Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology

By Jon E. Roeckelein | Go to book overview

I

IDENTICAL ELEMENTS THEORY. See TRANSFER OF TRAINING, THORNDIKE’S THEORY OF.

IDENTITY HYPOTHESIS/THEORY. See MIND–BODY THEORIES.

IDIOGRAPHIC/NOMOTHETIC LAWS. The term idiographic (from the Greek word meaning ‘‘separate’’ or ‘‘distinct’’; sometimes spelled ideographic; Denzin, 1994) relates to the unique/individualistic approach in science and is usually contrasted with the term nomothetic (from the Greek word meaning ‘‘general,’’ ‘‘universal,’’ or ‘‘abstract’’; Reber, 1995), which refers to general scientific laws of nature. In simple terms, idiographic refers to the specific case, and nomothetic refers to the general perspective. In the psychological literature, the synonymous terms idiographic laws, idiographic theory, ideographic approach, ideographic psychology, and idiographic science are used, as well as the equivalent terms nomothetic laws, nomothetic theory, nomothetic approach, nomothetic psychology, and nomothetic science. In terms of research strategy, psychologists may choose to take an idiographic or a nomothetic approach concerning the descriptions, explanations, and interpretations of their subject matter. The idiographic-nomothetic distinction is due originally to Windelband (1921). The German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915) distinguished studying phenomena from a nomothetic versus an idiographic standpoint where the former concentrates on general laws or theories such as demonstrated by the empirical natural sciences, and the latter approach stresses the uniqueness and particularities of the individual case. This distinction has been used recently (Meissner, 1971) to describe Freud’s method of psychoanalysis as a scientific hybrid tied into the two combined poles of nomothetic, which uses rules, laws, mathematics, physics, and energy, and idiographic, which represents ideas by various unique symbols and metaphors for understanding psychological phenomena. An examination of the history of the terms idiographic and nomothetic

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