Posted by: wolf | December 21, 2007

A rant about academic psychology from a theoretical psychologist

Today I am reading Daniel Robinson‘s paper “Theoretical psychology. What Is It and Who Needs It?” (DOI: 10.1177/0959354307075042). After introducing the distinction between “theoretical psychology” and “psychological theory” in principle, he goes on to state that there isn’t much of a theoretical psychology in practice; he elaborates using the example of color vision. The first thesis seems to be that theoretical psychology should establish an “ontology” of the research domain of psychology, that is, it should define and demarcate what psychological research should concern itself with. The second main thrust is about subjective experience, or phenomenology – Robinson states that today’s academic psychology virtually ignores phenomenology, or at least real-life relevant matters.

Generally I really like the underlying ideas – I wholeheartedly agree that psychology should be concerned with phenomenology and real-life matters; after all, wikipedia states that psychology is about the mind and defines the latter as referring to conscious experience, and, studying psychology in Germany, I learned that psychology is the science of behavior and “Erleben”, which not quite directly translates to conscious, subjective experience. This is the same thing as yesterday. However, the paper could be a lot more focused and structured; after about half of the paper Robinson unfortunately launches something like a rant about what is wrong with academic psychology in general, claims that the “departmentalization” (the subdivision into areas like general psychology, personality psychology, etc.) is misleading and so on. Stil, I recommend reading that paper, and I am somewhat relieved that my doubts about academic psychology are not totally idiosyncratic.

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