THE PROPER object of psychology

By Fr. Raymond Taouk,



    the material object of psychology (what is studied)


·      For the Ancients, the soul was the principle of life of an organized body.  Psychology was thus, the study of the living beings considered properly as living and not as the plane bodies.  Psychology deals with the 3 vital kingdom : vegetal, animal and human.


·      The Moderns have a more narrow conception of psychology.  They bring in a double restriction :

·      The living being is reduced to man, which has no major importance since man is a microcosmos and summary of the different beings of the universe (St. Gregory Gt).  They have recourse to ‘a compared psychology’ to study the animal instincts and the tropisms of plants.

·      man is not considered in his integrity with his diverse lives, but only in his interior or conscious lifeDescartes, following the spiritualist school of Plato and S. Augustine, initiated this orientation because for him, body and spirit are 2 complete and heterogeneous substances : the body is extension, object of  a geometrical physics.  The spirit is thought.  ‘Thought is anything which is made within us in such a way that we are immediately conscious of it’[1].  Hence there can be no unconscious psychological life, and psychology has for object the ‘facts of consciousness’.


·      Critique of the Moderns.

·      the psychology of introspection is too narrow.  Consciousness is not enough to define all psychological facts since a) there exist unconscious states; and b) many conscious acts regard the body, like the movements and emotions.

·      the opposite psychology, ‘of behavior’, is also too narrow since it does not consider man as a conscious subject, reducing him to a conglomerate of ‘conditioned reflexes’ or ‘behaviors’.


The formal object of psychology (the specific aspect under which to consider the mat. object, man)


·      infra-scientific or empirical. We know ourself by the examination of conscience; we know our neighbor by his behavior, his actions and reactions, his words.  The aim is mostly practical : we want to reform self or to act on others.  At that rate, anybody is a psychologist.  But like any empiricism, this one remains individual.

·      literary psychology : analysis of the characters, sentiments and passion, in a word the human heart.  Its aim is esthetic, and draws no laws or explanation of the soul.

·      scientific or positive or experimental, which deals only with the phenomena in order to draw some theories and laws.  Yet this is a ‘psychology without a soul’, since the soul is a metaphysical principle and not the direct objet of experience.  The positive psychology forbids any incursion beyond the phenomena conisdered as causes as well as effects. It is either phenomenological psych. (Husserl) or descriptive (the existentialists, like Merleau-Ponty, Sartre).

·      the rational psychology of Wolff is a theory set a priori wo being founded on experience.  It pretends to be metaphysical, since it seeks the explanation of things beyond the sense data, but wrongly so.

·      the truly metaphysical psych. or ontological psychology is :

·      its method is experimental or a posteriori

·      its object is man seen as being, and it seeks to know the nature & the pples of this being. 


legitimacy.  It is a particular case of the greater problem of the legitimacy of any metaphysical knowledge, the main problem of critique.  The empiricists, positivists and idealists all agree in denying  to man any knowledge other than that of the phenomena.  The realists admit that in and through the phenomena, the int. can grasp being and reason can understand the causes and the principles of being.  This is a question of criteriology, which we assume answered in psychology, although it will be touched on as we examine the functions of the mind.  They were separated after Kant for pedagogical reasons.



·      Psychology must be studied if we wish to have a conception of the world.  It becomes the centre of different sciences since man is a micro-cosmos and at least the centre of his own universe.

·      It is necessary as one of the pillars of  moral science : according to the conception one has of man, the moral science will be radically changed :

- if man is seen as a pure body, his good is pleasure (hedonism, epicurianism, arithmetic of pleas.)

- if man is seen as a pure spirit, the whole moral life will be a purification to free one from its illusions and to restore the intellect its purity.