Measurement in Psychology: Critical History of a Methodological Concept

Measurement in Psychology: Critical History of a Methodological Concept

Measurement in Psychology: Critical History of a Methodological Concept

Measurement in Psychology: Critical History of a Methodological Concept

Synopsis

This book traces how such a seemingly immutable idea as measurement proved so debatable when it collided with the subject matter of psychology. This book addresses philosophical and social influences (such as scientism, practicalism, and Pythagoreanism) reshaping the concept of measurement and identifies a fundamental problem at the core of this reshaping: the issue of whether psychological attributes really are quantitative. The author argues that the idea of measurement now endorsed within psychology actually subverts attempts to establish a genuinely quantitative science, and he urges a new direction. This volume relates views on measurement by thinkers such as H¿lder, Russell, Campbell, and Nagel to earlier views, like those of Euclid and Oresme. Within the history of psychology, it considers contributions by Fechner, Cattell, Thorndike, Stevens and Suppes, among others. It also contains a nontechnical exposition of conjoint measurement theory and recent foundational work by leading measurement theorist R. Duncan Luce. This thought-provoking book will be particularly valued by researchers in the fields of psychological history and philosophy of science.

Excerpt

This is a book about an error, an error in scientific method fundamental to quantitative psychology. This error became locked into established ways of doingthings in that science, that is, it became systemic. Then it was compounded by a higher order error, the effect of which was to disguise the first. Because science is a cognitive enterprise, because scientific methods are fallible methods, and because all scientists are fallible cognisers, the making of errors is par for the course in science and so any particular instance of error is usually only of passing interest. in so far as scientists invite criticism and put their ideas to the test, there is some chance that errors will eventually be corrected. On the other hand, errors that become systemic are of more than passing interest because they show that science's mechanisms for correcting error are themselves fallible and able to break down. Then it is of interest to inquire into the conditions of such errors because they may teach us something about the working s of science. This book is written as a contribution to that endeavour.

In the case studied here, the first of the two errors mentioned was of a familiar enough kind. It was the error of presuming an answer to a scientific question, rather than investigating it empirically. Quantitative psychologists presumed that the psychological attributes which they aspired to measure were quantitative. There is no question that presuming instead of testing was an error in scientific method. Quantitative attributes are attributes having a quite specific kind of structure. the issue of whether psychological attributes have that sort of structure is an empirical issue because there is no necessity that such attributes should be so constituted. Despite this, mainstream quantitative psychologists (that is, the dominant tradition of those attempting either to measure psychological attributes or to theorise about them quantitatively) not . . .

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