Understanding psychology

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In understanding or humanities psychology , understanding is raised to the specific method of psychology and psychopathology . As opposed to psychologically relevant concept of understanding is there for the natural sciences , the explanation accepted as a specific method.

Psychology is not only aimed at explaining causal relationships, but - unlike in the natural sciences - in particular also at understanding meaningful relationships. A purpose-oriented ( teleological ) approach is generally not suitable for the natural sciences . In the humanities psychology, especially at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, experiences of meaning, values and directions of meaning became the subject of research. The distinction between explaining and understanding goes back to Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911).

More detailed conceptual explanation

Understanding has always meant a conscious basic behavior that has become the subject of the humanities . By viewing understanding psychology in this way as opposed to explaining the natural sciences, one first emphasizes its rational character. Christian Wolff (1679–1754) already emphasized this with his definition of rational psychology . Wolff distinguished this part of psychology from empirical psychology , cf. nomothetic and idiographic sciences. Even if practical knowledge of human nature and life experience are prerequisites for understanding psychology, this describes its deductive- methodological character. This is particularly important now that psychology is increasingly being taught in natural science faculties. See also chap. Psychology and philosophy . Understanding is based on recognizing connections by giving meaning to these connections . Such a sense can generally be both

  1. sensory physiology ,
  2. semiotic or
  3. metaphysical-transcendent

be interpreted. In this way, sense always necessarily results from the connection between individual elements that can already be grasped for themselves. An example is the recognition of the meaning of a word by reading the individual letters. Logic as a basic rule for linguistically correct understanding and insight is therefore also the first prerequisite for understanding psychology - the following presentation is based on Karl Jaspers (1883–1969), who was instrumental in the use of the term and contributed to its being could enforce. The conceptual history is detailed in Chap. Intellectual history depicted.

In psychology the problem of understanding arises in a similar way as in semiotics . According to Jaspers, the individual characteristics or signs as basic elements of knowledge are the individual facts of soul life, which are mainly divided into subjective appearances and givens (phenomenology) and into the objective achievements of soul life ( achievement psychology ). A few essential basic psychosomatic functions ( vegetative regulation ) can also be added to this . - Jaspers did not mean the phenomenology according to Husserl. Jaspers restricts the concept of phenomenology to the doctrine of appearances as basic elements of knowledge; he does not intend to “examine the essence”. It is therefore necessary to at least briefly outline the phenomenology according to Jaspers here.

Phenomenology according to Jaspers

After the deductive-methodical character of understanding psychology has already been pointed out, phenomenology rather points to its methodical- descriptive character, as suggested by the work of Husserl. The "peculiar phenomenological lack of prejudice in viewing the appearance as such is not original possession, but laborious acquisition after critical work and often in vain efforts." Phenomenology according to Jaspers is only oriented towards psychopathology. He understands by it the subjective appearances of the sick mental life, z. B. a fake memory. The objective achievements are already referred to as achievement psychology. Both methods are common u. U. with still further methodological aspects for the concept formation of a disease unit significant. The phenomenology according to Jaspers is calculated as follows:

  1. Object awareness
  2. Experience of space and time
  3. Body awareness
  4. Reality awareness and the delusional ideas
  5. Feelings and states of mind
  6. Urge , drive and will
  7. Self-awareness
  8. reflexive phenomena (such as elementary and mentally mediated mental life, disorders of instincts and bodily functions as well as compulsive phenomena)
  9. the state of consciousness (as the instant whole)

This scheme is still exemplary today for the examination of every psychiatric patient ( psychopathology , psychiatric findings ). Jaspers called the exact phenomenological description static understanding .

Understanding psychology according to Jaspers

According to Jaspers, understanding takes place in continual opposites ( hermeneutic circle ).

1. Static and genetic understanding

The tasks of understanding psychology according to Jaspers include not only the logically understandable description of the individual facts of mental life (static understanding or cross-section ) but also genetic understanding. This makes it possible to feel how the soul results from the soul. It shows the motive connections (motives), contrast effects (reactions) and dialectical changes (paradoxical developments, longitudinal section ), cf. Criticism of nosology .

2. Genetic understanding and explanation

The former is the subjective understanding of the connections from within ( understanding ), the latter the objective demonstration of external connections according to the causal principle .

3. Rational and genetic understanding

The contrast between cool intellectual logic and empathic understanding ( compassion , empathy ) should be emphasized here.

4. Understanding and interpreting

Understanding refers to concrete, empirically verifiable individual facts, interpreting to unclear and only sparse clues based on an explanatory model derived from other experiences. Hermeneutics is concerned with the nature of these explanatory models .

Consciously and unconsciously

Naturally, interpretations therefore relate primarily to unconscious processes. The unconscious is subjectively linked to automatically running physical processes that do not mobilize any perception, imagination or thought processes, for example the regular heart activity. Only the disturbances of bodily processes concentrate our attention on certain organs. Consciousness is largely object-consciousness that arises from the subject-object split . Jaspers was essentially skeptical of Sigmund Freud's (1856–1939) explanatory models . This, in turn, can be understood in that Jaspers represented the type of thinker, while Freud was more receptive to natural phenomena ( sensation type ).

Jaspers describes the evidence of genetic understanding as something ultimate. The judgment about the reality of an understandable connection is not based solely on the evidence, but above all on the objective material of tangible clues. While evidence can be based on ideal-type understanding even without sufficient factual material, the reality of an understandable connection can only be asserted to the extent that sufficient objective data are given. Genetically understandable relationships are ideal-typical relationships, including, of course, Freud's models of “conscious” and “unconscious” or his structural model of the psyche .


The characterology saw Jasper as part of the interpretive psychology to. In many cases, the same ideal-typical character designations apply here as also through the term analysis in Chap. Depicted consciously and unconsciously .

Understanding psychology according to Lorenzer (psychoanalysis)

Scenic understanding may be mentioned as an example of an understanding psychology at the subject level. It was described by Alfred Lorenzer (1922–2002) as a general understanding of every single scene of his subjective experience described by the patient, to a certain extent as a red thread in the “script” of his life. In this “script” the scenes that are unconscious in terms of their meaning are repeated in an increasingly similar and almost compulsive manner. These repetitions can e.g. B. is based on a systematically distorted communication ( private language ), which repeatedly leads to similar errors. These scenes can be decrypted by Freud, when the patient on the therapist transmits (transmission scenes). Transmission sees itself as a form of interaction .

Social psychiatric approaches

More recently, social psychiatry has looked for further approaches to understanding mental illness. Ronald D. Laing (1927–1989) should be mentioned as a representative here . He relied on the work of Wilfred Bion (1897–1979) and Elliott Jaques (1917–2003) and thus took up positions in understanding sociology .

Abstract and concrete psychology

Carl Stumpf (1848–1936), see the following chap. Intellectual history , distinguished between an abstract and a concrete psychology. The abstract objectifying psychology research experimentally and disregard the subject, see experimental psychology . The everyday, concrete psychology cannot close itself off to subjective circumstances. Since Sigmund Freud, psychotherapy has turned more and more to these subjective conditions. In recent times, subjective, more emotional goals and methods of psychotherapy have mainly been represented by Carl Rogers (1902–1987). So stump differed z. B. also between the act of listening (objective) and the content of what is heard (subjective). However, even though he introduced experimental methods into nude psychology, Stumpf always distinguished himself from Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920) in his functional approaches (functional psychology ) mainly through the use of introspective methods .

Intellectual history

Johann Gustav Droysen (1808–1884) distinguished the method of natural science and history as explaining and understanding. Max Weber (1864–1920) analyzed the characteristics of ideal-typical understanding . He is one of the founders of an understanding sociology . Franz Brentano (1838–1917) is seen as a representative of a close relationship between philosophy and psychology. He was the originator of nude psychology , which was of great influence on his later students. They formed the so-called Brentano School . Among his students are Edmund Husserl , Alexius Meinong , William McDougall , Sigmund Freud and Carl Stumpf . Husserl criticized psychologism. The humanities psychology was founded by Eduard Spranger (1882–1963). Analytically oriented element psychology and more holistically oriented gestalt psychology can be thought of as connected in the concept of understanding psychology, cf. also the psychological concept of complexion . Hans Walter Gruhle describes it as an unproductive dispute that can be traced back over a century and a half as to whether psychology is a natural or a spiritual science, since it is oriented both idiographically and nomothetically .

Psychology and philosophy

The delimitation of a rational from an empirical psychology does not mean that philosophy should take precedence here. This is also described with the catchphrase psychologism . Jaspers was familiar with Husserl's criticism of psychology . He writes:

Many a psychiatrist has stated that he does not want to burden himself with philosophy, that his science has nothing to do with philosophy. There is nothing to be said against this insofar as the correctness of scientific insights in general, and also in psychiatry, is neither substantiated nor refuted by philosophy. But the elimination of philosophy is still fatal for psychiatry.

  1. If you are not clearly aware of a philosophy, it gets unnoticed in your scientific thinking and speaking and makes this scientifically and philosophically unclear.
  2. Since scientific knowledge is not of the same kind, especially in psychopathology, a distinction must be made between the modes of knowledge, the methods, the meaning of the validity of the statements and the criteria of the test, and this requires philosophical logic.
  3. All order of knowledge into a whole and the clarity about being in the whole [...] is only possible under the guidance of philosophical thoughts.
  4. Only through clarity about the relationship between psychological understanding (as a means of empirical research) and philosophical enlightenment of existence (as a means of appealing to freedom and evoking transcendence) can a pure scientific psychopathology arise that fills its entire possible scope and yet does not exceed its limits .
  5. Being human in its fate is a medium of metaphysical interpretation, lets you feel existence and read the cipher of transcendence: but every approach of an always unprovable talk of it (which can be of deepest philosophical significance for humans) is heterogeneous in all science and clouds scientific psychopathology.
  6. The practice in dealing with people, and therefore also in psychotherapy, requires more than scientific knowledge. The inner attitude of the doctor depends on the type and degree of self-enlightenment, on the strength and clarity of his will to communicate, on the presence of a leading, people-connecting, substantial belief substance.

Criticism of understanding psychology

Observation of moods, feelings, intuitions and, in particular, self- observation of these psychological phenomena can contain many sources of error. The behavioral research , the behaviorism and the substance that results from them operationism (EC Tolman therefore) reject the method of interpretive psychology on principle. These are mostly concerns about the observation and self-observation of psychological qualities. These already result from the fact of human consciousness , i.e. H. from the fact that, in relation to many processes occurring in us, we cannot escape the dual role of observer and object of observation. This addresses the subject-object split or the possibility of overcoming it. Furthermore - on the part of academic psychology - the possibilities of investigating processes inaccessible to introspection by means of statistical data analysis and mathematical modeling are emphasized.


  • Ch. Bühler, F. Massarik (ed.): Curriculum vitae and goals in life. 1969
  • Klaus Holzkamp : Foundations of Psychology. 2nd Edition. Campus, Frankfurt 2003
  • Karl Jaspers : Psychology of world views . 1919
  • E. Meyer: On the reorientation in the field of understanding psychology. 1954
  • Waldemar Oelrich: Humanities psychology and human education. 1950
  • Alexander Pfänder : The human soul. Attempt at an understanding psychology. 1933
  • David Riesman : The lonely crowd. 1958
  • Gustav Wilhelm Störring : Against understanding psychology. 1928

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Wilhelm Karl Arnold et al. (Ed.): Lexicon of Psychology . Bechtermünz Verlag, Augsburg 1996, ISBN 3-86047-508-8 ; (a) to the Lexikon-Stw. “Humanities psychology and methods”: Columns 706 ff. And Understanding Psychology : Column 2482 ff .; (b) to Lexikon-Stw. “Stump, Carl”: column 2237; (c) to the Lexikon-Stw .: Understanding Psychology : Column 2482 ff.
  2. ^ Wilhelm Dilthey : Ideas on a descriptive and dissecting psychology . Berlin Academy, S. ber. 1894
  3. Joachim Wach : Understanding . 3 volumes. Tübingen 1926–1933
  4. ^ Christian Wolff (Enlightenment) : Philosophia rationalis sive logica (1728). 3rd edition 1740, with the Discursus praeliminaris de philosophia in genere , p. 51, § 112, Google book
  5. a b c d e f g Karl Jaspers : Allgemeine Psychopathologie (1913). Springer, Berlin 9th edition 1973, ISBN 3-540-03340-8 ; (a) Re. “Understanding according to Jaspers”: p. 250 f .; (b) Re. “Wesenschau”: page 47, footnote 1; (c) Re. “Unprejudice”: p. 48 above; (d) Re. “Overview of psychopathological phenomenology”: Excerpt from the table of contents, first part, first chapter. Page VI-VII; (e) Re. “Objectivistic understanding according to Jaspers”: p. 252; (f) Regarding Stw. “Experiments with basic characterization”: p. 363 ff .; (g) Re. “Psychology and Philosophy”: p. 643
  6. Uwe Henrik Peters : Lexicon of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Medical Psychology . 6th edition. Urban & Fischer, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-437-15061-6 ; to Lexikon-Stw. "Cliché": p. 291 ("Understand, scenic" must be entered as the search term)
  7. Jürgen Habermas : The universality claim of hermeneutics (1970). In: On the logic of the social sciences . 5th edition. Suhrkamp Taschenbuch, Wissenschaft 517, Frankfurt 1982, p. 343 ff.
  8. ^ Alfred Lorenzer : On the subject of psychoanalysis or: Language and interaction . Frankfurt 1973
  9. Ronald D. Laing : The Self and the Others . 3. Edition. Rowohlt Taschenbuchverlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 1977, ISBN 3-499-17105-8 ; P. 28 on head. “Bion and Jaques”; Original edition Self and Others . Tavistock, London 1961.
  10. How the soul was discovered and disappeared again. ( Memento of the original from February 12, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Funkkolleg Psychologie, Hessischer Rundfunk, November 1st, 2008 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.hr-online.de
  11. ^ Johann Gustav Droysen : History . 1867
  12. Paul Naffin : Introduction to Psychology . 5th edition. Ernst Klett-Verlag, Stuttgart 1956, pp. 195-204
  13. Hans Walter Gruhle : Understanding psychology (experience theory) . 2nd Edition. Georg Thieme, Stuttgart 1956, p. 2 and note on page 623
  14. Peter R. Hofstätter (Ed.): Psychology . The Fischer Lexicon, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1972, ISBN 3-436-01159-2 , p. 76, see also the discussion of this problem on Stw. Understanding Psychology on p. 341 f.
  15. Uwe Mortensen: Understanding or explaining? (PDF)