Basic Psychology: Theoretical psychology


  1. Introduction
  2. Origin
  3. Relationship to philosophy and scope
  4. Pioneers
  5. Notable contributors
  6. Modern organizational support
  7. Research methods
  8. Issues in methodology and practice
  9. Significance 


Theoretical psychology is concerned with psychological theories and philosophical issues. It is an interdisciplinary field of study with a broad scope. It focuses on non-experimentally combining and incorporating existing and developing psychological theories. Theoretical psychology evolved from science philosophy, with logic and rationality at the heart of each new idea. It existed prior to the development of empirical or experimental psychology. Theoretical psychology is an interdisciplinary field that includes psychologists who specialise in a wide range of psychological fields. Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud, and John B. Watson were among the forefathers of theoretical psychology. A number of notable contributors have also contributed, including Jerome Kagan, Alan E. Kazdin, Robert Sternberg, Kenneth J. Gergen, and Ulric Neisser. These contributors may publish in a variety of journals, including general psychology journals such as American Psychologist. Theory & Psychology and Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology are two journals devoted solely to theoretical psychology. Many other organisations are recognising theoretical psychology as a formal subdivision of psychology.


Theoretical psychology arose from philosophy, specifically philosophy of science. Philosophy seeks to comprehend the nature and structure of concepts, the laws that govern their occurrence, and the theories that combine the laws. Theoretical psychology is one of these subfields of philosophy of science. The scientific method is not used in philosophy of science to empirically derive ideas about the physical world by conducting experiments and interpreting results. However, it is still about science, with an emphasis on the logic and rationality behind science itself, bringing to light what empirical measures cannot explain. It is also metaphysically and epistemologically concerned with the nature and essence of human knowledge. The logic and rationality applied to concepts, laws, and theories is what theoretical psychology is to psychology, just as philosophy of science is to science. Theoretical psychology lacks the ability to determine which theories are more true or correct. Many people regard theoretical psychology as the support or rationalisation of a more "truthful" "idea" within psychological theory. This, however, is not the case. Theoretical psychology is scientifically based on epistemological ideas of what is known.

Theoretical psychology predated all branches of traditional empirical and experimental psychology. As a result, there is a much greater depth and breadth of knowledge from which to draw. This also reduces the likelihood of new developments occurring in the present day, as many "new" approaches draw on and revitalise previous theories. These foundational theories gain new knowledge, frames of reference, and mindsets as a result of this. This could be because ideas take longer to develop and gain traction than in related fields of empirically based psychology.

Relationship to philosophy and scope

Theoretical psychology is a non-experimental, rational approach to psychology. In psychology, as in any other field of study, there are three philosophical perspectives and methodologies for gaining knowledge about the world's reality. The three perspectives in understanding theoretical concepts relating to laws that help to understand larger theoretical theories are Rationalism (use of intellect and reason of the mind), Empiricism (use of our individually experienced sensorium), and Skepticism (knowledge beyond mere appearance that is not able to be studied).

Rationalism is the philosophical perspective most relevant to this discipline of psychology. Theoretical psychology is not experimental or clinical in nature, and it focuses on non-experimental methods of learning about psychological topics. It investigates the theoretical knowledge underlying the ideologies it encompasses. This frequently includes, but is not limited to, non-experimental critiques of various schools of thought and the utility of psychological concepts. In contrast to empirically acquired information, theoretical psychology is a discipline that bases its information on inference. Hypotheses are then exchanged and expanded upon from various perspectives. Theoretical Psychology is also concerned with the transformation of non-scientific, everyday words (hypothetical constructs) into scientifically objective terms (intervening variables). To be able to see the point as a theory, theoretical psychology requires complete agreement on the various viewpoints. As a result, many of its topics are still being debated.

The logic of psychology and all of its components are referred to as theoretical psychology. This means that when two or more theories in psychology disagree or compete, theoretical psychology does not decide which is correct. It defines the nature and composition of psychology's numerous ideas. There has been a conclusion of the principles belonging to the three classified areas to explain the logic of psychology. Psychology is based on the ability to refer to observable behaviour, physical environments, and/or physiological states. Theoretical psychology is an important aspect of modern psychology that continues to play a role. While theoretical psychology has some drawbacks, it also has some strengths and benefits to the field.

The field of theoretical psychology is vast. Professionals can use this method of acquiring theoretical knowledge to begin research in a variety of subjects. This enables a great deal of knowledge to be explored through inference rather than seeking out tangible data from which to draw ideas. Cognitive psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, personality psychology, clinical psychology, perceptual psychology, neuropsychology, biological psychology, evolutionary psychology, historical psychology, economic psychology, political psychology, and critical psychology are all subfields of theoretical psychology. It is critical to recognise that these fields do not dismiss empiricism, but rather investigate new ideas using a theoretical framework first.


A brief history of theoretical psychology includes some notable forefathers. To begin, Wilhelm Wundt (1874) began his career as a philosophy professor. His emphasis was on the subjective study of an individual's consciousness, which he believed was an important factor in the field of psychology. This aspect of psychology was unable to be demonstrated with a large amount of empirical evidence, so it remained a theory throughout psychology's history.  Following that, William James (1890) was a psychologist and philosopher. His career has revolved around the theoretical concept of free will. He also contributed to the development of the James-Lange theory of emotion, which is based on a number of theoretical factors. Sigmund Freud (1905) was also a significant theoretical psychologist pioneer. Sigmund Freud established the psychoanalytic theory of psychology. He did not base his theories on empirical data, but rather on philosophical explanations. Freud frequently stated that he did not require empirical evidence to support his theory because he simply knew it was correct. John B. Watson was another trailblazer (1913). Watson established the theory of behaviourism in psychology with his article "Psychology as a Behaviorist Sees It." Although behaviourism places a strong emphasis on empirical psychology, the methods used to form it cannot be empirically tested and are thus classified as theoretical psychology.

Notable contributors

There have been and continue to be some notable individuals who have had and continue to have a significant impact on theoretical psychology. Because Kagen devoted much of his work to psychology constructs, specifically developmental psychology, Jerome Kagan's (1971) work on personality traits and ageing, emotion, and temperament could be considered theoretical psychology. As a science learns new empirical procedures, it generates new data. Donald Meichenbaum (1977) published work on cognitive behavioural therapy. Meichenbaum spent the majority of his career working in cognitive psychology. He likened his theory to the Pandora's box. Its primary goal is to connect cognitive processes and relationships to things like clients' feelings, behaviour, and the consequences of these. It also influences physiological and social-cultural processes. Alan E. Kazdin (1980) developed theories centred on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a style in children and adolescence. He specialises in child and adolescent psychopathologies such as depression and behavioural issues. His research strategies and methods writings have set a high standard for rigour in the field. Robert Sternberg's (1990) main focus is on some theoretical ideas such as creativity, wisdom, thinking styles, love, and hate. Sternberg frequently publishes politically charged articles about admissions testing and general intelligence. He worked on both empirical and theoretical projects. The work of Kenneth J. Gergen (1991) on social psychology as history was applied to generative theories, realities and relationships, the saturated self, positive ageing, and relational being. Many theoretical ideas, such as culture and science, assumptions, views on mental illness, and relationships, were included. Many of his ideas were purely theoretical. Ulric Neisser's (1995) work is associated with cognitive psychology, specifically the concept of flashbulb memories. Despite the fact that he used empirical data to test this idea, he derived the concept from theoretical work. These individuals, along with many others, continue to have an impact on psychology by advancing theoretical ideas that may or may not be supported by empirical data.

Modern organizational support

Division 24 of the American Psychological Association is dedicated to Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. The division of humanistic psychology is also associated with Theoretical Ideas. "Division 24: Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology encourages and facilitates informed exploration and discussion of psychological theories and issues in both their scientific and philosophical dimensions and interrelationships," according to the American Psychological Association. The International Society for Theoretical Psychology, the Canadian Psychological Society's Section of History and Philosophy of Psychology, the British Psychological Society's Section of History and Philosophy of Psychology, the International Human Science Conference, and the Society for Philosophy and Psychology all provide organisational assistance. Duquesne University, the University of Dallas, Seattle University, West Georgia College, the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta, York University, Brigham Young University, the University of Notre Dame, and Georgetown University all have Theoretical Psychology/Human Science programmes.

Research methods

Theoretical psychology and empirical psychology have a symbiotic relationship. Empirical research or laboratory studies have no bearing on theoretical psychology. It enables scientists to freely seek knowledge that we have yet to study empirically or are not yet capable of studying empirically. The strength of theoretical psychology lies in the realm of rationality, which is focused on big picture ideas. However, it is not a complete method of gaining specific knowledge of reality on its own. This is where empirically based branches of psychology excel. Theoretical psychology can rely more heavily on a universal idea about human nature, even if it is unknown why or how this particular trend occurs in the world, either individually or collectively. Empirical psychology enables humans to gain insights into these big picture ideas in a more palatable, applicable, and individualistic manner that provides practical information about reality. Theoretical psychology is not a universal psychological theory capable of explaining all topics in the absence of empirical research. Theoretical psychology is not a fundamental or all-encompassing theory of psychology; rather, for theoretical psychology to function properly, it must supplement empirical psychology and give reason to topics and produce theories until they can be empirically verified by other branches of psychology.

Issues in methodology and practice

Humans have an innate sense of wonder, exploring a wide range of topics through experience and perception. Individuals rationally reflect on their own experiences with a specific topic as a result of this awe. The individual then employs dialectics, examining what others have said about the topic under consideration in the hopes of discovering specific knowledge about the topic. Theoretical psychology bridges the gap between psychology's philosophical roots and modern empirical psychology. This bridge emphasises and focuses on forming concepts from observable moments of explicit behaviour, excluding introspective mental events within individual consciousness. Psychological laws are formed from observable behaviours derived from a single concept, which also includes concepts from the individual's environment of internal physiological states. Theoretical psychology can rely more heavily on a universal idea about human nature, even if it is unknown why or how this particular trend occurs in the world, either individually or collectively. Empirical psychology enables humans to gain insights into these big picture ideas in a more palatable, applicable, and individualistic manner that provides practical information about reality. Theoretical psychology is not a universal psychological theory capable of explaining all topics in the absence of empirical research. Because they are not instantiated in the world, they are referred to as theoretical concepts.


Many aspects of theoretical psychology can be interpreted positively or negatively, depending on the interpreter. Theoretical psychology can play an important and unique role in the field, allowing almost any claim to be considered plausible if it is theoretically appealing and empirically supported by research. As the field of experimental psychology expands, theorists must be strategic and knowledgeable. This can be advantageous in the sense that individuals can be assured that theorists have made a concerted effort to analyse the research surrounding a theory. The abundance of information contributing to a theory, on the other hand, can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with the theoretical psychology surrounding a theory. Furthermore, theories can be very resistant to change. Prior theories can be extremely difficult to change as theories compete and new evidence emerges. It can be difficult for new theories to gain traction in the field of psychology as a result of this. This resiliency may be due, in part, to theories that are stated in ways that are too abstract, ineffective, and at times contradictory. The difficulty of explaining consciousness is one of theoretical psychology's challenges: there are many competing theories revolving around consciousness, and theoretical psychology struggles to fully explain or justify consciousness. Despite the fact that there is an entire field of psychology dedicated to consciousness, researchers are having a difficult time studying it. Because it combines scientific and philosophical ideas about psychology, theoretical psychology can be extremely beneficial. Integrating these ideas adds to our understanding of psychology.


Humanistic and existential psychology, as well as the Social Constructionist perspective of psychology, have all been fundamental to some of the first theoretical ideas in modern theoretical psychology. There are many journals that publish theoretical articles nowadays. Among these journals are the following:
  • Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology
  • Theory and Psychology
  • New Ideas in Psychology
  • Journal of Humanistic Psychology
  • Humanistic Psychology
  • Family Process
  • Consciousness and Cognition
  • Theoretical Issues in Cognitive Science
  • Behavior and Philosophy
  • American Psychologist
  • International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology
  • Psychological Inquiry
  • Death and Dying Official website (
  • Journal of Mind and Behavior
  • Philosophical Psychology


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