Basic definition and approach
Humanistic psychology is NON-REDUCTIVE, NON-DETERMINISTIC and NON-ATOMISTIC school of psychological thought.
That is, humanistic psychology is the opposite of:
ATOMISM (where human psychology is understood as the product of some most elemental set of forces and/or substances).
DETERMINISM (where human psychology is viewed as being completely controlled by some set of external forces or factors).
REDUCTIONISM (where human psychology can be simplified to some part or aspect of human existence).
For humanistic psychologists, one problem inherent in most other schools of psychology is that they easily fall prey to reductionistic tendencies. For instanceÖ
Biological psychology often seems to want to simplify psychological phenomena to somatic factors, such as nervous system functions.
Behaviorism often seems to want to reduce behavior to combinations of different kinds of conditioning.
But why is this tendency so prevalent? The reason is that reductionism offers the promise of simplicity. The will to achieve simple explanations is a value encoded into all Western scientific inquiry in the form of:
OCCAMíS RAZOR -- which says to prefer the simple explanation
over the complex one.
However, for humanistic psychologists, human existence is inherently COMPLEX, not simple.
-- human existence is full of contradictions and paradoxes
-- human beings defy absolute general principles (thereís always an exception to every rule)
-- human existence is largely irrational, illogical and inconsistent
So, to reflect the reality of human existence accurately, psychology should seek to embrace and illuminate these complexities, not reduce or simplify them.
Applying Occamís Razor to human existence invariably results in a diminishment of human existence -- usually at the level of experience, meaning and/or freedom.
NATURAL SCIENCE PSYCHOLOGY includes those schools of psychological thought modeled on the natural sciences (and hence on Occamís Razor).
In contrast, humanistic psychology proceeds HOLISTICALLY (also spelled WHOLISTICALLY). There are two basic aspects to this view:
-- it sees human beings in terms of ALL that we are -- our minds, feelings, bodies, souls, histories, relationships, social statuses, experiences, meanings, values, freedoms, responsibilities and more.
-- it sees human beings as being inextricably connected to the many CONTEXTS in which we find ourselves -- immediate contexts such as family, friends, community, as well as large contexts such as USA, world -- and even the universe as a whole.
In a holistic view, a human being canít be reduced to any of its parts or contexts.
Nor to the sum of any parts, because human existence is always more than the sum of its component parts (an idea from Gestalt psychology).
According to a holistic view, you canít understand a personís
feelings without knowing how they connect to his or her thoughts, relationships,
values, spirituality, etc.
In the clinical sphere, you canít understand a person by reducing him or her to a collection of symptoms or tests or a diagnosis.
But a problem seems to be arisingÖ
-- how does one talk about any aspect of a person without talking about everything about that person?
-- humanistic view: You can talk about feelings (e.g.), but it cautions us not to forget that all talk about feelings is bound up with how we think, what we value, how we relate to others, etc.
-- youíre not just a batch of feelings, any more than youíre just a batch of thoughts, or just a body, etc.
Notice that humanistic psychology also takes peopleís spiritual and religious lives seriously -- not as the product of bad parenting (like Freud) or the product of rewards and punishments (like Skinner) -- but as genuinely important experiences in their own right.
But people sometimes confuse humanistic psychology with SECULAR HUMANISM -- the doctrine that all there is (including God) is pure human invention.
-- some humanistic psychologists probably buy the position of secular humanism, but certainly not all, or even most.
Now, how does humanistic psychology take up the findings of natural science psychology? Do it reject the validity of their specific findings?
Answer: NO! However, it does reject the totalizing tendency that often accompanies their findings.
More positively, humanistic psychology attempts to radicalize the findings of natural science psychology by grounding them explicitly in what has been their basis all along: The whole of human reality as we experience it.
Because humanistic psychology questions the validity of
forming psychology according to the precepts of the natural sciences, humanistic
psychology often seems more philosophical or literary than scientific or
Another difference: Natural science psychology usually focuses on obtaining certain knowledge about an ultimately deterministic universe. In contrast, humanistic psychology sees reality (and hence psychological reality) as permeated with INDETERMINACY:
-- a basic elusiveness or mystery that attends our understandings of our world and ourselves.
-- implication: life always offers us a beyond, and our understandings are always open to question and revision.
-- where human beings are concerned, certainty is hence a kind of illusion because life itself is fundamentally an uncertain affair.
For some people this is a negative aspect:
-- since it undercuts the security people usually feel when they think about life as determinable and certain.
For others itís a positive aspect:
-- since it loosens the rule-driven constrictiveness of a deterministic universe, and makes life more adventurous and less mechanical. Also, it intensifies the sense of human freedom and responsibility, rather than regarding them as unimportant.
But the big question is: How do YOU feel?
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