and to seek the art of healing, because if they were serious, they would all be constantly reading the works of Plato, Shakespeare, and any others reputed seriously to be wise in these matters, which mankind has thought upon on occasion over the past three thousand years or more. In fact, psychology requires the study of history, law, literature, politics, music, biology, medicine, theology, and many other sciences, as a comprehensive science of the human things.

The Biblical tradition cannot provide the scientific basis of a new science of man, because it is not scientific at all. It is the tradition against which the renaissance rebelled, because of the assumption of knowledge based on myth, much like the poets of ancient Greece. But the deep teachings, in fact the greatest wisdom regarding man to which we have access, is not excluded from philosophy, as it is from scientific psychiatry. Jung, by citing a basis for his thought in phenomenology, attempted to return the symbols and the spiritual things from their banishment by modern medicine, in its attempt to be scientific. Imagine trying to understand man without the teachings of the log in the eye, forgiveness, the love of one’s neighbor, not to mention the greater mysteries. Or try to understand man without reference to the law, for example the law against murder, or the assumption that such injustice is wrong and cannot lead to happiness. Such may be at the root of the attempt of modern psychology to understand what it calls the “sociopath,” which again is based on an understanding of good and evil that is left implicit. The word therapy comes from the Egyptian Christian sect, and the purgation of the soul in penance remaing unsurpassed by and scientific treatments.

Our psychology cannot give a consistent account of the difference between crime and the other “disorders,” nor does it have a theoretical account of the difference between genius and madness. The words used as the gold standard in the diagnoses of the DSM are just that, words, with no science behind them. The science of such things might include experimental studies, but is at its heart philosophical, an imitation of Socrates rather than of the physical sciences.


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