Philosophy and Physiology – A Crossroads to Psychology

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Philosophy and Physiology: A Crossroads to Psychology

PS210 History of Psychology

Rene Descartes is a well- known philosopher and known as the father of modern philosophy. With Descartes being best known for his quote, “Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am), he started the school of rationalism which broke the scholastic Aristotelianism (Schultz, 2015). Descartes had many theories and beliefs and made an argument against the well-known mind-body problem, which is the question of the distinction between mental and physical qualities (Schultz, 2015). Descartes argued that the mind influences the body but the body has little effect on the mind. This argument was on the reasons that the scholastic Aristotelianism broke. Renee even rejected the model for explaining natural phenomena and replaced it with experimentation and observation. Some of Rene’s other important contributions to philosophy are the theory of reflex action, which the idea that an external object can bring about an involuntarily response (Schultz, 2015), the localization of mental functions in the brain and the doctrine of innate ideas which arise from the mind or consciousness, independent of sensory experience or external stimuli.

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist best known for his work in classical conditioning. Pavlov’s classical conditioning serves as a historical backdrop in current learning theories and psychology. This has paved a way for the principles of his conditioning has made its way into many different settings such as classrooms and learning centers. Pavlov’s classical conditioning uses preceding conditions to alter behavioral reactions (Schultz, 2015). This set the course with present day behavior modification practices and the basics of Pavlov’s classical conditioning serve as a historical backdrop for current learning theories. Pavlov’s concept and idea of “conditioning” became a key concept in the development of comparative psychology and the general approach to psychology that underlay it, behaviorism. His work with classical conditioning is still central to modern behavior therapy. Another contribution of Pavlov’s is his concept of conditioned reflex, which he developed in 1901 (Schultz, 2015). Pavlov found this concept when he was examining the rates of salivation in dogs. Pavlov took a bell and rang it when we put food out for the dogs. Over time, the dogs would start salivating when they would hear the bell because it triggers the memory of food which triggers the salvia. Pavlov’s concepts and theories are still paving the way in study of behavior and many of things today.

Philosophy and physiology both have a key role in psychology today and have influenced psychology in many ways over the years. Physiology is the study of how living things work and philosophy is the theories behind why humans act the way they do. This brings us to psychology and how these two other studies intertwine with this one. Psychology emerged as a separate discipline in the late 1800’s. In the 1700’s Rene Descartes introduced dualism, among many other contributions, which summarized that the mind and body were two separate beings that interact to form the human experience (Schultz, 2015). Many issues debated by psychologists today, like the debate of nature versus nurture, are rooted in early philosophical theories such as this. Psychology use science and scientific methods to draw up conclusions and to study behavior and thought, while philosophy used methods such as logic and observation. With physiology’s early research on the brain and behavior, this contributed to the application of methods to the study of behavior and thought in psychology and to psychology’s emergence as a scientific discipline.

“Jasmine is a female aged twenty years old. She is very smart and she can remember details quite fast. More so, she is well built for a woman her age and her immunity system is quite strong. Charles Darwin, the major advocate of the evolutionary theory, argued that the environment naturally undergoes selection for the fittest organism. It is more like a competition; organisms compete for food and water and only the strongest of them are capable of winning. The winners get to give birth to more generations while the losers die thus bringing out the concept of survival for the fittest. With Jasmine being well built, smart and very good memory for detail, and strong immune system, she would be the fittest and able to reproduce for another generation. With Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Jasmines intellect, health and body build was passed down from her mom to her; traits passed down from one generation to the next.” My case study could be viewed in different ways depending on the person who is viewing it. With Rene Descartes, his mind-body approach could apply with my case study of Jasmine. With the mind-body approach, per Rene, the mind influences the body, but the body has little influence on the mind. Jasmine has a very built body, good immune, very smart and has a great memory. With the mind-body approach, Jasmine’s memory and intellect can have a big impact and influence on her body with how she takes care of it. Her mind would tell her when she is working out that she needs to slow down and take a break, to keep her body from hurting. If she is studying for a test, her mind will let her know that it is time to rest when she cannot seem to focus and gets tired. Ivan Pavlov would view my case study a little differently. With his biggest influence being his classical conditioning, he would say Jasmine has a good memory from repetition and condition her mind to recall information. For example, if you practice memorizing spelling words, after time you would be able to memorize them all without going over them. This comes from conditioning her mind.


Schultz, D.P. & Schultz, S.E. (2012). A history of modern psychology (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

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