what is the general definition of psychology?

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1. What is a psychology?

2. what is the etymology of psychology?

3. Does the word "psychology" translated from any other country or language other then United States?

-- Zong Lao (Zong3K@hotmail.com), June 24, 2002


Definitions of psychology are provided in introductory textbooks and in history textbooks--look there for some competing definitions over the years.

A previous thread at http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=005CN2 provides references for the history of the word psychology--the sources referenced there include the history in several different languages and cultures

The original word is a blend of Greek and Latin: psyche & logos

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (hendrika@earthlink.net), June 24, 2002.

Actually, psyche (better transliterated as psuche) and logos are both Greek, and neither has a very good equivalent in English.

Psuche started out referring to breath, then to life more generally. The psuche was thought to go to Hades after the death of the body in Homeric times, but it was not the person's "essence" in the way that Christians believe the "soul" to be -- it was said to shuffle and gibber and squeak ineffectively, almost the exact opposite of the Greek ideal of the person. The term dropped out of common use during the time of the lyric poets (e.g., Sappho), who tended to use "phrenes" (diaphragm) as their main "psychological" term. "Psuche" was revived in the presocratic philosophers, who speculated on its substance (usually opting for air or fire). It was given some cognitive functions by the Pythagoreans. Socrates and Plato were the first to talk about the psuche as something that was cognitive, ethical, and could be improved with training. Plato divided it up into three parts: roughly intellect, impulsiveness (courage/anger), and desire. Aristotle was the first to write a book specifically on the psuche (now known under the Latin title De Anima)-- it is mainly about the nature of life in general rather than about what we would think of as psychology specifically, though psychological function occupies a good part of the text. Still the Greek term "psuche" is a fairly distant cousin of the modern English term "psyche."

Logos started out meaning simply "a thing said," but it later came to mean an account or explanation of something. It is sometimes translated as "word" (e.g., "In the beginning there was the word" in the Book of John) but this is correct only if "word" is understood quite broadly to mean something like language as a whole. In modern English, used as a suffix, "-logos" is usually taken to mean "science of" or "scholarly study of," but that is a comparatively recent development.

-- Christopher Green (cgreen@chass.utoronto.ca), June 25, 2002.

You might check to history I provided recently also: Vande Kemp, H. (2000). In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; New York: Oxford University Press-USA.

Psyche and soul (Volume 6, pp. 334-337)

Chris was right, of course: psyche and logos are both Greek.

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (hendrika@earthlink.net), June 27, 2002.

The object that psychology studies has shifted from time to time and place to place. One might attempt to define psychology by taking a historical snapshot and claim that it is what it has become. In that case I’d be concerned that psychology was giving up its inherent autonomy to historical processes.

I see reality in terms of emergent wholes that evolved. I believe that each fundamental level of higher wholes are irreducible to and partly subsume previous levels. In that way I see inanimate things, and out of that emerged animate things, and out of that emerged sentient beings. I believe that those emergent levels constitute three distinct and irreducible structures.

The thing that psychology studies that makes it unique among special sciences is sentience. Psychology is consciousness engaged in understanding itself.

I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree, however. My unproven belief that sentience is an irreducible emergent whole is not undisputed. A rival, yet unproven perspective, is that sentience can be completely understood from the point of view of neurology, microbiology, and even physics and chemistry. So the answer to what the general definition of psychology is, is that there is no general definition. There are differing unproven perspectives, and each perspective has their own definition.

-- John Hedlin (jhedlin@shaw.ca), July 01, 2002.

psychology is the science, that studies the human behaviour as well as that of animals

-- mohammed usman akhtar (u_4me_only@yahoo.com), July 31, 2004.

Alright, the above 'psychology as the study of behavior' reply has goaded me into action again. Here are some definitions that I like much more:

"Science of Mental Life, both of its phenomena and of their conditions" (James, Vol. 1, p. 1).

"Psychology is primarily concerned with the study of mental activity. This term is the generic name for such activities as perception, memory, imagination, reasoning, feeling, judgment, and will.... Stated in comprehensive terms... mental activity is concerned with the acquisition, fixation, retention, organization, and evaluation of experiences, and their subsequent utilization in the guidance of conduct" (Carr, 1925, p. 1).

*The progressive aspect of this definition is that, along with Dewey, Carr seems to be providing a larger unit of analysis for psychology. That is, "activity" in its various manifestations, includes both 'external and internal processes' in one large unit of analysis. Larger that is, than other possible units such as introspective elements (Titchener, Dallanbach), reaction time (Scripture), reflex (Pavlov), or behavior (Watson, and later Skinner).


"We conclude, then: psychology is a part of the scientific study of life, being the science of mental life. Life consisting in process or action, psychology is the scientific study of mental processes or activities. A mental activity is typically, ... conscious and we can roughly designate as mental those activities... that are either conscious themselves or closely akin to those that are conscious. Further, any mental activity can also be regarded as a physiological activity, in which case it is analyzed into the action of bodily organs, whereas as 'mental' it simply comes from the organism or individual as a whole. Psychology, in a word, is the science of the conscious and near-conscious activities of living individuals" (Woodworth, 1921, p. 17).



Paul F. Ballantyne

-- Paul F. Ballantyne (pballan@comnet.ca), July 31, 2004.

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