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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: August 2018

7 - The Emergence of Modern Science

from Part I - Psychology's Historical Foundations


Psychology was recognized as an independent science by the end of the nineteenth century. During the preceding two centuries, models were developed of what psychology should study and how such study should be conducted. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, competing models of psychology vied with each other for dominance. We deal with this very important period, through an explanatory structure of national movements advancing philosophy and science, in Chapters 8 through 10. The present chapter sets the intellectual background, especially in the natural sciences and philosophy, for the articulation of various models of psychological inquiry. In approaching the intellectual background of science, we first consider particular themes and issues to pursue, then backtrack to follow through on another theme. This approach is necessary to deal with the volume of material, but is somewhat artificial; we must remember the simultaneity of events, despite their successive presentations.

In terms of the natural sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the successful demonstration of the value of empirical science. The empirical disciplines triumphed over speculative approaches, particularly metaphysics. Recalling Comte's hypothesis from Chapter 3 concerning the stages of intellectual progress, we may consider the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the transitional phase of the post-Renaissance development of empiricism. Somewhat paradoxically, it may be argued that the decline of Aristotelian metaphysics, resulting from the rise of empiricism, was initiated by the Scholastic reliance on reason as a source of knowledge, which in turn was based on Aristotelian teachings. In other words, the Scholastic elevation of reason as a source of knowledge made possible the efficacy of observation, which is the basis of empiricism. Accordingly, Aristotelian philosophy, supported by the Scholastic affirmation, was a comprehensive system that accommodated both metaphysical and empirical approaches.

Advances in Science

Post-Copernican advances in science and mathematics were crucial to the eventual success of science. With the decline of Church authority based upon faith, the ‘‘age of reason’’ began, an era also sometimes called the “Enlightenment.” The human intellect was valued and used to generate knowledge, resulting in a trend that steadily witnessed the triumph of science. In a very real sense, science, based on reason, was viewed as a replacement for religious doctrine, based on faith. Science and scientific methods were valued as the best approach to any area of investigation.