Difference between Philosophy and Psychology

Contemplation. This seems to be our human prerogative, the main consequence of having well developed brains which enable us to think past our immediate needs and which makes us different from animals. It is this ability that has made us capable of imagining things that do not exist, of thinking up situations in which reality is different, and has allowed us to create, investigate, invent, change and discover ourselves as philosophers or psychologists.


Philosophy vs Psychology
The Thinker at the Gates of Hell, sculpture on display at Musee Rodin in Paris

Philosophy is the study of existential matters such as knowledge, the human condition, values, reason and mind. The term comes from the Greek words philos and sophia and stands for “love of wisdom”. The discipline is associated with all the other sciences as they all have the same root of knowledge, but it has fewer practical applications than medicine, physics and astronomy. Even so, they all started from one question and the desire to know more about man and his place. The methods used by philosophers are questioning, argumentation, debating and critical discussions in order to break down every big idea and to see what its applications and implications are.

Psychology, on the other hand, is the study of the human mind and of human behavior. The Greek words the term is made out of mean the knowledge (-logia) of the soul (Psyche). In its more practical approach, it is a means of assessing mental health and the science which dictates the right treatment for illnesses of the mind. As a science, psychology investigates causes and reactions, using systematic procedures and breaking down every aspect of the observation. Analysis, generalization and medical conclusions are drawn and then applied for treatment or for understanding people as they are affected by various life conditions.

Philosophy vs Psychology

So what’s the difference between philosophy and psychology then?

The main one lies with the directions in which the two point us. Philosophy makes us look outside of us, imagine different scenarios and wonder about human behavior in a Universe where everything is possible. It is the highest point of human contemplation: the contemplation of the eternal “what if”. On the other hand, psychology makes us look inside ourselves and creates theories starting from man’s most intimate thoughts. It tries to trace every aspect of thought and human reaction down to a cause, a condition, an event. It generalizes and then applies its findings to groups of people, then reanalyzes the cases which do not conform to the general findings. While philosophy singles out the individual in his uniqueness and is concerned with outstanding interpretations of what is considered to be a truth, psychology looks inside the individual to discover truths which apply to all mankind.

Comparison Chart

Philosophy Psychology
Ancient study of the mind Derived from philosophy; a science that is around 150 years old
Based on reasoning and discussion Based on analysis and systematic breaking down of concepts
Makes the individual look outside himself Investigates what is deep down
Main premise is “what if?” Main premise is “why?”