Book Review: Titus, Philosophical Psychology: Psychology, Emotions, and Freedom

Craig Steven Titus, editor. Philosophical Psychology: Psychology, Emotions, and Freedom. Arlington, VA: The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, 2009), 223pp.ISBN 978-0-9773103-6-4 (pbk).

The volume is an interdisciplinary collection of essays in philosophy, psychology, political theory, and religion, which were delivered at the 2005-2006 John Henry Cardinal Newman Lecture Series at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) (Arlington, VA). It has been edited by Craig Steven Titus, a research professor at IPS and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Chapter One, by Titus, works as the introduction for the essays contained in the volume. He contends that in the past, psychology has disengaged itself from faith and hope in God, which are some of the positive resources for this science. However, there are positive changes at work. He notes that scholars in these areas are developing a renewed vision of the human person by integrating personal, social, and spiritual resources. The purpose of this volume, he affirms, is to give a sample of a non-reductionist and non-exclusivistic Christian vision of philosophical psychology that seeks to do justice to the complexity of the human person and its larger resources.

In the context of introducing the volume, Titus works a definition of philosophical psychology as “the comprehensive study of the human psyche and person, which is established neither by empirical studies nor by clinical psychology nor even by a priori conceptual analysis alone.” (p. 2). It also “seeks to understand the human person and its dignity, the workings of its unifying principle of life (traditionally called the soul), its embodi­ment, and its capacities, notably including cognition, emotion, and volition” (p. 3). As a result, it connects elements not only from the psychological sciences, but also from philosophical anthropology, and the ethical and religious traditions that underlie those reflections. Philosophical psychology also provides a basis for psychological, moral, and social applications that recognize deeper human and spiritual resources.

Titus is critical of the modern tendency to subdivide, naturalize, and render autonomous the various fields of knowledge. This tendency does not produce a cohesive vision of psychology, with the result that there seems to be no place for a more overarching philosophical psychology. He also offers a historical note on philosophical psychology, distinguishing between the ancient philosophers and reductionist modern efforts.

Titus concludes this introductory chapter with a treatment of the topic of each contributor to the present volume.

In Chapter Two, Kevin L. Flannery examines G.E.M. Anscombe’s call for a renewed philosophy of psychology. In the context of Anscombe’s work, Flannery advances the question of why contemporary moral theory and psychology need a philosophical psychology. He well notes Anscombe’s criticism of modern moral philosophers, who try to undermine the traditional idea that there exist absolute prohibitions against particular types of actions. One cannot do moral philosophy if one lacks an adequate philosophy of psychology, for the moral is not something we impose upon the world. According to Ascombe, we need a philosophy of psychology in order to understand what it means to be a good and virtuous person, and in order to understand how bad acts affect a person “underneath,” as Flannery notes.

In Chapter Three, Benedict Ashley explores how metaphysics serves psychology. He leads the reader through a history of the study of the human psyche that pre-dates the term “psychology” itself and that includes its relationship with the other sciences. But in order to accomplish this task, one has to go back behind the modern distinction introduced by Wolff between philosophy and science, to the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions the German protestant philosopher confused.

Ashley claims that even though Aristotle defended the different modes of knowing as autonomous sciences or philosophies, he also understood that the autonomous sciences in their own ways call for a more synthetic science that integrates their results, and this interdisciplinary and integrative science is properly called “philosophy.”

He also makes a very important point when he affirms that psychology has two levels, animal and human, and therefore it is really a double discipline. First of all, it pertains to the animal level because it deals with animal behavior. Secondly, it must also pertain to metaphysics, since it includes the study of specifically human consciousness and free choice, which are spiritual behaviors that transcend the corporeal world. However, there is a genuine unity in psychology, because our human intelligence requires the service of the material body that it animates in order to think in a natural way.

Psychology needs metaphysics because it must be based on reality, for “the aim of psychotherapy should be to enable clients to transcend their defective evaluation of their life experiences, so that they are able to make free decisions no longer on fantasies and feelings but on reality” (p. 67).

In Chapter Four, Roger Scruton confronts biological reductionist efforts to discredit the distinctive nature of human freedom, self-consciousness, rationality, responsibility, and interpersonal intentionality. Such interpretations reduce purely intellectual human phenomena to the biological level.

As Titus notes in his introduction to the volume, Scruton takes a constructive approach which demonstrates that the truths of the hu­man person, of self-conscious “creatures like us,” such as human laughter, responsibility, and personhood, cannot be adequately accounted for by scientific explanations alone. Biological accounts do not suffice to describe the human person in its greatness and its unity. For that reason, Scruton critiques these hypotheses, especially Dawkins’ theory of the memes, as subversive and vacuous theories and dreams lacking a real basis.

Scruton agrees that our biological functions are an integral part of our nature as human persons, and also the objects of fundamental moral choices. But he rightly affirms that we must be understood through another order of explanation than that offered by genetics and that we belong to a species that is not defined purely by the biological organization of its members. One of the effects of the belief that we should explain human behavior in exactly the same way as animal behavior, is that people begin to transfer to the animals the concepts that they have downgraded in their human use, such as the concepts of right, justice, dignity, and so on, so that these moral privileges of humans flood into the animal kingdom.

Scruton concludes by underscoring that we cannot foreclose the possibility that each hu­man body harbors, in whatever embryonic form, a personality.

Chapter Five, by Ceslas Bernard Bourdin, deals with the problem of how is it that we should understand religious freedom in its historical context. At first, the chapter seems to be beyond the main theme of the volume, but as the lecture proceeds, one discovers that the study of philosophical psychology would be incomplete without an account of human and religious freedom. Bourdin focuses mainly on the political, philosophical, and theological grounds for the post-revolutionary French vision of religious freedom and of the separation of Church and State in the context of the opposition voiced by the Holy See.

In Chapter Six, Aidan Nichols considers the possibility of rapprochement of psychology and theology as it happened in the collaboration between English Dominican theologian Victor White (1902-1960) and Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung (1875-1961).

White proposed a synthesis between Thomism and analytic psychology. He found that Jung’s theory of the archetypes gives all emotional life a spiritual meaning. According to White, if human instinctual drives derive their ultimate meaning from a relation to the infinite spiritual reality of God, then Jung’s theory parallels Thomas’ doctrine of God as the cause of all causes. He tried to reconcile both, but soon discovered that Jung’s ideas were not compatible with Catholic doctrine. In his Answer to Job, Jung presents God as a highly undeveloped and amoral self, who has failed to put in the necessary psychological work in his own unconscious. It is for that reason, according to Jung, that God knew no moderation in his emotions and suffered precisely from this lack of moderation. According to Nichols, Jung views the Book of Job as setting man up as judge over God, who is tried and found wanting.

It turned out that the publication of Answer to Jobnot only marked the end of White’s project of uniting Thomism and analytic psychology, but also the end of his career.

In Chapter Seven, Richard Sorabji examines emotions in the psychotherapy of the ancients, particularly that of the Stoics. According to him, the Stoics were the first to invent cognitive therapy. All emotions, the Stoics taught, can be brought under the heading of four basic emotions: appetite, fear, pleasure, and distress. The Stoics also taught that the emotions can be educated through cognitive judgment, that is, by withholding assent if our evaluative attitude is wrong. For that reason, Sorabji affirms that Stoicism is “is an intellectual pro­cess in which, with any luck, you will find you can change your atti­tude by intellectual effort, not by will power” (p. 178).

Nevertheless, Sorajbi identifies the limitations found in Stoic therapy. This therapy is not apt to address extraordinary difficulties nor bad moods nor the effects of emotions on other people. It is not helpful either for child-related and less intellectual issues nor for the education of emotions (as irrational movements) that are outside of cognitive judgment.

Lastly, he also considers the therapeutic insights found in the other major Greek approaches, such as Plutar­ch of Chaeronea, the Epicureans, and Aristotle’s school.

In Chapter Eight, Daniel N. Robinson discusses the intelligibility of emotions, for according to him there are no emotions without a reason. He claims that even if the sciences continue to advance in their findings that correlate emotional states with brain circuitry and chemistry, this will never explain what is most important: the fact that we are rational beings.

To conclude this book review, let me evaluate the contribution of this volume.

Great harm has been done to the understanding of the human person by the modern separation of psychology from metaphysics. This separation, which began in the fourteenth century, was taken up during the Enlightenment, and is at the center of much contemporary rejection of sound anthropology in psychology. In this historical context, this interdisciplinary collection of essays seeks to put modern reflections in a larger context and correct overly mechanistic and reductionist infelicities in order to open the way for more fruitful studies on the person as a whole. It is well noted that the methodological barriers, which neatly separate the various academic disciplines, are of relative utility only. One has to recognize a constructive vision of the ordering of the sciences so as to revitalize the deeper studies of the human person and community that an integrative philosophical psychology might allow.

I highly recommend this book to professors and students of the various psychological sciences, that they may always look at both the whole of the human person, and the metaphysical perspective from which personality has to be studied. As Thomas Aquinas asserted in his SummaTheologiae, human psychology must first begin with ontology, that is, it must be grounded in a sound metaphysics of human nature: “[In] our consideration of the soul . . . we shall treat first of what belongs to the essence of the soul; second, of what pertains to its faculties; third, of what belongs to its operations” (I, q. 75, prol.).

© Pablo M. Iturrieta

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