Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


Philosophy of "as if"
George Kelly (1964/1969) advocated adopting an "as if" position towards knowledge. That is, he encouraged people to try out different constructions of events in order to see what might happen when they act "as if" these constructions are so. This "as if" position nicely complements Kelly’s seminal notion of constructive alternativism, which holds that there are an infinite number of ways to construe the world. In order to gain a fresh and potentially transforming perspective, all people need to do is loosen their constructions of something, entertain novel possibilities for construing it another way, and then test out these new possibilities by acting "as if" these new constructions are true. If the constructions adopted fail to prove useful (or even if they do and one wishes to simply experiment with even more alternatives just to see what might result), one can simply formulate further alternative constructions of the same events and act "as if" these apply instead. By encouraging this kind of playful exploration, behavior becomes an experiment that people use in testing their personally constructed hypotheses.   

Kelly's work has commonalities with the "as if" philosophy of the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger (Mahoney, 1988; Warren, 1998) - especially Kelly's ideas about approaching language using an invitational mood. Interestingly, Vaihinger's (1924) work influenced the individual psychology of Alfred Adler, which
it has recently been argued shares commonalities with constructivism (Watts & Phillips, in press).

Like Kelly, Vaihinger did not believe that human knowledge necessarily reflected objective reality. Vaihinger stated:  "…the object of the world of ideas as a whole is not the portrayal of reality - this would be an utterly impossible task - but rather to provide us with an instrument for finding our way about more easily in the world." (p. 15)

Vaihinger defined thought as "a purposive organic function" that aids in adapting to different situations and the psyche as "an organic formative force" which can change what is presently known in order to assimilate new information. He observed, "the mind is not merely appropriative, it is also assimilative and constructive" (p. 2). This clearly influenced personal construct theory, in which the construct system is the ongoing creation of an active person who, ideally, uses the system to anticipate events and, in light of those events, continually revises the system to ensure its utility in everyday life.

Kelly, himself, credited Vaihinger with influencing his theory, especially the idea that our constructions are better viewed as useful hypotheses rather than representations of objective reality. His own words encapsulate the influence Vaihinger’s 'as if' philosophy had in the development of personal construct psychology.

Kelly wrote: "...Vaihinger began to develop a system of philosophy he called the "philosophy of 'as if' ". In it he offered a system of thought in which God and reality might best be represented as paradigms. This was not to say that either God or reality was any less certain than anything else in the realm of man’s awareness, but only that all matters confronting man might best be regarded in hypothetical ways." (p. 149)

In other words, we should feel free to act "as if" our constructions are true, all the while realizing that they are merely tentative hypotheses that can be revised or discarded at any time. Thus, Vaihinger’s philosophy of 'as if' can be viewed as one of the central premises upon which personal construct psychology is based.

The philosophy of "as if" is especially pertinent for constructivist psychotherapy. Rather than seeing people’s personalities as hard-wired in some kind of essential way, personal construct therapists employing fixed-role therapy encourage an "as if" approach. For example, a client who identifies as "shy" might be asked to act out the role of a "gregarious" person for a few weeks; that is, the client lives "as if" he or she was more outgoing in order to see what ensues. By acting "as if" he or she is more outgoing, the client experiments with new ways of behaving and anticipating life, which often leads to positive therapeutic change. While the logic of 'as if' has been mostly applied in the realm of psychotherapy, it can easily be generalized to just about any area of human inquiry, making it a key concept in personal construct psychology specifically and constructivism more generally.

  • Kelly, G. A. (1969). The language of hypothesis: Man’s psychological instrument. In B. Maher (Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of George Kelly (pp. 147-162). New York: John Wiley. (Original work published 1964)
  • Mahoney, M.J. (1988). Constructive metatheory: Basic features and historical foundations. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, (1), 1-35.
  • Vaihinger, H. (1952). The philosophy of "as if" (C. K. Ogden, Trans.). London: Routledge. (Original English work published 1924)
  • Warren, B. (1998). Philosophical dimensions of personal construct psychology. London: Routledge.
  • Watts, R. E., & Phillips, K. A. (in press). Adlerian psychology and psychotherapy: A relational constructivist approach. In J. D. Raskin & S. K. Bridges (Eds.), Studies in meaning 2: Bridging the personal and social in constructivist psychology. New York: Pace University Press.

Jonathan D. Raskin & Laurie Ann Morano

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004