A Brief History of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 

(by Alan Tjeltveit, Society Historian, 2005-2012)

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that psychology developed in part from philosophy, many psychologists have long been loath to acknowledge the philosophical assumptions on which they draw and to reflect rigorously on those assumptions. Edward Scott’s 1960 letter to the American Psychologist proposed a change—to form a new division of the American Psychological Association (APA), The Division of Philosophical Psychology. Psychologists with a broad range of perspectives—spanning philosophy of science, phenomenology, and existentialism—signed a petition that stated they were “bound together by a common concern with the relationship of psychological research and thought to both recurrent and novel philosophical problems” (Williams, 1999, p. 72). The purpose of the division, the petition stated, would be “simply to encourage a deeper and more informed exploration of the relationships of psychological science to the problems of philosophy and the philosophical issues that arise as psychology pursues its own development” (Williams, p. 73). The APA Board of Directors and Council of Representatives approved the formation of Division 24 in 1962, with the Division’s first convention programming occurring in 1963.

Membership in the Division grew steadily in its early years. A newsletter, established in 1966, became a bulletin in 1982, and in 1993 a journal, The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. The journal became part of APA’s Journals Program in 2009 and moved from two issues a year to four issues a year in 2011. Members renamed the organization the Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology in 1980 (at the recommendation of its president, Karl Pribram), and in 2004 the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. The Society has become a home for psychologists interested in a wide range of philosophical and theoretical perspectives, and especially for those who experience themselves to be on the margins of the field. In addition to addressing theoretical and philosophical issues that are in various ways mainstream (e.g., epistemology & philosophy of science), Society members have pursued issues raised by classical philosophers (e.g., Aristotle), analytic philosophers (e.g., Hacking & Wittgenstein), and continental philosophers, including hermeneuticists (e.g., Heidegger and Gadamer), critical psychologists (e.g., Habermas), phenomenologists (e.g., Giorgi), some of the varieties of postmodernists (e.g., Derrida), and other contemporary European thinkers (e.g., Lacan & Levinas). Many members also explore how the work of psychologists is linked to broader trends in social life. For example, they examine how cultural values and assumptions (e.g., individualism, which many regard as the disguised ideology of the field) influence psychological theory, research, and practice, and also work to develop alternative theoretical approaches (e.g., psychologies that move beyond dualistic and individualistic assumptions).


A More Detailed Account

Williams, R. N. (1999). A history of Division 24 (Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology). In D. A. Dewsbury (Ed.), Unification through division: Histories of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (Vol. 4, pp. 65-89). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.