J.R. Kantor's Interbehavioral Psychology and Humanism

By Delprato, Dennis J. | The Psychological Record, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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J.R. Kantor's Interbehavioral Psychology and Humanism


Delprato, Dennis J., The Psychological Record


Jacob Robert Kantor (1888-1984) appears to have made no public pronouncements advocating humanism. Given the tremendous diversity in humanistic thinking (e.g., Kurtz, 1973), it is not surprising that a rigorous thinker such as Kantor would hesitate to affiliate with a rather amorphous intellectual sphere. Nonetheless, one can make a case that Kantor philosophy and psychology had a definite humanistic core. This paper will examine Kantor's interbehavioral system in relation to humanism. Although writers in psychology often present humanism as the foundation of an alternative to other general approaches or systems (e.g., Cain, 2002; Goble, 1970; Schneider, Bugental, & Pierson, 2001), the humanistic intellectual and cultural movement is not necessarily consistently represented in some of what passes under the name of humanism (e.g., Smith, 2001). The purpose of the present article is to explore relations between interbehaviorism and historical humanism. It is not concerned with how various psychologists have rep resented humanism in any of the diverse versions of what they presented as humanistic psychology. The main conclusions are that Kantor's interbehaviorism is soundly based in historical humanism and that it has promise as one source of a scientific and humanistic psychology.

Kantor's Interbehavioral System

Born the son of an orthodox Jewish rabbi in Harrisburg, PA, Kantor, at an early age, somehow became sensitive to the disparity between religious presuppositions and what he observed in his lived world (J. R. Kantor, personal communication, April 22, 1983). He opted for the latter. This would take him to science, naturalism, and humanism.

We can best understand Kantor's humanism from the standpoint of his overall intellectual approach. Kantor sought to develop a coherent philosophy and psychology that centered on human psychological behavior as the foundation of all disciplines, whether conventionally part of the sciences or the humanities. After trying terms such as interactional and organismic, Kantor settled on interbehavioral to describe his thinking. Behavior recognizes the dynamic or active nature of all psychological events; inter emphasizes that the actor's actions are coordinated with specific objects such that action and object are always reciprocally related.

Kantor went far towards developing a comprehensive framework for psychology from the ground up. His two foundations were historicocritical analysis and scientific systematics. Kantor argued that critical analysis of the history of a science is one way of advancing knowledge, in particular by removing cultural obstacles.

Another tool of the scientific knowledge worker is scientific systematics by which we examine the logic (or systematics) of science and of particular sciences to clear away impediments to sound knowledge. To do this, Kantor argued that we need to identify the often unacknowledged fundamental assumptions that underlie our work. Interbehavioral systematics (Kantor, 1959) consists of identifying and organizing postulates so that they are open to critical examination and, when satisfactory, are available to serve as guides for future workers who can further test and modify them as necessary.

Interbehaviorism and Humanism Through the Centuries

Given that humanism is many-headed, it is useful to examine Kantor's thought at three critical junctures: original humanism of the 5th century B.C.E. in Greece, the rebirth of humanism with the Renaissance beginning in the 14th century, and its continuation by the efforts of 20th century humanists such as John Dewey, John Herman Randall, Corless Lamont, and Paul Kurtz.

Original Humanism

Humans as the measure of all. If we take the humanistic movement of the 5th century B.C.E. in Greece as a major marker in the history of humanism (e.g., Schiller, 1970), then Kantor's system is consistent with this first significant step toward humanism.

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