The History of Psychology

The History of Psychology. Today psychology is considered as the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. But the case was always  so. Initially the soul; of man interested the philosophers, then mind and conscious experience, and  lastly observable behavior. In 1590, Rudolf Goeckel used the term “psychology”. This word is the combination of two Greek words “ psyche” and “ logos”, the former means the “ soul” and the later “ discursive knowledge”. Thus literally, psychology means the science of soul. Aristotle gave a very important place to soul in human life. Life has no meaning without soul. But he couldn’t explain the relationship of the soul to the body. The problem of the relationship between body and soul persisted for centuries. it was not solved by philosophers because it was based on false dualism and involved a separate study of physical and spiritual phenomena. Later on, the spiritual aspect was discarded altogether and substituted by a more comprehensive word “mind”.


Psychology was also defined as the “science of mind”. But in History  psychologists were never satisfied with this definition because mind was a vague term that could not be defined in objective terms. Mind and mental experiences were primarily subjective in nature. Therefore the later psychologists switched their positions and began investigations into behavior that was an objective and observable phenomenon. So it should not be surprising for a student of psychology that definitions of psychology have varied considerably over the years according to the theoretical orientation of particular “schools”.


Psychology has also been defined as the science of consciousness.  Structuralism, an important early school of thought in psychology, in History considered  as the study of conscious experience. In the words of Wilhelm Wundt, “psychology has to investigate that which we call internal processes or experiences—- i.e., our own sensations and feelings, our thoughts and volition’s in contradistinction to the subject of external experience”. This definition of psychology as a science of consciousness is now discarded and rejected on the following grounds: Modern day psychology does not believe in consciousness as it used to. Mental processes have substituted consciousness.


Even those thinkers, who use the word consciousness, do not agree on its meaning. According to some, it is a substance while for others it is a process or a stream. The word consciousness does not include animal or human behavior. Psychology also studies unconscious and sub- conscious processes. Therefore there is sufficient rationale behind the belief that it cannot be called the science of consciousness alone. Modern psychologists define it as a science of behavior, both of animals and humans. It was Watson, the founder of the behaviorist school of thought, who postulated this definition. This definition is comprehensive in the sense that it identifies behaviors that are overt and can be observed. But this definition also has some limitations. This definition takes behavior in a very narrow sense; behavior, as Watson saw it, was merely stimulus- response. Behavior, for modern psychologists, includes both the overt behavior as well as the mental processes that accompany those behaviors i.e., History the inner experiences that carry out those behaviors.

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