History of Psychology

Why Study the History of Psychology?

While studying the history of psychology a person can learn the basics, the process of development of this science, main personalities, approaches, and milestones that shaped the modern state of the study. Modern principles cannot be applied to ancient state of mind and vice versa. For better understanding of a human being and his mind throughout the ages and up to now, a person should know the way the human thought changed causing changes in the way it was studied. The one who sees the development of human mind has a better insight into the behavior of modern people. Moreover, the history of psychology bears a substantial pool of information and concepts that for some reasons fell on deaf ears of contemporaries but advanced in years or decades.

Major Paradigm Shift

Cognitive psychology is one of the most popular branches of psychology. It concentrates on attention, perception, memory, learning, judgment and decision, concept formation, reasoning, language processing, and problem solving, and explains how human brain receives, processes, and stores information and knowledge (Hergenhahn, 2008, p. 623). This subfield of psychology outdid highly popular behaviorism and psychoanalysis, and has a wide range of application, e.g. in advertising, education, or neurolinguistics. Unlike observation or perception, cognitive psychology studies internal mental states and processes.

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes addressed one of dualistic problems called mind-body problem. He saw a human body as a biological mechanism ruled by physical laws. The same laws could not govern the consciousness, which existed separately, while the consciousness affected the body and interacted with outer world by means of two-way interaction. Nevertheless, Descartes did not reject the existence of a God as a source of creation and perception of the world.


Four laws of association developed by Aristotle became a substantial fundament for further psychological deliberation. By utilizing different laws of association, associationism explains the formation of ideas, how simple ideas make up complex ones, and memory phenomena as remembrance and recall. Mind and understanding are made up and structured by different associations. In a psychological theory, association draws all mental processes, thus is able to explain every aspect of a thought.

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Determinism is the theory which implies that everything is caused by the set of conditions. The more conditions are known the more accurate the assumption of something happening is. Consequently, determinists claim that human behavior is predetermined as well. In philosophical and psychological disputes, it is contrasted with a human free will. For example, an English philosopher Thomas Hobbes elaborated on the nature of causation. He totally denied the existence of a free will in favor of deliberation or a divine cause of every action.


Hedonism is rooted in Ancient Greece. According to hedonism, every person sets pleasure as the highest goal of existence along with the diminution of pain. Aristotle differentiates happiness and pleasure. Happiness is an activity that occurs in the aspiration for positivity. Pleasure is an addition to the activity, as it must result in pleasure from activity. What differentiates Aristotle’s hedonism from that of other representatives is that a person can feel pleasure if the action is not aimed at personal benefit.

British Empiricism

According to empiricism, a person can obtain knowledge only in case of personal experience based on senses of perception. ‘Empirical’ is the term used in different sciences to state the result of observation. Repeated empirical observations with repeated data give the opportunity to make assumptions about observations for building theories and further examination.

John Locke was the founder and the most eminent personality among British empiricists. Locke saw the human mind as a ‘tabula rasa.’ Translated as ‘blank state,’ this term refers to the absence of any mental background in the mind of individuals that make up personality, behavior, or intelligence. Nothing but life experience and all life events after birth constitute the human mind. The theory of a ‘tabula rasa’ gave rise to a dispute lasting through centuries as well as to its application in different areas like computer science or politics.

Locke also pointed out two significant constituents of understanding the objects. The primary qualities made up the object physically, while the secondary qualities caused psychological experience and had nothing to do with the physical world. Locke extolled mind for generating ideas, and stood for the creation of a mental science independent from natural sciences, although, he did not deny the existence of God, attributing this knowledge to intuition and reasoning.

His follower, Bishop George Berkeley, claimed that Locke, being a true Christian, laid the foundation of atheism. Berkeley went further with the idea of perception, asserting that everything became existent only if we perceived it. Therefore, there is no material world but perceptions only. Namely, he referred to subjective reality – subjective idealism.

David Hume is another representative of British Empiricism who shifted empiricism to skepticism. Other empiricists’ deliberations resulted in the beginning of such movements as Pragmatism, Positivism, Phenomenalism, and Logical Positivism.

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