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Subjectivism in Psychology: what it is and why it does not lead anywhere

Subjectivism in Psychology: what it is and why it does not lead anywhere

June 18, 2024

One of the problems that psychology has had to face throughout its history is to define what is the starting point from which it begins to investigate mental processes. The difficulty of this first step is that, apparently, the object of study of this science is dual: on the one hand there is the objective, and on the other there is the subjective.

Subjectivism is the philosophical position that arises from the way in which some people decide to answer this "bifurcation of roads". In psychology, in particular, the implications of analyzing mental processes based on subjectivism lead to very different conclusions from researchers who advocate a perspective centered on the objective, which can be measured.


It is this article we will see the way in which subjectivism affects psychology and what are the characteristic problems of this approach.

  • Related article: "Dualism in Psychology"

What is subjectivism?

Put briefly, subjectivism is the belief that reality, in the first instance, is formed by ideas and subjective assessments that one makes about what goes on in one's head. That said, it sounds complicated, but I'm sure you'll hear the slogans of life in the style of "reality is created by our attitude" and other discourses that focus on consciousness and "the mental" to explain how the nature of elements of reality that other people try to know from the objective aspects of these.


Thus, subjectivism is closely related to idealism, which is the belief that ideas exist before matter, and relativism, according to which there is no pre-established reality that exists beyond our diverse points of view and in many aspects faced.

Now, what we have seen so far is the subjectivism to dry, without going to consider what are their effects in a specific area of ​​science. It is important to bear in mind that, for example, it is not the same to start from subjectivism in physics than to do it, for example, in sociology. These two disciplines study different things, and therefore subjectivism also acts on them in a differentiated way.

But it is in psychology that subjectivism is more likely to wreak havoc. Why? Fundamentally because in this science we study something that can be confused with the very source of subjectivity , and that is usually known as "the mind".


Subjectivism in psychology

As we have seen, psychology has the particularity of being the field of knowledge in which what is studied can be considered from what the intention and action of studying reality starts, something that does not happen in other disciplines. As a consequence, subjectivism can cause psychology to enter a loop that is difficult to get out and leads nowhere.

For example, one of the methods historically defended by subjectivist psychologists is the introspective method. In this, it is the person studied that pays attention to their mental processes (whether cognitive or emotional) and reports about them.

Free association as an example of this philosophy

For example, in the free association used by Sigmund Freud (one of the most prominent subjectivists in history) the patient began to pronounce aloud ideas or words that he thought were related to the idea that the psychoanalyst wanted to investigate. It depended on him to know what information was relevant enough to say it, and that "search" also depended on memories and imagination to arrive at something that could move the session forward.

From subjectivism, in short, it is believed that the subjectivity of each individual is the best source of data about mental processes, on the one hand, and that mental processes are what drives actions based on movement. For example, someone's subjective beliefs make it impossible for a person who has the appearance of not having a house to enter the store, and it is those subjective beliefs that must be explored.

  • Related article: "What is 'free association' in Psychoanalysis?"

Is the individual the only one with access to the mind?

Thus, for subjectivists, what one knows about one's own mind is separated from its environment and the context in which it finds itself when internally evaluating its thoughts and feelings. It is distinguished in a radical way between the mind and objective actions and easy to observe what the person does, and it is proposed that what is important is what can not be directly observed by someone other than the person, because it is those internal and subjective aspects that lead to the movement of the person.

This approach, if we do not fix, the only thing it does is condemn psychology not to be able to answer any of the questions about the human behavior that is proposed to address, since it always attributes the cause of this to an internal and subjective dimension of reality that only one can know. Not only does it not hold philosophically for denying the existence of an objective reality, but it is also incapable of posing useful applications to address psychological problems.


Mod-01 Lec-02 Sophists, Socrates; philosophy of man; relativism and subjectivism; the idea of good (June 2024).


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