Philosophy and Pedagogy of Educational Psychology

By Devine, Nesta; Tesar, Marek | Knowledge Cultures, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Philosophy and Pedagogy of Educational Psychology


Devine, Nesta, Tesar, Marek, Knowledge Cultures


"... what else can philosophy in its fullness be but psychology, and psychology but philosophy?" (Dewey, 1886, p. 165).

Educational psychology has its origins in philosophy, and like other disciplines, it has its own structure, focal points and research interests. This special issue explores the epistemological basis of educational psychology as eclectic, yet reflecting the philosophical nature of enquiry. This special issue also argues that rather than seeking an epistemological basis, we might consider an ontological one. Like most of the post-enlightenment "life sciences," educational psychology presupposes a certain life form as its focus: a human form. The articles in this issue challenge assumptions and practices that rely on uniform characteristics of being and becoming human.

When John B. Watson gave his presidential address to the American Psychological Association in 1915 he proposed that psychologists might adopt as the ontological basis for their discipline the same manifestation of the subject as that favored by economists: homo economicus. This characterization of the human subject works well for behavior modification, in that food as a reward can be seen as analogous to money or other material forms of reward, in manipulating and shaping behavior. This formulation of the human subject is now the standard form in many of the sub-disciplines deriving from psychology, such as advertising, and marketing, and reinforces the conviction of economists and financial policy makers that they have a form of truth, when they think of human beings in these terms. The self-interested individual is easy to mold, as the individual performs predictably, can be assessed, measured, redirected and recruited.

Nonetheless, the American Psychological Association in 1962 established a division called philosophical psychology, following almost two years of discussions. Originally, many disputes emerged from what was described as an "anti-philosophical temper" in psychological discipline and practice, that was shaping this burgeoning discipline. As Royce (1988), claims, at that time, "before other philosophic issues would have a forum at APA, the issue had to be settled as to whether philosophy had any acceptability at all" (p. 373). This establishing of a division devoted to philosophical psychology reminds us of the philosophical groundings of psychology, and of educational psychology in particular, and some would even go further, to argue that psychology is a branch of philosophy, on the basis of its epistemological, ontological and ethical concerns, tensions and topics.

Royce (1988) describes the situation between the disciplines of psychology and philosophy,

   ... after the waning of that great philosopher-psychologist William
   James, American psychology tended to view philosophy with a mixture
   of avoidance and disdain. Psychologists were so anxious to identify
   with the big boys, the scientists, that they exhibited a typical
   adolescent rejection of their philosophical parentage. It was more
   important to be like physics, an established and respected science.
   Indeed, any dabbling with metaphysics might make them suspect of
   medieval obscurantism and superstition (p. 394).

Perhaps we do need to go further back to the year 1879, to understand how philosopher and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt is credited with the development and founding of experimental psychology, when he developed the first laboratory designed specifically for psychological research. This development separated the study of psychology from philosophy and established the discipline of psychology, which then continued to exist in often contradictory positions to philosophy. As Royce (1988) comments, "ironically, his [Wundt's] successors soon found it easier and safer to experiment than to think through a philosophy" (p. 374).

Since the 1950s and 1960s, various attempts have been made to trace the relationship between philosophy and psychology. …

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