Reprinted from Psychological Review, 53, No. 2, March 1946, 132-135
In a recent number of this Journal Dr. E. B. Skaggs expresses his conviction that 'idiographic' knowledge does not deserve to be called 'scientific' (5). It would not be profitable to dispute this statement of semantic taste. for science--a 'purr word,' highly charged with positive affect--is at the present time peculiarly resistant to a dispassionate search for its most appropriate referent. And yet I cannot let Dr. Skaggs' confession of taste pass unnoticed because in stating his preferences he has unintentionally misrepresented some of my own views regarding the methods and theories suited to the study of personality.
He writes, "Now any system of personalistic psychology, such as that presented by Allport, where the effects of learning are stressed so heavily and where individual uniqueness constitutes the data of study, cannot meet the . . . criteria of scientific data or content" (5, p. 237). The criteria for scientific subject-matter, he proposes, are (a) durability in the phenomenon that is the object of the scientists' interest, and (b) the universality of this phenomenon.
My first criticism arises from his inaccurate understanding of personalistic psychology. It so happens that there is only one self-styled system of personalistic psychology, namely that set forth by William Stern. A reading of his General Psychology from a Personalistic Standpoint (6) shows that Stern's dimensions (or variables) almost without exception fulfill the criteria of durability and universality. In fact, Stern's writing is as nomothetic as one's heart could possibly desire. Hence, to identify personalistic psychology and the idiographic outlook is Dr. Skaggs' first serious error.
If he wishes to label my own views 'personalistic' I cannot prevent him, but because of the many differences between Stern's 'system' and my own, I myself would hesitate to accept the label. Stern has prior rights to it. In Chapter 20 of the book that Dr. Skaggs criticizes I have explained in some detail the differences between personalistic psychology and the psychology of personality as I see it (1). Elsewhere I have summarized Stern's views at still greater length and again recorded my criticisms of them (2). Dr. Skaggs seems far more certain than I that I am a 'personalistic' psychologist.
In attacking the idiographic point of view (which, as I say, is not the same as the personalistic point of view), Dr. Skaggs writes, "Literally there would be as many separate psychologies as there are individuals, if we carried Allport's doctrine to the extreme!" (5, p. 237). Such a statement is like saying, "Penicillin is good for everything, including near-sightedness and ingrowing toenails, if we carry the penicillin-enthusiast's view to the extreme." Who wants to carry it to the extreme? Not I. In discussing the proposed distinction made by Windelband and others between the nomothetic and idiographic approaches to mental life, I state explicitly, "The dichotomy, however, is too sharp; it requires a psychology divided against itself. As in the case of the two psychologies (the analytical and the descriptive) advocated by Dilthey and Spranger, the division is too drastic. It is more helpful to regard the two methods as overlapping
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Publication information: Book title: The Nature of Personality:Selected Papers. Contributors: Gordon W. Allport - Author. Publisher: Addison-Wesley. Place of publication: Cambridge, MA. Publication year: 1950. Page number: 183.
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