One of our next projects is a book on psychology, in which we try to pursue the philosophy of Psychology as a division of the philosophy of science and gather notes toward a philosophic psychology. The first chapter, “Notes toward a Philosophic Psychology,” is available for free in the first sub page of this psychology webpage. Go back to the menu, hover on psychology, then go to and click on the sub page when this appears. Here, we will collect blog-type psychology thoughts, most of which will later be integrated into the proper chapters of the full text. In a word, we begin with a combination of Socratic philosophy and Jungian psychology in an attempt to remedy the deficiencies that result from the attempt to limit psychology to the parameters of modern science.
The first article here, on the title page, is a selection from the first chapter, while the second is from what will be a chapter on contemporary questions of psychology approached from the Jungian-Socratic perspective.
A note: The philosophy of psychology, as a division of the philosophy of science, does not exist yet, but, so far as I know, was just invented, by the author. There are no texts or essays on this topic yet, so there ought be some explanation. It is, then, the attempt to understand the “first principles” on which psychology depends, things that psychology assumes, like a theory of knowledge or method of inquiry. The philosophy of science in general considers things like epistemology and method. An example is the question of whether scientific knowledge grows by paradigm shifts or rather single great theorist, by a dialectic of thesis and antithesis and the like. The “evolutionary epistemology” of Karl Popper and Donald Campbell are examples of theories of how knowledge grows. While psychology almost always proceeds on the basis of these assumptions without considering them, we question whether the unexamined psychology is not worth practicing, just as Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In fact psychology is doing more harm than good, and justifies its existence only because of the practical necessity of doing something rather than nothing, as for safety.
I. First Principles: 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.” The reasons for his use of the normal as a standard are inseparable from his assumption that the origins rather than the ends cause the nature to be what it is, or, as they would say, the child is father to the man,” etc. But this means that Freudian psychology does not even aim at the health of the soul, even while making common sense assumptions, such as identifying, and teaching psychology to identify, the healthy soul with the “normal, literally for lack of a rational or scientific standard. The void is filled by fashionable opinion, and at best a mix of tradition and common sense. But this is not scientia or science.
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, depend 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 of 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 up 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, 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 madness. His famous teaching, 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, 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.
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. 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, 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.
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 the physical sciences.
II. On Depression and Change
The over-prescription of antidepressants seems to us to be one of the three or four major areas of prescription drug abuse in contemporary America. While our psychology assures us that depression is a matter of neurons and dopamine receptors, drugs like Zoloft and Xanax and Prozac, “Tricyclics” and Mao inhibitors, SSRI’s and all sorts of sides seem to us to be routinely prescribed for things like teen depressions and the sorrows that are a part of human life. While there may indeed sometimes be a wholly neurological cause, say, to a flood of emotion such as fear or sorrow, sometimes the human cause is evident. Neurology seems unable to make a distinction between the psycho-genic and the somato-genic causes of various maladies. Hence it may be worthwhile to consider some points about depression from outside the medical science.
What if depression is sometimes psycho-hygienic, working to maintain some general flush or cleansing (Katharsis) required in maintaining the health of the soul? Tears clear the eyes. According to one great psychologist, an un-degreed master of common sense, depression has a psychological function: it aims at change. Something is not right. Sometimes the “down side is up,” in our moods, and then it is time to see problems, so we might think of corrections. Marital disputes are, or can be, like that. Depression may occur when something is dying off, so that something new can emerge. Some problems are not resolved, but one can simply do something else, and even let a whole new world emerge, rather than by drugs force an acceptance of the depressing circumstance. Taking a walk is a well known remedy for common depression. Physical exercise is known to crank the metabolism, refreshing the “dopamine receptors.” To clean one’s house or room is also a good symbolic activity. But all the neurology in the world cannot tell whether one ought or ought not be depressed, even as well as common sense can tell.
If depression is psycho-hygienic, then the misuse of antidepressants may for example lead to un-dealt-with built up rage. The prescription of antidepressants has coincided with the unexplained increase in public shootings that have become a part of American culture. Something clearly has changed in American society in the past few decades. Has the possibility been studied that there might be a link, if difficulties with, as they say, anger management, are a known side effect? And why, of all the money devoted through grants for studies, has this not yet been much studied? Again, our position is that because of the unknown side effects, these drugs should be used as little as possible. Presently, it seems to us, incentives are given to use them as much as possible.
It is because our psychological science does not know what it is doing that these drugs should be used as little as possible. The practice is admittedly experimental, sometimes trying one thing and then if that does not work, another. The theory of interfering with dopamine receptors seems to have about as much science behind it as the practice of shock treatment: scramble the brains, and we’ll see if the problem, or “problem behavior” does not go away. Not that such things do not sometimes work, so that they are even chosen by some patients. But the practice is not based on knowledge, and so we should interfere as little as possible, rather than, like an auto mechanic, as much as possible.
There had been a stunning error of common sense in the practice back in the seventies, when drugs susceptible of toxic overdose were prescribed too often. There has been a move toward the less toxic in recent years. But the obvious danger that those depressed might intentionally overdose was ignored. Nick Drake was a great musician of the late sixties and early seventies. He was very sad, in part because his music was not widely received, though it was well received by the other musicians. He was prescribed a toxic antidepressant, and no one knows whether his overdose was intentional or accidental. He has three albums, all very good, though it takes a while to hear him.
In light of the routine use of toxic medicines to treat depression, it is strange that Marijuana is not officially considered an anti-depressant, and a possible replacement for worse things. So one sees a natural right to herbal simples where no commerce, and no one else’s rights are even involved. Alcohol is both toxic and addictive, and yet a beer in the evening is a well known home remedy for the stress of the work day, and a drenching drunk for blows of sorrow like the loss of love. Like George Carlin notices, when one has a hangover, his priorities get readjusted: (“I don’t care about my shoes!). Despite the obligation to regulate the sale of snake oils and toxic medicines, aspirin, made from willow bark, could hardly be criminalized. Is psychiatry and the industry serious about acting, like Hippocrates, with the intention to cure, and do no harm?
In the psycho-hygienic function of depression, there is a churning of the soul. Jung too writes of how the “Unconscious” produces contents intended to “compensate” the conscious mind, for example in a one-sided attitude. For some, dreams can provide a remedy for despair, and for some too, poetry, song and the liberal arts. The emptiness of the soul is the same for all humans, because it is intended to receive knowledge. There are some very sad truths that are a part of human life, and so there is a kind of depression that is common to all humans. Philosophical characters are known for “melancholy.”
One of the great mysteries is cause. The matter and motion reduction of cause cannot explain what anything is or what it is for. Hence Aristotle, one of the great Socratic philosophers, described things in terms of four causes, the better two of which are rejected by modern science, in favor of the more scientific explanations in terms of neurons. So Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedo, caricatures the natural philosophers as being like those who would explain the cause of his remaining in prison by reference to his legs, the muscles and the tendons, being bent there on the bench in a certain manner. So let us ask the psychiatrists, what is the cause of Socrates remaining in prison?
In these pages on Psychology, we will devote ourselves to a new king of fusion between Jungian psychology and the classical Socratic study of the soul, which, we argue, can provide the basis for a new psychology, though not, however, the authority to set a career on prescribing drugs. When Socrates turned from the pre-Socratic study of nature to the study of the human things, a new kind of the study of man and nature emerged. In our own terms, we can repeat the Socratic turn, in answer to the contemporary crisis at the basis of modern psychology and psychiatry.
St. Francis would pray to be more concerned with others than himself. Random acts of kindness or concern for the sorrows of those around us take us out of ourselves, so that soon, like Mother Theresa, we are not concerned if we are thin and short! Sometimes the down side is up, and the glass is half full. We are in truth, and in general, lucky to have the astonishing opportunity to be here at all, between the two eternities of the future and the past.
One final note: the word love does not occur in the index of the 1998 textbook of abnormal psychology. Neither does repentance, forgiveness, or mercy, and yet it is, comparatively, a pretty good text book on the science at the basis of the healing of the soul.