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History and Philosophy of Psychology Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC


This essay answers the following two part question:  Critically examine the claim that logical positivism and social constructionism are similar in some important respects.   If they are similar, what are the consequences of this for psychology’s future as a scientific discipline? Conclusions are drawn based on research done.

History and Philosophy of Psychology

Critically examine the claim that logical positivism and social constructionism are similar in some important respects.

            Logical positivism definition

            Logical positivism holds that philosophy should aspire to the same sort of rigor as science and that it should provide strict criteria for judging sentences true, false and meaningless (Dictionary.Labourtalk.com 2005)

            Logical positivism made use of symbolic logic, endorsed the verifiability principle as a criterion of meaning and attached great importance to the analysis of language of meaning.  Philosophers in this era (1920 – 1936) included Schlick, Reichenbach and Carnap. Logical positivism was born from positivism, and preceded logical empiricism, post positivism and post modernism.

            Social constructionism definition

            Social constructionism is defined as the view that the phenomena of the social and cultural world and their meanings are created in human social interaction. Taken further, social constructionism can be applied to social research itself . . . . The approach often, though not exclusively, draws on idealist philosophical orientations. (Seale, C.  2004)   The idealist seeks a reassuring, consoling, kindred universe (Stove, 1991)


The received view is that logical positivism and social constructionism are anti-thetical.  However, because they are equivalent in some important regards, this received view is not an accurate one – the following three similarities can be drawn between the two disciplines.   Firstly, logical positivism exponents Schlick and Carnap disconnect what is known and experienced from scientific knowledge.  The essence of extra-mental reality is in their eyes not possible.  Similarly, social constructionism draws a distinction between

what is known and what is experienced.         

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Secondly, logical positivism lengthens the doctrine of conventionalism from the commonly accepted principles of geometry to logic, mathematics and some theoretical propositions.  Social constructionism, albeit unwittingly, does the same to all propositions of science.

Thirdly, Wittgenstein’s ‘meaning as use’ thesis is drawn upon in both disciplines – in logical positivism, it is used with Schlick’s later defense of the verifiability principle and operationism, and in social constructionism it is invoked to substantiate claims that all meanings of scientific terms are derived from the context of its usage.

If they are similar, what are the consequences of this for psychology’s future as a scientific discipline?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary (Fowler and Fowler, 1976) gives us the following definition of the term “psychology”: It is the science of  the nature, functions and phenomena of the human soul or mind and the treatise on, or the system of this.  Because it is based on a science, psychology is therefore a scientific discipline.  By nature, a scientific discipline develops in stages and is influenced by the beliefs and thoughts of it’s exponents at any given time.  In addition, scientific disciplines are also based on knowledge and on proven facts.

Therefore, if as is suggested by the fact that there are various similarities between  logical positivism and social constructionism, psychology may be moving into a new stage whereby these similarities which include distinctions between what is known and what is experienced, claims, which are being substantiated, that all scientific terms are derived from their usage, and doctrines of conventialism which are being lengthened, have to be considered, the implications for psychology as a scientific discipline are substantial.

It stands to reason that if ideas from past movements have had an impact on the way that psychology is viewed, perceived and judged, ideologies from this new development would have a similar effect on psychology as a whole.


A critical examination has been done on the claim that logical positivism and social constructionism are similar in some respects, and the conclusion of this part of the question is that this claim has been shown to be true.  In support of this, three examples of these similarities have been cited in this essay.  The second part of the question, the consequences of these similarities for psychology’s future as a scientific discipline have been considered.  The conclusion is drawn that these implications will be substantial in that history has proven that psychology has been influenced in the past by the thoughts and research of its exponents..


Dictionary.Laborlawtalk.com. (2005)  Retrieved 16 Jun 2005 from the website http://encyclopedia.laborlawtalk.com/Logical positivism

Fowler, H.W, Fowler F.G The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1976) (6th edition) Oxford at the Clarendon Press

Seale, C Researching Society and Culture (2004) Retrieved 16 Jun 2005 from the website http://www.brunel.ac.uk/~hsstcfs/glossary.htm

Stove, D The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies (1991) Oxford Basil Blackwell

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