Unity: Toward a Useful Mass Movement

Mass Movement

[Photo by Hugo]

As promised the unity debate continues (start here) with a look at the whole second issue in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. Rather than summarising the articles – you can read the abstracts yourself – I’ve given each one a (very) short and personal review which will hopefully point the generalist in the right direction for further reading.

As Henriques (2005) points out in his introduction to the second special issue, theoretical unification of psychology is a highly contentious issue. Nevertheless, support arrives, firstly for the use of Behavioural Investment Theory from both Rand & Iliardi (2005) and Geary (2005). And, secondly, for the justification hypothesis from Shaffer (2005), Quackenbush (2005) and Shealy (2005).

Rand & Illiardi (2005) Toward a consilient science of psychology (Abstract)

An excellent, clear exposition of the tensions within psychology and how Henriques’ metatheoretical ideas can be evaluated. Sees cognitive neuroscience as a “…consilient bridge between psychology and the natural sciences”. Highly recommended for those looking for a birds-eye view.

Geary (2005) The motivation to control and the origin of mind: Exploring the life-mind joint point in the Tree of Knowledge System (Abstract)

Geary finds striking similarities between his ‘motivation-to-control’ model and Henriques’ . Detailed support for the Behavioural Investment Theory. Technical.

Schaffer (2005) From mirror self-recognition to the looking-glass self: Exploring the Justification Hypothesis (Abstract)

Reviews how the ToK helps to link sociological findings to psychology. Examines the work of George Herbert Mead and Charles Horton Cooley in this context. Focuses on the ‘looking-glass self‘. Open and informative reflection. Recommended.

Quackenbush (2005) Remythologizing culture: Narrativity, justification, and the politics of personalization (Abstract)

Addresses a problem that struck me as insurmountable in an earlier post on unity, namely, how will social constructionists ever accept a unifying theory of psychology? Alternately expressed, how can humanistic and scientific traditions be brought together? Starts with a fabulous quote from Martin Luther King Jr (1968) which I can’t resist reproducing:

“…you who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word ‘maladjusted’ [...] there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted.”

The article, however, turns out to be quote-heavy which reduced the readability for me. Or, perhaps, it was more because it was addressing issues that are not of primary importance to me.

Shealy (2005) Justifying the Justification Hypothesis: Scientific-humanism, Equilintegration (EI) Theory, and the Beliefs, Events, and Values Inventory (BEVI) (Abstract)

The magic word for this article is ‘operationalise’, this is the spiritual twin of the Geary (2005) article. A closer look, then, here at how the ‘justification hypothesis’ can be operationalised using Shealy’s Equilintegration (EI) Theory, and the Beliefs, Events, and Values Inventory (BEVI). Practical.

Slife (2005) Testing the limits of Henriques’ proposal: Wittgensteinian lessons and hermeneutic dialogue (Abstract)

Henriques’ unification attempt is compared to that carried out by personality researchers who aim for subsuming theories. Unfortunately, Slife (2005) argues, it is impossible to subsume everyone’s theories – this leads to those on the outside being marginalised. Critical of whether qualitative researchers will accept an all-embracing theory.

Doesn’t appear to be a direct attack on the ToK system on its own terms but more of a rehearsal of social constructionist viewpoints and why they are incompatible. Clearly written.

Henriques (2005) Toward a useful mass movement (Abstract)

The final word goes to Gregg Henriques who replies to his critics, politely but firmly. Along the way he explains most of the ideas, arguments and criticisms for which I have been groping as I read the two special issues, and many more that passed me by. Sets out the course for the future. Clearly written, highly recommended.

Looking Back and Forward

To me, when looking at all the articles both for and against the ToK system covered here it all comes down to one thing. If you look for commonalities between different areas, sub-disciplines or methodologies within psychology then you’ll find them. If you look for differences, then, again, you’ll find them. That’s the nature of psychology. It’s way too early to tell whether Henriques’ theory will work or not.

It’s like trying to do a 1,000 piece jigsaw with only 35 of the pieces. You can rearrange the pieces all you like and argue about which configuration will build the complete picture. Ultimately, though, you’ve only got 35 pieces and you have to do the best you can with them until a few more come along. To entirely deny even the possibility of a big picture, effectively what some are suggesting, seems the height of arrogance.

The real question to ask is whether the task of unifying psychology is worthwhile. If it is, then it will be done. If not, it won’t. No amount of sniping from the trenches will change the fact that if researchers, theoreticians or practitioners can show practical benefit from a unified theory, many will jump on the bandwagon.

For my part, I hope a concerted effort is made towards unity, even if a macro view of psychology cannot ultimately ‘subsume’ all areas of psychology, that doesn’t mean the attempt shouldn’t be made. Who wouldn’t want a clearer picture?

There is now a Wikipedia article on the ToK by Henriques

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 14 September 2006

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License