This is from Husserl's Phenomenology which he wrote for the Encyclopedia Britannica:

It is by no means clear from the very outset, however, how far the idea of a pure psychology -as a psychological discipline sharply separate in itself and as a real parallel to the pure physical science of nature has a meaning that is legitimate and necessary of realization.

Why is it a real parallel to the pure physical science?

  • 1
    Because of Husserl's vision and ambition to put his a priori transcendental phenomenology on the same level as the a priori pure part of physical science (aka philosophy of science), thus it has a synthetic meaning that is legitimate and necessary of realization... Jun 25, 2022 at 0:30
  • So you are saying they are parallels because they are two different things which perform the same role for two different things?
    – PDT
    Jun 25, 2022 at 9:20
  • 1
    You're correct to point out they're two different things from Husserl's POV since he used the keyword "parallel", but by no means they perform the same role. Using his words one is for "physical science of nature", another is for living being's psychology. Had they perform same role for him, "parallel" should be replaced with "unification" or "eliminate" like TOE in physics. On the other hand, modern eliminativism may disagree which believes there's no mental states ontologically at all and they can be eliminated as only the physical... Jun 25, 2022 at 15:47
  • Well, first of all, it isn't. Husserl admits as much himself through the use of the universal get-out-of-metaphysical-jail-free card which is his preamble, "It is by no means clear..." What is by no means clear here is what exactly his point is, except to use pretzel prose to stake out a position that sounds like a bold and profound truth of the universe which actually is, well, something else entirely, as pointed out by Double Knot in his comment. I invite anyone inclined to believe Husserl to use psychology to design a cell phone, a flat screen TV, a personal computer, a Boeing 737-400, or Jun 25, 2022 at 17:12
  • No my point is that x and y perform the same role z for a (if x) or b (if y)
    – PDT
    Jun 27, 2022 at 8:12

1 Answer 1


Natural sciences are grounded in what is called scientific method, which implies studying properties that are common to many objects and experimentally reproducible. In essence, science implies averaging over many objects/processes and/or many realizations of the same process.

While this method has shown itself extremely powerful, it is clearly inapplicable to anything that is unique, rare or occurs by chance. Psychology and macroeconomics are the two more notorious of such fields, although by no means the only ones.

Psychology addresses the characteristics/problems unique to an individual and aims to help the specific individual rather than find what they have in common with everybody else. Moreover, psychology often deals with subjective sources of information/data - like individual's own description of how they feel, therapist's making comparison with other patients or drawing from their own experience, etc. Moreover, the sample, i.e., the number of patients treated by the same therapist is usually rather small for substantial statistical generalizations. Attempts to scale up the statistical samples in psychology typically end in throwing the baby with the water - results that are scientifically correct, but of little practical use.

Similarly, macroeconomics - study of economy on the scale of a state, is limited by impossibility of conducting controlled experiments. E.g., one cannot restart the state from exactly same point with different tax rates to figure out which is optimal in terms of economical and social outcome. In addition, the desired outcome is highly subjective - as can be seen by the political polarization on economic matters.

To put it in more general terms, science implies studying anything allowing high repeatability and high level of control (small number of parameters), whereas psychology focuses on systems that not reproducible and the state of which can be poorly controlled (many parameters). This is related to the frequentist/Bayesian worldview in statistics.

To summarize, science and psychology do not address the same problems and the same questions - rather they are complimentary to each other. To some extent one could say that western civilization for the last few centuries has made a bet on science, to the detriment of focus on anything unique - this explains both the achievements of this civilization, as well as its problems. It is thus interesting to wonder, what the world would look like, if the emphasis were different.

You must log in to answer this question.

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