history of psychology

By Fr. Raymond Taouk,


1) plato (428-347)


1.    the world


·      Matter is not something out of which something becomes, but the place in which.  It is defined as what is not.  It is eternal, God only organised it.

·      The world is a great animal, composed like man of a visible body and an invisible soul.

·      All obey the Demiurge, the supremer orderer of the world and the planets.

·      The particular souls are emanations of the cosmic soul, in such a way that there is fundamental identity between the cosmic soul and God.

·      The living beings, the woman is one of them, come from the degradation of man.


2.    the human soul


·      It pre-exists the body.  By way of punishment, it is bound to a body (orphisto-pithagorician doctrine)

·      The union of body and soul is therefore only accidental.

·      Ummortality.  In the same way as the soul pre-exists the body, it post-exists it.  Yet Plato has better arguments for the immortality of the soul : the soul knows the pure essence of each thing and must thus be spiritual; men must be rewarded for their good works and thus must be somewhat immortal.

·      The soul has 3 functions : the mind , the heart , the appetite produced by sensation. To these 3 correspond 3 types of knowledge :  wisdom, opinion ,sensation



  2) aristotle (384-322)


1.    Refutation of Plato


·      Re. the knowledge of things, Ar. distinguishes 3 forms of knowledge :

·      monstrative, or experimental,

·      intellectual which is subdivided into:

·      demonstrative or science or knowledge by its causes and principles.

·      intuitive or intelligence, knowledge of the principles themselves.


·      Re. the origin of ideas, he holds the theory of  abstraction : ideas are not innates, they  are abstracted from the senses.


·      Re. the soul, against the theories of

·      The metempsychosis, he does not investigate the state of the soul after death,

·      Dualism, he affirms the substantial unity of 2 parts incomplete and complementary (soul/body),

·      Materialism, he affirms the spirituality of the operations of intellect and will (and free will).

·      Thus, for Ar. the spiritualist psychology is the only possible explanation of experience.

·      In Ethics, againsts the identification of science and virtue, he distinguishes the speculative judgement (fruit of the sole intellect) from the practical judgement (fruit of the int. and the will), leaving room for the free will.


2.    Study of the bodies in motion


·      The celestial bodies (spheres and planets)

·      the sublunar bodies.

·      the animated bodies.  Ar. explored all the aspects of the living world : the natural history of plants, of  animals, the anatomy of the parts of animals, the physiology dealing with locomotion, respiration... He is the first to distinguish between organs and tissues.  He reduces sciences to their superior principles.  He gives the specific distinction of minerals, plants and animals. 

·      Although he insinuates the impossibility of transformation of the species because of the substantial form, however he teaches also the rhythmic evolution of the substances in the universe towards the more perfect.  He admitted the spontaneous generation and, in the fetal life of man, the passage from the vegetative to the sensitive and to the rational life.


3.    Aristotelian psychology


·      Added to the de Anima, he has other minors studies, about sensation (the soul in tabula rasa in principio), of memory, of dream and chimeras.  The De Anima is divided into 3 books :

·      Book I refutes the erroneous systems.  He defines the soul ‘the first act of the organized body, living in potency’.  Thus he dissipates :

·      the errors of Plato regarding the pre-existence of human souls.

·      the accidental union of the soul and the body,

·      the multiplicity of the souls,

·      the phenomenism of Pythagoras, which affirmed that the soul is nothing but a mere accident, the harmony of the body,

·      the materialism of Empedocles and Democritus,

·      metempsychosis, since the soul individuated by its own body cannot inform another body.

·      Book II explains the nature of the soul.

·      Book III explains the 5 powers of the soul, the most important of which is the soul, distinct from the body , which comes from the outset ‘by the door ’, ‘it survives the body, it is necessary that man do everything he can to live (eternally) according to the principle more noble of which he is composed, which alone is impassible, eternal and divine’.


  3) plotinus (205-270)


1.    The human soul emanates from the Universal Soul.  It is previous to the body and the  efficient cause of the body to which it is not united substantially (no relation of matter/form between body/soul).  There is in every man another sensitive soul which dies together with the body, whereas the rational soul is immortal since it is independent from the body.  This latter is related to the divinity, esp. by its faculty of reaching wisdom and virtue by its liberty : all attributes which are divine.


2.    The principle of return.  Every effect by an innate desire, returns to its perfect cause  where it finds its own perfection and beatitude.  Thus the purification of  man consists in a triple endeavor of : a) abstraction to become only soul again, b) intuition to become again , c) extasis to become One.


  4) St. Augustine  (354-430)


1.    The principle of creation. 

·      By giving beings their substantial perfection and by preserving them in the evolution of the duration, the creating Truth founds the proper operations of each one and becomes the ultimate explanation of all things.  The more a creature depends on God, the more it becomes perfect.

·      SA. is at the antipodes of occasionalism. From this Metaphysics, he draws a true psychology and cosmology.  The question of the angels is studied in theology (regarding them, he accepts as most likely the famous medieval doctrine of the spiritual matter).  In psychology, due to his platonism, although the soul is naturally united to the body, yet the study of man is mostly the study of the soul.


2.    Life : the h. soul is an incorporeal substance whose main activity is to animate and move the body.  The same soul produces the diverse operations of man (vegetative, sensitive and intellectual life).  He rejects the position which holds the soul as the whole of man.[2]


3.    Sensation


·      is the activity of the soul which, by impressions received in the body from external things, becomes conscious of the universe and forms in itself a representative image of it. 

·      There are 3 steps in sensation : the corporeal reception (senses are passive); the conscious reaction (production of an image of the world, more or less spiritual and conscious); the psychological organization (through the internal senses , particularly common sense, imagination and memory).


4.    Intellection dominates the concrete world and delivers us from the body, since it is an immediate participation to the Light of the Subsistent Truth, i.e. to the activity of the divine intellect.  For SA, God has to intervene to give me the possession of truth since the senses do not suffice :

·      sensation is necessary to supply the object of science (human or concrete things), but it cannot supply the object of wisdom (knowl. of divine things, of that which participates in the Eternal Reasons of the Word).

·      Therefore, to remedy the defect of the senses, God illumines man by a a greater creative influx, making him participate in the immutable perfection of the Divine Truth.  This illumination comes from God alone since the Eternal Reasons are found neither in the sensible things nor in the human soul, ignorant and unstable.  This divine illumination is a perpetual action and participation, a ‘union, contact, impression’ of God.  This theory of the divine immediate illumination by the Divine Truth made SA abandon the innate ideas, which had become useless.


5.    Liberty.  This power of producing our acts at will is not only safeguarded but also perfected by the fact that it is under the immediate influence of God.  He has shown the conciliation and even the harmonious and intimate cooperation of God and our will in the free good act, which he explains by the victorious delectation of the good[3]


6.    Immortality.  The soul cannot cease acting and cannot die given its union with the immutable Truth.  Re. the origin of the soul, SA hesitates between creationism (God creates each soul) and the spiritual tradutianism (the soul of the parents together with God produces the soul of the children).  The latter solution would facilitate the explanation of the propagation of the original sin, but SA doubts whether an act so close to creating can be the work of mere creatures.[4]


   5) Avicenna (980-1037)


1.    Person.  Ibn Sina (in Hebrew Aven Sina) was a Persian doctor, with an already encyclopedic knowledge at the age of 18.  He assimilated the doctrine of Aristotle and started writing at age 21.

2.    Truth is one, which shows that philosophy is one.  Avicenna reconciles Plato and Ar. and  the Coran.

3.    The World has 3 orders: terrestrial with the human soul at its peek; the celestial world with the first caused being at its peek; God as supreme cause.  There are 2 principles, the necessary God and the eternal uncreated matter.  God cannot not create, and He begets only one being, the 1st caused being, which produces the 1st intellect and the material sphere, then the 1st int. produces the 2d etc... Avicenna denies the work of Providence.

4.    Man

·      is composed of body and soul.

·      the Agent Intellect is not the form of the body, nor is it God.  It is the intellect of the superior sphere which illumines and actuates the human soul.  The agent intellect is almost the same as the  platonist world of ideas.

·      there are 5 degrees of intellection : material, possible, in act, acquired, intuitive i.e. the active mysticism of the ‘holy spirit’.


  6) Averroes (1126-1193)


1.    Person : Ibn Rochd was born in Cordoba (Spain), also doctor.  He follows Avicenna by commenting Ar. but influenced by the platonist infiltrations of the Arabs.  To Avicenna’s doctrine, he adds :

2.    re. the int., not only the agent int. but also the passive int. is unique for all men.  The unique intellect, which is the motor of the sphere of the moon, in order to reach the truth uses images given by the sensitive soul and produces the acquired intellect (of Avicenna), i.e. the impersonal reason participated by the personal being.

3.    the theory of the 3 orders, i.e. the existence of 3 types of truths totally disconnected, and able to contradict each other : the truth for the people, for the theologian, for the philosopher.[5]


 7) saint thomas aquinas (1225-1274)


1.    As all other bodies, man has a structure of matter and form, and therefore the intellective soul (principle of intellection as well as of life) is at the same time the form of the body.  If that was not the case, thinking would not be the action of this man, which is false since everyone recognizes he is the subject of his own act of knowledge, intellectual as well as sensitive.


2.    The anthropological hylomorphism of Aristotle was condemned as being Averroist (although it was fully thomist) by the Augustinians.  This was due to the particular case of the body of Christ after death : if the int. soul was the only form  of the body, the body of Christ of change its form /species after death, and the Word of God would be united to ‘another thing’ than a human body, which seemed heretical!  See also the problem of the preservation of the personality after death. The Augustinians affirmed the existence of the ‘subtle matter’ as principle of individuation for the angels, and for man of the corporeity, the form of body distinct from the soul.


·      ST faithful to his hylomorphic principles affirms that the created spirits do not have a numerical distinction since they have no body, but only specific distinction (each individual nature exhausts the species).  This is the opposite of the Aug. positing an individuated angelic matter.

·      ST affirms the anthrophological hylomorphism (the soul is form of this body and not of another body).  Thus, he saves the personal and individual character of men, numerically distinct and having the same common nature since they have the same lineage and the same mode of propagation.


3.    The human knowledge follows the hylomorphic thesis of man.  The senses, far from being an obstacle, are in fact the only means of initiating the intellectual knowledge which has for object (proper, not adequate) the natures of things sensibles (quidditas rei materialis).  Hence the need of an agent intellect in man to render intelligible those images-phantasms provided by the senses.



  8) s. bonaventure (1221-1274)


1.    He represents in the xiii c. the perfect augustinian and mystical tradition.  His main principle is the exemplarism : all things are intelligible by means of the exemplary ideas in God.  The 2d principle of the incompleteness of created beings saves the substantial unity of things : the forms, participations of distinct perfections and found in the same individual, are set in a hierarchical order as incomplete beings.

2.    knowledge.   The diverse aspects of our int. knowledge are perfectly explained by the abstractive operations of the inferior reason, and the intuitive operations of the superior reason.  This latter intuition needs an immediate intervention of God ‘regulans et movens’ which makes us share really in the Truth. Such an intuition is firstly natural and becomes supernatural and mystic.  The illumination of God reveals the first principles and the 2 concrete objects of knowledge, the intuition of the soul and the ‘contuition’ of God, who is also object of innate knowledge since God is  present in us.

3.    Will and morality.  God, the first exemplar, directs our will by a moral illumination of the natural law, the synderesis.  He directs it also by a certain information, an innate predisposition to virtue, the ‘seeds of virtues’ within us.  The liberty of developping the virtues is a ‘habit’ common to the int. and the will.  The importance of the will in the act of knowlege, of faith and of intuition, leeds him to voluntarism.


 9) duns scotus (1265?-1308)


1.    Man has 2 substantial forms, the corporeity and the rational soul.  Moreover, there are diverse metaphysical degrees of forms (vegetal, animal) really-formally distinct yet not real.  He admits 2 distinct forms because, if the int. soul was the only form of the body, the body of Christ after death would be something else than a human body, to which the Word of God remained united, and this position seemed heretical.


2.    the will is an autonomous and essentially free power, which insures the possession of reality.  If we were to follow ST who speaks of the will as the ‘rational appetite’ which naturally follows the intellect, we lose liberty altogether.[6]  Hence the possession of God in the beatitude will not consist in the intellectual vision but in an act will which insures the possession of the supreme Good ‘attracting Him’ to us.[7]


3.    The intellect has for object the real and individual being.  It allows us to get hold of the real but under the efficacious motion of the will.  D. Scotus criticizes ST for whom the object of the int. is the abstract and universal nature because, if the int. ignores the individuals, a) it won’t be able to abstract from them the universals, b) it won’t be able to have scientific knowledge of concrete things, c) it would not know the individual thinking subject, obviously false.[8]


4.    The agent intellect does not abstract the universal since the universal is not object of the int.  The Agt int. only adapts the int. to a given object, and extracts the formalities (concepts) really distinct and universal.  Each individual has its own concept, its ‘haecceitas’.  The conversio ad phantasmata in not stg natural, but only the fruit of original sin.


5.    By conceiving beings as absolute independent entities, Scotus tends to substantialise the faculties and to make them independent from each other overlooking their synthesis and complementarity.  Thus the int. is independent from the senses and reaches directly the concrete things.  The senses are necessary only in the state of fallen nature.  The will is separated from the intellect and it alone suffices to explain liberty.

6.    the immortality of the soul is proved only by faith, and not at all by reason since :

·      Scotus unnerves the value of the main proof  since int. knowledge is hardly different from sensation.

·      the spiritual nature of the soul does not demonstrate the absolute necessity of its immortality : God would not be free to bring it back to nothingness.




            1) st.

1.    ST wrote 2 formal treatises of psychology.  He uses the philosophical approach in his commentary of the ‘De Anima’ of Aristotle, starting from the physical world, with the self motion of the bodies.  From there he moves to the other world, that of the spirit.  Thus he studies it philosophically, going from the sensible to the intelligible, i.e. from the less abstract to the more abstract.

2.    In the Summa, after considering the merely spiritual creature and the merely corporeal creature, ST studies man in his nature (75-89) and in his origin, the first man (90-102).  Inside the treatise of the h. nature, the theologian studies firstly the soul, and then the body in relation with the soul.  And given that according to Dionisius we find 3 things in the spiritual substances, the essence, the virtue and the operation,  ST follows this distinction and treats the question of the essence of the soul (alone 75, with the body 76), its virtues or powers (77-83) and its operations (84-89).  The theological method of the Summa starts to show man, not as a body among other bodies, but as a creature, composed of body and soul with the fundamental thesis of the soul, form of the body.  Man is shown are coming directly from God.


- NATURE (one) 2-26

- PROCESSION of the 3 persons 27-43


PRODUCTION creation 44-46














purely MATERIAL : cosmogony 65-74






Essence of the soul 75-76



















of the 2


the soul












- general

- will

- free will






Operations of  soul 84-89

int + body

tgs material 84-86

of man 87

of spiritual tgs  88








body 89





first production  90-102



[1]Principes I 9.

[2] “Homo anima rationalis est mortali atque terreno utens corpore” (De moribus Eccl. Cath xxvii 52).

[3]ST follows SA in saying that our free acts are subjected to, and dependent on, a divine premotion.

[4]ST will show that the spirituality of the soul demands an origin by  strict creation, i.e. by God alone.

[5]This theory will become famous under the name of the ‘theory of the two truths’, taken in ST’s time by Siger de Brabant.

[6] The scottist liberty is not the same as the thomist liberty, fruit of the executive acts  of judgment and election.

[7] ‘voluntas est adductiva formaliter possessionis Summi Boni’.

[8] this theory which gives a univocal sense to the 3 types of intellections, divine, angelic and human, is the corollary of  Scotus’s fundamental principle : being is a univocal term.  But the scotist reasons against the thomist intellection are inefficacious since ST teaches that the intellect knows truly the individual, yet indirectly or in obliquo ‘per quamdam reflexionem’ cf I 86,1 since the individual is intelligibile per accidens.