To explain further: would, say, a modern philosopher with a PhD be well-versed in modern psychology?

Since philosophy inevitably investigates the mind and the behavior of people, and that most philosophy degrees require courses that bear tremendous resemblance to those that a psychologist takes, do the two have noticeable overlap, or is philosophy more primitive and theoretical in this regard?

  • 1
    If one is specializing in philosophy of mind then yes, epistemology, to some degree. Philosophy of science, metaphysics, logic, much less so.
    – Conifold
    Oct 23, 2018 at 21:09
  • Certainly, philosophy acknowledges the epistemic limitation of self-knowledge as only verifiable by the self, e.g. there is no means to empirically verify even the most mundane statement of self knowledge such as "I feel glad"
    – MmmHmm
    Oct 24, 2018 at 16:59
  • The way to find out might be to test whether the different personality types have significant preferences.
    – Bread
    Oct 26, 2018 at 21:07
  • If an idiosyncratic style is palatable to you you may look at Gurdjieff who has quite a unitive take on philosophy and psychology
    – Rushi
    Jul 7, 2019 at 11:42

4 Answers 4


I'll try to answer your question through addressing each sub-question:

would, say, a modern philosopher with a PhD be well-versed in modern psychology?

A philosophy PhD, much like any other higher degree, doesn't always describe the specifics of the underlying focus of study. Not all philosophy PhDs will be well versed in modern psychology, but those focused on subjects like philosophy of mind, consciousness, cognitive science, et al. certainly will have addressed overlapping subject matter during their education - be it history, theory, etc.

There are concrete examples of modern philosophers who are well versed in psychology, both from a theoretical and applied standpoint. Two examples that come to mind are Noam Chomsky and Daniel Dennett; both of whom have (and continue to have) lasting impacts in the field of cognitive science and psychology.

There is a distinction, however, between being "well-versed" in the field of psychology and being well versed in practicing psychology. So, if you're question boils down to "are all philosophy PhDs qualified to practice psychology" the answer is, "no." A physics PhD might be well versed in rocket propulsion, but it certainly doesn't qualify them to repair a space shuttle.

Since philosophy inevitably investigates the mind and the behavior of people, and that most philosophy degrees require courses that bear tremendous resemblance to those that a psychologist takes, do the two have noticeable overlap, or is philosophy more primitive and theoretical in this regard?

Psychology wasn't a separate area of study until the late 19th century; meaning, prior to that date, the study of psychology was considered a branch of philosophy. You might be surprised to learn that natural science was also considered a branch of philosophy until they began to split in the 16th century.

In order to understand modern psychology (or philosophy for that matter,) its important to learn the historical context that's brought the field to it's current state. So, there may be some overlap in who you read in introductory philosophy and introductory psychology courses.

That said, the answer to this question is emphatically, no -philosophy and psychology degrees DO NOT have a noticable overlap. The reasons why you read Descarte for a philosophy degree is dramatically different for why you might read him for a psychology degree. Same could be said for Spinoza, Kant, Hume, et al.

Philosophy is not a "primitive" or "theoretical" version of psychology, it's more like the study of "challenging assumptions through logic and critical analysis." It can be applied (and is) to math, science, art and a litany of other fields of study - including psychology. Psychology is the study of the mind and human behavior. They are very different fields of study.

  • Indeed, I did know that it was a branch of philosophy, and that the natural sciences were equally part of philosophy. I tried to word it in such a way that addressed modern philosophy and psychology, but I think I made it a little too ambiguous. Great answer though. I wasn't completely satisfied with the others, not to their fault.
    – Sermo
    Oct 26, 2018 at 21:34

According to wikipedia:

Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally "love of wisdom") is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language...

Psychology is the science of behaviour and mind, including conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an academic discipline of immense scope and diverse interests that...

If you consider this definition both disciplines are perfectly complementary and compatible not just psychology but neuroscience, biology, sociology, anthropology even economy, history and others.

As humans we must know the limitations of the mind (emotions, cognition, over-thinking, animal instincts, etc) to go on studying philosophical matters more deeply or even creating new philosophies. Sometimes emotions and truth don't go hand in hand and motivated reasoning is a very common phenomena.

Philosophy as any other discipline keeps evolving and growing. It's up to the professors and scholars to teach it using references to old philosophers whose postulates have been proved wrong or not accurate enough. In the same way it would not be appropriate to use dated references to Freud or Jung when some of their conclusions have been proven false by other psychologists or more recent sciences such us neuroscience.

  • Upvote! I was hoping somebody would write this answer. I do have a quibble to report: I think the name "motivated reasoning" might sometimes be inappropriately applied to cases when somebody allows that consequences of a thought may be regarded as evidence for or against the thought. A + B = C, and ~C, therefore ~A or ~B is no fallacy. Oct 25, 2018 at 14:18
  • +1 'Motivated reasoning' would seem to sum up Russell's scholastic tradition. Never mind neuroscience, a response to QM is long overdue.
    – user20253
    Oct 27, 2018 at 11:39

It would depend. In Western academic thinking philosophy and psychology are mostly distinct. In the perennial tradition they are indistinguishable. Epistemology, ontology and psychology would be the same study.

If you read 'A Course in Miracles', a text supposedly originating in 'Christ-consciousness' considered orthodox in the perennial tradition you will see that although it is all about soteriology, ethics, ontology and epistemology it may as well be post-grad psychology text-book. Almost all (or perhaps all) mystical literature is about psychology since the manifest universe would be mind-originated.

So the answer here will depend on what you mean by 'philosophy'.

  • Whoa, didn't realize the authorship of the book was controversial. theguardian.com/world/2014/may/15/… Oct 25, 2018 at 14:45
  • The Wikipedia page for "A Course in Miracles", section Reception, seems to contradict your words, "[it is] considered orthodox". Oct 25, 2018 at 14:48
  • I think that the Introduction pretty much contradicts Christian orthodoxy in the second sentence: "It is a required course." No, that is an unorthodox claim. How could it have been a required course if it wasn't available until 1976? upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/… Oct 25, 2018 at 14:50
  • @elliotsvensson - Apologies. Sloppy wording. I meant it is considered authentic by those who endorse the non-dual doctrine. It certainly contradicts what is today considered Christian orthodoxy, being more in line with the classical pre-Biblical form.
    – user20253
    Oct 26, 2018 at 11:05
  • @elliotsvensson - I see you've suggested an edit, but I don't know how to deal with the notification. The omission of Helen Schucman's name was deliberate but I'm okay with adding it.
    – user20253
    Oct 26, 2018 at 11:09

Philosophy has meant different things at different times and was practically synonymous with science around Newton's times. Today it is associated with literary criticism, something that would make little sense to Socrates or Nietzsche. So, it depends on what you mean by Philosophy.

If you associate Philosophy with the pondering of existential questions, then it depends on the particular branch of Psychology. Jung was definitely a philosopher, but certain Behaviorists are not, as they try to suggest a mechanistic explanation that has no connection with what could be called "the spirit."

What we can say for certain, however, is that Psychology is not a science, and could therefore be classified as Philosophy almost by exclusion.

  • 3
    I disagree with all the current answers, but with yours the most. Psychology, at least in Canada, is a science and one can obtain a BSc in psychology from respected universities like uToronto. Psychologists conduct experiments to learn about behaviour through surveys, but also using animal models to look at the physical changes during brain activity. Psychologists are required to take statistics, basic biology, and elementary organic chemistry. A quick scan at the undergraduate requirements for philosophy shows there is little if no overlap.
    – Cell
    Oct 24, 2018 at 15:05
  • @Cell The fact that you can get a BSc does not make it a science. Certain branches of Psychology employ Neuroscience, which is a science, but the "psyche," the "subconscious" and the "collective unconscious" are not objects of scientific inquiry since no one knows if they even exist.
    – Mike M
    Oct 24, 2018 at 15:24
  • The fact that you can get BSc is support from reputable sources. What makes it a science is that it employs the scientific method on testable, empirical phenomena. I took a single intro to psych in university and even I can tell that psychology is much more than the terms you quoted, which does not represent psychology entirely. Memory, sleep, emotion, neural plasticity, addiction, intelligence, and learning are all aspects of psychology that don't invoke the terms you put in quotations.
    – Cell
    Oct 24, 2018 at 16:05
  • 2
    I have to agree with Cell. This particular answer reads as, shall we say, under-informed, regarding both philosophy and psychology. Oct 24, 2018 at 16:10
  • 1
    Psychology is not science. There is no falsification nor empirical verification of something as mundane as "I feel glad". The conclusions of psychology are simply opinion - not the advancement of knowledge claim. Such is the difference between astronomy and astrology.
    – MmmHmm
    Oct 24, 2018 at 23:27

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .