|KELLY'S LEGACY IN PERSONALITY THEORY: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
|Trevor W. Butt
|Division of Psychology, University of
Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK
Personal Construct Theory (PCT) appears to be
frozen in history. Kelly’s work is usually mentioned respectfully in any review
of personality theories, yet virtually all contemporary work on PCT is ignored
in orthodox psychology. In this article I examine this paradox and suggest
reasons for it. I review the way in which PCT is treated in introductory texts,
pointing to two types of account. In one, PCT is seen as a pre-scientific
prototype of a cognitive approach to personality. In the other, it is seen as
working at the phenomenological level of analysis (a level seen as of limited
importance). I conclude by thinking about possible futures for PCT, and arguing
for its importance as an approach for understanding (not explaining) human
theory, personal construct psychology, pragmatism, phenomenology
article, I want to think about the position of Personal Construct Theory in
contemporary psychology. And we are immediately presented with a paradox. Kelly
appears to be both well enough known and respected. Yet PCT is pushed to the
margins of personality theory. Even grid technique, often seen as having a life
of its own is past its peak. Bell (2003) tells us that 10,000 grids per year have
been analysed as early as 1973, and the 1980s were its ‘high tide’. Walker and
Winter (2007) tell us that Kelly is mentioned in nearly 50% of the volumes of
the prestigious Annual Review of
Psychology between 1955 and 2005. PCT is covered, albeit briefly, in every
personality text that I have seen. And yet PCT is marginal in contemporary
personality theory. Those with a serious interest in PCT are a shrinking group,
tolerated but not listened to. As I collected my senior citizens’ bus pass
recently, I thought that it was rather similar. Provided you don’t make a fuss,
people will let you get on with your business. But you’re increasingly
invisible in a youth-driven world. Personal construct theory belongs to the
In order to make some sense of this, I
want to start by considering the official history of personality theories. So,
what sort of account do we get of PCT in introductory textbooks? And how is PCT
seen to fit into the narrative? We will see that the official history paints a
distorted and emasculated picture of the theory. I will argue that it is frozen
in the past because of the natural sciences framework in which contemporary
personality theory is set. One reason for hope is that there are developments
outside this orthodoxy that should welcome the pragmatic approach of PCT.
THE TEXTBOOK STORY
the best way to glimpse the official position of PCT is to look at how it is
portrayed in undergraduate textbooks. Just how is the range of personality
theories presented to undergraduate students and where does PCT fit? What sort
of story is told in introductory texts? Generally there are two:
Different theories are treated as though they belonged to a pre-paradigmatic
period in the development of psychological science (for example, Pervin &
John, 2001). Scientific endeavour begins with the competition between different
constructions of the world. A discipline can be called a science when some
consensus emerges about its world-view. When paradigms are described, it is in
terms of the development of physics. Newtonian physics gave way to Einstein’s
revolution as evidence emerged that a deeper truth had been unearthed by the
theory of relativity. Psychology is a young science and is perhaps emerging
with its first proper paradigm (like Newton’s theory): a cognitive paradigm. In
this story, PCT is described as one of those early constructions coming from
the clinical field. Its contribution was to advocate a cognitive approach
during the arid years of behaviourist hegemony. It is respected then as a
precursor of cognitivism.
Different personality theories are portrayed as occupying different levels of
analysis – trait, psychodynamic, phenomenological, behavioural, cognitive and
biological (for example, Mischel, Schoda & Smith, 2004). Again, physics is
sometimes referred to. Rather like complementarity in physics, different
theories are seen as co-existing, much as quantum theory exists side by side
with the theory of relativity. Each has its own realm: quantum physics in
sub-atomic particles and relativity at an astronomical level. Existing in a
complementary way, different personality approaches support each other in
providing a full description and explanation of behaviour. PCT fits into this
narrative like this: it belongs to an era of grand theories that has now past.
It works at the phenomenological level, telling us how people see themselves
and what they are up to. This might be interesting, but of course this doesn’t
explain their behaviour. Underlying motives, or biological factors or cognitive
structure might do this.
Story 2 sees psychological science as
slightly more mature than does Story 1. It allows for the co-existence of
alternative constructions. Even so, some have more power than others. The
phenomenological level is about description only – understanding and not
explanation. Mischel, Schoda and Smith (2004) write of “encouraging signs of
integration”, but this is what they see as at the explanatory level. Cognitive
psychology can assimilate unconscious activity and anchors itself in brain
science. Different parts of the brain and brain stem are activated in different
types of shyness, we are told. This points to a link between
cognitive-behavioural phenomena and brain activity. ‘We now know’ that there
are different types of shyness, based on different types of brain activity.
WELL I NEVER!
remember reading that there are three types of orthodox psychology research: Look how careful I’ve been, I told you so! and Well, I never. Most of the impressive
integration in the personality field is in the last category. This shyness
finding was old hat even when H. J. Eysenck presented it 50 years ago. Of
course, if the shy person wants help (and they might well not define themselves
as shy), you don’t have to know anything at all about brains to help them. And
what is more, you don’t have to look up much in the cognitive-behavioural
In both stories, it is sometimes said
that PCT hasn’t progressed in the USA because:
|a.||Kelly was quite a shy man who didn’t
push his theory much|
|b.||PCT came out of nowhere, it wasn’t
linked to other developments in psychology. He denied it was a cognitive
|c.||But for some reason, it’s popular in
Both (a) and (b) are quite wrong of
course. Cromwell (2007) has commented on the great boost Kelly got from the
1955 publication. He gave several addresses to a wide range of groups
(collected together by Maher in 1969.) And his theory was firmly based in the pragmatic
tradition – I’ll return to this point later.
DOES THE EVIDENCE FIT THE STORY?
what about the coherence of this narrative of psychology’s development as a
science? Does the evidence fit this theory? The argument is that there is an
increasing consensus that a dominant cognitive paradigm is emerging. And
cognition is increasingly linked to biological factors. We can see this, we are
told, in the publications in top journals. Pervin and John (2001) cite a study
by Robbins here. But the ‘top journals’ are North American. What about those in
France, China and Russia? How many European articles from Spain, Italy,
Scandinavia and Germany make it into these journals? Could it be that this is
an Anglophonic prejudice? And could it be that contributors know that they had
better speak a cognitive language before attempting a submission? Might the
change in nomenclature of the North
American Personal Construct Network to the Constructivist Psychology Network be interpreted as an
acknowledgement of this condition? Much of what passes a constructivist here
has a cognitive slant after all.
And how convincing is this story that
cognitivism is a paradigm that it has triumphed over other paradigms, say,
behaviourism, humanism and psychoanalysis and lexical trait theory, through the
gathering of evidence? Let us look at its clash with ‘trait and state theories’
40 years ago. This is when Walter Mischel (1968) published Personality and Assessment. As a clinical psychology student in the
1970s, I was much taken with this book, and will deal here with his demolition
of trait theories.
case of non-disappearing trait theory
Mischel’s argument is often
over-simplified and represented as advocating the situation-specificity of
behaviour. In fact his argument was a pragmatic one: it is better not to assume
the generality of behaviour on the basis of a trait assessment. There is of
course some coherence to any individual’s conduct, but this is not captured by
trait theory. People act similarly in situations that they see as similar, and their behaviour is the result of their
expectations of similar outcome of their behaviour. A person may be domineering
with their child but not with the police officer who pulls them up for
speeding. A trait like ‘domineering’ is not an underlying predisposition that
explains behaviour. Mischel’s argument may be summed up in this way:
|1. ||As Skinner had claimed, traits give us a
description of behaviour, masquerading as an explanation. To say somebody is
dependent describes their behaviour but does not explain it. Explanations must
be sought in their interaction with the environment. This is complex and
accounts for the variation in their behaviour. Psychologists are bamboozled by
factor analysis into believing that there is more generality in behaviour than
is in fact the case. So higher order factors are often built on significant
correlations of 0.3. But this only indicates 9% of the variance in common. A
correlation may be statistically significant in that it is not entirely due to
chance. This does not mean that it is psychologically meaningful. After all,
when 81% of the variance is due to situational variables, there is little
evidence of the power of traits to explain behaviour. Any consistency in
personality cannot be explained by trait structure.
|2.||Mischel (1968: 44) further points out
that the claim of a consistent and stable personality structure rests on the
assumption that this reflects the organisation of attributes in those being
assessed. He goes on to argue that this assumption is in fact not justified. He
cites extensive evidence that, instead, it reflects the perceptual prejudices
of the assessors, who draw on a culturally shared trait theory to frame their
observations. So traits are not a property of people being rated, but of those
doing the rating. Like beauty, traits are in the eye of the beholder. The
traits that we think we find in others represent our personal construction of
them. One study he cited found that raters produced the same stable trait
structure in people that they observed very briefly and did not know as in
those that they knew well. This can only be the result of ‘reading in’
attributes on the flimsiest of evidence. People readily commit the Fundamental
Attribution Error of attributing dispositions or traits to others when this is
not justified (Langdridge and Butt, 2004). Yet the personality questionnaires
that form the basis of Eysenck’s and others’ trait theories are constructed
from factor analytical studies that are based on this error. What seems at
first glance like a strength in trait theories is transformed into a flaw. |
|3. ||In fact there is nothing objective
about ‘objective tests’, except that they are scored with a stencil. Mischel
argues that what we get from a person’s personality questionnaire is not an
objective account of their behaviour, but an impression – in effect, a theory
about themselves. You might be asked if you often have headaches, like going to
parties or worry about the future. You are asked to work quickly, giving
impressions rather than consulting behavioural referents for your choices. Now
‘often’ might mean 20% of the time to me and 50% of the time to you, but what
gets recorded is respondents’ impressions of themselves. I might tick ‘Yes’ to
the same question that you tick ‘No’ to, even though you might have more
headaches than me. Each question is loaded in one of the factors on which the
instrument is constructed, and contributes to their score on it. These factors,
as we have seen, are in turn contaminated by the Fundamental Attribution Error.
Now this does not mean that this output is meaningless. But it indicates that
it tells us something about the way we perceive and construe things, and not
about the existence of a trait structure that is responsible for conduct.
If we are interested in a person’s
theory about him- or herself, Mischel suggests that we use a procedure that is
specifically designed to do just this. Mischel himself was a student of George
Kelly, and in this context frequently recommends both Kelly’s clinical wisdom
and his phenomenological methods.
Now, if the science of personality was
following Kuhnian lines of paradigm development, one would expect this
convincing argument to have carried the day. Trait theory should be sidelined.
And although it has been relied on less in clinical contexts, it has continued
to be used in occupational psychology. Here it lived on, while its proponents
argued about whether it was best to describe an individual in terms of 3, 5 or
16 factors. The advent of the ‘Big Five’ is sometimes portrayed as an advance,
an emerging consensus in the scientific community, but of course it never
convinced either Eysenck or Cattell. Mischel’s attack on what he calls the
‘state theories’ of psychoanalysis and humanism is altogether less convincing.
And of course it has not led to their demise. They simply lead parallel lives
outside orthodox psychology. To understand this, we have to remember where
personality theories came from. They arose in parallel in three different
traditions in psychology: the psychometric tradition produced trait
measurements, the experimental tradition gave rise to behaviourism and later
social cognitive learning theory, and the clinical tradition produced the
theories of Freud, Rogers and Kelly. Theories had different jobs to do,
depending on their focus of convenience.
So cognitivism has not emerged as a
dominant paradigm within personality theory at all. This is simply a claim from
those working within the orthodox experimental tradition. And even within this
tradition the contention is unconvincing. We read that ‘we now know’ that
cognitions do indeed cause behaviour, as though this has become clear from
empirical work. Was it not the case that behaviourism simply went out of
fashion? With the advent of the microchip and personal computer in the 1970s,
computer models of the mind became acceptable. Cognitive psychology led to
cognitive-behaviour therapy, and unorthodox psychoanalysts like Beck and Ellis
suddenly discovered that they had been talking cognitive behavioural prose all
their lives, so to speak. Here it is useful to remember Kelly’s comment that
clinical psychology is pure, not applied psychology. Psychotherapists do not
scour the journals for laboratory findings that they can apply in their work. The
clinical tradition produces theories of people that work in that context.
Neither Beck (1976) nor Ellis (1962) relies on cognitive theory for their
practice. The traffic is entirely in the other direction. Cognitive
psychologists call on their practice to legitimise their theories.
In fact none of the social sciences fit
Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts. There are always different constructions of
events that vie with each other. Which become dominant depends on societal
forces (e.g. market forces), not on philosophical argument or experimental
proofs. Trait theory didn’t go away. It carried on in personnel work where
people believed in it. Psychoanalysis wasn’t replaced by rational theories – it
carried on a parallel life because it is so deeply ingrained in our culture and
people are prepared to pay for it.
Kelly is represented positively in the
history of personality psychology because PCT fits nicely into the narrative of
the development of a mature science. He is a fore-runner of cognitivism, a
courageous early out-rider for the new paradigm. But PCT is frozen in history,
squeezed into a Procrustean bed in a way he would doubtless construe as
hostile. He didn’t see constructs as cognitions that caused behaviour at all.
If we accept the apparent respect with which PCT is treated, we consign
ourselves to the past. Let’s not fool ourselves that PCT is alive and kicking
in contemporary personality theory; it’s dead and mummified.
But there are reasons to be hopeful (if
not cheerful!). Psychology does not fit well into the natural sciences, and
like philosophy, sociology and political science, has had to settle for a
number of traditions that exist in parallel. As we have seen, these are judged
in terms of their usefulness and how they serve different interests.
Increasingly, our discipline is fragmenting. No longer is there a simplistic
insistence on prediction and control as the only criterion of scientific
endeavour. It is recognised that foresight and understanding do not necessarily
go hand in hand. Understanding itself is seen as a goal. This is where PCT’s
contribution can be most valuable.
Earlier on, I said it is wrongly claimed
that PCT stands as an isolated theory, and that Kelly invented it out of
nothing. Consequently, it is a one-man show, and since he died, it inevitably
went into a decline, having no firm grounding anywhere else in psychology.
Kelly of course, is partly responsible for this misconception. Although he
famously said that Dewey’s pragmatism was everywhere between the lines of the
theory, he did not reference his sources, preferring to argue everywhere from
first principles. But he knew that knowledge is always a joint construction.
Citing Dewey as an example of a leader of a movement, he says:
The leader simply adds a large increment to
an already massive structure in order to complete an invention, whether it be
social or physical. The main structure is supplied by the average and mediocre
people, each of whom brings his little contribution and throws it onto the
pile. (Kelly, 1979: 16).
And Pragmatism is being noticed again.
The work of James and Dewey is once again referred to in social psychology,
Mead always had his followers in symbolic interactionism, and Richard Rorty’s
aggressive defences of neo-pragmatism are widely known, both in and outside
psychology. PCT is very firmly grounded in Pragmatism. This was a philosophical
movement that took root in the USA in the wake of the Civil War. In the early
1870s Charles Peirce, William James, Oliver Wendell-Holmes and others formed
the Metaphysical Club in Cambridge MS. Menand (2002) distilled the essence of
pragmatism to the proposition that ideas are not ‘out there’, waiting to be
discovered, but are constructions that are more or less useful in helping us in
one venture or another. The pragmatists introduced a healthy scepticism into
the academy – no theory was to be taken as truth, no idea accepted
uncritically. Theories arise in practice, and are like tools to be put aside
when they no longer give us a grip on the world. Dewey’s version in particular
was strongly against the dualisms that have dogged psychology, dualisms like
person versus world and mind versus body. All this should certainly sound
familiar to those with a deeper appreciation of Kelly’s contribution.
Pragmatism was the dominant form of
psychology up until the first decade of the twentieth century in the USA.
William James had been the first psychology professor at Harvard, and his
student Thorndike had conducted the famous animal experiments using cats in
puzzle boxes. Dewey and Mead were at Chicago University in the philosophy
department, but engaged in work on educational and social psychology. Mead was
still there when his student John Watson split from the department with a group
of others to form the first department of experimental psychology. Mead’s work
would become defined as the contrast pole to psychology – philosophy, and be
rescued for the social sciences by interactionist sociology. Experimental
psychology shaped itself on physics. No Cartesian dualism here – there was no
mind in the body, no ghost in the machine.
This was the S-R psychology that Kelly
(1969) rejected as useless. The clinical practice he devised is embedded in a
pragmatic approach. He tells us that the work began as a clinical handbook,
describing clinical strategies that had bee useful in Kansas. But the ‘hows’ of
Volume 2 (Kelly, 1955) were followed up with the ‘whys’ of Volume 1 (Kelly,
1955). Here theory developed out of the practice, and PCT came into being.
Kelly says he was surprised how far practice and theory had strayed from
orthodox psychology, and Volume 1 begins with ‘an invitation to adventure’
without the customary critique of other approaches. Gone are all the landmarks
familiar to the psychologist: motivation, learning and reinforcement. There is
no separation of behaviour, cognition and affect. Instead, the Fundamental
Postulate talks of ‘psychological processes’. When emotions are dealt with,
there is no reduction to physiology. All this makes PCT strange, even
incredible to psychologists today. They see it as a criticism for example, that
emotions are not described in physiological terms. And it highlights the second
point I made earlier. The so-called integration of biological and psychological
levels in contemporary personality theory: it has no pragmatic value. Knowing
that parts of the brain are activated in shyness, pleasure or aggression helps
us not one jot.
When Kelly proposed that a person’s
processes are channelized by their constructions, he wasn’t denying that these
same processes can also be understood physiologically. These are alternative
systems of construction. This idea comes from William James’ pluralism. James
held that the universe holds together, but loosely and provisionally. We have
to come at things from different perspectives in order to see what works, what
makes sense. An object has properties independent of the observer, but only
some of them will appear in any particular relationship. I may see a person as
desirable, and this may dominate my perception of her. But this perception does
not exhaust her attributes and from a different perspective, say that of an
insurance agent, desirability may not feature at all. Kelly’s claim was that we
can make sense of quite a lot in terms of the way things appear to people, and
this is one way in which the theory is phenomenological. Trying to appreciate
the world-view of the person, the stories that they put together, is a useful
way of making sense of their conduct. Now others might try to do the same job
from an evolutionary or a physiological perspective. Fine. But you can’t mix
these all up – they are different systems of construction. Many psychologists
don’t seem to understand this. They think that throwing in some brain science
furnishes deeper (and sadly, more scientific) explanations.
Pragmatism holds that there are
different vocabularies for making sense of the same things – in this case, a
person’s processes. When we say that seeing different colours is explained by
exposure to different wavelengths, we haven’t explained anything. This is just
the way physicists talk about light. When we say that emotions are caused by
brain states or hormones, this is just the biologists’ vocabulary for it.
Actually, I’m not quite convinced by Kelly’s accounts of anxiety, threat and
guilt. I think existentialists like Farber (2000) have a better understanding
of these emotions. But both Kelly and Farber provide us with proper
psychological constructions. Anxiety is not caused by adrenaline and depression
is not caused by a reduced level of 5HT in the synapses. These physiological
changes may correlate with experience but they are not causal. If anything, in
everyday life, the sequence of events will be reversed: the perception of an event
as disturbing to my construction of myself may lead to all sorts of
physiological churning. Dewey emphasised that we often confuse a sequence of
events with causality.
Understanding and explanation
I think it useful here to distinguish
between causal explanation and understanding (Butt, 2004). This was a bipolar
construct first underlined by Dilthey in the late nineteenth century (and
incidentally, Mead studied briefly with Dilthey in Berlin). Dilthey argued that
causal explanation is appropriate for the natural sciences but not the human
sciences – for example history and law. In causal explanation, we look for
cause and effect relationships. So in physics, we can explain motion by
identifying the forces acting on an object. A billiard ball moves as it does
because of the force exerted on it by a cue, or another ball. Clearly, this is
a very simple example, but we can see how the principle applies in more
complicated examples where interactions combine to produce a particular effect.
Several genes and environmental factors might together contribute to an
individual’s bodily constitution. Making sense of historical events is
different though. We might say that World War 2 was caused by Germany invading
Poland, but here we are using the word ‘cause’ in a loose and different sense.
What we mean is that Britain and France’s declaration of war is understandable
in terms of the German invasion. There is no simple determinism here. The
allies might have decided not to carry out their threat, and indeed Nazi
Germany had gambled that they would back down, as they had over the invasion of
Czechoslovakia. Causal explanations are deterministic, and there is nothing
deterministic in human affairs.
claimed that understanding is achieved not by looking for causal relations, but
by putting events into a context. In this way we see them as part of a whole
sequence of events. We note that the invasion of Poland was evidence to Britain
and France of Germany’s intention to expand beyond its borders, and beyond what
it had already claimed as the greater Germany. The significance of this must be
understood in terms of nineteenth and early twentieth century history; the
issue of the balance of power in Europe. Understanding is based on the meaning of events to participants, not
on inevitable causal sequences. Literally, it involves ‘standing under’ what
something means to people, trying to appreciate the way in which they make
sense of things. There is no inevitability about this, because the same thing
has different meanings to different people, and no one is impelled to act in a
particular way in response. One can feel threatened, but choose to retaliate,
appease, ignore or re-interpret in the face of the threat. In trying to
understand, we adopt different perspectives in order to contextualise an event.
What is it part of? What does it mean?
It is through looking at how something fits
into a larger whole that we understand meaning. And everything may be seen in
different and ever-expanding contexts of course. We can see this clearly in the
communication that occurs in conversation. We talk of understanding what
someone is saying to us, and of interpreting it. We do this by listening to the
words, and interpreting meaning by seeing how they form part of a sentence. The
sentence is the structure that gives a meaning to the word that we would miss
if we just looked it up in a dictionary. So when someone says ‘Oh, I’m pleased
to see you decided to turn up’ we know that ‘turn up’ has nothing to do with
their performing a summersault. ‘Turn’ is in itself ambiguous, but there is
nothing ambiguous about the way in which it is used here; the context clarifies
the meaning. But the actual meaning of the sentence only becomes clear when we
can place it in the context what else is happening, and the context of
convention and social practice within which this is embedded. So, if we are
thirty minutes late for an appointment, we might conclude that what was said
was not meant literally. Such an understanding then requires an appreciation of
what an appointment is, as well as a grasp of the uses of irony. So
understanding involves a to-and-fro cycling between parts and whole to make
sense of what is meant. Dilthey referred to this as the hermeneutic circle
(hermeneutics being the name given to the art of interpretation). His claim was
that the human sciences rest on this sort of method. Understanding people is
more like interpreting a text than predicting the movement of particles. PCT is
a psychology of understanding. It makes sense of a person’s action by
contextualising it in terms of a person’s constructions. It looks for reasons,
not causes. Cognitions don’t cause behaviour or emotion. Action (Dewey) / construing
(Kelly) comprises all three.
Understanding and phenomenology
Just as pragmatism is now being thought
about once again, so, too is understanding. The new interest in interview
methods is phenomenologically based. It’s about investigating life-worlds,
usually in the health field. What’s it like, to suffer from irritable bowel
syndrome, diabetes or cystic fibrosis? The aim here is not to explain anything
causally, but to understand the patient’s, victim’s or client’s point of view.
The flaw in a lot of this work is that it assumes that people can reach inside
themselves and describe how they feel. PCT’s methods seem to me to offer some
more interesting ways of helping people reach for expression. The beauty of
asking people how two events are alike and so different from a third is that it
exercises them. It gets them to think about concrete events that confront them.
Exactly how is this person different from that one? Why does he make me feel
uncomfortable yet she doesn’t? What would have to change exactly in this
situation for me to feel less anxious in it? Then the grid is such an excellent
way of helping people think. What patterns can the subject see? Does it throw
any light on what exactly makes him or her anxious/feel depressed/uneasy etc.
Of course many phenomenologists do not
think that PCT is truly a phenomenological approach. But this need not worry
us. Research like this is pragmatically based. What helps the patient, client
In many ways, constructivism combines
both pragmatism and phenomenology. And at its best, it is excellent stimulating
stuff. But there is a long, long tail. Much of the work is disappointingly
shallow, with no satisfactory literature review or proper grounding in
constructivist theory of any stripe. A tangential reference to Kelly 1955 seems
often to be the only credential on which many submissions are made to
Perhaps the future for PCT does lie in
the constructivist family. But we should think here of constructivism in its
broad usage in the social sciences, not the rather restricted sense sometimes
adopted by psychologists. Chiari and Nuzzo’s (1996) definition of
constructivism is broad. It includes all those approaches that emphasise the
relational approach both between the person and other people, and the person
and her world in general. It moves our focus from what is going on ‘inside’
people, as it were, to what goes on between them. Phenomenologists refer to
this as the intentional relationship between the person and her world. This is
still seen as a radical approach in psychology. But it forms a bridge with the
other social sciences. Interpretive and phenomenological approaches in
sociology have re-invigorated a critical humanism building on narrative as a
key concept. This approach is also based on the pragmatism of Mead and Dewey,
and has the same aim: helping people to make sense of both their own lives and
those of others.
this work is based on narrative as a key metaphor – the person as story-teller.
And this brings us to the Kellian model of the person as scientist. Kelly had
been due to take part in symposium at Chicago University on motivation and
emotion in September 1967. It was to be chaired by Theodore Mischel, and to
bring together prominent psychologists and philosophers. Sadly, Kelly’s death
earlier in 1967 prevented him from taking part. But the other participants read
each other’s work in advance of preparing their papers. Kelly’s was commented
on favourably by British philosopher R. S. Peters (1969), who liked the ‘man
the scientist’ metaphor because it credited the person with an agency denied
them by behaviourism. But, he said, Kelly had not pursued his idea far enough.
We can only think ‘scientifically’ because we are, in this day and age, all
initiated into the rules of scientific thinking. The notion would have meant
nothing to medieval people; it is only intelligible within a particular
tradition. Sarbin (1986) makes a good case that person as author is a more
basic metaphor. And stories are embedded in traditions and transmit cultures.
They are not merely individual productions. When I began this paper, I looked
at psychology as a science and reviewed two stories that are told about it.
Perhaps the person as narrator reflects a more basic human potential to story
experience in order to make sense of it. The story is a good vehicle for
Psychologists have adopted the language of
the natural sciences, adopting a distance from their subject material. Causal
explanation is an example of this, and is a restricted type of understanding
that aims at prediction and control. This will do the job nicely, Rorty (1982)
says, if we are trying to do something like evaluating artillery fire. The aim
of the natural sciences is prediction
and control. But the aim of the social sciences is not. Their job is to develop
a vocabulary for moral reflection and to help people get a better grip on their
lives, both collectively and individually. Understanding has a crucial role to
play in any civilised society. It now has a place in psychology. And PCT is
ideally placed to help provide this.
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Butt, Ph. D., trained as a clinical psychologist before
at the University of Huddersfield, where he is now Reader in
Psychology. He has published in the areas of personal construct theory,
phenomenology, and psychotherapy, and is the joint author (with Vivien
Burr) of Invitation to
Construct Psychology and wrote George Kelly - The Psychology of Personal Constructs.
Butt, T. W. (2008). Kelly's legacy in personality theory: Reasons to be cheerful. Personal
Construct Theory & Practice, 5, 51-59.
(Retrieved from http://www.pcp-net.org/journal/pctp08/butt08.html)
|Received: 13 January 2008 – Accepted: 12 August 2008 –
Published: 23 December 2008