concept pages: copyright Robert Ellis 2011


Psychology is the study of the psyche - that is, of all the desires, meanings and beliefs in our whole mind, not just what we happen to identify with at present. For a fuller explanation of what is meant by the psyche, please see the concept article on the psyche.

The psychology adopted in Middle Way philosophy is philosophical rather than empirical psychology. It is not based on empirical investigations and experiments, although it is compatible with much of this type of investigation, which can add to our understanding of conditions provided that it is not undertaken in the grip of too many unhelpful assumptions. Middle Way psychology is a theoretical explanation of the nature and operation of the mind that aims to help people to avoid limiting philosophical assumptions. Such theory, like all other theories, needs to be examined for its compatibility with experience. However, because it is such a high level abstract theory specifying a whole approach to conceptualising the mind, this examination can only be undertaken in a long-term way by working out implications of the theory and seeing whether they have helpful implications for understanding and responding to experience. There is no further justification of Middle Way psychology than its degree of helpfulness.

To clear the way for Middle Way psychology to even be examined properly, it is necessary to critically reject some alternative approaches to psychology that merely entrench egoistic assumptions. Perhaps the worst of these is the behaviouristic approach, that rejects all evidence from individual experience and attempts to base psychology only on publicly observable data. This approach completely fails to recognise that the publicly available data is being unavoidably filtered through minds that are likely to interpret it only in the light of the dogmas they happen to identify with. It makes little difference how many investigators can share and reproduce a particular finding, if this finding is based only on assumptions that limit the conditions engaged with. It is necessary to investigate data in the light of alternative theoretical assumptions identified with by the ego at different times in order to engage with more conditions, and it is possible for one individual doing this to reach more objectivity than for a whole group of scientists locked into one set of assumptions.

Philosophical reflection is just as essential to psychology as recognition of a psychological dimension is essential to philosophy. If philosophy ignores psychology it ends up in a condition like much analytic philosophy today: narrowly focused and irrelevant to experience. On the other hand if psychology avoids philosophical scrutiny, in its struggle to be recognised as a science it can turn into behaviourism.

Links to related discussion

Psychology (introductory page)

The psychological basis of belief (thesis)

Psychological basis and philosophical expression (thesis)

The psychological basis of the Middle Way (thesis)


Return to concepts page