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New l&as rn Psychol Vol.

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in Great Britain

8. No.

2. pp.

121-137.

1990

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1990 Pergamon
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WHAT KIND OF DISCIPLINE IS PSYCHOLOGY:


AUTONOMOUS OR DEPENDENT, HUMANISTIC OR
SCIENTIFIC, BIOLOGICAL OR SOCIOLOGICAL?
MARIO BUNGE
Foundations

and Philosophy

of Science

Unit, McGill University,

Montreal,

Canada

Abstract

- The main views on the status and place of psychology


are
examined,
and a new view is proposed.
The rejected
opinions
are that
psychology
is an autonomous
discipline,
a branch
of the humanities,
a
component
of cognitive science, a biological science, and a social science. It is
suggested that, though not autonomous,
psychology
is a very special science
dependent
upon other disciplines. It overlaps partially with biology as well as
with sociology.
But it also has its peculiar concepts,
theories, and methods.
Consequently
psychology
is not fully reducible
to other disciplines.
Such
incomplete
epistemological
reduction
contrasts
with the full ontological
reduction
of the mental to the neurophysiological.

THE PROBLEM
Most historians of psychology hold that this discipline broke away from
philosophy when psychophysics was established as a separate discipline around
1850 (see, e.g., Boring, 1950). This version of the story is only partially true, and
this for two reasons. First, no discipline, even if it adopts the scientific method,
can free itself entirely from philosophy, since every research into matters of fact
makes use of general concepts and principles about the nature of things and
about the search for truth. Besides, every basic discipline approaches some
problems of philosophical interest. In particular, psychology cannot push aside
one of the oldest and most intriguing of all philosophical problems, to wit, the
nature of mind (see, e.g., Bunge, 1980; Popper & Eccles, 1977).
Second, the most popular version of the history of psychology overlooks the
fact that classical Antiquity had begat a branch parallel to philosophical
psychology, namely, the medical psychology that flourished in the schools of
Hippocrates in Greece, and Galen in Rome. These biological schools, contrary to
the spiritualism of Plato and his followers, found followers even during the
Scientific Revolution. One of them was the physician Juan Huarte de San Juan,
author of Examen de ingenios para las ciencius (1575),
a best seller in several
European languages till the end of the 17th century, and remarkable
for
proposing the cerebral localization of the various mental functions.
However, it is true that experimental
psychology was not born till the mid19th century. Medical psychology had been purely observational:
It was only
based on clinical and surgical work, supplemented only in the last century by the
post-mortem pathological examination, which produced the sensational neurolinguistic results of Broca and Wernicke. As for philosophical psychology, which
is as old as philosophy, until recently it was purely speculative and it ignored the
121

M.

122

findings
of
humanities.

the

medical

psychologists:

Bunge

It was cultivated

as a branch

of the

Curiously,
we know the birth certificates
of psychology,
in particular
that of
experimental
psychology,
but we do not know for sure where to place it in the
system of human
knowledge.
The spiritualist
philosopher
and psychologist
Maine de Biran (1823/24),
as well as the contemporary
humanistic
clinical
psychologists
(e.g., Maslow, 1962; Rogers, 1961), and even the psycholinguists
of
the Chomsky
school (e.g., Fodor,
1975), have conceived
of psychology
as a
humanistic
discipline,
hence as one alien to experiment,
biology, and sociology.
On the other hancl the radical behaviorists,
from Watson (1913) to Skinner
(1938), as well as the neobehaviorists,
from Hull (1952) to Suppes (1975). have
regarded
psychology
as a natural science-for
dealing with animals-though,
paradoxically,
as an autonomous
one and, in particular,
as independent
from
biology.
Actually
neither
of the two preceding
opinions-that
psychology
is a
humanistic
discipline,
and that it is an autonomous
science-is
dominant
in the
international
psychological
community.
In this community
the dominant
view is
that basic psychology
is a science
on the same footing
as physics,
though
admittedly
not as advanced,
whereas
clinical,
educational,
and industrial
psychology
are applied sciences or perhaps technologies
similar to engineering,
for their aim is not ,just to study behavior,
emotion,
and cognition,
but to alter
them.
However, the scientific psychologists
are not agreed on whether psychology
is
a natural or a social science.
Most of them, from Darwin (187 1) ancl Lloyd
Morgan
(1894)-the
founders
of comparative
psychology-to
the radical
behaviorists,
the Gestalt school, and the researchers
in psychophysics
and in
physiological
psychology,
conceive of psychology
as a biological
science, even
though
not all of them make explicit use of the concepts,
hypotheses,
and
methods
of biology. A minority,
formed by some social psychologists
and the
followers of Vygotsky
(1978), place psych&ogy
among the social sciences. The
former argue that psychology
is a natural science because it stuclies animals; the
latter argue that psychology
is a social science because it cannot ignore social
behavior
and social stimuli.
So far, then, we have four different
opinions
on the nature and place of
psychology:
Autonomism,
humanism,
naturalism,
and sociologism.
All four
views have been institutionalized.
The autonomists
have succeeded
in establishing some faculties of psychology,
particularly
in Latin countries.
The humanists
work in faculties of arts or devote themselves
to private practice. The naturalists
are thriving in the faculties of science and of medicine,
and the sociologists
are
distributed
among
the faculties
of arts and of education.
This institutional
fragmentation
results in a very uneven training. Those who
have studied in faculties of arts tend to be bookish, speculative,
and dogmatic:
They tend to work on authors
rather than on problems.
The graduates
of
faculties or departments
of social sciences are competent
to conduct observations
and the odd experiment,
as long as it does not involve any biological techniques:
They sidestep
the nervous
system, hence they ignore
the very existence
of

What kind of discipline is psychology?

123

physiological social psychology. On the other hand, those who have studied in
faculties of science or of medicine feel comfortable in laboratories or hospitals,
but they tend to overlook the social matrix of behavior and inner life.
As a result of this institutional fragmentation,
the student who begins the
study of psychology usually forms a one-sided view of the subject: He or she
tends to think of it either as an autonomous science, or as a chapter of the
humanities, or as a branch of biology (or even of medicine), or as part of
sociology. Neeedless to say, neither of these one-sided views embraces the
totality of psychology, which actually trespasses on many disciplinary borders, as
will be seen in the sequel.
The subject of this paper has then a three-fold interest. On the one hand it is
a problem in the philosophy of science, as much as that of the location of logic or
of linguistics in the system of knowledge. On the other hand the problem is
relevant to the choice of research method as well as the background knowledge
presupposed by psychological research. In the third place, ours is a problem of
university organization and policy: Do we want psychology to be studied in
faculties of arts, or of science (and medicine), or should we push for an
independent
faculty?
In order to solve the practical problem we must begin by solving the
conceptual
problem, namely, what kind of facts does psychology studyspiritual, biological, social, or mixed, and how does (or ought) it to study them?
Let us then start by tackling this question, after which we shall examine the
merits and shortcomings of the four main theses concerning the nature and
place of psychology.
WHAT DOES PSYCHOLOGY STUDY AND HOW DOES IT GO ABOUT?
Even a quick perusal of the contemporary psychological literature shows that
psychologists study the behavior and the inner life (emotional and cognitive) of
the higher vertebrates.
Actually most psychologists restrict their interest to
primates, in particular humans, and their pets; the remaining animals are
studied by zoologists, ethologists, and physiologists.
Now, there are two ways of conceiving of overt behavior: Either as a fact in
itself, that is, as a primary given, or as a manifestation of neuromuscular
(or
neuroendocrinomuscular)
processes. The behaviorists adopt the first aproach,
that is, they limit themselves to observing and describing behavior without asking
for its source, hence without attempting to explain it. On the other hand the
psychobiologists
(or biopsychologists,
or behavioral neuroscientists),
in particular the physiological psychologists, try to explain overt behavior as a result of
muscular processes controlled by neural systems influenced by the endocrine
system and modulated by sensory stimuli. According to these psychologists,
behavior is the last link of a chain that starts in the nervous system or, rather, in
the neuroendocrine
supersystem.
For example, a radical behaviorist may describe the manner in which a
monkey presses a button that activates a mechanism which delivers a peanut. He
finds that, after a certain number of trials (variable from one animal to the next),
the animal has learned to associate the cause (pressing the button) with its effect

124

M. Bunge

(delivery of the peanut).


Although
this result is of some interest,
it cries for
explanation.
The psychobiologist
attempts to explain this behavior
pattern by conceiving
hypotheses
about the neuromuscular
(or
neuroendocrinomuscular)
process
involved in it. And, being a scientist, he puts them to the test with the help of
stimuli and recording
mechanisms
of various
kinds-mechanical,
electrical,
chemical,
etc. By working
in this manner
the psychologists,
allied to the
neurophysiologists,
have succeeded
in localizing the neural centers of voluntary
movement
of the primate in the frontal lobes (e.g., Evarts, Shinoda,
& Wise,
1984).
As for the mind, the radical behaviorist
denies its existence
or at least he
denies that it may be studied scientifically.
(The former adopts an ontological
behaviorism
of positivistic origin, the latter a methodological
or opportunistic
behaviorism.)
The antimentalist
dogma snaps the thread of tradition
and it
makes a present of the entire domain of inner life to the charlatans.
Fortunately
the European
psychologists,
particularly
those of the schools of Wertheimer
and
Piaget, as well as of Bartlett
and a few others, ignored
the North American
fashion of the 192Os, 1930s and 194Os, and went 011 with the scientific study of
memory,
conceptual
learning,
imagination,
concept
formation,
hypothesis
making,
inference,
will, and other categories
of psychological
phenomena.
Regrettably
these researchers
restricted
themselves
to describing,
measuring,
and altering
experimentally
those
phenomena,
without
going
into their
mechanisms.
They dealt only with black boxes and, as a consequence,
they
explained
nothing.
Moreover,
they made a number of errors for trusting selfobservation,
or introspection,
in an uncritical manner.
For example,
the Gestalt
school held that every perception
is global and prior to analysis. We now know
that this is not always the case: That the perception
of a whole as such, for
example,
that of a figure or a melody, may be preceded
by analysis (see, e.g.,
Treisman
& Paterson,
1984). We have also learned
that the analysis of the
sensory stimulus is in charge of specialized (feature)
neurons (see, e.g., Hubel,
1982; Wiesel,
1982).
From the time of Karl Lashley ( 1929, 194 1) and his disciples, in particular
Donald
Hebb (1949,
1980) and Hans-Lucas
Teuber
(1978),
the biologically
oriented
psychologists
took over the entire problematics
of classical psychology,
treating
the mental
phenomena
as neurophysiological
processes
(see, e.g.,
Bindra,
i976; Dimond,
1980; Olds, 1975; Thompson,
1975). One of the most
fruitful
and best confirmed
hypotheses
investigated
by this school
is the
conjecture
of the cell assembly,
proposed
by Hebb (1949) and modified
by
Milner
(1957)
before
there were experimental
data in its favor. Curiously
enough,
this hypothesis
had been originally
formulated
by the Italian physiologists Tanzi and Lugaro, and it had been enthusiastically
adopted by Rambn y
Cajal.
Regrettably,
it was totally ignored
by the psychologists
until Hebb
reinvented
it seven decades
later.
According
to Hebb, learning would consist in the formation
of an assembly or
system of neurons.
The basic mechanism
of the emergence
of such a system
would be the reinforcement
of the synaptic connections
among the neurons

What kind of discipline

is psychology?

125

constituting
the system. (Every neuron may have about 1,000 connections
with
its neighbors.)
These connections
are not anatomical
but chemical:
They are
effected by neurotransmitters
such as serotonin
and dopamine,
which combine
with receptor molecules situated on the membrane
of the adjacent (postsynaptic)
neuron.
Besides these neurochemical
processes there are anatomical
processes
of formation,
growth, and pruning of dendrites
and synaptic boutons.
These
processes
of morphological
alteration,
which contribute
to changing
the
connectivity
of a cell assembly,
have recently been filmed in vivo as well as in
vitro, and they can be stimulated or inhibited by physical and chemical means.
The ability or disposition of a neuronal network to change its connectivity
as a
result of anatomical
or neurochemical
changes is called neuronal
plasticity. A
system of neurons the connectivity
of which can change rapidly in the course of
time, that is, a plastic neuronal system, may be called a psychon (Bunge,
1980),
due to the Tanzi-LugaroHebb
hypothesis
that a mental process is one that
happens in a neuronal
system composed
of many cells joined by plastic (rather
than elastic) synaptic junctions.
The lasting enhancement
of the strength of such
junctions
is called long-term
potentiation,
and it is one of the most lively
research
subjects in recent biopsychology
(see, e.g., Larson & Lynch,
1986).
By confirming
the Tanzi-Lugaro-Hebb
hypothesis,
research
on neuronal
plasticity has revolutionized
psychology.
By the same token it has toppled two
myths: Innatism,
and the view that the architecture
of the brain resembles,
in its
alleged rigidity,
that of a computer.
We have learned
in recent years that
connectivity,
far from being rigid, changes as we learn and forget. We have also
learned that, in contrast
to other parts of the body, the brain of the higher
vertebrate
is to a large extent a product of its experience
and, consequently,
it is
partly self-made.
Presumably,
the brain of a mathematician
is physiologically
different
from that of a painter,
and the latter different
from that of a
psychologist.
Nowadays
the basic psychologists
tackle, then, the entire problematics
of
traditional
psychology
plus that raised by behaviorism
and by the biological
approach.
They study the behavior and the mental life of the higher vertebrates,
particularly
the primates, and they do so by using the scientific method as well as
psychological,
physiological,
biochemical,
biophysical,
and sociological
concepts
and methods.
Whereas
some of them settle for observing
and describing
psychological
phenomena
on their own level, others attempt to explain in terms
of neuronal,
neuromuscular,
neuroendocrine,
and even neuroimmunological
mechanisms.
While some of them design and conduct
experiments,
others
invent hypotheses
and even mathematical
models.
Present day scientific
psychology
is, in short, theoretical
as well as experimental, and it rejects no genuine
psychological
phenomenon.
It even studies,
once in a while, the phantasies
of parapsychologists
and psychoanalysts,
albeit
with monotonous
negative
results (see, e.g., Alcock,
1981; Wolpe,
1981).
PSYCHOLOGY

AS AN AUTONOMOUS

DISCIPLINE

If psychology
is defined as the study of the psyche (mind, soul, or spirit),
in turn the psyche is conceived
of as an immaterial
entity, it follows

and
that

126

M. Bung:e

psychology
must steer clear of biology. On the other hand, it might be included
in social science provided the latter- were viewed as the study of the adventures
(and misadventures)
of the human spirit-the
way it was conceived
of by the
historico-cultural
(or humanistic)
school of Dilthey and his followers. Or, again,
psychology
might be regarded
as one of the cognitive
sciences dealing with
knowledge
in itself,
apart
from
knowing
brains
and
their
social matrix
(regarding
which, more in the next section).
Psychophysical
dualists, for whom mind and matter are distinct entities, have
always regarded
psychology
as either an autonomous
discipline or as a chapter
of the humanities
or, at most, as a social science. This applied in particular
to
Brentano
(1955/1874),
for whom the mental differed radically from the physical
for having an intentionality
or reference
to something
else. It also holds fixFodor
( 198 1, 1983), according
to whom minding
is information
processing
(whether
in man, computer,
or disembodied
spirit), and mind an immaterial
whole divided into modules
or water-tight
compartments-a
new-fangled
version of the old psychology
of faculties.
Psychological
autonomism
is mistaken for several reasons. First, the study of
behavior
and subjective
experience
is superficial
unless one searches
for its
sources in the neuronal,
endocrine,
and immune processes. This search calls for
a close cooperation,
nay for the fusion,
of psychology
and neurobiology
(Lashley,
1941;
Teuber,
1978);
actually
it requires
the strengthening
of
psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology.
Second,
the declaration
of independence
of psychology
entails the condemnation of physiological,
developmental,
evolutionary
(or comparative),
and social
psychology,
all of which are mongrel disciplines,
for they employ concepts and
methods
invented
outside the domain
of pure psychology.
Third,
a fully autonomous
discipline
cannot be part of the system of the
sciences, since these constitute a system by virtue of their partial overlapping
and
their interactions.
Of course some division of labor is necessary, but such division
should not be carried to the extreme
of isolating the various sciences,
if only
because every division of scientific work is largely conventional.
An understanding of the artificiality
of that division of labor facilitates
the integration
of
psychology
with neurobiology,
endocrinology,
immunology,
medicine,
anthropology, sociology,
and the so-called
sciences of education.
The isolation of a discipline from the total system of the sciences is a reliable
indicator of its nonscientific
character
(Bunge,
1983). Ihink of parapsychology
and psychoanalysis,
both of them incompatible
with experimental
psychology
and biology. Remember
that Freud (1929) demanded
the total independence
of
psychoanalysis
from experimental
psychology
and physiology.
He even proposed the establishment
of a Faculty of Psychoanalysis,
which would include
humanistic
disciplines
but would exclude biology and social science-so
as to
keep the future analysts innocent of the experimental
method and the workings
of the brain. Lacan (1966) went even farther, by holding that psychoanalysis,
far
from being a science, is the practice of the symbolic function,
hence far closer to
rhetoric
than to biology.
Psychological
autonomism
is not only scientifically
barren, it is also impracti-

What kind of discipline is psychology?

127

cal, for being unable to help correct any disturbances in behavior, affect, or
learning. It cannot be effective because it assumes that the mind has a life of its
own, although it can influence the body. Thus psychophysical dualism prevents
autonomism from utilizing the resources of psychopharmacology
and neurosurgery, as well as the techniques of behavior therapy (e.g., desensitization),
since all of these rest on laboratory research. Take pity on the manic-depressive,
the paranoid, the autistic, the phobic, or the mentally retarded who falls into the
hands of a logotherapist.
Poor nervous system and poor bank account!
In short, there is no merit in the autonomy thesis. It consecrates the myth of
the immaterial mind, it blocks the biological investigation of mental processes,
and favors the pseudoscientific
approach to the psychological problematics.
PSYCHOLOCY AS A BRANCH OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE
It. has become fashionable to say that psychology has joined forces with
linguistics and artificial intelligence,
to constitute a new discipline, called
cognitive science. The three belong together, it is argued, because each of
them deals in its own way with information processing, in particular with the
transformation
of mental representations
(see, for example, Pylyshyn, 1984).
The idea of forming a cognitive science separate from the other sciences raises
the following objections. First, the proposed segregation entails the splitting of
psychology into two parts: Cognitive and noncognitive. This division is mistaken
because there is no learning without motivation, emotion, or ostensible behavior.
There is none because the cerebral cortex interacts vigorously with the limbic
system and the hypothalamus, and because the cortico-limbic system interacts
with the endocrine system as well as with the viscera and the muscles. In short,
anatomy and physiology do not honor the cognitive-noncognitive
splitting.
Second, the account of behavioral
and mental processes in terms of
information
processing is incorrect because, unlike the signals that travel
through a communications
network, those that travel through the nervous
system have different effects according to the state of the receptors on the
postsynaptic membranes. In the nervous system there is no message independent of the receptor: What the addressee receives depends not only upon the
messenger but also upon the state in which the addressee happens to be. This is
why it is impossible to intercept and decode nervous messages similarly to the
way one can tap a telephone communication.
In any event, the information
said to be processed by the mind is not a signal carrying an unambiguous
message, but a physico-chemical process that becomes information proper if and
when it activates in a proper way the suitable cognitive neural system when in a
favorable state. The word information
is to be avoided in psychology and
neuroscience for having at least seven different significations (Bunge & Ardila,
1987).
Nothing of the above is intended to discourage strong interactions among
cognitive psychology (in particular physiological cognitive psychology), linguistics (in particular psycholinguistics), and knowledge engineering or artificial
intelligence. On the contrary, such interactions are to be welcomed, but not at
the price of the integrity of psychology, the impoverishment
of the study of

M. Bunge

128

behavior and emotion,


or in exchange
for adopting the coarse brain-computer
analogy. Artificial intelligence
has much to learn from psychology,
particularly
from physiological
psychology,
if it is to make any breakthroughs
in the
simulation of mental processes. Linguistics,
particularly
psycholinguistics,
would
be far better off in departments
of psychology
or of anthropology
than in
separate
units devoted
to knowledge
in itself, in abstraction
from knowing
brains and their social matrix.
In short,
although
it is better
for cognitive
psychology
to consort
with
linguistics and engineering
than to remain isolated, it is a serious mistake to cut it
off from the rest of psychology
as well as from the natural and social sciences.
After all, cognitive psychology is about cognition,
not about knowledge
in and of
itself, and cognitive
processes
take place in living brains.
PSYCHOLOGY
If it be admitted

that

animal

AS A NATUKAL
behavior

and

SCIENCE

mental

processes

are biological

processes, it would seem to follow that their study, i.e., psychology,


is a branch of
biology.
As a matte1
of fact,
ethology
is usually
cultivated
in zoology
departments,
and physiological
psychology
flourishes
particularly
in biologically oriented
neuroscience

departments
of psychology,
and in neurological
institutes

as well as in departments
and psychiatric
hospitals

of
not

contaminated
by psychoanalysis.
Yet, there are other branches
of psychology,
in particular
cognitive psychology, which are not often
studied
from a biological
viewpoint.
(However,
cognitive ethology and the biology of knowledge are advancing rapidly: See, e.g.,
Marler
& Terrace,
1984.)
But,
before
deciding
whether
there
can be
nonbiological
branches
of psychology,
we should distinguish
fact from ideal.
The fact that at the present
moment
a given branch
of psychology,
such as
personology,
is not being approached
systematically
in a biological manner, does
not imply that it deals with nonbiological
(e.g., spiritual)
phenomena.
Like other old disciplines,
psychology
follows a tradition
or, rather, several
traditions,
in particular
the mentalist
or spiritualist
on the one hand, and the
biological or materialist
on the other (see the first section of this paper). The
currently
fashionable
information-processing
psychology,
according
to which
the mind is a collection
of programs,
follows the mentalist tradition,
since the
software
is detachable
from the hardware
(Bunge,
1985).
It is perfectly
possible to make constructive
contributions
to psychology
by
placing oneself in either of the two traditions,
the mentalist
or the biological
one. That is, one can make psychological
discoveries and inventions whether one
asserts
or denies
that behavioral
and mental
processes
are physiological
processes.
For example,
Wertheimer,
Kahler,
Piaget, Vygotsky,
Bartlett,
and
several others made important
contributions
to cognitive
psychology
without
paying much attention
to the nervous system, whereas
Hebb (1949),
Bindra
(1976), and a few others explained
some of those findings in neurophysiological
terms.
For example,
the stages in cognitive development,
discovered
and described
by Piaget (though denied by the behaviorists),
may be explained
as the outcomes

What

kind

of discipline

is psychology?

129

rewirings in the course of the individual development of the central


nervous system (Thatcher,
Walker, & Giudice, 1987). Another example: The
learning laws can be explained in terms of the formation of new cell assemblies
in the plastic regions of the brain. The biological approach to behavior and the
mind generalizes and deepens the shallow or molar approach, which overlooks
the nervous system. (Parallels: The absorption of kinematics by dynamics, and of
geometrical optics by wave optics.) Note that in this case, like in every other
scientific revolution, many of the past acquisitions have not been swept away;
they have been improved and explained. There are no total scientific revolutions
& la Kuhn (Bunge, 1983).
The view of psychology as a biological science, then, has obvious advantages.
By studying behavioral and mental phenomena as biological processes one may
make free use of some of the concepts and methods of biology, and one may go
from description to explanation. (Every explanation invokes some mechanism,
and every mechanism proper is material: There are no behavioral or mental
mechanisms, but only neuronal, neuromuscular,
neuroendocrine,
or neuroimmune mechanisms.) This is how the biological approach has made sensational
contributions
over the past half century.
Let us draw a small random sample of the collection of achievements
of
biopsychology. The electrical stimulation of the hypothalamus causes rage, that
of the limbic system may cause pleasure, and that of the cerebral cortex may
evoke long forgotten memories or cause the perception of the scent of an absent
flower (see, e.g., Penfield & Perot, 1963). The ablation of the hippocampus and
the amygdala causes irreversible damage to memory; however, it is possible to
forget episodes without losing habits (Mishkin, Malamut, & Bachevalier,
1984).
Some patients who have lost short-term memory can learn new motor tasks,
because the know how organ is not the same as the know that one (Schachter,
1983). Animals prevented from using one eye during the first few weeks after
birth (critical or plastic period) never acquire binocular vision (Hubel, 1982;
Wiesel, 1982). Human subjects deprived of sensory stimulation
lose the
perception of time and hallucinate, as Hebb found long ago. The destruction of
the frontal lobes eliminates the ability to decide and plan-as
found with
thousands of lobotomy patients, or rather victims. (For more examples and an
examination of some of their philosophical implications, see Bunge & Ardila,
1987.)
The postulated identity of mental processes with neurophysiological
processes
occurring in plastic neural systems has a second advantage: It facilitates the
construction of mathematical models. In fact, if all the psychological variables
are physiological variables, or functions of the latter, then the psychological
processes can be modeled in the same way as the physiological, chemical, or
physical ones. For example, the learning of the association between two stimuli,
or two mental representations,
may be modeled as the formation of a neuronal
system composed of two initially independent systems, the link or connectivity of
which is strengthened
by experience. [The state functions A and B of the two
initially independent
systems are modified in such a way that B becomes a
function of A. In the model proposed by Anderson, Silverstein, Ritz, and Jones
of neuronal

130

hf. Bung

(1977), B = CA, where A and b are column

vectors, and C is a square matrix.]


A consequence
of the physiologization
of psychological
variables and their
mathematization
is a third advantage,
namely, a remarkable
enhancement
of the
degree
of testability
of the psychological
hypotheses
and theories.
(For
the
dependence
of testability
upon precision,
see Hunge,
1983.)
A fourth merit of the biological
approach
to the mind is of a philosophical
nature: It puts an end to psychophysical
dualism, that old usyluttt i~qnomnticu and
ally of all kinds of beliefs in the supernatural.
This is an advantage
because, b)
claiming to explain everything
in terms of global categories,
such as those of
body, mind, and interaction,
dualism explains nothing at all, for it proposes no
definite
mechanisms.
On top of this, dualism
postulates
the existence
of a
substance
inaccessible
to experiment,
namely the mind (or soul, spirit, or I-Y\
co$zr~s), that would be immaterial
and perhaps immortal as well. Also, dualism
perpetuates
the influence
of religion on the study of the mental, an influence
that has blocked
the scientific
understanding
of subjective
experience.
Finally,

the

biological

approach

eliminates

the

ontological

anomaly

of

mentalist
psychology,
the only discipline
that claims
to study states and
changes of state other than states of concrete things or changes in the latter. Ihe
biological approach
unifies all of the ontologies
underlying
the various factual
sciences-without
however forcing upon us a physicalist ontology that ignores
the only genuine
YPS c.o,.yitcmc (see
the peculiar
properties
of grey matter,
Psychology
as a biosociological
science,
below).

We humans are essentially social animals: Only a philosopher


or an academic
economist
could imagine that, at bottom, each of us is a Robinson Crusoe. We all
learn from others, whether
directly or through
cultural media. Not only OUI
cognitive but also our affective development
is strongly influenced
by the societ)
in which we live, as shown by the large emotional
differences
between children
brought
up in orphanages
or in boat houses, on the one hand, and those who
develop in a normal social environment.
Ihese emotional
differences
are even
more marked in the case of experimental
animals reared in individual cages, as
Melzack and Scott (1957)
found long ago.
The preceding
suffices
to do and teach social psychology.
Ihis discipline
studies the impact of social life upon behavior and inner experience,
as well as
the reactions
of both to social structure.
The
former
subject
is that of
and the latter
that of sociological
social
psychological
social psychology,
1981). Ihe former
is cultivated
by psychopsychology
(Rosenberg
8c Turner,
logists and the latter by sociologists.
This explains why social psychology
is done
and taught in departments
of sociology as well as in departments
of psychology.
Social psychology
had a vigorous beginning.
For example,
between the 1930s
and the 1950s it was found that poor children perceive dimes bigger than their
rich counterparts,
that group pressure
may be suggestive
to the subject to the
point of making it believable that a fixed point is moving, that a couple of years
in school may awaken the deductive
ability, and that rumors
propagate
like
epidemics
and
according
to a precise
mathematical
formula
(Maccoby,

What

kind

of discipline

is psychology?

131

1958). In recent years we have learned that the


Newcomb, & Hartley,
contemplation
of violent scenes increases aggressiveness instead of having the
cathartic effect claimed by the psychoanalysts, and that the experimental subject
usually wishes the experiment to succeed, as a consequence of which he or she
tends to report that he or she perceives or feels the way the experimenter
has
hypothesized he or she should.
In more recent times there have been some serious problems with the
interpretation
of the effects of group pressure on the emotional states of
drugged subjects, as well as on the willingness of people to inflict pain on
experimental subjects. These controversial results have cast some shadow on the
discipline. However, there is no reason to disbelieve in its future. After all,
scientific research is subject to error: What characterizes
science is not the
absence of error but the ability and willingness to detect and correct it.
It is obvious that the social animals must be studied not only as organisms but
also in their mutual relationships. In particular, we humans are not only what
our ancestors bequeathed to us but also what we learn and do. Every one of us
performs as many roles as social groups in which we participate: Family, school,
gang, work place, club, church, political party, etc. This is why every one of us
manifests a somewhat different personality in each social group. Therefore
a
purely biological (in particular genetic) theory of personality is doomed to
failure.
There are, then, reasons for conceiving of psychology as a social science. But
they are hardly sufficient, because the central referent of every psychological
proposition is an individual. The social group appears as the environment of the
individual and therefore as a peripheral referent of the proposition. Similarly,
economics must take the physical environment into account, but the latter is a
peripheral referent of the discipline, the central referents of which are economic
systems, such as households, firms, and markets.
In other words, the behavioral and mental processes are biological even
though they are influenced by the social context. This is why these influences can
be studied not only in the classical, prebiological, way, but also physiologically;
this is precisely the point of social psychophysiology
or physiological social
psychology (Cacioppo & Petty, 1983). On the other hand social processes are
changes that occur in social systems. Psychology studies individuals-in-society,
not social systems. The social sciences study the latter: The individual does not
interest them except as a component of such systems. Analogously, the geologist
is centrally interested in the lithosphere, even though he or she cannot ignore
the action of the atmosphere
on the latter. For this reason geology and
meteorology are regarded as components of the scientific system called earth
sciences, instead of including geology in meteorology or vice versa.
We see then that psychology is not a social science even though it cannot
ignore the social matrix, just as biology is not an earth science even though it
cannot ignore the habitat of every biopopulation. Not even social psychology is a
social science. What must be said is that this science belongs as much in natural as
in social science, that is, it is in the intersection of the two research fields. Other
sciences belonging in this intersection are ethology, biosociology, and demo-

M. Bunge

132
graphy.

By the way, the

mere

existence

of these

hybrid

sciences

refutes

the

idealist thesis, formulated


by Kant and defended
by Dilthey, that there is an
unbridgeable
chasm between the natural and the social sciences (sciences of the
spirit-Ge~teswi.s.senschaften-or
sciences morales). There
is no chasm;
there is
partial overlap.
PSYCHOLOGY
If animal

behavior

and

AS A BIOSOCIOLOGICAL
the

mental

(affective

SCIENCE

and

cognitive)

processes

are

conceived of as biological processes, it follows that psychology


is, at least in part,
a life science. If we take into account that much of what happens to and in an
animal is in part determined
by its social environment,
it follows that psychology
is also, at least in part, a social science-or
at least that it must interact vigorously
with the social sciences, particularly
anthropology
and sociology.
Accordingly,
psychology would be a biosociological
science: it would belong in the intersection
of biology and social science. However, we shall see in a moment that this is only
an approximate
solution
to our problem.
This solution to the problem of the place of psychology
in the system of the
factual
sciences
involves
a reduction without leveling. Let me explain.
The
hypothesis that the mind is the same as a collection of brain activities or functions
of a certain type (those happening
exclusively
in plastic neuronal
systems) is a
reduction of an ontological
type. It is a reductive proposition
of tl& same kind as
the reduction
of heat to the random
movement
of atoms or molecules,
or of
light to electromagnetic
radiation of wavelengths
in a certain interval. What in a
previous stage of the history of science
is now seen as included
in a larger

(a)

had been conceived of as a separate


class of facts (Figure
1).

realm

(b)

Figure 1. (a) Classical trichotomy of the collection of facts involving humans


or other gregarious higher vertebrates: Biological (p), social (a), and mental
(~0). (b) Inclusion of mental facts (I#) and those of individual behavior (IB)
in the collection of biological facts @), and of the facts of social behavior (SB)
in the intersection of the collections of biological (fl) and social (a) facts. This
ontological reduction does not entail the full epistemological reduction of the
corresponding
disciplines (see Figure 2).

What kind of discipline is psychology?

133

Biopsychology
is then reductionist in an ontological sense. In particular, it
reduces emotion to certain processes in the limbico-hypothalamic
system,
memory to the strengthening of certain interneuronal connections, learning to
the formation of new neuronal systems, and consciousness to the representation
in a neuronal system (the monitor) of processes occurring in another neuronal
system (Bunge, 1980; Bunge & Ardila, 1987).
Yet, despite being reductionist, biopsychology is not leveling; it does not assert
that the mental processes are physico-chemical or even intracellular processes.
in particular neuronists (one idea-one
Far from being microreductionists,
neuron), by far the greatest number of biopsychologists hypothesize that every
mental process is a change in the connectivity of a network composed by
thousands, millions, or even billions of neurons. In other words, the mental is an
emergent property of such systems, a property that its cellular components lack.
In this regard the mental is just as emergent as heat, the appearance of a new
biospecies, or of the social. (For a precise elucidation of the concept of
emergence see Bunge, 1979.)
Compare this thesis with its two main rivals: Spiritualism and neuronism. If
the mental is not biological, then it cannot be studied by biologists, which
eliminates psychobiology. If on the other hand it is granted that the mental is
biological but not emergent,
then it must be possible to discover it in the
individual neuron. (This would be the famous pontifical neuron or grandmothers neuron.) As a matter of fact a few psychobiologists, such as Konorski,
Blakemore, and Dimond, have held this thesis, which may be called neuronism.
For better or worse there is not a shred of experimental evidence in its favor. On
the other hand, it is well known that no observable behavioral or mental deficits
appear unless systems constituted by thousands of neurons are destroyed,
disconnected, or inactivated if only temporarily. This is strong evidence for the
emergentist
hypothesis instantiated
by the Tanzi-Lugaro-Hebb
conjecture
about learning (see the second section of this paper).
Now, if there are ~OUUde re, i.e., factual novelties, we must conceive of new
ideas (nova de ditto) to account for them. That is, the emergent things, prop&ties
and processes must be represented by new concepts, hypotheses and theories.
This is precisely what happens with psychology: This discipline cannot make
ends meet with the means supplied by biology, but must also employ typically
psychological concepts, such as those of affect, mental representation,
thought,
and decision. True, these concepts are reducible, at least in principle, to
biological concepts. But reduction, far from eliminating ideas, allows us to
deepen, elucidate, and interconnect
them. In other words, by becoming
(partially) biological, psychology does not disappear as a special science but
becomes a deeper science.
We have then ontological reduction without leveling, i.e., without denying the
existence of levels of organization. We also see that psychology is not eliminated
by becoming partially biological: It simply loses its independence.
Analogously,
astronomy did not disappear but, on the contrary, was enormously enriched
when it was rethought as the physics of celestial bodies. Meteorology became a
science proper when it was conceived of as the aerodynamics and thermodyna-

134

M. Hunge

mics of the atmosphere.


shown to be segments

Genetics was remarkably


deepened
when genes were
of DNA molecules.
Finally, history was revolutionized

when it was recast as the science of social (economic,


political, and cultural)
changes.
Let us emphasize
that the reduction of some or even all psychological
concepts
to neurobiological
ones does not entail the full reduction
of psychology
to
biology. This is because
not all psychological
propositions
become
biological
propositions.
In fact, social psychology
cannot
dispense
with sociological
concepts irreducible
to biology, such as those of social group, crowding,
poverty,
commodity,
work, marginality,
and antisocial behavior.
What social psychology
does is to solder psychology
and social science rather than reducing
the former
to the latter or conversely.
Example:
Crowding
increases
stress.
In sum, we propose the reduction
of psychological
facts to biological ones but
not the full reduction
of psychology
to biology. Since the behavioral and mental
processes
are socially conditioned,
what is appropriate
is a pa&l
biosociological
r-duction. This partial reduction
comes together
with the acknowledgment
of
emergence
both ontological
and epistemological.
Hence, the reductionism
we
propose
is moderate
rather
than radical (Figure
2).
CONCLUSION

We have argued that scientific psychology


is not an autonomous
science but
that it interacts
strongly
with biology
and social science,
to the point of
overlapping
partially with these two sciences, as suggested
in Figure 2. We have
therefore
adopted a reductionism
of a moderate
type because it admits that the
mental constitutes
an emergent
category or even level, and that psychology
has
ideas and methods
of its own which are neither strictly biological
nor purely

BIOLOGY

BIOLOGY
ii

1850
Figure 2. Relations between psychology
independence
Psychological

1950

and its neighbors:


From yesterdays
to todays interdependence.
f3~ = Biopsychology.
qvv =
social psychology
(including
physiological
social psychology).
CJCJIJI= Sociological
social psychology.

What kind of discipline

is psychology?

135

sociological,
although it utilizes all the biological and sociological
tools it can get
hold of.
This moderate
reductionism
allows us to continue
to talk of psychology
as a
distinct and very special discipline but not one detached from the other sciences.
But at the same time our moderate
reductionism
favors the integration
of the
various branches
of psychology,
as well as the fusion of the latter with biology
and social science. (For the concept of f-usion or merger of theories and research
fields as a complement
of reduction
and a factor of integration,
see Bunge,
1983.)
Such integration,
which has lately been much
in demand
in the
psychological
community,
cannot but favor the advancement
of psychology,
since the borders between research
fields are largely artificial obstacles to the
circulation
of ideas and methods.
Finally, psychology can be done, applied, and taught wherever there are good
researchers,
practitioners,
and teachers
endowed
with suitable resources
and
acting in a favorable environment.
Such groups can flourish in many different
places. However,
the ideal administrative
unit-department
or institute-is
perhaps one grouping
experimental
and theoretical
psychologists;
neuroscientists keenly interested
in behavior or in mental functions;
psychotechnologistsparticularly
psychiatrists,
clinical psychologists,
and educational
psychologists;
and the odd methodologist
and philosopher
capable of trading
conceptual
precision
and deep questions
for specialized
scientific
knowledge.
Such an
arrangement
is likely to foster the integration
of the many currently
separate
branches of psychology,
and it would discourage
the two extremes
of excessive
specialization
and charlatanism,
to the benefit of researchers,
teachers, students,
patients,
and tax-payers.

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