Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 265–274

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

  • Michael Schäfer

DOI: 10.1023/A:1009973828786

Cite this article as:
Schäfer, M. Med Health Care Philos (1999) 2: 265. doi:10.1023/A:1009973828786


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.

epistemologyhistoryidiographicindividualnatural sciencesnomotheticpsychologypsychopathologyscience of general lawsscience of specific events

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Schäfer
    • 1
  1. 1.Klinik für Psychiatrie und PsychotherapieKlinikum der Philipps-UniversitätMarburgGermany