THE INTERACTION BETWEEN
EXISTENTIALISM AND PSYCHOLOGY IN HUMAN NATURE
Existentialism can be defined as the philosophy that investigates the existence of human being, the meaning and the purpose of human life. Existentialist idea was a reaction against the “Age of Reason” philosophy which mentions that there’s an absolute reason. Age of Reason is the name given to the period in Europe and America during 1700s when mankind was emerging from centuries of ignorance into a new age enlightened by reason, science, and respect for hıumanity. (The Enlightenment Age Of Reason, p.15) They believed that human reason can get over from everything. Existentialists rejected this theory by saying that the reason is not absolute. They claimed that it changes from person to person and its powers are limited because of the fact that powers of human are limited too. (Towards Existentialism, p.6) Other than this, existentialism gained more importance after the II. World War. During the II. World War times, people were unhappy and in a bad mood. They were suffering from wars, which were happening around them. Sources were not enough for them. Also the high pressure of the dominant powers or kingdoms made people unsure about their future and they became hopeless.
In the last part of nineteenth century, there was another issue that took people’s attention, which is called psychology. We can define psychology briefly as a science that studies behavior and mental processes. In fact, the word "psychology" is the combination of two terms - study (ology) and soul (psyche), or mind. The derivation of the word from Latin gives this clear and obvious meaning: The study of the soul or mind.(Zimmer) Although the roots of psychology reach to the very early times, we can say that its best times are 1900s.
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Psychology gained importance in 1900’s for people and helped people to solve their problems in many ways.
Because of the fact that psychology and existentialism both investigate human nature, they may be considered as related to each other. This philosophy of existentialism had a great impact on many thinkers in this century and also some psychologists such as Ludwig
Binswanger, Medard Boss, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Rollo May. There was a strong relationship between existentialism and psychology. This relationship
exposes both similarities and also differences between them. Existentialism and psychology effected each other in exploring the human nature for several reasons. They tried to define the place of human in the world and also they tried to solve the problems of human which are based on their mind. They both tried to give a meaning to human life. All of these common factos, reveals the purpose of our research, which is ”How existentialism and psychology effected each other in investigation of human nature?”
First of all, we can say that existentialist idea and psychology let people turn to their selves. Both of them tried to improve the meaning of human life. Both of them defended the idea that people should try to find the solution to their problems in their selves, in their minds. If we take the conclusion of Nietzsche’s, who is a German poet and philosopher, saying that ‘God is dead’. (Also sprach Zarathustra) It shows that people have to solve their problems by their own. Because of the fact that the ‘God is dead’ (Nietzsche’s point of view), there’s no place to turn to but only the self. The hope for waiting some things to happen by God is meaningless; Nietzsche tries to mention that hope arose from incurability of people. People must be interested in themselves in order to solve their problems. This is the first issue that psychologists used in their works. They try to turn people into themselves to end up their
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problems and to encourage to them to come over their problems. This may be taken as the first similarity and the interaction between existentialism and psychology. For example, in any event, people should check their behavior, attitudes, mode and situation to solve the problems. If they could not find the solution by self-checking or thinking about themselves, they are able to look after for the solution in other things or other people.
Moreover, existentialism is interested with the talents of human and his powers. The thoughts about human aspirations and human limitations were mostly spoken among
existentialists. What human being is, what human being would like to be and what he could be, as mentioned by the very well-known psychologist, who is from the leaders of humanist
psychology, Maslow is showing us the limitations of human being. Maslow continues his words by saying;
Not only this, but they raise also the problems and techniques of integration of this twofold nature of man, his lower and his higher, his creatureliness and his God likeliness. On the whole, most philosophies and religions, Eastern as well as Western, have dichotomized them, teaching that the way to become “higher” is to renounce and master “the lower”. The existentialists however, teach that they both are simultaneously defining characteristics of human nature. Neither can be repudiated; they can only be integrated. But we already know something of these integration techniques-of insights, of intellect in the broader sense, of
love, of creativeness, of humor and tragedy, of play, of art. I suspect we will
focus our studies on these integrative techniques more than we have in the past. Another consequence for my thinking of this stress on twofold nature of man is
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the realization that some problems must remain eternally insoluble. (May, p. 51)
As mentioned by Maslow, existentialist idea defends that both the weakness and the power of human must be considered together. Every person has some weakness and some power. Every person, in his life sometimes feels that he can get over from everything, even it is the worst thing that could ever happen to him. This shows us how powerful a person can be. On the other hand, every person sometimes feel that he’s meaningless or his life is meaningless. He thinks that everything’s going bad and he could never be able to put things on their way. By the way, this is an example of the weakness of human. They’re both characteristics of human as both mentioned in psychology and existentialism. In psychology, there’s a strong want to make people believe that they’re powerful. This is just to dominate the “the lower” of human beings. By the word lower, the weak part of human mind is taken into account. Such as his fears, suspicions, prejudices. These are the thing that form the lower of human beings. If a person is under the control of these sort of feelings or desires, that person becomes “the lower”.
Other than these, in order to give an example about the similarities of existentialism and psychology we can give the issue about subconscious or the unconscious as an example. As known, subconscious and unconscious are taken into account in todays treatments for healing people. Nowadays specialists have more knowledge about their importance in human life and they can fix people’s problems more easily. When its relation with existentialism is considered we can look at this;
The great discovery in modern psychology, the subconscious or the unconscious, has made us recognize that human actions are determined, not
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only by intentions and impulses which we are aware, but often-and more powerfully-by urges, instincts, impressions, by biological factors and childhood experiences of which we remain unaware. These are embedded in our subconscious and cannot be fully known unless they are brought to the surface by difficult procedures
This psychological limitation of reason is perhaps the most definitive, because the Age of Reason and its influence had been based on the identification of man with his consciousness; if the unconscious has real power -which now
seems beyond doubt- reason cannot be absolute. (Roubiczek. Pp. 7 - 8)
At this point, both existential and psychological thoughts fit each other. Existentialism refuses absolute reason saying, “Reason is a part of human nature, that it is influenced by human nature, that its powers are limited, and that reason, therefore, cannot and must not be
considered as absolute.(Towards Existentialism, p.6) Also psychological teachings – as mentioned above – refuses the absolute reason. Rollo May, who is one of the most important figures in existential psychology, and, without question, one of the most important American existential psychologists, while mentioning from William James, says that “He was – like any good existentialist- not an antiscientific but believed that science was made for man rather than man for science” (May, p.8) From this quotation it’s understood that he, as an existential psychologist, believed in science but only if it is for man. Not if the man is for science, which is like the idea of Age of Reason thinkers which is mentioned at the beginning of our research. These examples can be taken as some similarities of existentialism and psychology concerning these issues about science, reason and Age of Reason.
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Moreover, when the six ontological principles mentioned by Abraham Maslow are taken into account about the philosophical thought, we can understand the similarities of existentialism and psychology more easily.
-Every person is centered in self and lives life through the meaning he or she places on that center.
-Every person is responsible for mobilizing the courage to protect the self, to affirm it, and to enhance its continued existence.
-People need other people with whom they can empathize and from whom they can learn.
-People are vigilant about potential dangers to their identities.
-People can be aware of themselves thinking and feeling at one moment and may be aware of himself or herself as the person who thinks and feels in the next moment.
-Anxiety originates, in part, out of a person's awareness that one's being can end. (Aiken (From May))
The 1st principle is similar to existentialism with the part that mentions human places meaning on his life, which is also mentioned in the definition of the existentialism. The 2nd principle also contains the idea that people have to continue their existence, which will last till they die according to existentialist thought. The 3rd principle is just the same as Sartre’s point of view. Sartre, who is one of the most important thinkers of existentialism, says that people need others as mentioned above by saying that “Our existence is only possible with others.” Lastly ,the 6th principle is about awareness of being in existentialism and the concept of anxiety comes from the fact “awareness of being”.
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Other than these mentioned similarities, existentialism and psychology have some differences. In order to give an example, the concern of existentialism is human. According to the existentialist idea human beings are “thrown into the world, the world in which pain, frustration, sickness, contempt, malaise and death dominates”.(The Philosophy Of Existentialism, p.1) Existentialist thinkers consider mostly these sort of bad moods in human life whereas psychology tries to show people the good things in their lives and it tries to show people that there are many things in the world to be happy about unlike existentialist idea. For example, when a person goes to a psychologist, the psychologist never talks about the pain in the world or the being thrown in a sick world as a human. He talks about the ways to achieve our goals, how to make us feel better or how to solve our problems. Also the answers to these questions are mostly about us. Such as giving more importance to us, feeding our self well, etc. The above part can be considered as an example to the differences of existentialism and psychology.
In the light of everything that has been mentioned, existentialism and psychology are mainly built upon same bases concerning human. It’s obvious that there’s a strong relationship between existentialism ans psychology. Their aim about trying to help people realize their powers, about informing people about the “master” and “lower” of theirselves, thier refusal of absolute reason, the need for other people, being aware are the concepts which may be defined as similarities of existentialism and psychology. But also the despair about the world and the resulting idea of being thrown into the world differs in existentialism and psychology. There are too many similarities but also some differences between them but generally they are both affected from each other and they are very relevant to each other too.
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This research would be a useful source for the ones who are interested in existentailism and psychology. In fact, everyone who is interested in human could find this research useful. Lastly, it can be said that existentailism and psychology affected each other in examining human and its powers, thoughts. These two concept is in a strong relationship concerning human. The similarities also led to sharing of ideas between these two issues and these sharing helped people to enlarge their visions about the world and their selves and also helped people to solve their problems. And it will surely help in the future.
THE INTERACTION BETWEEN
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