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Psyche (psychology)

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Title: Psyche (psychology)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Anima and animus, Soul, Potentiality and actuality, Individuation, Pyramid Head
Collection: Conceptions of Self, Psychoanalysis
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Psyche (psychology)

In psychology, the psyche is the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious. Psychology is the scientific or objective study of the psyche. The word has a long history of use in psychology and philosophy, dating back to ancient times, and represents one of the fundamental concepts for understanding human nature from a scientific point of view. The English word soul is sometimes used synonymously, especially in older texts.[1]


  • Etymology 1
  • Ancient psychology 2
  • Medieval psychology 3
  • Phenomenology 4
  • Psychoanalysis 5
    • Freudian school 5.1
    • Jungian school 5.2
  • Cognitive psychology 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10


The basic meaning of the Greek word ψυχή (psūkhē) was "life" in the sense of "breath", formed from the verb ψύχω (psukhō, "to blow"). Derived meanings included "spirit", "soul", "ghost", and ultimately "self" in the sense of "conscious personality" or "psyche".[2][3]

Ancient psychology

The idea of the psyche is central to the philosophy of Plato. In his Phaedo, Plato has Socrates give four arguments for the immortality of the soul and life after death following the separation of the soul from the body.[4] Plato's Socrates also states that after death the Psyche is better able to achieve wisdom and experience the Platonic forms since it is unhindered by the body.[5]

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote an influential treatise on the psyche, called in Greek Περὶ Ψυχῆς (Perì Psūchês), in Latin De Anima and in English On the Soul. Aristotle's theory of the "three souls (psyches)" (vegetal, animal, and rational) would rule the field of psychology until the 19th century. Prior to Aristotle, a number of Greek writings used the term psyche in a less precise sense.[6] In late antiquity, Galenic medicine developed the idea of three "spirits" (pneuma) corresponding to Aristotle's three souls. The pneuma psychikon corresponded to the rational soul. The other two pneuma were the pneuma physicon and the pneuma zoticon.

Medieval psychology

The term psyche was Latinized to anima, which became one of the basic terms used in medieval psychology. Anima would have traditionally been rendered in English as "soul" but in modern usage the term "psyche" is preferable.[7]


19th century psychologists such as Franz Brentano developed the concept of the psyche in a more subjective direction.


In psychoanalysis and other forms of depth psychology, the psyche refers to the forces in an individual that influence thought, behavior and personality.[8]

Freudian school

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that the psyche --- he used the word Seele throughout his writings --- was composed of three components:[9]

  • The id, which represents the instinctual drives of an individual and remains largely unconscious.
  • The super-ego, which represents a person's conscience and their internalization of societal norms and morality.
  • The ego, which is conscious and serves to integrate the drives of the id with the prohibitions of the super-ego. Freud believed this conflict to be at the heart of neurosis.

Jungian school

Carl Jung wrote much of his work in German. Difficulties for translation arise because the German word Seele means both psyche and soul. Jung was careful to define what he meant by psyche and by soul.

I have been compelled, in my investigations into the structure of the unconscious, to make a conceptual distinction between soul and psyche. By psyche, I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious. By soul, on the other hand, I understand a clearly demarcated functional complex that can best be described as a "personality". (Jung, 1971: Def. 48 par. 797)
[The translation of the German word Seele presents almost insuperable difficulties on account of the lack of a single English equivalent and because it combines the two words "psyche" and "soul" in a way not altogether familiar to the English reader. For this reason some comment by the Editors will not be out of place.]
[In previous translations, and in this one as well, psyche– for which Jung in the German original uses either Psyche or Seele– has been used with reference to the totality of all psychic processes (cf. Jung, Psychological Types, Def. 48); i.e., it is a comprehensive term. Soul, on the other hand, as used in the technical terminology of analytical psychology, is more restricted in meaning and refers to a "function complex" or partial personality and never to the whole psyche. It is often applied specifically to "anima" and "animus"; e.g., in this connection it is used in the composite word "soul-image" (Seelenbild). This conception of the soul is more primitive than the Christian one with which the reader is likely to be more familiar. In its Christian context it refers to "the transcendental energy in man" and "the spiritual part of man considered in its moral aspect or in relation to God." . . . –Editors.] (Jung, 1968: note 2 par. 9)

Cognitive psychology

In recent decades cognitive psychology has replaced psychoanalysis as the dominant school of psychology in academic centres. The word "mind" is preferred by cognitive scientists to "psyche".

See also


  1. ^ Hillman J (T Moore, Ed.) (1989). A blue fire: Selected writings by James Hillman. New York, NY, USA: HarperPerennial. p. 20. 
  2. ^ Henry George Liddell and Ridley Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon entry "psyche".
  3. ^ See p.187-197, 204 of François, Alexandre (2008), "Semantic maps and the typology of colexification: Intertwining polysemous networks across languages", in Vanhove, Martine, From Polysemy to Semantic change: Towards a Typology of Lexical Semantic Associations, Studies in Language Companion Series 106, Amsterdam, New York: Benjamins, pp. 163–215 .
  4. ^ Plato, Phaedo 69e-84b.
  5. ^ Plato, Phaedo 59c-69e
  6. ^ Cf. Rohde, Psyche, Chapters I and VII. Also see the myth of Eros and Psyche, where Psyche was the embodiment of the soul.
  7. ^ Simon Kemp, Medieval Psychology; Simon Kemp, Cognitive Psychology in the Middle Ages; Anthony Kenny Aquinas on Mind.
  8. ^ Cf. Reed, Edward S., on the narrowing of the study of the psyche into the study of the mind.
  9. ^ Reber, Arthur S.; Reber, Emily S. (2001). Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Penguin Reference.  


  • Jung, C.G. (1968). Psychology and Alchemy, Collected Works, Volume 12, Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01831-6 OCLC 219856.
  • Jung, C.G. (1971). Psychological Types, Collected Works, Volume 6, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01813-8.
  • Reed, Edward S., From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology, from Erasmus Darwin to William James, Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-300-07581-2
  • Rohde, Erwin, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality Among the Greeks, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1925; reprinted by Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0-415-22563-9

Further reading

  • Valsiner, Jaan; Rosa, Alberto, The Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology, Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-521-85410-5. Cf. Chapter 1, p. 23, "The Myth and Beyond: Ontology of Psyche and Epistemology of Psychology".
  • Wilson, Robert Andrew; Keil, Frank C., The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, MIT Press, 2001. ISBN 0-262-73144-4
  • Snow, P.J., The Human Psyche In Love War and Enlightenment December 2009 ISBN 978-1-921555-42-8
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