The Philosophy of Man: Fundamentals—Dolhenty

It probably needs to be pointed out that the following discussion of rational psychology is a “philosophical” discussion and not one from the standpoint of empirical science. All too often the philosophical approach to the study of living beings, plants, animals, and humans, is confused with the empirical scientific study of life. While the two are related, they are not the same. And please pay attention to the definitions of the terms.

The Philosophy of Man
A brief introduction to rational psychology
Adapted from various sources and edited
by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D

Part One: Fundamentals

Psychology is a science, with its own proper subject matter and method of investigation. Etymologically, psychology means the science of the soul. Many modern psychologists look upon psychology as the science of the mind; others, as the science of consciousness. Among philosophers, some consider psychology to be the philosophy of organic life, including within its subject matter the life of plants, animals, and men. Others restrict the subject matter to the nature of man in his vegetative, sensory, and rational life. Some restrict it entirely to man’s sensory and rational life.

As a science, in the modern sense of scientific psychology, it analyzes mental phenomena, classifies them, and determines their proximate causes. Philosophical psychology seeks to penetrate beyond the surface of phenomena to the ultimate reasons, principles, and causes, so as to uncover the nature and essence which gives rise to such phenomena. Scientific psychology is also termed empirical and experimental, while philosophic psychology is often called rational, which is the term used here.

The general method employed is induction, or analysis, and deduction, or synthesis. Both must be used, but scientific psychology is predominantly inductive and analytic, while rational psychology is largely deductive and synthetic.

The special method is twofold, subjective and objective. The subjective method of introspection studies mental phenomena by means of the internal observation of experience on the part of the individual person. The objective method seeks information about the mental states of man through means other than introspection. Such pertinent information is supplied by other minds, languages, animal psychology, biology, physiology, abnormal psychology, psychiatry, and psychophysics.

We must distinguish between the material and the formal object of a science. The material object is the general object with which it occupies itself; the formal object is that special phase or aspect of the general object which forms the subject matter peculiar to this science and which distinguishes it from all other sciences. Since the material object may be common to a number of sciences, psychology is related to the natural sciences of biology and physiology and to the philosophical sciences of logic, epistemology, cosmology, and ethics. It differs from them, however, in its formal object.

The chief purpose of psychology is the better understanding of man. Man is an integrated organism, comprising within his being vegetative, sensory, and rational life. Hence, the whole man is here proposed as the primary object of study. We may therefore define rational psychology as the philosophic science of the life of the human organism.

The study of the knowledge process and of man’s mental powers is of value for all sciences and for the entire system of education. The study of the will is of paramount value for law, ethics, and sociology. The question of the existence, spirituality, and immortality of the individual soul is of vital interest to everyone.

Man: An Organism

Man is an organism, i.e., an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of parts or organs more or less separate in function but mutually dependent.

There is a fundamental difference between living and nonliving beings. Living substance manifests:

  • organization,
  • irritability,
  • metabolism,
  • growth,
  • reproduction, and
  • individuality.

None of these features are found in nonliving matter.

Some have argued that the cell is but a type of crystal, or, at any rate, that the crystal is no similar to the cell that there is no fundamental difference between them. A resemblance exists, but it is altogether superficial, and they differ radically in composition, structure, method of growth, activity, and natural duration in existence.

Man is a vegetant organism. Like the plant, man feeds himself, grows, and propagates. Nutrition is the preparation and assimilation of nourishing materials in the gastrointestinal tract. Until he reaches the full stature of maturity he is in a condition of growth; growth takes place through the multiplication of the cells through mitosis. The reproduction of man by propagation occurs when the gametes or germ cells, after a maturation division has reduced the number of chromosomes by one half, unite to form the fertilized ovum.

Man is a sentient organism. The animal, as distinct from the plant, has a nervous system with sensory functions. The basic unit of the nervous system is the neuron; it possesses excitability and conductivity. There are sensory or afferent nerves, and also motor or efferent nerves. The endings of afferent nerves, terminating in definite organic structures for reception of external stimuli, are called receptors or sense organs (eyes, ears, etc.). In man there are two man systems of nerves: the cerebrospinal system and the autonomic system There are various types of sense knowledge in man: tactual or somesthetic, taste, smell, hearing, sight; central or synthetic sense, imagination, memory, and some innate dispositions. Appetition is the striving toward or away from objects. It is accompanied by various emotions and feelings.

Man is a rational organism. Rationality implies intellectual cognition and rational appetition. Intellectual cognition manifests itself in a threefold function:

  • the formation of ideas,
  • of judgments, and
  • of inferences.

The power of rational appetition is the will, and the exercise of this power is volition or willing. The object of the will is the good. An important feature of rational appetition is that of moral good and moral wrong and the consciousness of personal responsibility. This is based on the conviction of mankind that man has a free will possessing the liberty of self-determination.

Man is an integral organism. Man is a living being or organism. He is, similar to the plant, a vegetant organism. He is, similar to the animal, a sentient organism. He is also a rational organism. He is, however, not three organisms somehow united into one, but an integral organism, a single unitary substance which possesses vegetative, sensory, and rational functions.

The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at Self-Educated American. Self-Educated American has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.

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