Psychology: The empirical study of epistemology and phenomenology. (3/19)

Article 3 of 19 in Eric Charles’ Special Issue of Review of General Psychology
Author, Eric Charles; in Review of General Psychology, 2013, 17(2), p. 140-144.

Already in the abstract I realised something that has felt like a missing puzzle piece since I began reviewing literature for my Master Thesis on the philosophical backdrop of representationalism. Why is language so important to claim for themselves ontologically? Well, it struck me that current cognitive psychology hasn’t come very far away from behaviourist ideas after all. They still base experiments off of observable behaviour, the only difference is that it is used as inferences towards assumed, unobservable, inner entities. It is not an excellent assumption (although it has to be said that it is an utterly brilliant and ingenious step by, amongst others, Fodor). No wonder then that language became so central to claim, it can be seen as a bridge between inner stuff and observable stuff. Descartes’ ideas about the pituitary gland being the place where matter and non-matter interacted pales in comparison. Representationalists needs language to be inner stuff so that representations gain a tangible, corporeal basis. It is necessary to be able to call representations a monist/realist, and not a dualist/idealist, assumption. This fails however when seeing language as verbal behaviour.

Apologies for the side-tracking.

Eric Charles’ article also evoked another line of thought, what does it actually mean to unify psychology? What is it that needs to be shared between all divisions? Methodology? Concepts under study? It seems to me to need a discussion on a meta-level of what we think needs and wants uniting. My own answer to this is relatively simple, we need to share ontological assumptions, the rest is a matter of individual interest (but admittedly, I am constantly questioning this idea also). This is where Eric Charles’ article comes in.

The title aptly captures what is argued for to be the overarching goal of psychologists and I can’t help but wonder if a goal on this level of philosophy is exactly what is needed. As Eric Charles argues for in the article, it allows psychologists to pursue their individual interests, but under one overarching goal.

Although I will not give specific examples here (read the article!), my opinion is that Eric Charles arguments support his conclusion strongly. The conclusion I come to is that having “The empirical study of epistemology and phenomenology” as a unifier can become very productive as a top-down definition for a future unified field. This is one of the parts that needs to be in place for us to have one paradigm at all.

The only snag I feel worth mentioning, is essentially a very basic one. Dividing epistemology and phenomenology into two concepts, has the possibility to misguide. Phenomenology, or experience of the world, has historically led to dualistic concepts and ideas and while I understand that this is most definitely not the intention with this division, it may perpetuate that undertone. This is of course easily remedied by clarifying the definition of experience, just that, given as a question to different fields of study, we will end up with different definitions. This is why I believe we need a common ontological basis to stand on, but, I have already mentioned that the top-down definition is one of several parts that need to be in place and so is not to blame for other areas of inquiry.