of "as if"
| George Kelly
(1964/1969) advocated adopting an "as if" position towards knowledge.
he encouraged people to try out different constructions of events in
see what might happen when they act "as if" these constructions are so.
"as if" position nicely complements Kelly’s seminal notion of constructive
alternativism, which holds that there are an infinite number of
construe the world. In order to gain a fresh and potentially
perspective, all people need to do is loosen
their constructions of something,
entertain novel possibilities for construing it another way, and then
these new possibilities by acting "as if" these new
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
might result), one can simply formulate further alternative
the same events and act "as if" these apply instead. By encouraging
of playful exploration, behavior becomes an experiment that people use
testing their personally constructed hypotheses.
Kelly's work has commonalities with the "as
if" philosophy of the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger
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).
Vaihinger did not believe that human knowledge necessarily reflected
reality. Vaihinger stated: "…the object
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
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
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,
of those events, continually revises the system to ensure its utility
credited Vaihinger with influencing his theory, especially the idea
constructions are better viewed as useful hypotheses rather than
representations of objective reality. His own words encapsulate the
Vaihinger’s 'as if' philosophy had in the development of personal
Kelly wrote: "...Vaihinger
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
any less certain than anything else in the realm of man’s awareness,
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
realizing that they are merely tentative hypotheses that can be revised
discarded at any time. Thus, Vaihinger’s philosophy of 'as if' can be
one of the central premises upon which personal construct psychology is
The philosophy of "as if" is especially
pertinent for constructivist psychotherapy.
seeing people’s personalities as hard-wired in some kind of essential
personal construct therapists employing fixed-role
therapy encourage an "as if"
approach. For example, a client who identifies as "shy" might be asked
out the role of a "gregarious" person for a few weeks; that is, the
lives "as if" he or she was more outgoing in order to see what ensues.
acting "as if" he or she is more outgoing, the client experiments with
of behaving and anticipating life, which often leads to positive
change. While the logic of 'as if' has been mostly applied in the realm
psychotherapy, it can easily be generalized to just about any area of
inquiry, making it a key concept in personal construct psychology
and constructivism more generally.
- Kelly, G. A.
(1969). The language of hypothesis: Man’s psychological instrument. In
(Ed.), Clinical psychology and personality: The selected papers of
Kelly (pp. 147-162). New York: John Wiley. (Original work
- 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
- Warren, B.
(1998). Philosophical dimensions of personal construct psychology.
- Watts, R. E., & Phillips, K.
A. (in press).
Adlerian psychology and psychotherapy: A relational constructivist
J. D. Raskin & S. K. Bridges (Eds.), Studies in meaning 2:
personal and social in constructivist psychology. New York: Pace University Press.
Jonathan D. Raskin & Laurie