In this chapter, I shall first give a short description of psychology as an empirical science as it appears at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Then, I shall discuss how a study of the history of psychology can contribute to our understanding of present-day psychology. Further, I shall account for the way (I believe) psychology as an empirical science originated. Finally, before I present the plan for the book, I shall discuss reasons why empirical psychology over time has undergone changes. In this discussion, I shall be particularly concerned with the problem of assessing progress in psychology as an empirical science.
A Short Characterization of Present-Day Psychology
Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, psychology as an empirical science has grown into a broad, diversified field of study. We can gain an impression of its breadth by noting that it borders on the biological sciences on the one hand and the social sciences on the other.
Psychology is a theoretical as well as an applied science, and also a profession incorporating a number of specialties. In a wide variety of areas it has produced knowledge useful for the solution of theoretical problems as well as problems of practical and social life. However, so far, psychology has hardly produced comprehensive theories or scientifically acceptable principles of a general nature. Thus, the discipline appears highly fragmented.
The Present Approach to the Study of the History of Psychology
The attempt to establish psychology as an empirical science raised several questions that were not easily answered and that soon became controversial. Questions such as what is the relationship between mind and brain, between human and animal behavior, and between genetic endowment and environmental influence (nature and nurture) emerged at the inception of the discipline and have remained controversial to this day. At an early stage, disagreement arose about whether we should conceive of psychology as the study of mental experiences or the study of behavior. In what sense should we regard as mental experiences various types of nonconscious processes, such as the subconscious and the unconscious? How do society and culture influence human thinking and behavior? This last question emerged later in psychology's history and is of central importance for the advancement of psychology as an empirical science.
When controversial questions such as these have been satisfactorily answered, psychology will be considerably advanced.
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