What is Demarcation in Psychology?

The demarcation problem in psychology examines the boundaries between science, pseudoscience, and other products of human activity, like art, and literature, and beliefs. This brings us to the question, what is demarcation in psychology? Both philosophers and scientists have tried to distinguish the differences of their various perspectives to knowledge, at least, using the tape measure of psychology.

These gulfs are however what we come to understand as demarcation even though this understanding must go far beyond this.

What is Demarcation in Psychology?

The curiosity to know beyond the boundaries of mere opinions and cultures that are never based on facts is what now drives the need to want to know exactly what is demarcation in psychology?

Demarcation is about how and where to draw the lines around science. A form of this problem, known as the generalized problem of demarcation subsumes all three cases of science and non-science, science and pseudoscience, and science and religion.

 It also refers to a dispute in philosophy of science concerning how to distinguish between the various categories. This had started since when science and religion had already become independent of one another to a great extent.

Etymology of the Demarcation Problem

The entire history of scientific development as a war against religion. Hence, the relationship between science and religion has been more complicated.

Before the creation of this borderline, some scientists were very religious, and religion was often a chief motivator and sponsor of scientific investigation. But towards the end of the 19th century, science and religion came to be seen by the public as being increasingly at odds, a gradual phenomenon which came to a head around the debates over the work on evolution produced by Charles Darwin.

The new conception of science as something not only independent from religion, but actually opposed to it raised the inevitable question of what separates the two.

Falsificationism Problem in Demarcation

Yet another popular approach, often associated with the philosopher Karl Popper, is that sciences must make predictions that are falsifiable, meaning that they can at least potentially be proven wrong.

If a theory or explanation can never be proven wrong, either because it is too vague or because it is consistent with any possible outcome, then by this criterion it is said to be unfalsifiable and hence unscientific.

Though useful as a good rule of thumb, falsificationism has been criticized both for ruling out things that it shouldn’t be excluded, and also for failing to rule out things that should be excluded.

In the first case, historians of science have demonstrated how repeatedly throughout history scientists often do not reject hypotheses or theories that are apparently falsified by observation, but instead adapt their theories to account for the phenomena, or posit new causes to explain the discrepancies. For example, irregularities in the orbit of Uranus, which could have been viewed as a ‘falsification’ of Newton’s theory of gravity, instead led astronomers to correctly predict the existence of the hitherto unknown planet of Neptune.

In the second case, certain disciples such as palmistry or astrology often make predictions which are, at least in principle, falsifiable, yet nevertheless their insensitivity to the outcome of such tests leads them to be widely considered as pseudoscience. For such reasons, Popper’s theory of falsificationism does not seem to tell the whole story about what makes a field scientific.

Some philosophers of science have responded to the difficulties in resolving the demarcation problem by arguing that science is not really anything ‘special’ at all; rather it is simply part of the more general activity of studying the world by use of careful reasoning and evidence, a view which renders science as essentially continuous with, and not fundamentally different to, history, literature, or even philosophy.

Others argue that science does have key distinguishing characteristics, and have articulated various increasingly sophisticated theories as to what property or collection of properties are definitive of science. Despite such lack of agreement, however, some knowledge of the varying perspectives concerning the demarcation problem is valuable in facilitating a more nuanced understanding of science, and in evaluating the merit of particular scientific findings.

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