Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 265-274

First online:

Nomothetic and Idiographic Methodology in Psychiatry — A historical-philosophical analysis

  • Michael SchäferAffiliated withKlinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Klinikum der Philipps-Universität

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The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the epistemic position of psychiatry between the science of general laws in relation to frequently encountered generality and the science of specific events which is directed towards the particular. In this respect the development of the dichotomy of nomothetic and idiographic methodology from its generally forgotten neo-Kantian origins (Windelband, Rickert, Natorp, Bauch, Münch, Hessen, Münsterberg) is delineated within the context of a historical-philosophical analysis and then its incorporation into psychology and psychopathology (Stern, Binswanger, Kronfeld, Jaspers) is reconstructed. In the course of this analysis and also in the discussion of the currently accepted theories of analytical philosophy (Stegmüller) and critical rationalism (Popper) it becomes clear that, in spite of widespread current opinions to the contrary, individualizing concept formation is an indispensable element in the methodological inventory of psychiatric science.

epistemology history idiographic individual natural sciences nomothetic psychology psychopathology science of general laws science of specific events