A Study of Error: A Summary and Evaluation of Methods Used in Six Years of Study of the Scholastic Aptitude Test of the College Entrance Examination Board

By Carl C. Brigham | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
Meaning

The topic of meaning has been made unnecessarily obscure in psychology and logic because it has been approached from two completely distinct points of view, both of which are right. But, since the adherents of each viewpoint fail to recognize the legitimacy of the other viewpoint, the literature has become largely controversial in character, and the task of presenting a simplified historical abstract is impossible. It is the purpose of this chapter to present the two viewpoints through the writings of Titchener and Dewey. The one point of view is psychological, the other is societal. The development of the diverse points of view demonstrates the existing dichotomy between the natural sciences and the social sciences.

Men of science rarely retire into a remotely contemplative position from which they may view their field of endeavor and formulate a definition of their science. Fortunately for experimental psychology, its most erudite expositor, Professor E. B. Titchener1, set himself this task, the various portions of which were assembled and posthumously published in 1929. Although this work shows no remission of Titchener's consistently polemic attitude, it is a fundamental treatise on science and scientific method, and its conclusions are of the greatest importance.

The sciences are to be defined by point of view or by special subject-matter or both, and Titchener's problem was that of writing a differential formula for psychology in relation to the typical sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology. The definitions evolved follow:

"Physics (including chemistry and physical chemistry) is the science of existential experience regarded as functionally or logically interdependent." (p. 260)1

"Biology is the science of existential experience regarded as logically or functionally dependent upon a physical enviroment." (p. 261)1

"Psychology is the science of existential experience regarded as logically or functionally dependent upon a nervous system or its biological equivalent." (p. 264)1

Having thus differentiated the sciences by point of view, Titchener proceeds to criticize the views of those psychologists who define their science by reference to a peculiarly psychological subject-matter, and discusses in detail the functional and intentional systems. The bare summary is quoted:

"The claim has been made that 'conscious' phenomena constitute a special class of objects of experience, immediately and radically distinct from phenomena that are not-conscious, and that the science of psychology has to do with the objects of this given class. The

____________________
1
From E. B. Titchener SYSTEMATIC PSYCHOLOGY: PROLEGOMENA. By permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers.

-1-

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