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What Psychology's relation to Philosophy is not

Are questions about our life's meaning now to be answered by psychologists? How a theory when mistaken for a fact becomes dogma.

These are logic of language (How is nonsense (language without meaning) different from sense (language with meaning) in the discussion of philosophical problems?) and historical remarks. And words that follow "Query" below are Internet searches that were found in this site's access logs.

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Psychology - a presumptuous child of Philosophy

Query: how has philosophy turned into psychology?

That topic is what Dr. Jilek-Aall talks about at the beginning of her book Working with Dr. Schweitzer (1990): people now often turn to psychologists and psychiatrists, not for mental health problems but because they are unhappy ["depressed"] or feel lost [directionless] in life, that is for help with "existential problems" -- i.e. philosophical problems. They ask the psychologist to play at philosophy, which if the psychologist thinks he knows what he does not know, he imagines he is qualified by his medical education and personal wisdom to do.

Query: the history of searching for meaning and purpose; a list of philosophers to psychologists.

Anyone can should "search for meaning and purpose" (cf. Plato, Apology 37e-38a), but to imagine one speaks with authority because one is an academic psychologist is to commit the fallacy of the artisans (ibid. 22d-e). And to imagine that someone speaks with authority about those things because he is a psychologist, a philosopher, or anything else is foolishness. (What should always be remembered is that the social sciences are value laden: when psychologists talk about how man lives or should live his life they are not talking about facts but are instead interpreting the facts.)

"... existential problems"? -- That is not mental illness, but the human condition. Not psychology, but philosophy. But philosophy has given birth to a presumptuous child that thinks it should consume its mother.

Philosophy is not a social or a medical science; it has not been turned into Psychology, except as a social phenomenon, by those who have neither religion nor any acquaintance with Philosophy. Of course, one of Wittgenstein's metaphors was that "the treatment of a philosophical problem is like the treatment of an illness" (PI § 255), by which he may have meant that it must begin with a correct diagnosis of the "illness" -- i.e. by identifying in what way the problem misunderstands the logic of language -- if one is to "see the world aright" -- i.e. end the misunderstanding through the correct treatment of the problem. But there is no reason to believe that he meant anything more than that. Wittgenstein reacted angrily in a letter he wrote to the journal Mind, dated 27 May 1933, to a book which had suggested that his current work in philosophy was similar to psychoanalysis.

"Wittgenstein: philosophy is etiology." That would not be true, I don't think.

Query: what is philosophy according to psychology?
Query: psychological definition of philosophy.
Query: the true origin of philosophy.

The offspring now wants to define its parent -- i.e. to say what, as a matter of fact, its parent is: What is philosophy "really", according to psychologists? And will not psychologists use the tools of reason, philosophy's tool logic, to "define philosophy", or will they depend on irrational insight? Better to ask: what is psychology according to philosophy? There is a medical science (psychiatry) which uses drugs to relieve suffering or to control behavior, but is there a science of psychology -- a science of the mind? (That question is discussed in the Philosophy of Psychology; however, that discussion belongs to logic of language, not metaphysics. Is there a metaphysics of psychology? What do these queries ask for -- if not for metaphysics. Psychology as metaphysics.)

Query: does philosophy (epistemology, ontology, ethics, logic) belong to social science?

That sounds very contemporary, as far as I can tell from the press: truth, and how truth is sought, is "a social construct" -- i.e. truth belongs to nomos (custom) rather than nature (which at a certain level may be true; I say "may" because I don't know the cause of our co-incidental agreement) but that is at a logical (and possibly at a metaphysical), not at a social sciences level -- determined by race, gender, economic class (I don't know what else, and I certainly don't know how), from which it follows that philosophy ought only to be studied by the social sciences as a social phenomenon, not as if it were an independent subject (because truth is not independent). Or it may well be that "as far as I can tell" is not far enough, and I don't know what this new "happy breed of men" (Richard II, ii, 1) is talking about. (Cf. When metaphysics was not taught at Harvard because Comte's Positivism ruled the university.)

That there are many points of view, limitless points or frames of reference, to which truth is relative ≠ there is no truth. Not at all. Calling philosophical truth a "social construct" is itself a point of view. It may be possible to look at philosophy that way, and in many other ways, but possible ≠ necessary.

History may, as a clearer example, be written from various points of view ("Try reading the Bible through the eyes of the Canaanites" as native Americans and Palestinian Christians do). When I wrote about Albert Schweitzer and colonialism, it could be said that I wrote from the point of view of the Europeans, the colonialists, rather than of the native population. I think I wrote from the point of view of the "child of civilization", but how might I have written from the viewpoint of the "child of nature", the pre-scientific, also pre-historic, human beings of that time in Schweitzer's corner of Africa [Note]? Doctor Jilek-Aall does try to tell the story from the point of view, indeed in the words of, Schweitzer's native African medical orderly Gustave. But I do not see that Gustave's point of view is different from my own (Two senses of 'understand' (language and human experience)).

Query: in psychology what can language be defined as?

Here a definition of the word 'language' is not being asked for, but instead the question is asked from a particular point of view (or ideology = way of looking at things), which is not logic of language. The question appears to ask how language is to be fitted into a more or less arbitrarily chosen classification system (cf. fitting phenomena into Darwin's theory of evolution. Again, possible to look at ≠ necessary to look at things one way rather than another).

Psychology as superstition

Note: The next queries are apropos of When psychology is superstition, or, When the psychologist is regarded as a sorcerer or "seer". (See also "May Statements" in Psychology.)

Query: psychology; sad without knowing why.

Do you think that Psychology knows why, then? And by means of what method would the psychologist know?

Query: the duck and rabbit illustration, what does it mean when you see the duck?

Do you think it must mean something, and that by some magic Psychology knows what its meaning is?

Query: what do tears mean psychologically?

If you ask about the physiology of tears, that question is not nonsense (i.e. an undefined combination of words). But to ask about the "psychological meaning" of tears -- what might this mean? We can describe the way we use the word 'tears' and the relation between what Wittgenstein called grammatical criteria and hypothetical symptoms in the everyday (Why "everyday" -- is there another?) language of feelings; but those everyday hypotheses are not part of a "science of psychology"; they are practical, day to day, hypotheses which anyone may and indeed does form in many, although not all, cases where we apply the language of feelings to other people.

Query: blind man's bluff game, psychology meanings.

The "social science" practiced by James Frazer in his Golden Bough: this is what religion really is, he says; he tries to persuade you to accept his view of things. But is that the only way those things can be looked at -- i.e. Frazer's way? Or can a very different account be given of them (an account which is also itself a way of looking at things, and not the only way)? The metaphysics of psychology (Psychology as metaphysics) is -- ways of looking at things.

Motives and Verification

When anyone talks about motivations in psychology, he never asks: "How do you verify that?" And indeed verification has no place in the "language-game" (if that metaphor is applicable here, and it's not obvious how it is, if it is) of conjectures, speculations. -- And that is why one ought to reject that "way of life" for oneself -- because it is irrational. It consists of what one is inclined to say, and I imagine that one can convince oneself of anything that way.

E.g. the poor fellow who reads about a crime in the newspaper, convinces himself that he must have been the one who did that crime and so goes into a police station and confesses to having done it. But the courts do need verification if they are to accept his confession: he had to have had the opportunity and the means -- which are objective questions. But motive is for prosecutors to speculate about, to try to persuade the jury to accept the prosecution's speculation about the motive as if it were fact, which it is not, even if the suspect kept a diary the prosecution can point to.

My first response to any statement in psychology is: how do you verify that? And if there is no way, then the statement loses all interest for me; I do not want speculation, and that is why psychology has no charm for me. It did have charm for Wittgenstein -- but it was a charm he could see through (LC p. 40-52).

"Existential Problems"

Query: is ethics a branch of psychology?

Where Schweitzer speaks of "the problem of a world-view", which is a problem to be treated by philosophy, Dr. Jilek-Aall speaks of "existential problems" (although she does not use that expression in her book), saying that it has become the province of psychology to treat these, because they sometimes make people unhappy, leading to alcoholism, etc. Does it follow from that -- that to be healthy according to Psychology is to have no "existential problems"? In a sense, Wittgenstein, that strange man, would have agreed, that for an unbewitched intellect [i.e. one freed from the spells language casts over us] (PI § 109) there are no such problems.

When Flaubert's Emma Bovary turned to a priest, God alone knows why, for help, according to my memory, he told her that "If we have a roof over our head and food to eat, then we really have little to complain of". For Socratic reasons that is correct, for our understanding of life, our ethical world-picture -- in a word, our inner resources, is all that we need beyond that. Most, although most certainly not all, human unhappiness is caused by our expectations, by what we imagine we "have a right to".

From whence comes our notion that "we have the right to expect"? If a young child is unhappy, whose expectations is it failing to fulfill? All too often: its parents' expectation about what their child should be.

Existential problems characterize the human form of life

I have always refused, and I hope that you will always refuse, to "grow up" as the Sophist Callicles says one ought to do in Plato's Gorgias, setting philosophy aside, as if it were a thing of childhood (The Apostle Paul's form of expression "I thought as a child, spoke as a child, reasoned as a child, but when I became a man"). In my youth, at one of the benighted universities I attended, an "employment counselor", despite being the young girlie that she was, told me that I had "existential problems" since I had no particular interest in working and therefore that she could not help me find work, that I needed to see a psychologist. I wonder what type of problems she would have approved of (And did she herself, then, not have "existential problems")? I hope she would say the same of me today. I hope that I -- and all of us -- will always have "existential problems". Because having "existential problems" is essential to the type of excellence that characterizes the human form of life -- namely, the examined life (Apology 37e-38a).

Query: word for too philosophical.

Obviously 'Socratic' as opposed to 'Calliclean' (Plato, Gorgias), but I think what is wanted might be a word such as 'enervating' or 'inhibiting', as in Shakespeare's Hamlet "... and lose the name of action".

Press Headline: It's good to think - but not too much, scientists say (bbc.co.uk 17 September 2010)

"People who think more about whether they are right have more cells in an area of the brain known as the frontal lobes.

"UK scientists, writing in Science, looked at how brain size varied depending on how much people thought about decisions.

"But a nationwide survey recently found that some people think too much about life.

"These people have poorer memories, and they may also be depressed."

According to psychology, then, ethics (which is rational reflection) must be the gravest mental illness of all, and therefore Socrates the truest psychopath (i.e. "one who suffers in the mind"). Is Hegelianism an instance of paranoia, the substitution of a delusion for reality, for Schweitzer asked about the Absolute or World-spirit: "How does thought come to such a meaningless proceeding as making man enter into a spiritual relation with an unreal creation of thought?" (Civilization and Ethics xx, tr. Campion)?

Psychology has a name for everything, but whether its classification scheme is -- no, not whether it corresponds to reality (not that old conjuring trick (PI § 308)) or not, but whether it is -- a wise way of looking at things ... But that is another question (Sadly, however, it is a philosophical one).

"Cobbler stick to thy last" -- i.e. don't fancy you know what you don't know. "The Fallacy of the Artisans": to imagine that because you know one thing (e.g. abnormal psychology), you also know another thing, which in fact you don't know (Apology 22d-e). Cf. the notion that because there are doctors of abnormal psychology, there must also be doctors of (an academic topic titled) "normal psychology".

On the other hand, "some people think too much about life" may mean, not that they think about life (not "people ... who think more about whether they are right"), but people who worry about troubles they cannot resolve: what is past remedy is for them nonetheless not past concern ("Things past redress are now with me past care" (Richard II ii, 3)). To focus on a trouble one cannot remedy (cf. Wittgenstein's metaphor of a black door from which the unhappy person never thinks to turn his gaze away) may well make someone "depressed", i.e. unhappy. ("I know: easy for me to say." But maybe I have such troubles as well. For some it may be, as Wittgenstein suggested, maybe in a different context, that the only salve for such troubles is "a deep religious faith". But for others it might be a deep interest in something else, e.g. philosophy.)

Query: why everything is not philosophy?

Everything [anything] can be looked at from a philosophical point of view, but that does not make everything philosophy. Wittgenstein told Drury that he himself could not help but looking at everything from a religious point of view. But that does not make everything religion. But then can't everything be looked at from Psychology's point of view? I don't know, but I don't think the query "What is philosophy according to psychology?" is asking for a mere way of looking at things: it wants to know what Philosophy "really" is, as if it were a truth known [only] to Psychology.

That everything can be looked at from the point of view of religion does not make everything religion. That everything can be looked at from the point of view of philosophy does not make everything philosophy. That everything can be looked at from the point of view of the sciences does not make everything science. (Etienne Gilson's expressions "philosophism" and "logicism" and "scientism", is mistaken -- unless anyone claims that one of those ways of looking at things is "the strictly correct way" or the "truth".) Don't confuse a way of looking at things with the things themselves.

I believe, although don't know, that originally all higher learning was called 'philosophy', but we don't use the word 'philosophy' that way now.

Philosophy is not one of the Social Sciences

Query: Wittgenstein, deep grammar.

His notion is unrelated to any theory of the social science of linguistics. It is, instead, a restatement of Russell's distinction between "grammatical" form or structure and "philosophical grammar". Russell's "philosophical grammar" is Wittgenstein's "depth grammar"; and the grammatical form is the "surface grammar", the syntax or structure of the sentence (PI § 664). But because in Wittgenstein's logic of language meaning is not a matter of form, the "depth grammar" -- now in Wittgenstein's sense of "grammar" -- has only a marginal relation to the "surface grammar". The "surface grammar" is often highly misleading in philosophy, for it suggests false grammatical analogies to us. 'The books are in the shelf' and 'The elves are in the forest' have the same syntax, but the words 'books' and 'elves' are used quite differently. Wittgenstein tries to describe that use, rather than rewrite the syntax as Russell had done in seeking the correct "logical analysis" of a proposition (e.g. 'There is a snow-capped mountain' and 'There is a golden mountain').


A Universalized Dogma

"Every scientific hypothesis is a transitory and to some extent arbitrary affair," Drury writes in the philosophy of science. The arbitrariness lies in this, that a scientific theory consists of selected facts plus imagination -- i.e. an imaginatively organized selection of "the conceived facts". And thus it can never become a fact itself. (Is the solar system real?)

Press Headline: (independent.co.uk 16 June 2010)
"Revealed: the wasp species impervious to evolution"

"Evolution has not altered the fig wasp in 34 million years, scientists have discovered."

As if there were a force at work in nature called 'evolution'. To that compare: "the force of gravity" -- But, no, the picture of a ghost-like thing named 'force' is a picture to which no reality corresponds; rather "the meaning is the method of measurement", i.e. the way you measure gravity says what you mean by 'gravity'; the way you verify that evolution has occurred shows what you mean by the word 'evolution'.

Isaac Newton declared: "I make no hypotheses". Thus "Evolution has not altered" = "The fig wasp has not changed from what fossils suggest it was millions of year ago" and anything more is "hypotheses". -- But, according to the "Evolution has become a fact" doctrine, evolution "must" alter all life. Thus everything has to be forced to fit the theory. Reality is replaced by a man-made picture. It just has to be that way, the one and only possible explanation. There can be no anomalies: everything must be fit into the theory. "Within the theory a place for everything, and outside the theory -- nothing", to adapt a Fascist motto. There can be no anomalies, and even when a anomaly is found, the universal application of the theory is never questioned: "impervious to evolution". [Making proper use of the theory of evolution. An example.]

And so, according to the news story, there is a species which hasn't changed in millions of years, by this measurement: the fossil record and the present species are identical in form. And that should be -- in fact, it is -- an anomaly that overturns, not the theory of evolution, but the universality of that theory's application, that is to say, that anomaly should amend the theory, because it shows -- not that no species has ever evolved -- but that at least one species has not evolved: what the theory predicts is not fulfilled in the case of the fig wasp. But instead of amending the theory -- i.e. instead of regarding the theory of evolution as a theory -- it is treated as a dogma. (And as a dogma, evolution stands on the same level as the picture in the Bible's Book of Genesis "that species were all independently created and are immutable"; cf. Hegel's fossil theory.) That evolution has become a dogma is shown by the question: How can we look at this fact so that it isn't anomalous? because that it is anomalous is contrary to the truth, for the truth is that all species evolve. How can this newly discovered fact, which is an anomaly, be regarded in such as way as not to be an anomaly?

Press Headline: (telegraph.co.uk 20 July 2010)
"Secret of how moles breathe underground revealed"

"... one species, the Eastern mole, appears to be uniquely adapted to underground life through the evolution of a special kind of haemoglobin in their blood ..."

There is in fact here no evidence of any "evolution", but the phrase "the evolution of" is, as a matter of unthinking course, thrown in: "Because, well it just must have evolved, after all, what other possibility is there." All that is known, if that is known, is: "appears to be ... adapted to underground life through ... a special kind of haemoglobin in their blood".

The so-called Theory of Evolution is in fact a frame of reference. It determines the kind of account that is given, indeed must be given, even where the theory -- i.e. picture -- can only be given mouth honor. It is not even logically possible to imagine an alternative account -- not without changing the frame of reference.

Press Headline: (bbc.co.uk/news 7 May 2016)

"Fossils shed light on "bizarre" reptile"

Research Article: (advances.sciencemag.org 6 May 2016)

"The earliest herbivorous marine reptile and its remarkable jaw apparatus"

"Herbivory in marine reptiles is exceptional, yet herbivory evolved a second time, during the Triassic recovery phase, in the unrelated placodont Henodus .... Atopodentatus is the earliest marine reptile to have evolved herbivory. Convergence in Henodus shows that herbivory evolved in the photic zone of near-shore shallow water habitats."

Using the available fossils, the head of a creature (Atopodentatus unicus) has been reconstructed. But then scientists speak of this creature having evolved. But to assert in the absence of fossils demonstrating that a species has evolved -- and there is no such fossil record in this particular case -- that the species has evolved is pure dogma. It is being held captive by a picture and seeing no alternatives. What scientists know is that there is fossil evidence that this creature (in our view) lived during a particular time in natural history. And that's all they know. And of course I am not suggesting a rival theory to explain how the creature came to exist; I have none. But that is not the point. What is the point? "To say no more than you know" (BB p. 45) Otherwise you close off all thought to imagining alternative theories, by replacing reality with a picture of your own creation.

Press Headline: (news.bbc.co.uk 22 March 2006)
"Sinister secret of snail's escape"

"Snails with left-handed shells can have a big advantage in life -- predators may find it impossible to eat them."

"The evolutionary question is why these left-handed forms have remained so rare -- some have even gone extinct -- if they escape death by crab more easily.... Presumably, if left-handed marine snails became more common, crabs would eventually evolve apparatus or techniques for eating them, and their advantage would disappear. But that cannot explain why in some populations they persist only in extremely low proportions, about 1%, or why in others they have gone extinct; other factors must be at play. Sinistral snails apparently find it much harder to find a mate, and so may be doomed to remain rare or die out completely ..."

But 'presumably' and 'apparently' are not scientific words: they are assumptions about "facts" that are not within the data that the we have. So why are they being used here? Because the data must be fitted into the one and only possible theory, the "theory which has become a fact": Evolution. Otherwise, how could the theory be a summary of the data? It could not be, and therefore non-existent data must be presumed, so that the theory can be a summary of it. That is metaphysics, not science (and metaphysics -- Newton's "hypotheses" -- is what Kant called "contraband" in science).

Press Headline: (dailymail.co.uk 21 December 2017)
"Crows are social birds that will reconcile after fighting"

"Birds have diverse thinking skills that can be applied in different situations.

"Some have said that the mental abilities of corvids and parrots are as sophisticated and diverse as those of apes.

"While birds and apes have very different brain structures there are similarities between individual modules of the brains, but it is not known how these similarities have evolved.

"It is possible the last common ancestor between the species passed the key structure to birds and mammals ..."

If it is "possibly did", then it must also be "possibly did not", because otherwise the proposition would not state a real possibility (verifiable hypothesis). As Drury explains Pierre Janet to say, If you allow yourself that much freedom in speculating -- if your only standard is logical possibility -- then any and every content "can be forced into this type of interpretation. The theory has become fact proof; it just can't be refuted."

"... but it is not known how these similarities have evolved." -- Or indeed if they evolved. "It is possible the last common ancestor ..." -- Possible if they indeed had a common ancestor. But what doesn't appear possible is for scientists to doubt their refutation-proof world-picture = metaphysical doctrine of evolution.


As far as I can see (maybe not too far), "global warming" has attained the same status as "evolution". It is no longer a scientific theory but has instead become a dogma: Everything counts for it, nothing [is allowed to count] against it. It is anomaly-proof: it can absorb any and all data.

The discussion never ends (When you are told that it has been closed, that is when you should be most skeptical). Science doesn't speak: selected scientists speak. My thought on "the scientific consensus": Remember DDT.


Example of a Philosophical Gestalt-shift (Plato's Lysis)

Note: the following is apropos of seeing something in a new way, a experience that can be likened to experiencing a Gestalt shift (although that is only a metaphor).

Press Headline: (telegraph.co.uk 13 June 2010)

"Girls now reaching puberty before 10 -- a year sooner than 20 years ago"

"There has been a steady lowering in the onset of puberty. In the 19th century, it was at about 15 for girls and 17 for boys."

Which set me wondering about ancient Greece: what was the age for boys for the onset of puberty? Because if it was as late as it was in 19th Century Europe, then Plato's Lysis appears quite innocent, mere childhood crushes, without sexual content, such as are common among children. And then maybe it does not seem strange that in Xenophon's Symposium the youth who won the pancratium is escorted by his father and praised for his modesty (i, 8-9; ix, 1), particularly in Athens where, because of Pericles' citizenship laws, apart from the women who worked in the marketplace, Athenian woman did not associate with men from outside their own household.

If the onset of puberty for boys was as late as 17 years old in ancient Greece, would that not change our picture both of Plato's literary device and of Xenophon's account of Socrates' reproach of Critias? It is an alternative picture, a new way of seeing things, in any case.

On the other hand, childhood crushes continue into early adolescence and sometimes throughout adolescence, regardless of the age puberty sets in, although in our culture they do not take the form Plato's Lysis displays.


"How they saw things" -- Is that their point of view?

I can say how the Africans saw Schweitzer as a sorcerer rather than as a medical doctor (They were a pre-scientific people), that in their eyes he killed people and brought them back to life (anaesthesia), that he made a hole where the worm (pain) came out and then sewed the hole back up again. I can speak of how each family cooked their own food, always afraid of being poisoned, of their world-view of fear, fear of malevolent nature spirits and ancestors, fear of taboos both personal and tribal, and fear of fetich-men (sorcerers), of how Schweitzer made the able-bodied at his hospital work, which they did not like, that when the patients and their families left they took blankets and basins away with them (anything not locked down might "go for a walk"), that of someone who was not a member of their own tribe they said, "That man is not my brother", and could not in any way be induced to help him. Of how in they made lepers outcasts, people being punished for some evil they had done. And of how Schweitzer had to build his hospital to make the people who thought in all those ways welcome. Is that telling the story from the native's point of view?


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