chapter  13
Alternative perspectives
Pages 10

Many objections have been raised against orthodox psychology, particularly behaviourism and cognitive psychology. These range from radical challenges to the underlying framework (for example, dualism of mind and matter or subject and object, and the causal model) to methodological critiques (such as the role of the individual and subjective experience) and charges of lack of relevance and ecological validity. Behaviourism has been seen as mechanistic, reductionist and pessimistic, and cognitive psychology as ignoring content, context and purpose (Claxton, 1980). Both have been considered dehumanising. In this chapter we shall consider alternative perspectives which go some way towards answering these challenges: phenomenology, existentialism, humanistic psychology and Eastern psychology. (Methodological problems were considered in Chapters 5 and 6, and limitations of the computational model in Chapter 10; the role of the individual is discussed in Chapter 14.)


The term 'phenomenology' was coined in the mid-nineteenth century (from the Greek phenomenon, meaning appearance, that which shows itself) to refer to the study of the essential nature of consciousness. It is to be distinguished from 'phenomenalism', the metaphysical theory that only phenomena or appearances need to be postulated as existing, as distinct from some underlying reality, nownena or things-in-themselves. According to phenomenology, reality is relative to consciousness but transcends it. It is also to be contrasted with introspection, which studies facts within consciousness. The goal of phenomenology is the systematic description of the invariant structures of consciousness which constitute the necessary preconditions for experience and knowledge. In this sense it is prior to other studies. Its aim is to discover 'what the mind has to be in order for the world of objects to exist for it' (Bolton, 1979) or, in their terminology, how the objective is subjectively constituted. Consciousness is both presupposed by, and reveals, reality.