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5 Feb 08 – Watson/McDougall – The False Dichotomy of Nature/Nurture.

5 February 2008

On this day in 1924, a debate entitled, “Battle of Behaviorism,” sponsored by the Psychological Club of Washington, D.C., was held in the D.A.R. Memorial Constituion Hall.  The debate was between John Watson and William McDougall.  McDougall was declared victorious, with his hereditary perspective holding sway over Watson’s environmental perspective on behaviorism.

This debate was one of many representations of the “nature versus nurture controversy.”  Essentially, the arguments are pitted as conceptualizations of whether it is biological factors that determines behavior (e.g., genetics, neuroanatomy, neurochemicals) or environmental factors (e.g., family constitution, peer groups, nutrition, socioeconomic status, educational resources).  Today, it is commonly accepted that an interaction of factors – biological and environmental – are involved in the presentation of behaviors (though, there is an increasing trend toward considering neuroscientific explanations as sufficient for understanding such presentations). 

Still, this acceptance warrants some attention because it amounts to acceptance by philosophical fiat.  That is, it appears to be completely understandable that such acceptance should be arrived at, considering that both biological interpretations and environmental interpretations possess an identical philosophical grounding: naturalism.  According to the philosophy of naturalism, all behaviors are the result of past determinants – either biological or environmental.  With recognition that naturalism is the grounding framework for both arguments, this debate can be seen to be a false dichotomy – they do not represent two competing perspectives but instead represent the same perspective developed from slightly different vantages.

Essentially, the argument on both sides is for linear, efficient and material causation for behavior.  When combined, it merely increases the number of efficient and material causal variables.  Still, they remain determinants; neither perspective escapes the fundamental perspective that individual behavior is the result of forces that are outside of the individual’s control.

What, then, would be a genuine alternative?  Agency!  That is, the perspective that individuals have possibility, an “otherwise,” that they can act on.  They can choose their behavior, with constraints of context and ability taken into consideration.  In other words, by agency I do not mean indeterminism or chaos.  There is a limit to one’s ability to act for the sake of goals, motivations, and purposes.  Yet, the acting for the sake of and the variable possibility inherent to choices made allow that neither biological nor environmental determinants are sufficient for explaining all behavior. 

This, then, would frame a truly meaningful debate: Determinism versus Agency. 

Unfortunately, very often agency is merely subjugated to the position of “unscientific,” again, by philosophical fiat.  That is, the philosophy of naturalism, which underlies modern conceptions of science, especially in psychology, rules out before investigation and discussion (in a very UNscientific manner) the legitimacy of agency.  Hence, such a debate devolves before it is engaged in, with the position of agency dismissed as non-sensical. 

Furthermore, as implied above, all too often agency is dismissed in a false polemical manner, with those believing in determinism painting anything other than determinism as “indeterminism” and therefore, unscientific, because there is no ability to predict from chaos (which results from indeterminism).  In essence, a straw man is set up, which is easily set to flames.

However, agency does provide for a tremendous amount of predictability.  In fact, the few studies that have endeavored to investigate it have indicated that an understanding of one’s goals, purposes, and motivations are highly predictive of future behaviors.  Consider someone who, as a high school junior, has an established goal (that they have affectively affirmed) to be a cardiovascular surgeon – we can predict pretty readily that this individual will not skip school, will study hard, and will be involved in endeavors that increase his or her likelihood of achieving that goal. 

The point of all of this, however, is even more simple: we have created a false dichotomy in psychology that was easily solvable and the solution to which provided us with a false sense of satisfaction in our ability to reconcile differences in perspective.  What remains, however, is a significant countermovement in psychology that understands the false dichotomy and is now involved in presenting agentic perspectives as legitimate and in need of recognition by the mainstream. 

Fuel for thought, I guess… head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.


February 5, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

12 Jan 08 – Koch: Ameaningfulness/Antimony/Fragmentation in Psychology

12 January 2008 

On this date in 1959, Volume 1 of Sigmund Koch’s edited book series entitled, Psychology: A Study of a Science was published.  The first volume presented then contemporary perspectives on sensory, perceptual, and physiological psychology (all but the latter of which were considered to be anachronistic by the time of Koch’s death). Six volumes in this series were eventually published between 1959 and 1963.  Koch’s goal was to bring together significant thinkers in the various areas presented and to develop a conclusion that summed up his perspective on the material presented in the volumes. 

Unfortunately, Koch was never able to complete his concluding materials to the volumes.  However, he did leave an incredible legacy of thought that can be used to synthesize what he might have said.  The essential features of what Koch might have said are likely to be found in the themes of his later work: 1. ameaningfulness; 2. antimony; and 3. “fragmentation” (he used the former words, I use the latter word to try to capture what he said). 

1.  By ameaningfulness, Koch meant that thinking or inquiry in psychology (Koch did not level his criticism merely at psychology but I will focus merely on psychology here) regarded knowledge as “the result of ‘processing’ rather than discovery.”  In other words, knowledge is the result of a “methodology” – a series of procedures applied.  Furthermore, it assumes that the rules underlying the methodology are so structured and so patently objective that they rule out the human user – making the human action (both of the experimenter and the experimental participant) meaningless in the process (or processing).  Koch suggested that the ultimate, “’meaning’ of ameaning is indeed that it is a fear-driven species of cognitive constriction, a reduction of uncertainty to denial, by a form of phony certainty achieved by the covert annihilation of the problematic, complex, and the subtle.”  In other words, we are so afraid of uncertainty in psychology that we forsake true knowledge by placing all our confidence in methodologies that, in fact, give us no true confidence.  Instead, they provide an illusion of certainty that is debilitating because it doesn’t allow us to consider the important and meaningful questions that truly pertain to human existence.  This is what Koch has referred to as “epistemopathology” or “cognitive pathology” – the disease that it is the result of our focus on epistemic (methodological) concerns at the cost of adequate consideration of fundamental questions of being.

2.  By antimony, Koch meant a, “class of questions which human reason must necessarily confront but which are rationally undecidable.”  Koch spoke specifically about antimonies of pure reason (he also spoke of antimonies of impure living, which was somewhat less clear).  Anitmonies of pure reason involved those issues that a thesis and its contradictory antithesis can both be proved (or, at least, cannot be falsified).  He quoted Bertrand Russell, the noted physicist, as representing many of such questions when Russell discussed the concept of philosophy as an intermediate between theology and science: “Is the world divided into mind and matter and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers?  Has the universe any unity or purpose?….”  Essentially, these are foundational philosophical questions with no intrinsic answer but are nonetheless possessed of immense meaning.  Such questions relate to the mind/body issue Russell indicated, the free will/determinism issue, the objectivity/subjectivity issue, etc.  Given this formulation of antimonies, Koch can be seen to be talking about something that is not all that different, in kind, from the philosophical concept of the dialectic.  Antimonies, in this sense, involve, as Koch put it, “disjunctive oppositions of meaning, the propositional equivalents of which are not ultimately, or strictly, even stably decidable” and, as such, work in a complementary manner (much like the wave-particle duality of light in quantum physics – a natural dialectic wherein, depending on how you look at it, either way is correct and, in the end, both are correct and understanding of both is required to understand the whole concept).   

3.  Finally, by fragmentation, I mean to capture Koch’s perspective that psychology was not a science but a collection of sciences that involve numerous subspecialties with various commitments, both methodological and theoretically.  It was Koch’s view that the ever increasing drive for unity in psychology was senseless (and, in fact, as can be surmised from the above discussion, would lead to ameaningfulness).  Instead, he believed that we, in psychology, needed to become more comfortable with the incompleteness and ultimate uncertainty of our derived knowledge.  In other words, and I am not sure he actually used this word, we need to be more humble.  Only in this way can we develop meaningful – meaning, as Koch says, “…a direct perception of unveiled, vivid relations that seem to spring from quiddities, particularities, of the objects of thought, the problem situations that form the occasions of thought” – knowledge of psychological phenomena.  As Koch says, “[meaning] cannot be invited by denial of our situation, but only by a kind of fascinated and loving, if ironic, acceptance”.  We cannot find meaning by attempting to fabricate a unifying principle that explains the fundamentally unexplainable.   

Whether you agree with Koch’s perspective or not, he certainly left an enormous legacy and was incredibly well respected in the field.  For example, his death coincided with the beginning of an annual convention of the American Psychological Association.  When word of his death reached the convention, a spontaneous memoriam was conducted with incredibly diverse groups of people, who both agreed and disagreed with Koch’s position, providing pseudo-eulogies attesting to the positive role he played both personally and intellectually in their lives.  Furthermore, though Koch is not listed as one of the most eminent psychologists (based on a 2002 Review of General Psychology article), Koch is one of only two people I know of (perhaps there are more – the one other I know of was Skinner who tops the list of most eminent psychologists) to have an edition of the American Psychologist dedicated to articles memorializing his works.   

If nothing else, I certainly believe that Koch provided… 

Fuel for thought …head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 12, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

11 Jan 08 – Titchener/The Forsaking of Psychology’s Intellectual Heritage

11 January 2008

On this date in 1867, Edward Bradford Titchener was born.  Titchener founded the school of structuralism and brought his own interpretation of Wundt’s laboratories to the United States, marking Titchener, by some people’s accounts, as the “Father of American Psychology.”  The word “interpretation” is placed in that sentence intentionally.  As I will attempt to show, Titchener’s description (and his protégé, the noted historian of psychology, E.G. Boring’s description) of Wundt was quite perspectival. 

Titchener was educated in Oxford, where he was far more impressed with physiology than philosophy (both of which were foundational to early psychology).  Given his predilection toward physiology, he desired to study the mind scientifically.  Therefore, he went to Leipzig to work with Wundt, who was conducting early psychological research there.

(SIDE NOTE: Contrary to popular belief – based on Boring’s history – Wundt did not conduct the first psychology experiment – James probably did this – nor did he probably have the very first psychology laboratory – Fechner probably did – nor, finally, did he complete development of the laboratory in the year Boring indicated – 1879 – it was not actually formalized until about 1894…as you can surmise from this, as far as historians go, Boring probably wasn’t the best).  

In 1892, Titchener moved from Leipzig to head a recently opened laboratory at Cornell University.  There, he used the rigorous methodologies that he learned during his time in Leipzig, restricting himself to description of what he was able to observe with experimental techniques and laboratory instruments.  More than anyone else in the United States at the time, he defined psychology as a natural-scientific discipline, not unlike the burgeoning Newtonian physics of the time.

Titchener, to many (such as Boring), appeared to be the representative of Wundt in the United States.  However, this was not exactly an accurate portrayal.  In fact, Titchener did not accept Wundt’s philosophical outlook on psychological events.  Instead, Titchener promulgated the Lockean (a view of human behavior stressing the perspective that meaning relations bear the characteristics of singularity, linearity, unidirectionality, and noncontradiction, presuming that premises are not open to question or alternative, with a basis in the belief that all actions can be represented by their constituent parts)  aspects of Wundt’s research while forsaking Wundt’s Kantian (a view of human behavior stressing the perspective that meaning both bears the characteristics of oppositionality, duality, relationality, contradiction, and arbitrariness as well as characteristics of singularity, linearity, unidirectionality, and noncontradiciton, with a basis in the belief that, essentially, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) philosophical commitments.

Wundt, contrary to Titchener and Boring’s portrayal of him, was actually reluctant to see “natural” (e.g., linearly deterministic) causes in psychological events.  Certainly he did accept traditional science, which also forced him to accept, in principle, the fundamental cause of psychological events as a natural event.  However, he also believed that reducing the mind to the body would imply a quasi-material substance that acted like the mind but couldn’t be seen in a truly “mental” manner.  In fact, behaviorists rejected Wundt, in time, as “mentalistic” and he was an incredibly vocal critic of utilitarianism and biological materialism (the assumption that all that matters is biology). 

It was, however, the Lockean elements of Wundt’s laboratory endeavors, with their related empirical descriptions, statistical manipulations, and Darwinian evolutionary conceptualizations, that Titchener focused on – at the utter ignorance of Wundt’s more Kantian perspectives.  That is, it was the methodological side of Wundt that Titchener elevated to primacy (and, which was later codified as Wundt’s theoretical/philosophical perspective by Boring in his history of psychology. 

Titchener, then, though the “Father of American Psychology,” by some people’s estimation, along with Boring, can also be credited with contributing to a significant forsaking of psychology’s intellectual heritage.  He can also be seen as confounding our epistemological concerns (what is thought to be knowable) with our ontological concerns (what is thought to be real).  That is, Titchener’s presentation of Wundt’s perspective, codified by Boring, functionally eliminated from consideration the foundational theoretical concerns that Wundt had by focusing on what was conceived to be knowable and reifying this conception of knowledge as that which was real (e.g., in what came to be known as logical positivistic fashion, what was meaningful and real was that which could be observed).

Fuel for thought, I guess…head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Jan 08 – Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology

10 January 2008

On this day in 1962, a petition for the creation of the American Psychological Association’s Division 24 was submitted, with promotion of the creation of the division by Joseph Lyons and Joseph Shoben, Jr. Division 24, currently known as the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, was then called, “Philosophical Psychology.”

Joseph Lyons was a research psychologist, with expertise in clinical psychology and experimental social psychology. His interests included clinical psychology, humanistic education, language development, and phenomenology. Joe Shoben was also a research psychologist, the majority of whose writings focused on the development of critical thinking. In a 1948 Harvard Educational Review article, Shoben articulated a learning-theory interpretation of counseling and psychotherapy that was one of the foundations of contemporary cognitive-behavioral theory. In time, Joe became more humanistic in perspective, demonstrated both in his approach to counseling and in his professional writings.

Division 24 was officially established in 1963. It has gone through at least 3 names, “Philosophical Psychology,” “Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology,” and, now, “The Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology”. Even with this long history, some still ask, “what is theoretical and philosophical psychology and what is its purpose?” Fortunately, there are some great resources for addressing these questions and I will provide an very simplistic overview of two of them here.

First, Joseph R. Royce, in 1982, presented at a Division 24 symposium on the theme “Philosophic Issues and Division 24: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future” his perspective on “philosophical-psychologists.” In this presentation, Royce stated, “The philosopher-psychologist must delineate the complementarity of the two disciplines in solving problems that are important to psychology.” That is, the role of the philosophical psychologists is to use both philosophy and psychology, each informed by each, to address conceptual problems in the field of psychology. Furthermore, Royce expressed his perspective on the future of “theoretical-philosophical psychology” in 3 broad areas: 1. how psychology can profit from philosophical analysis; 2. how philosophic issues can profit by taking the scientific findings of psychology into account; and 3. the challenges of the future.

Royce’s perspective, in 1982, on how psychology can profit from philophic analysis: Royce presented the perspective that psychology could profit from philosophic analysis by developing a constructive dialectic, where “dialectic” involves maintaining tensions between viable conceptual alternatives and “constructive” involves the theoretical conceptualizations of investigators. In terms of active study in psychology, this constructive dialect implies an integrative dialectic, which itself involves sort out the complementary roles of epistemologies such as empiricism, rationalism, and what Royce referred to as metaphorism. In terms of psychological theory, the constructive dialectic implies an interpretive dialectic, which itself involves sorting out the complementary roles of the many theories that deal with various aspects of mind and behavior. Royce essentially believed that psychology would benefit from philosophic analysis (and synthesis) through conceptual clarification and theoretical development. In fact, he felt that a massive onslaught of theoretical-philosophical analysis was necessary due to the conceptual chaos in the field of psychology and its implicit cry for the development of a philosophy that will “pay off” – develop into a viable theory and have practical applications. Royce believed that elaboration of such a philosophy would require: 1. The need for differential strategies in theory construction; and 2. The need for sophisticated theoretical criticism.

Royce’s perspective on how philosophic issues can profit by taking the scientific findings of psychology into account: Royce believed that the philosophy in psychology had become increasingly naturalized, by which he meant scientific rather than rational or philosophical (he betrayed an unrecognized assumption that science was not itself a philosophical position). He indicates in this presentation that he believes it is important to take a historical perspective when confronted with philosophic problems such as the mind-body problem, free will versus determinism, and the nature of humankind. From his historical analysis, Royce suggests that scientific findings are relevant to philosophic issues and that, in some cases, the findings help to resolve the problem. In fact, he argued that empirical research had demonstrated that values are relative, that the psychology of knowing is emerging as a new interdisciplinary specialty, that the free will/determinism issues should be recast as a degrees of determinism issue, and that the nature of humankind is addressable through an interdisciplinary compendium of perspectives.

Royce’s perspective on the challenges of the future: Royce argued that we are a theoretically immature science, where future scientific advancement require our addressing and resolving conceptual problems. Unfortunately, he saw a limited number of individuals invested in doing this. He saw philosophical psychologists as having an opportunity to contribute directly to this resolution. Psychology, in Royce’s estimation, suffered from ignoring or dismissing the philosophical questions as irrelevant. He concluded by stating that a continual interplay between observation and theory were necessary, leading to a rational science capable of bringing together a wide range of observations.

Though I believe many modern day theoretical and philosophical psychologists would quibble with Royce’s beliefs about the answers to the question he raised in this presentation being addressed by empirical investigation (Rychlak might agree but he would disagree, I think, about how empirical investigation addressed the questions), they would likely agree that theoretical and philosophical psychologists serve an important function in addressing the questions so raised. Furthermore, they would probably agree, at least in part, with his perspectives on developing the subdiscipline: 1. Establishing divisional or APA-wide predoctoral workshops; 2. Changing the annual meeting format to provide situations that are more conducive to penetrating confrontations with psychology’s conceptual problems…involving – a) participation of psychology’s leading theoreticians, a selected group of professional philosophers acquainted with the theoretical-empirical findings of psychology, and individuals who have the ability to combine relatively advanced degrees of theoretical-empirical expertise about psychology with conceptual-analytic skills of the philosopher; b) seminars-in-the-round where the audience takes the place of the four walls; c) a joint divisional Distinguished Theory Contribution Award; and d) a divisional Distinguished Philosophical Psychology Contribution Award.

Brent Slife and Richard Williams presented, in 1997, an updated perspective on the need for officially recognizing a theoretical psychology. By the point that these two authors published their article in the American Psychologist, Division 24 was now the “Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology”. It had been recognized as a division and been publishing a bi-annual journal entitled, The Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology for some time. Several universities were developing or had developed programs for the study of theoretical and philosophical psychology. Furthermore, some of Royce’s suggestions on developing the subdiscipline had begun (especially the award for contribution). Still, theoretical psychology had not been recognized as a formal subdiscipline, like social psychology, clinical psychology, neuropsychology, etc.

In passing in this article (in about two sentences), Slife and Williams noted this as an oddity, especially given the fact that most other developed sciences, in fact, have such subdisciplines officially recognized. Like theoreticians roles in these other disciplines (i.e., physics, chemistry, biology, economics, etc.), Slife and Williams saw the role of theoretical psychologists as consultants with comprehensive knowledge of domains involving philosophy, psychology, and other scientific enterprises.  As consultants, much like research methodologists and statisticians currently employed in universities, theoretical psychologists would be specially trained in addressing conceptual difficulties in research projects by analyzing the assumptions and implications of philosophies and theories underlying not only the perspectives the investigators are taking on the subject matter but also on the methodologies that are being used by the investigators. Some would (like myself) be trained in another subdiscipline as well as be trained in theoretical and philosophical psychology, allowing them to apply their theoretical and philosophical psychology to the conceptual concerns arising in their field of specialty.

To summarize Slife and Williams’ perspective, the purposes of theoretical and philosophical psychologists (or, alternatively, applied philosophers of psychology) are manifold: 1. articulate, help evaluate, and generally make less “muddled” the theories and philosophies that are important to psychology; 2. articulate, help evaluate, and clarify the theories and philosophies that ground the methods used in investigation; and 3. address issues related to the increasing fragmentation of psychology. Quoting from Slife’s contribution to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, theoretical and philosophical psychologists, then, “not only consider all the relevant empirical information in generating new theories and hypotheses; they also critically evaluate the assumptions of the theories and methods that produced this information,” which “includes an articulation of the implications of these assumptions as they affect important psychological issues.” At the disciplinary level, they would facilitate discussion about foundational questions and issues of psychology and at the college or department level, they function like methodologists and statisticians – as consultants to other scholars in research and practice.

It certainly seems like a number of questions are unanswered in the field of psychology, both conceptually and empirically. Specifically trained theoretical and philosophical psychologists may help to clarify the issues underlying these questions, whether or not they offer readily acceptable answers to them. Perhaps, in the end, the answers to the questions are not important – perhaps multiple, diverse alternative conceptualizations allow for continued discussion, deliberation, and clarification and, thus, prevent stagnation in the discipline. Still, with individuals specially trained to address, evaluate, and clarify the theories and philosophies important to the discipline, I concur with Royce, Slife, Williams, and many others who believe that it may help the advancement of the science immensely by adding conceptual coherence to the already prolific empirically developed science of psychology.

Fuel for thought, I guess…head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 10, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

4 Jan 08 – Theories of Personality

4 January 2008

On this day in 1957, Calvin Hall and Gardner Lindzey’s book entitled Theories of Personality was published.  This textbook provided a review of historical and contemporary theories on personality and has since became a standard textbook for courses in personality.  The sleeve description to the fourth edition of this textbook, published in 1997, proclaims that it is, “The best book on theories ever published.”  Though certainly a good resource, I think this proclamation regarding Theories of Personality is a bit overstated.

In truth, I do have a preference for personality textbooks.  But, even though I think that my preference is the best book on theories of personality ever published, it is doubtful that it is the best book on “theories” ever published.  There is such a wide variety of books on theories that have been published that it would be difficult to proclaim one on theories of personality as the best in general…well, I guess it wouldn’t be so difficult to “proclaim” anything – it’s just a matter of uttering a few words – but certainly it would be difficult to justify this proclamation.  Then again, maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult to justify the proclamation, either, as it would merely be an opinion and, as far as opinions go, all are equal – this is so simply because they are philosophical positions that cannot truly be tested (except by virtue of other theories, which are already at odds with it, and do not provide a proper arbiter for truth testing).

Given that, I will proclaim (ha!) that Rychlak’s Personality and Psychotherapy is the best text on theories of personality ever published (which, I guess would mean that, in my estimation, it trumps Calvin Hall and Gardner Lindzey’s book as the best book on theory ever published).  Rychlak does probably the most thorough, if sometimes pedantic and a bit obtuse, job of analyzing the various grand theories of psychology.  His comprehensive analysis involves a meta-analytic conceptual schema that provides coherence to his discussion and adequately situates the grand theories in historical and philosophical terms.  His analysis, for example, of Freud’s theory provides a complete understanding of both Freud’s theory and the reasons for its conceptual difficulties and subsequent and contemporary theorist’s difficulties with the theory. 

Still, it would be difficult for me to say that Rychlak’s text is the best book on theory ever published.  Just in the area of psychology alone, there are books by Freud, whose Interpretation of Dreams has left an enduring legacy on the common lore regarding psychology, Jung, whose Man and His Symbols has, without many people’s knowledge and awareness, infiltrated popular culture through its implicit depiction in the Star Wars movie series, Viktor Frankl, whose Man’s Search for Meaning, outlines a beautifully aesthetic analysis of a theory of suffering and meaning development, Skinner’s Walden Two, which does an adequate job of demonstrating his theory of external manipulation to create human action (even if I disagree entirely with it), and many many more, that have so much impact and theoretical depth that it would be difficult to say that a book that merely summarizes many of such theories is the best text ever published on theories.  

Rychlak’s own book entitled, The Psychology of Rigorous Humanism, is probably, in my estimation, the best contemporary published psychological theory text.  It not only analyzes previous theories and philosophies for coherence and adequacy, but also deconstructs their intrinsic flaws and, once accomplished, constructs a logical synthesis of philosophical and theoretical antecedents into a truly pulchritudinous theory that he calls “logical learning theory.” 

That being said, there are also numerous other books that provide strong contention with Rychlak’s book, in my mind, for the exalted spot as the best contemporary book on psychological theory.  For example, Rychlak’s student, Brent D. Slife, has written a wonderfully incisive text entitled Time and Psychological Explanation discussing the concepts of linear and non-linear time and how their assumptions and implications affect the field of psychology.  Another set of colleagues of Slife’s, Frank Richardson, Blaine Fowers, and Charles Guignon, wrote a book entitled Reinvisioning Psychology that provides a wonderful reflection on the moral implications of theory and practice and psychology, as well as a wonderfully (if not fully developed) theoretical alternative to the “received view”.  Richard Bednar and Scott Peterson, in their book entitled Self Esteem: Paradoxes and Innovation in Clinical Theory and Practice do a wonderful job of both developing and illustrating their conceptually simplistic but practically complex theory of psychotherapeutic change.  All of these texts are wonderful books on theories related to psychology…and there are many (many) more.   I list here only a few of the texts that have had a direct impact on me – Slife’s because he is my intellectual mentor, Rychlak’s because he is my mentor’s mentor, Richardson, Fowers, and Guignon’s because they are close colleagues of Slife’s, and Bednar’s because he, along with Slife, was one of my psychotherapy mentors (God rest his merry soul).  There are still many more books that could be listed here – in fields as diverse as quantum physics, chemistry, antrhopology, economics, mathematics, religion, sociology, art, music, etc. – that a statement regarding what “the best book on theory” is is virtually absurd.

Given the foregoing, then, it would certainly be true to contend that my presentation regarding the best text, even on personality theory, is biased…I would contend, however, that any statement such as that offered on the sleeve of Calvin Hall and Gardner Lindzey’s book Theories of Personality regarding “the best” in any field is likewise biased and, of little value in evaluating a book at all.  For me, such a statement would detract my attention from the book because it would leave a feeling of distaste in my mouth that such a statement was even necessary…let ME make that decision! 

Still, I would encourage you to evaluate Hall and Lindzey’s book, not because it is the “best book on theories ever published,” but because it, along with other books such as those listed above, can add to a compendium of available knowledge on theories of personality, providing the reader (e.g., you) with a plethora of working knowledge that has such a breadth that it is virtually impossible for one synthetic or analytical text to cover all of its intricacies.  As such, I would also encourage you to read Rychlak’s books (including others not listed here such as his books on Artificial Intelligence, Free Will, The Human Image in Postmodern America, and In Defense of Human Consciousness, Slife’s books (including others not listed here such as his books on Critical Issues in Psychotherapy,  Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Psychological Issues (now in its fifteenth edition), and Critical Thinking About Psychology), Richardson, Fowers, and Guignon’s books (including others not listed here such as Fowers’ book entitled Beyond The Myth of Marital Happiness), Bednar’s book, as well as books by Freud, Frankl, Adler, Jung, Fromm, Skinner, Kelly (George A. – Rychlak’s mentor), Sullivan, Beck, Ellis, Watson, Rogers, Yalom, Heidegger, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Gadamer, Nietzsche, Descartes, Kant, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Einstein, Kuhn, Popper, Hume, Wittgenstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Pauli, Levinas, Buber, etc.  In other words, I would recommend you survey all, or as many as you can, thinkers in various areas so as to develop a greater depth of understanding about theoretical groundings and philosophical underpinnings that are implicitly involved in modern thought.  Together, all of these would be the “best” available information on theory – and no single book, from my perspective, could ever be considered the “best” book on theory because there is such diversity and breadth of thought available that no single book could adequately synthesize or analyze them all.

Fuel for thought, I guess…head to my website for more fuel for thought regarding psychology.

January 4, 2008 Posted by | In Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments