“The Nature of Psychology: The Great Dilemmas” by Rube´N Ardila.


The article discusses and analyzes the relationship of psychology with other disciplines and the various dilemmas surrounding it. The primary concern which the author tries to address in this article is whether the psychological domain is related to the psyche, the mind or the behavior of an individual. The author expresses concern over the fact that in spite of being such an influential domain of individual behavior, psychology receives a ‘step motherly’ treatment, and does not get its rightful due.

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The article attempts to analyze whether psychology should be part of the social, behavioral or human sciences or whether it should be considered to be a part of the humanities. The article then furthers the research regarding the crucial concern if the laws of psychology are to be considered universal or particular in nature or whether the laws should be termed as contextual or bound by the specific cultures. Finally, the author attempts to examine whether psychology should be a part of the basic science or a profession which is relevant to the society.

The author begins with an introduction of the concept of psychology and defines it as the “study of psyche, the spirit, the mind, and the soul”. The domain of psychology initially began as a sphere of philosophy in the “pre-scientific” era and was originally defined as “the study of the functions of the mind” by William James and John Dewey. With the behaviorist revolution, the domain of psychology expanded from simply being a study of the mind to “the scientific study of behavior” (Watson, 1913).

The traditional cultures schools of psychology, including the various Eastern religious philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism had nothing in common to the Greek and Christian concepts of psychology. However, with the advent and advancement of the modern sciences, promoted by Descartes and Newton, the psychology began to focus on the scientific study of the mind rather than simply the study of philosophy. Descartes stated that the human body is like a machine and elucidated this fact by ‘mechanistic theory of the human body’ in which he gave the analogical description of the human body to the mechanical actions of clocks, mills and other machinery. Descartes affirmed that the actions of the human mind cannot ever be accessed by any individual which makes the mind “invisible, inaudible”, the thoughts of which can never be accessed. In contrast, the “newborn experimental psychology” points that the internal actions of the human mind can be measured and described by the actual behaviors of individuals in different situations or contexts.

Thus psychology is the “science of behavior” (Watson, 1913) of not only humans, but also of animals, whether human or non-human. The keen interest of psychology in behavior, ascertains its inclusion in the behavioral sciences including sociology, economics, linguistics, anthropology etc. In the article, the author forwards the argument by explaining the concept of behavior according to the APA dictionary of Psychology, which states it to be the activities of an organism “in response to external or internal stimuli” which can be observed and introspected (VandenBos, 2007).

The author further explains the biological aspect of psychology by stating that behavior of individuals, humans or animals is carried out due to the “biological structure” which “allows them to connect in an adaptive form to the environment” and enables them to function by learning and modifying their behavior which is based on experiences, a process which is intimately connected “adaptation, to learning, to genetic predisposition” and to evolution. This links the domain of psychology not only to the social and cultural aspects but primarily to the “neurosciences, biology, genetics and evolution”.

The author effectively states that psychology employs ‘scientific method’ involving procedures and techniques which are based on the data collection and examining of theories and hypothesis. The author debates that behavioral sciences aspire to have universal laws which could be “contextually relevant”, but know that this is a “balance that is difficult to achieve”. The author finds that all organisms across borders and cultures do not operate and function on the same basis or principles and that a global perspective can provide answers to many questions in the field of psychology (Stevens & Gielen, 2007).

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Since culture has a tremendous impact on the behavior of a person, psychology is highly dependant on the culture and local traditions (Brock, 2006) and some characteristics are specific to certain groups and cultures. Individuals are a unique combination of similarity and uniqueness from the other group members as a result of which the universalism and differences of human behavior are incapable of being explained across cultures and individuals from the psychological point of view.

The author concludes by recognizing the many dilemmas of psychology to not only its nature but also its field of study, methodology and the underlying principles which govern it and stressing the need for “international” (Cole, 2006) and “unified psychology” (Ardila, 2002, 2006) which would be able to provide “coherent answers to the challenges of today’s world from the perspective of science”.


Ardila, R., (2006). The experimental synthesis of behavior. International Journal of Psychology, 41, 462–467.

Brock, A. C. (Ed.)., (2006). Internationalizing the history of psychology. New York: New York University Press.

Cole, M., (2006). Internationalism in psychology: We need it now more than ever. American Psychologist, 61, 904–920.

Stevens, M. J. & Gielen, U. P., (Eds.). (2007). Toward a global psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

VandenBos, G. R., (Ed.), (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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“The Nature of Psychology: The Great Dilemmas” by Rube´N Ardila.
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Watson, J. B., (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158–177.

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