Influence of philosophy and physiology in psychology

Influence of philosophy and physiology in psychology

PS210 History of Psychology

Psychology is an academic and applied discipline that seeks to understand the behavior, mental functions, and emotional processes of human beings (Boundless, n.d). Philosophy and physiology are subfields in psychology that study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence and the biology or function of living organisms. There have been many contributions from philosophers and physiologists that has shaped our understanding of psychology today. Philosopher Auguste Comte and physiologist Ernst Weber made major contributions to psychology.

Auguste Comte (1798–1857) was a French philosopher who became interested in the way societies modeled themselves. With his infatuation with the ideals of the French Revolution and society, he dropped out of college to study the society patterns and behaviors. Putting his love of science together with his fascination with society, he coined the term sociology to describe the study of social behavior (Boyd, 2015). Comte is also the founder of positivism, the view that social phenomena should be studies using methods of natural sciences. Through the study of sociology and positivism, he developed the law of three stages: theological, metaphysical, and scientific.

In theological stage, all natural phenomena and social events were explained in terms of supernatural forces and deities, which ultimately explaining everything as the product of God’s will (Priya, n,d). This stage consists of three sub-stages; fetishism (supernatural powers in inanimate objects), polytheism (belief in many Gods), and monotheism (belief in one God). The Metaphysical stage is an extension of the theological stage. This stage refers to people who believe in god but do not believe everything that happens in society is because of God. The scientific stage explains the social phenomena by using scientific findings and empirical research.

Ernst Weber (1795–1878) was a physiologists who had interest in the senses of touch and kinesthesis. He believed and demonstrated that touch is comprised of three qualities; temperature, pressure, and pain. Weber used the two-point threshold, the point at which the two separate sources of stimulation can be distinguished to test this theory. Weber’s research marks the first experimental demonstration of the concept of threshold (the point at which a psychological effect begins to be produced) (Schultz, n.d). He concluded that there are differences in the anatomical arrangement of sensory receptors, thus the more receptor the greater the sensitivity.

His work on kinesthesis, the sensation of movement and muscle strain, led to the concept of the noticeable difference. The just noticeable difference is the smallest difference that can be detected between two physical stimuli (Schultz, n.d). Two conditions used were weights placed on hands resting on a table and weights lifted. There were small differences in the lifting conditions from which weber concluded that “the internal muscular sensations must have an influence on the subjects’ ability to discriminate which depended on the relative difference or ratio” (Schultz).

Psychologists have studied human problems that begin before birth till their death. In their search in defining psychology helped establish psychology as a separate science from philosophy and physiology. French philosopher Rene Descartes introduced the idea of dualism, the concept that our mind has a non-material, spiritual dimension that includes consciousness and possibly an eternal attribute (Dualism, n.d). In other words, the mind and body are two separate entities that connect with the human experience and form. Descartes idea of dualism redirected the attention of scholars from the abstract theological concept of soul to the scientific study of the mind and mental processes. This concept formed subject matters such as sensation, perception and learning in psychology.

Physiology had physiologist such as Weber, whose research showed a dissociation between a stimulus and a sensation. His research provided a method for investigating the relationship between body and mind, between the stimulus and the resulting sensation (Schultz, n.d). Physiology also showed that the relationship between stimulus and sensation could be measured from using the two-point threshold. Research also developed psychophysics, the scientific study of the relations between mental and physical processes (Schultz, n.d). Gustav Fechner, a German psychologist and the founder of experimental psychology wrote Elements of Psychophysics, further explaining research on the mind-body.

Case study example: Andrew has always been fascinated with birds. His favorite type of bird is a hawk. When he was 12 years old his parents took him to the zoo so that he can see his very first hawk in person. The Hawks cage was designed as their natural habitat in the wild including dark grey rocks that almost look black as most of the floor cover. The staff put 10 mice (6 and 4 white) in the cage to demonstrate how a hawk hunts for food. In the demonstration, the hawk ate all four white mice and didn’t even try to catch any of the black mice. Andrew was fascinated and found it very odd that the hawk only ate the white mice.

This case study is closely related to Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution. For Comte, evolution was proof that man could know the mind of God and according to Positivism, the world was governed by natural laws, and if man could discover these laws, as he had discovered evolution, he would be able to predict all natural phenomena (Kalfus, 2010). In this case study, there are several factors that influence the animals, heritable variation, the surrounding environment, and evolution. Just like in animal societies these factors influence human societies behaviors, thoughts, survival, and development. Comte argued that comparisons between human and animal society would reveal useful hints about humanity’s true nature (New World Encyclopedia, n.d).

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Philosophy and physiology are subfields in psychology that study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence and the biology or function of living organisms. Comte and weber research and theories contributed to philosophy and physiology changing the way we look at psychology today.


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Kalfus, S. (2010, November 12). Darwin’s Evolution and Positivism. Retrieved from

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