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Philosophical Examination of Depression

According to the Dictionary of Psychology, depression is a negative state which varies from being unhappy and discontent to life-threatening feelings of melancholy, negativity, and misery that cause interference with our normal lives. Depression has greatly disconnected many people from their social and family levels. Depression goes hand in hand with anxiety and they are the most vital states of emotional consciousness in human beings. The current state of high clinically depressed individuals is a green light of the unbalanced understanding of this fundamental ideology of the human psychic. My choice of analyzing depression is due to this deficiency, making this paper critically analyze depression based on three philosophical perspectives namely Behaviourist theory, Cognitive theory, and the Humanist approach.

Behavioral Perspective

Behavioral perspective weights the impact of the environment in inculcating and molding behavior. The major stronghold is on the conditions in which human beings acquire behavior namely operant conditioning, classical conditioning, and the social learning theory. Consequently, depression has been displayed as being a result of an individual’s interaction with the environment. Operant conditioning views depression as being a result of the withdrawal of positive fortification from the environment (Lewinsohn, 2012). Instances such as the loss of loved ones cause depression since the positive reinforcement from others is eliminated. In this case, the major source of reinforcement becomes sympathy and attention from others which induces maladaptive behavior such as weeping and thoughts of suicide. This theory is sensical as it involves identifiable sources of depression. However, the major drawback of this perspective is that it contradicts endogenic depression, which is a type of depression that occurs for no ostensible reason.

Cognitive Approach

This type of approach majors on the beliefs that people hold rather than their behavior. Depressed patients will tend to think and resolve issues differently than clinically normal people. The reason behind this is the emotional and behavioral symptoms resulting from cognitive abnormality. Based to Aaron Beck, a major cognitive theorist, there were three mechanisms that he presumed to impose depression which are negative self-schemas, the cognitive triad, and errors in logic. The cognitive triad describes individuals with three systems of negative thinking which include negative thoughts about the self, the world, and the future. Such people view themselves as hopeless, the events in the world seem unrealistic to them, and they view their future as being hopeless. Interaction of these three components leads to interference with normal thinking leading to impaired judgments and obsession with negative thoughts. Beck outlines that the negative self-schemas are acquired during childhood life and are contributed by traumatic events. Such experiences may be the death of parents, parental rejection, or bullying at school. However, though the negative self-schema risks an individual to depression, someone already with the cognitive trial is unlikely to develop depression. To activate this negative schema later in life, some kind of a traumatic life event is required. Individuals with negative self-schemas are predisposed to making logical errors and they come up with irrational thoughts. Irrationality is a result of selectively focusing on specific aspects of a situation instead of considering the relevant information. The relationship between this perspective and depression has been developed by a study on the thinking styles of young Americans. In 6 years, researchers pointed out that only 1 % of the positive group developed depression in comparison to the 17% of the positive group (Allot 1999). However, this study may suffer demand characteristics, but maladaptive cognitions observed may be a consequence rather than a cause of depression.

Humanist Approach

Humanists support the notion of the existence of a need specific to the human species (Norman, 2013). The most critical of such needs is the need for self-actualization which entails reaching out for one’s potential. Blocks and setbacks to fulfilling such a need could be a cause of depression. Such instances include, self-actualization being undermined due to unhealthy relationships and unfulfilling jobs. A person is unable to receive or experience love in an empty shell marriage while an alienated job withdraws the opportunity to do creative work. Other instances may be imposing conditions on children which involve their worth rather than embracing their current situations. Such children will develop depression and have negative self-images due to failure of keeping up with the imposed standards. The major setback in this study is the vagueness. This is because conclusions obtained from subjective experiences are hectic to verify making this method unreliable. The greatest stronghold of this approach is that it emphasizes individual choices and responsibility which satisfies most people’s ideas of what being a human entails.

All the above approaches to analyzing depression have brought light to the tunnel as they have depicted the core ideologies behind it. I find the studies averagely satisfactory as there are drawbacks caused by these methods. The Humanist Approach, being the weakest of all based on my reasoning, does not fully depict the idea of depression. All three approaches have not satisfied the endogenous depression which occurs naturally for no reason. The first two studies are substantial with a bit more reliability and ability to conclude them. Nonetheless, the idea behind depression has been scrutinized and well represented by using the above philosophical approaches.


Blier, P., & El Mansari, M. (2013). Serotonin and beyond: therapeutics for major depression. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences368(1615), 20120536.

Hallis, L., Cameli, L., Dionne, F., & Knäuper, B. (2016). Combining Cognitive Therapy with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for depression: A manualized group therapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration26(2), 186.

Smith, B. (2013). Depression and motivation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences12(4), 615-635.

Tully, I. (2019). Demarcating depression. Ratio32(2), 114-121.s


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