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4 Feb 08 – American Psychological Society and Fragmentation in Psychology.

4 February 2008

On this day in 1987, the American Psychological Association (APA) Board of Directors rejected a proposal to reorganize the APA into 2 to 5 autonomous assemblies.  As a result of the failed proposal, the Assembly for Scientific and Applied Psychology formed.  This group formed the basis of the American Psychological Society, which later became the Association for Psychological Science. 

This proposal was the brain trust of a group of “scientific psychologists,” who wanted to maintain the scientific basis of psychology.  The result was, at the time, conceived as the ultimate indication of the fragmentation of American psychology, with practitioners staying the course with the APA and science-minded psychologists breaking ranks and joining the American Psychological Society.

Still, the idea of fragmentation would require that there was unity to begin with.  That is, the word “fragmentation” implies unity as without unity there is nothing from which to break off or detach from.  In other words, fragmentation implies that there was a paradigm in psychology. 

Unfortunately, there is no clear indication that there was at in 1987, is now, or ever was a paradigm in psychology.  Certainly, we have heard that there has been a “cognitive revolution” in psychology that involved an overthrow of the old behaviorism regime.  Furthermore, there is clear evidence that neuroscientific explanations of psychology are gaining favor.  Hence, we would assume that before cognitivism, behaviorism was the paradigm.  Before behaviorism, many believe that psychoanalysis held sway.  Now, many believe that there is a paradigm shift toward biological explanations.  While I tend to agree that there is an increasing “biologization” of psychology, at no time has there been a single accepted paradigm in psychology.  Instead, we have had a number of different perspectives on how to understand psychological phenomena. 

There have also been great arguments regarding other grounding frameworks or paradigms that are philosophically based.  For example, Brent Slife conceives of the field of psychology being held to linear time conceptualization, naturalistic conceptualizations, and abstractionistic conceptualizations.  While certainly a great majority of the field accepts, probably implicitly, such philosophical conceptualizations, as Thomas Leahy pointed out, these are probably prepardigmatic.  Slife, for example, is quite well aware of evidence that does not support such linear time, naturalistic, and abstractionistic conceptualizations.  These might be conceived of as “anomalies” to the paradigm.  However, these anomalies are truly genuine theoretical concerns that amount to foundational philosophical questions that require acceptable answers in order for there to even be a paradigm.  Hence, they cannot be anomalous because there is no paradigm to be anomalous to. 

Instead, there needs to be a paradigm – given the both linear time and non-linear time, naturalistic and non-naturalistic, and abstractionistic and relational evidence that exists – that is holistic.  Only with a holistic paradigm can we adequately comprehend and synthesize the knowledge that we have.  Only with such a paradigm can both the “science-minded” and “application-minded” individuals work together to advance the science and practice of psychology and prevent the science-practice schism that so many see as ultimately inevitable.

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

February 3, 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