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Psychology's Dilemma: To Explain or To Understand

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image of Journal of Phenomenological Psychology

At one time behavioristic psychology depreciated the value of introspection and descriptive observation in an attempt to exorcise the ghosts of mentalism and introspectionism. The roots of this bias were traced to a Cartesian dualism of subject and object. Behavioristic research has typically concentrated on a specific kind of data requiring the controls of a detached third-person observer. Its findings have been far removed from the concrete "lived world" of the subject, notwithstanding the sophistication and utility of its experimental designs. The task of understanding the human world of everyday life has been precluded from investigation by an exclusive reliance on explanation for the purpose of facilitating prediction. A case has been made that such a position is neither philosophically tenable nor conducive to the growth of psychology as a science. The contention of contemporary philosophers and behavioral scientists is that psychology cannot proceed as an independent science of man without combining empirical induction with experiential descriptions. Psychologists cannot exclude the role of intentionality and remain consistently within the orbit of causality. A science of psychology as the study of behavior and experience is possible through a comprehensive approach with equitable sharing of methodologies. Two methods were presented: The method of Phenomenal Study, and the method of Individual Reflection. Experiences from the real world may be studied without the earlier pitfalls of "introspectionism," or the present outcries against a meaningfulness. An application of the two methods to the experience of "feeling understood," suggests a necessary and possible rapprochement between the methods of behaviorism and phenomenology.


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