[Toward a Psychology of Persons]

Article excerpt

Canadian psychology is reputed among its global peers to have a particular strength in its focus on history and theory. One of the gems of the grand theoretical movement in contemporary psychology is the group known as the Western Canadian Theoretical Psychologists, founded in 1989 and whose members were among those who helped establish the International Society for Theoretical Psychology, its journal Theory and Psychology, the series entitled Annals of Theoretical Psychology, CPA's Section on History and Philosophy of Psychology, the graduate program in theoretical psychology at the University of Calgary and, earlier, the historically important Centre for Advanced Study in Theoretical Psychology at the University of Alberta. Their first book, Positivism in Psychology, edited by Charles Tolman, was published in 1992. This review is of the group's second volume, a result of their more recent discussions and debates concerning depersonalization in psychology.

Psychology has always had, according to Charles Taylor (1973), two epistemologies: the classical scientific and the hermeneutical. He wrote that univocal operations, brute data, and physicalism epitomize the first, while agency and interpretation characterize the latter. Even though Taylor hoped for a "peaceful coexistence" between these two worlds of psychology, he remarked that the classical scientific approach to humans has too often produced explanations that are "depressingly sterile" (p. 72).

The hermeneutical side of psychology has appeared under many guises over the last century, including psychoanalysis (more Jungian than Freudian), Murray's personology, and the humanistic movement. All were either ignored or fiercely attacked by mainstream North American psychology. The latter half of the 20th century has seen something of a change in philosophy, however, as Cartesian post-enlightenment thinking has come under its most serious critical scrutiny in the last 300 years. This newer philosophy, often referred to as postmodern, is having what will likely be long-irreversible effects on many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Mainstream psychology is beginning to catch up, in spite of its deep entrenchment in a positivist persona. Hermeneutical epistemology is being summoned to centre stage, but this time the theatre is a much larger one.

The problematic absence of the person in psychology, the primary theme in Toward a Psychology of Persons, is one such critical commentary within the new philosophy. The dialogue concerning the person in this book is different from the personology of the 1930s and '40s or the third-force psychology of the '60s, in that the discourse borrows heavily from this new philosophy and there is today a "new spirit or rapprochement between philosophy and psychology" (O'Donohue & Kitchener, 1996, p.xix). Indeed, such a meeting ground has advanced to the point where some, like Slife and Williams (1997), believe that a subdiscipline of theoretical psychology should be formally recognized. The predicament of depersonalization in psychology thus finds new voices in this book and a much wider audience than it has had in the recent history of the discipline.

Society, agency, and hermeneutics are thematic of the book's first section. The social and historical embeddedness of each of us, becoming familiar to psychology through such concepts as collectivism and interdependence and newer fields such as cultural psychology, is addressed in many chapters. Interdependence may be said to be one prerequisite for the meaning of "person." The idea is well developed in Tolman's chapter on the social ontology of self, captured in his taking Descartes' famous phrase to its next and highly meaningful step: sumus ergo sum, or "we are, therefore I am." Moving beyond the Cartesian inner mind versus outer behaviour, Tolman argues that there are no private spaces but only public ones in the formation of the person. The person is not to be equated with personality, as Anand Paranjpe argues that the latter comprises partitioned, observable individual differences. …