Philosophical Commitments, Empirical Evidence, and Theoretical Psychology

Theory and Psychology 25 (1):03-24 (2015)
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The philosophical or theoretical commitments informing psychological research are sometimes characterized, even by theoretical psychologists themselves, as nonempirical, outside the bounds of methodological consideration, and/or nonrational. We argue that this characterization is incoherent. We illustrate our concern by analogy with problematic appeals to Kuhn’s work that have been influential in theoretical psychology. Following the contemporary pragmatist tradition, we argue that our philosophical/theoretical commitments are part of our larger webs of belief, and that for any of these beliefs to have meaning their content must be informed by our practical engagement with the world, i.e., they are based on empirical evidence, broadly construed. It is this empirical basis that allows us to recognize our commitments at all and rationally to assess and criticize them when necessary. We conclude by demonstrating a rational assessment of the philosophical/theoretical commitments underlying a recent study in the social psychology of religion.


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