What are the differences between philosophy and psychology?

Philosophy and psychology have addressed common themes. However, these are two different disciplines. Next, we tell you how they differ.

Last update: November 21, 2021

It is quite common to confuse philosophy with psychology. And it is that until the end of the 19th century, philosophy was the discipline in charge of studying mental phenomena. From the experimental works of Fechner, Helmholtz and Wundt, psychology managed to establish itself as a discipline with its own objectives and methods.

Thus, the confusion may lie in justifying that both have addressed (and continue to address) similar issues. However, they are two distinct and well-defined disciplines. That is why, in this article, we will explain the differences between philosophy and psychology.

Definition of philosophy and psychology

Before exposing the differences, it is important to take into account what each discipline consists of. In this case, the Royal Spanish Academy defines philosophy as the set of knowledge that seeks to establish, through reason, the principles by which the knowledge of reality is organized and oriented, as well as the sense of human action.

For its part, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as the study of mind and behavior. In addition, she affirms that she is interested both in solving the mysteries posed by the human mind and experience and in the efficient application of the knowledge obtained in the practical and therapeutic fields.

That said, we begin to notice how philosophy has a much broader scope of study (nothing more and nothing less than knowing the principles of reality). On the other hand, psychology is more limited, as it is focused on studying the psyche and human behavior.

For its part, in the same definitions we note how philosophy is a more reflective and theoretical discipline. On the other hand, psychology has a broad applied field, in which it puts into practice all the knowledge obtained and proven.

Differences between philosophy and psychology

The most notable differences between both disciplines can be summarized as follows.

Psychology has a concrete clinical application in therapies.

1. Methodology used

One of the main differences between philosophy and psychology is the type of methodology used in their approaches. In this case, philosophy is independent of the scientific method, since usually works with conceptual categories and the relationship established between them. Therefore, you can use any instrument in your studies.

Instead, psychology does depend on the scientific method. Therefore, the theories and hypotheses raised are contrasted through scientific research and experiments.

2. Objectives

The main objective of philosophy has always been the creation of categories and philosophical systems that serve to explain reality (or realities) in the best possible way. Therefore, this discipline tends to study a whole, rather than specific components of reality.

On the other hand, psychology has a delimited object of study: the mind and behavior of people. For this reason, their hypotheses and theories always start from the human organism or from the subjectivity of individuals.

It is not common for psychology to focus on a reality alien to people’s existence; aspect that has been observed historically in many philosophical proposals.

3. Language used

In psychology, theories and hypotheses are formulated in a consensual language, in order to be well received by the scientific community. Therefore, it is always sought that the meaning of the words is in line with what has already been established. The study is streamlined in certain areas and allows other researchers to collaborate in the same line of research.

Instead, many renowned philosophers have used personal and idiosyncratic language in formulating philosophical theories and systems. In this sense, the same word or expression can mean very different things, depending on the philosopher who formulates it.

4. Amplitude

Very well it is said that philosophy is the mother of all sciences, because from it the scientific disciplines that we know today were born. But in addition to this, philosophy examines and analyzes the theoretical, methodological and practical postulates that are issued in each of them.

Psychology, on the other hand, is just one of the fields of scientific knowledge. Although it is related to other sciences (for example, neuroscience), these do not depend on it to exist. On the other hand, psychology does not submit to analysis the postulates made by the other disciplines, as does philosophy.

5. Approach to morality

Another difference between philosophy and psychology is how they approach the issue of morality. Philosophy, in its ethical studies, seeks to identify the correct ways to behave. That is why many philosophers have dedicated themselves to offering categories around the good and the bad.

In fact, philosophy has set out to create universal ethical criteria. That is, they are applied by all human communities without exclusion.

Instead, psychology stays out of these ethical debates. In any case, it offers information on the behaviors that can be useful to get closer to a goal.

Likewise, the psychological approach to morality has also been carried out by studying the psychic processes that operate behind moral behaviors in different cultures. Therefore, it does not study morality itself.

Philosophy is made up of various currents that try to explain reality, covering many areas of existence.

Different in their forms and applications

Although philosophy and psychology share knowledge about the human mind and behavior, the former covers much more than these topics and does not depend on the scientific method to establish its postulates.

Instead, psychology is a more delimited discipline that depends on a rigorous method for the correct establishment of its postulates. It consists of a wide applied field, whose objective is to promote well-being to people, using the knowledge obtained and previously verified.

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