On the nature of psychological knowledge: An analysis of the models of behaviorism, cognitivism, and phenomenology

George Leroy Raine, Marquette University


Persons currently making contact with the field of psychology have become increasingly aware of the pressing need for a model of human experiencing that appropriately reflects the presence, or as the phenomenologist expresses it, the lebendige Gegenwart, of psychological life. This dissertation attempts to arrive at an understanding of a basis for this need, felt by psychologist and philosopher alike, through a focus upon behavioral and cognitive psychological models. Our findings suggest that the behavioral model, historically rooted in laboratory studies of the rat, regards the individual as largely passive to the activity of the external world. In restricting its approach to public methods of observation and focusing exclusively upon behavior, the depth and subtlety of human experience remains undisclosed. The cognitive model of information processing, on the other hand, derived from the way computer scientists describe what their machines do, perceives the external world as passive to the formal apparatus of so-called structures of thought. In restricting its approach to the data of discrete "inputs" and independent formalized rules, the situatedness of experiences remains unaccounted for. Claiming that behavioral and cognitive psychology are grounded in a "prejudice of the world" wherein the person is regarded as not being different for any other object of investigation, a phenomenological model is offered as a basis for both behaviorism and cognitivism. Based upon the philosophical work of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, this third model seeks to overcome the bifurcated reality of the models of empiricism and rationalism through the ontological primacy of phenomena and the lived body. Conclusions reached regarding the application of the phenomenological model to the psychological study of language, sensation, and perception suggest that these domains of human activity are realized initially on a pre-reflective level with meaning as their central basis. In disagreement with both cognitivism and behaviorism, evidence was provided to indicate that language and perception are fundamentally inseparable.

Recommended Citation

Raine, George Leroy, "On the nature of psychological knowledge: An analysis of the models of behaviorism, cognitivism, and phenomenology" (1991). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9133806.