Assumptions of Social Psychology: A Reexamination

Assumptions of Social Psychology: A Reexamination

Assumptions of Social Psychology: A Reexamination

Assumptions of Social Psychology: A Reexamination


This book is a thorough revision of the successful Assumptions of Social Psychology, first published in 1969. Reexamining the implicit and explicit assumptions concerning inquiry as to the nature of the human organism, it takes as its major thesis the idea that the epistemologies utilized by social psychologists -- encompassing behavioral, intentional, and historical analyses -- are complementary rather than contradictory. After examining key figures in the history of Western epistemology, such as Descartes, Vico, Hume, and Kant, contemporary issues such as the nature of causation, intentions, behavior, rhetoric, and hermeneutics are discussed. A major thesis is that the epistemologies utilized by social scientists encompassing behavioral, cognitive, and historical analyses are complimentary rather than contradictory. In order to demonstrate this, the historical underpinnings of social psychological epistemologies and an argument for the complimentarity of major social psychological theoretical approaches are developed. Most importantly, some of the possibilities for building explanation of social phenomena, which are alternatives to existing forms of explanation, are discussed.


Biologists, physicists, and chemists have clearly demonstrated their ability to accumulate an ever-increasing store of information that convinces all that their respective fields progress in an orderly fashion. Even accepting that theoretical and methodological paradigmatic shifts have occurred, progress in the natural sciences is palpable although the social consequences of such progress are often problematic. Such is not the case with social psychology.

Why has social psychology not shown the same empirical and theoretical advancement as the natural sciences over the past 40 years? I believe that this is a reasonable question to ask today, and one that we, in part, have the answer to.

It has been 20 years since Assumptions of Social Psychology was published and social psychology has changed mightily in that time in well-documented fashion. The questions about the empirical and epistemological quality of the field raised in that book were akin to the more boldly phrased questions above. During the 20 years that have passed, social psychologists have gone through, and partially solved, their "crisis," and have become increasingly more sophisticated about the possibilities and limitations of their endeavors. This version of Assumptions is my own account of what has happened to the epistemology of social psychology during the past 20 years, and where I believe we find ourselves today.

Imbedded in the comparison of the success of social psychology with the success of the natural sciences in both predicting phenomena and ordering it into theoretically coherent structures, is the question of, if or how social psychology can be an experimental science. This is an issue that has been addressed many times during the past 20 years, and . . .

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