ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (9): 1068-1078.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.01068

• Theory and History of Psychology • Previous Articles    

An “operational definition” and a “falsifiability criterion” are not sufficient to lay the foundation for scientific psychology

SHU Yueyu(),SHI Yingbo,YUAN Yan()   

  1. School of Psychology, Northwest Normal University & Key Laboratory of Behavioral and Mental Health of Gansu Province, Lanzhou 730070, China
  • Received:2018-10-11 Published:2019-09-25 Online:2019-07-24
  • Contact: Yueyu SHU,Yan YUAN;


In the mainstream narrative of the discipline, a “controlled experiment” and a “quantitative research” are considered to be the basic characteristics of psychology. For a long time, the methodology of positivism has provided the subject of psychology with a spiritual connotation. Specifically, the “operational definition” based on positivism and the “falsifiability criterion” based on falsificationism, have become the “golden rules” of psychology’s scientificity. For decades, the field of philosophy of science has acquired a renewed understanding of positivism and falsificationism. However, while mainstream psychology ignores these advancements, it still regards these two outdated philosophies as its metaphysical foundation. More importantly, while indulging in outdated methodological assumptions, mainstream psychology is unable to provide a systematic demonstration for the ontological preset of disciplines. This lack of ontology and the over-reliance on outdated methodological presuppositions focus on popular mainstream psychology textbooks, such as How to Think Straight about Psychology by Keith E. Stanovich, who is a Canadian psychologist.

Based on the representative position of Keith E. Stanovich’s work in mainstream psychology, and in the foundation of refining and summarizing specific features of heavy reliance on the methodology of mainstream experimental psychology, by using the process of logical analysis and philosophical speculation, this paper suggests that mainstream psychology has always defined itself through a methodology shared with other natural sciences, which is the root cause of the psychological disintegration crisis.!!!This study contends that the methodological basis of psychology itself has several problems. First of all, not all scientific concepts can be defined operationally. Thus, an operational definition by itself does not provide a solid philosophical foundation for empirical science. Furthermore, universal existence propositions and statistical law cannot be verified and falsified by experience. Therefore, the falsifiability criterion is not sufficient to guarantee the scientificity of psychology. In the end, common natural science methods are not sufficient to reflect the unique value of psychology. For this reason, the methodology of mature natural science is not enough to lay the foundation for psychology, which is an independent discipline.

This research proposes that the logical starting point of psychology as an independent discipline lies in its unique values, which provide an ontological commitment not only to the subject, but also to the underlying psychology, making its own special requests for the selection method of the subject. Only discipline motivation, and ontological commitment can provide a philosophical basis for psychology as an independent subject. In psychology, it is possible to solve a split subject crisis only on the premise of breaking away from the method center and rethinking the logical basis of psychology—which is an independent subject—thereby leading the discipline from a “pre-paradigm science” to a “normal science.”

Key words: psychology, split crisis, ontological commitment, methodology

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