The Influence of Philosophy and Physiology

As you learned earlier, psychology has not always been a distinct subject in its own right. While people have been interested in how and why people think and behave as they do since the very beginning of time, such observations were part of philosophy and physiology. Why is it important to study the early history of psychology? While contemporary psychology focuses on an enormous range of topics, from cognition to animal behavior, studying the past influences that have shaped the discipline into what it is today provides a richer understanding of what psychologists now know about the mind and behavior.

Some of the oldest influences on psychology date back to the time of the ancient Greeks, when philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato contemplated the dynamic between the mind and body. In the seventeenth century, thinker René Descartes suggested the concept of dualism in which the mind and body exist as two separate entities. Descartes believed that the interaction between the mind and body created the experience of reality.

Psychology today is still concerned with many of the basic philosophical questions that thinkers were contemplating thousands of years ago. Does nature or nurture have a greater influence on development? How do biological states influence behavior? So if psychology is still focused on these ageold questions, what separates it from the field of philosophy? The answer lies in the use of scientific methodology, systematic observation, and empirical evidence to support the claims made by psychology.

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