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Aristotle's Psychology

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The History of Psychology

The beginning of the history of psychology is hard to pinpoint, mainly because it is difficult to establish exactly what psychology is.

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Psychology Psi (Public Domain)

Since the dawn of civilization and the establishment of the earliest religions and spiritual beliefs, various priests, shamans and spiritual leaders were responsible for the mental wellbeing of their people. From shamen to Jewish Qabbalists, curing the mind was a huge part of the spiritual path, even if treatment was couched in magic and mystery, using rituals to drive out demons.

If we define psychology as a formal study of the mind and a more systematic approach to understanding and curing mental conditions, then the Ancient Greeks were certainly leading proponents. As with many scientific studies, Aristotle was at the forefront of developing the foundations of the history of psychology. Aristotle's psychology, as would be expected, was intertwined with his philosophy of the mind, reasoning and Nicomachean ethics, but the psychological method started with his brilliant mind and empirical approach.

Claude Galien. Lithograph by Pierre Roche Vigneron.Of course, it would be unfair to concentrate fully on Aristotle's psychology without studying some of the other great thinkers who contributed to the history of psychology, but his work certainly is the basis of modern methods. Any modern psychologist of note fully understands the basics of Aristotelian thought and recognizes his contribution to the history of psychology.

Aristotle's Psychology and the Influence of Plato

To give Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) complete credit for being the first thinker to develop a theory of proto-psychology is unfair to some of the other philosophers from Greece and beyond. However, whilst there is little doubt that the Babylonians and Buddhists, amongst others, developed concepts involving the mind, thought and reasoning, much of their tradition was passed on orally and is lost. For this reason, the Ancient Greeks provide a useful starting point as we delve into the history of psychology.

Plato (Public Domain)

The teacher of Aristotle, Plato (428/427 BC - 348/347 BC), provided some useful insights into the theoretical structure of the human mind, based largely upon his elegant Theory of Forms. He used the idea of a psyche, a word used to describe both the mind and the soul, to develop a rough framework of human behavior, reasoning and impulses.

Plato proposed that the human psyche was the seat of all knowledge and that the human mind was imprinted with all of the knowledge it needed. As a result, learning was a matter of unlocking and utilizing this inbuilt knowledge, a process he called anamnesis.

In his famous work, 'The Republic, ' Plato further developed this idea and first proposed the idea that the mind consisted of three interwoven parts, called the Tripartite Mind.

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