Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychologism: Critical and Historical Readings on the Psychological Turn in Philosophy
Jacquette (Dale), Ed.
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Editor’s Preface

  1. Among the dichotomies that have divided philosophers, the rift between psychologism and anti-psychologism represents some of the most heated metaphilosophical debate. The problem of whether and in what sense logic, mathematics, philosophical semantics, epistemology, and metaphysics are explanatorily related to psychology has been a fundamental watershed in the contemporary philosophy.
  2. The battle-lines between psychologism and anti-psychologism were first drawn in the mid-nineteenth-century. If logic, to take a conspicuous example, studies patterns of inference from thoughts to thoughts, then it has appeared to some theorists that logic is a branch of psychology that can best be understood in terms of the most advanced psychological science. Against this psychologistic view of logic, anti-psychologistic opponents have argued that logic is not a descriptive theory of how we actually think, but a prescriptive account of how ideally we ought to think. Logic on this conception is independent of the empirical facts of psychology. The inherently subjective nature of thought content appears diametrically opposed to the objectivity of the eternal truths of logic, and of philosophy of language and mathematics. To preserve the objectivity required of a rational a priori rather than empirical a posteriori science, anti-psychologists have rejected the idea that philosophy is grounded in even the most rigorously scientific psychology.
  3. The psychologism-anti-psychologism dispute can thus be interpreted as a deeper controversy about how philosophy can best be made scientific. There are two conflicting desiderata of science that provide a basis for the opposition between psychologism and anti-psychologism. Science wants both to be objective and dependent on empirical facts. In physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and the other hard sciences, there is no collision of these values. It is peculiarly in the case of psychology, where the empirical facts of psychological experience have at least traditionally been regarded as essentially subjective, that a division has emerged between two opposed ways of trying to make logic and other philosophical subdisciplines (broadly, according to one ideology or another) ‘scientific’. The comparatively late development of psychology as a science as well as the subjectivity of psychological phenomena can be seen in this light as partly responsible for the dialectical confrontation between psychologism and anti-psychologism. The two categories signify the legitimate but incompatible interests of these fundamentally irreconcilable requirements for a scientific psychology.
  4. If we could arrive at a satisfactory metaphysics of mind, then the apparently insurmountable impasse between psychologism and anti-psychologism might simply disappear. Instead, we find only further manifestations of these two different ways of thinking about the empirical facts of subjective psychological occurrences reflected also in the philosophy of mind. Here they appear in longstanding oppositions between phenomenology and cognitive science, or between nonreductive intentionalist substance or property mind-body dualisms and eliminative or reductive behaviorism, materialism, functionalism, or computationalism in the cognitive psychological sciences.
  5. The disagreement over scientific ideals for psychology might be expected to fuel an inexhaustible dialectic between psychologism and anti-psychologism. Such an interaction could provide the basis for a healthy and fruitful exchange in which competition from opposing sides could be harnessed for the sharpening of distinctions and refinement of arguments. To a limited extent, the opposition has continued and remains alive and well in the form of conflicts between realism and intuitionism or conceptualism, and between proponents and opponents of the program to naturalize or scientifically psychologize some of the traditionally non-psychological philosophical disciplines like epistemology and metaphysics. In most ways, however, the psychologism-anti-psychologism dispute has not exhibited this type of productive dialectical synergy. The rhetoric surrounding especially anti-psychologistic philosophical discussions is revealing for its extraordinary degree of animus; it suggests the perception of a very ingrained division in outlook that cannot be overcome by a consideration of arguments with shared presuppositions, but that is directed polemically out of desperation at the presuppositions themselves.
  6. Psychologism has largely withered away under the criticism of historically influential anti-psychologists. The objections have appeared both from within analytic and in the so-called continental schools. Among analytic philosophers, the most strident assault on psychologism originates principally with Gottlob Frege and his many followers, including Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, and others; while in the nonanalytic European tradition, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger are perhaps the most noteworthy ostensible anti-psychologists. The friends of psychologism, whether or not they would be willing to identify themselves as such, have continued the struggle under a variety of different banners, which is itself an important feature of the rhetoric of psychologism and anti-psychologism.
  7. To consider these problems, I invited a slate of distinguished scholars to present their perspectives on the history, philosophy, and rhetoric of psychologism. The papers with some overlap are presented roughly in historical sequence, by which the reader can trace certain themes through the development of the most significant episodes of the psychologism-anti-psychologism debate. The present collection of essays draws on three distinct sources of recent discussion of the philosophical problems of psychologism. The papers by Rolf George, Carl Posy, J.N. Mohanty, Joseph Margolis, and my Introduction were first published in a special issue of the journal Philosophy & Rhetoric, which I guest-edited in 1997, and which are reprinted here with the permission of Penn State University Press. Earlier versions of the essays by Michael Jubien, John H. Dreher, and myself were presented as feature contributions to an invited symposium on ‘Psychologism: The Current State of the Debate’ at the American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division, Albuquerque, NM, April 5-8, 2000. Finally, the essays by Werner Stelzner, Martin Kusch, Vincent Colapietro, Michael Bradie, Paul A. Roth, and Selmer Bringsjord and Yingrui Yang were specially commissioned for inclusion in this volume. Altogether, the expositions of critical and historical dimensions of psychologism offer a detailed picture of recent thinking about the problems and opportunities for philosophical understanding posed by various proposals for taking a psychological turn in philosophy.

  • Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003
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