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Individuality and Generalization
in the Psychology of Personality:
A Theoretical Rationale
for Personality Assessment and Research

Robert R. Holt
Professor of Psychology Emeritus, New York University

Part 1 of three parts
Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3 (Bibliography)
Vai alla versione italiana: Parte 1, Parte 2, Bibliografia

Introduction by PaoloMigone

In the past months, some discussion lists of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy have been heated by lively debate on the scientific status of psychotherapy. Several colleagues were suggesting that a so-called idiographic approach, rather than a nomothetic one, was more suited for the psychotherapeutic enterprise. According to the idiographic approach, they say, the object of study is unique [idios], not amenable to the generalizing laws [nomos] of the nomothetic approach, which is typical of natural sciences. In order to contribute to this debate, in the Psychotherapy section of POL.it here we publish a classic paper on this topic, written by Robert Holt in 1962, which shows how this problem was faced by an exponent of an important line of research in psychology. In fact, the topic is not new, and it is striking that it continues to raise lively debates without an easy solution; actually this is just what makes it interesting. This debate was already active in the United States in the '40s around the issues of personology (the study of personality) and Holt was a first hand witness. At that time Holt was a pupil of Gordon Allport, the famous personality theorist and strong believer in the idiographic approach. In contrast to his teacher, Holt took an opposite position and believed that the idiographic approach had to be simply abandoned and used only for artistic, non scientific purposes. His logical arguments are set out in this paper, which appeared for the first time in the Journal of Personality, 1962, 30, 3: 405-422, and soon became a classic, being republished several times. The Italian translation appeared in the Bollettino di Psicologia Applicata,1963, 57/58: 3-24. The version published here is not the 1962 version, but a new edition published in 1978 when it appeared the two volumes by Holt Methods in Clinical Psychology: Assessment, Prediction and Research (New York: Plenum, 1978); furthermore, the author has added new notes and a few changes, so that the version published here can be considered a new, final edition of this paper, reflecting the more recent development of the author's thinking. Two forewords are published here: the first one has been written in 1998 purposely for this POL.it edition, and the second one, with minor changes, appeared in the aforementioned 1978 edition. We thank the Journal of Personality for the permission to reproduce this paper in the English version, and the Organizzazioni Speciali (O.S.) of Florence for the Italian edition. I translated both forewords and the new parts of the article, of which I also improved the overall translation. This article, here published in both English and Italian languages, appears as the sixth document of the Psychotherapy section of POL.it.

Finally, few words about Robert Holt. He is already know to Italian readers because many of his works have been translated. In Italy he is known mostly for his writings in theoretical research in psychoanalysis, which occupied a later phase of his professional life, when he entered the prestigious research group led by David Rapaport. There, with the scholarly precision which is typical of him, and also under the mentorship of Rapaport (who was one of the most important theorist in psychoanalysis), he studied psychoanalytic metapsychology. After Rapaport's death, when he was viewed by some as his successor as the leader of the group, he came to take amore critical stance towards Freudian metapsychology. Among other things, he made a lot of work in psychological testing (for instance, he edited the second edition of the classic Diagnostic Psychological Testing by D. Rapaport, M. Gill & R. Schafer of 1945-46 [New York: Int. Univ. Press, 1968]). A collection of his writing, from his pioneering critical essays to metapsychology of the '60s to his most recent works, was published in 1989 with the title Freud Reappraised: A Fresh Look at PsychoanalyticTheory (New York: Guilford, 1989). For a cultural biography of Holt, with a detailed bibliography, see chapter 13 of my book Terapia psicoanalitica (Milano: Franco Angeli, 1995); a short biographical and cultural profile (in Italian) of Bob Holt is also on the Internet at the web site http://www.psychomedia.it/pm/modther/biogr/holt-bio.htm.


Foreword by Robert Holt to this edition (1998)

In a book that made a great impression on me, Gerald Holton (1973) noted that "there have coexisted in science, in almost every period since Thales and Pythagoras, sets of two or more antithetical systems or attitudes, for example, one reductionist and the other holistic", adding:

In addition, there has always existed another set of antitheses or polarities, even though, to be sure, one or the other was at a given time more prominent -- namely, between the Galilean (or, more properly, Archimedean) attempt at precision and measurement that purged public, "objective" science of those qualitative elements that interfere with reaching reasonable" objective" agreement among fellow investigators, and, on the other hand, the intuitions, glimpses, daydreams, and a priori commitments that make up half the world of science in the form of a personal, private, "subjective" activity. Science has always been propelled and buffeted by such contrary or antithetical forces (Holton G., Thematic origins of scientific thought: Kepler to Einstein. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973, p. 375).

The objective-subjective dichotomy goes beyond the boundaries of science itself, however. I feel that my own interest in the holistic and subjective approach to psychology has two principal roots: my personal psychoanalysis, and what might be called my aesthetic interests, which go back as far as I can remember. Some of my most vivid early memories preserve experiences of wonder and ecstasy occasioned by a dewy spring morning, by the sight and scent of wild flowers, even by an Art Deco painting in a magazine advertisement. My first publications were poems (in literary magazines at prep school and at college). Some years before, the first reflection I can recall about a possible career was a wavering between being an artist (of what kind, I don't recall) and an astronomer. The latter became real enough for a period in my adolescence when I helped form an astronomy club and worked for months grinding a mirror for a telescope. Then I discovered and was enthralled by other sciences: chemistry, paleontology, biology, and finally psychology. My undergraduate teacher and thesis sponsor, Hadley Cantril, showed me the intellectual excitement of social psychology and helped me discover the endless fascination of psychological research.

Clinical psychology made it possible for me to retain and integrate most of these interests and values. Along the way I was gratified by finding teachers and role models who embodied much of the artist as well as the scientist: Gordon W. Allport, Henry A. Murray, Robert W. White, David Rapaport, and Gardner Murphy. These men seemed easily able, in their own lives, to transcend the split between what C.P. Snow called the "two cultures" of art and the humanities, and of science. I have of course experienced the conflict of which Snow wrote, and have found myself pulled in opposite directions by the effort to ride two such differently-minded horses simultaneously. Insight into the underlying unities has come slowly, though helped by identification with mentors.

A century or more ago, the underlying conflict in outlooks took the form of a contrast between nomothetic and idiographic approaches to personality. Not surprisingly, it continues to be rediscovered and revived by generation after generation of psychologists and kindred workers. Though I wrote the first draft of the accompanying paper almost 40 years ago, it seems tome still worthy of being reprinted if it can help some contemporary scholars, clinicians, or researchers avoid a blind alley of methodological confusion.


Foreword by Robert Holt to the 1978 edition

The paper here reprinted with a new subtitle, was written during the year 1960-61 (and appeared in the Journal of Personality, 1962,30, 3 [September]: 405-422), though I had been brooding about many of the issues it considers for two decades. In a real sense it was a kind of starting point for all my work in clinical and personality psychology; thus, I reprinted it as the first chapter of my book, Methods in Clinical Psychology(Holt, 1978).

Appropriately enough, it appeared cheek by jowl in the Journal of Personality with a paper by AlIport (1962) on the same general topic. It was to study with him that Hadley Cantril sent me to do my graduate studies at Harvard, and though Allport fended off my hero-worshipping efforts to become his close disciple by a kind of pained and embarrassed withdrawal, he was one of my main teachers. Sitting in his seminar on personality theory I became increasingly skeptical about his basic approach, and by the time I had completed my dissertation--with his considerable help--I had on my drawing board the sketch of an attack on his methodological position. Fortunately, the pressure of making a living forced me to put off writing it, for I did not yet have the historical perspective on the issues that only the teaching of personality theory would help me gain. During the respite o fa delightful year in the congenial setting of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, I was able to take a fresh look at the problems and write the following pages.

In his accompanying paper, Allport restated a vision he followed with admirable tenacity all his professional life, of a psychology of personality that should devote itself to understanding how the structure of the unique person comes about. In his latter years, after becoming acquainted with general systems theory, he took over some of its terminology and tried to adopt its outlook (Allport, 1960; 1961, Chapter 23). Here (Allport,1962) he called for a morphogenetic approach to the system that a personality constitutes, as opposed to the traditional dimensional tack of analytic reductionism. Yet he failed to see that the systems outlook amounted to a Kuhnian revolution, a fundamental transformation of formative principles in terms of which many of psychology's traditional antinomies became reconciled. It vindicated his faith in the molar and structural approach to personalities, his stubborn insistence that there could and should be a science of individuals, but not his ambivalent polemical rejection of atomism. Part of the beauty and power of the systems approach is that it finds an appropriate place or both molar and molecular observations and laws, for both analytic and synoptic methods, as Weiss (1969) argues so cogently with respect to the life sciences.

As a graduate student, I turned away from Allport partly because his methodology led to so little by way of useful method. Twenty years later, he still had come up with few techniques by which to carry out his program of morphogenetic study of individual persons. He persistently favored matching, despite the fact that research using this method had led nowhere (or at least, to very little), concluding lamely: 'Although the method gives us no insight into causal relationships it is, so far as it goes, a good example of a 100 per cent morphogenic procedure" (1962, p. 416). In the same paper, he goes on to recommend several more useful procedures which actually boil down to two: Baldwin's (1942) personal structure analysis, a simple statistical method of identifying reliably recurring co-occurrences of content themes in a person's productions; and interviewing in order to discover important themes, problems, structural foci, stylistic features, values, or other traits in a person, sometimes followed up by the use of generalized rating scales like those of Kilpatrick and Cantril (1960).

Partly, I believe, Allport's difficulty was his personal lack of clinical training and experience, a circumstance that kept him always at a distance from the personalities he wished to study. In his entire career, he never made an intensive study of a single personality at first hand! The apparent exception (Allport, 1965) was a study of a collection of Letters fromJ enny, carried out after its subject's death; Allport had never met her.

Because he could never see the usefulness of dimensions as more than weak compromises with true individuality, Allport only fitfully addressed himself to the task of trying to find useful dimensions. One obvious difficulty in the realm of personality is the abstractness or non materiality of our subject matter, as compared to that of a biologist. The latter has no difficulty with using a concept like mitochondrion or chromosome, because the things in question are visually recognizable, having a recurrent distinctiveness of form despite their manifestly unique and fluctuating configurations in the individual cell. What is a corresponding element, individually variable, that goes to make up the unique personality? To answer, `the trait' (as Allport generally did) is simply to substitute another generalized term for "element." By and large, the traditional approach has been to fall back on the resources of nonscientific language, as Allport did himself (in collaboration with Odbert, 1936), accepting such a descriptive adjective as punctual or dominant as the functional equivalent of an organelle. Yet such terms are inevitably interactive: they are impressions made on an observer by a person, judgments rather than perceptions, in which the orientation of the judge demonstrably plays a very large role. Some times it is more important than what is in the person under scrutiny, especially when we get into the very extensive areas of personal behavior that are socially valued either positively or negatively-- the halo problem.

Somehow, we need to find a way of taking a fresh look at people, without the blinders of standard trait vocabulary. I believe that a case can be made that concepts like self (a person's reflexive experience and conception of his own personality), wish, fear, value, ability, and temperament are the analogues of the cell's fine structure. The psychology of personality, then, should seek for general laws or generalizations about regular structural relations among these elements, which may hold regardless of the unique content of such terms when applied to individuals. (It seems much less fruitful to look for generalizations on the level of these actual contents--e.g., the targets of people's values, which are given in such large part by culture, the appropriate level on which to seek regularities in the value realm.) Likewise, I am doubtful that it will be helpful to proceed just by making case studies, even though that may be an indispensable ground on which to begin work. We can pursue general goals even while ostensibly bending our efforts to the understanding of unique lives. That at least is the spirit in which I have tried to work, both as a diagnostic tester and as a researcher.


Individuality and Generalization
in the Psychology of Personality:
A Theoretical Rationale
for Personality Assessment and Research
(modified and updated edition of the article
"Individuality and generalization in the psychology of personality",
originally published in Journal of Personality, 1962, 30, 3: 405-422)

Robert R. Holt
Professor of Psychology Emeritus, New York University

One of the hardiest perennial weeds in psychology's conceptual garden is the notion that there are nomothetic (generalizing) and idiographic (individualizing) branches, types, or emphases of science. Many respected and important contributors to psychology-especially to personology, the psychology of personality-have quoted these terms with respect and have used them as if they contributed something useful to methodology (e.g., Allport, 1937a; Beck, 1953; Bellak, 1956; Bertalanffy, 1951; Colby, 1958; Dymond, 1953; Falk, 1956; Hoffman, 1960; Sarbin, 1944; Stephenson, 1953; the list could be considerably extended). It is the purpose of this essay to examine the historical origins of this cumbersome pair of concepts, their logical implications, the reasons psychologists espouse them, and alternative solutions to the underlying problems. In so doing, I hope no doubt fondly, but none the less ardently to lay this Teutonic ghost which haunts and confounds much of modern psychology.

The principal exponent of the nomothetic-idiographic dichotomy in this country has been Gordon W. Allport (1937a, 1940, 1942, 1946, 1955), a pioneer in academic personology and a man who has brilliantly clarified many important issues in the field. On this particular point, I shall try to show, the artist in him has probably dimmed the vision of the scientist. The underlying problem with which Allport wrestles is vexing enough: the unusual nature of personality as a scientific subject matter. Allport readily concedes that everything in nature is unique, but maintains that natural sciences are not interested in the unique leaf, stone, or river. Only personology, the argument continues, takes as its very subject matter the unique personality as opposed to the generalized human mind or the behavior of organisms at large. The rest of psychology takes care of the general laws of behavior and experience and is thus nomothetic (literally, setting down laws) [Footnote 1]; what is left over is the impressive fact that every personality is different and must be studied in such ways as respect and try to capture this uniqueness in short, by an idiographic science (literally, portraying what is private or peculiar, i.e., individual). With these two curious words adopted from Windelband, then, Allport describes what he sees as two complementary branches of psychology, both of which are necessary for complete coverage.

Footnote 1: This is the generally accepted meaning. Brunswik (l943), however, used it in a different sense, which occasionally causes confusion: as pertaining to a science of exact laws expressible as functions or equations, and opposed to statistical generalizations. Both are within the scope of the nomothetic, as understood here. Rickert used a slightly different term, nomological.

On the other hand, many distinguished contributors to personology, from Freud to Murphy (1947), have found no need for such an approach to the scientific study of individuality, and the sharp voice of Eysenck (1954)has been heard rebutting Beck (1953) and proclaiming that psychology should be nomothetic throughout. Clearly, the issue is controversial.

Historical background: the romantic movement in science [Footnote2]

Footnote 2: In preparing this historical summary, I have relied principally on Roback (1927), Allport (1937a, 1937h), Boring (1929), Parsons (1937), L. Stein (1924), Tapper (1925), Friess (1929), Klüver (1929), and the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. I am aware of some oversimplification in speaking about the Romantic movement in science; a variety of figures and currents of thought that could be characterized as romantic may be distinguished in the history of nineteenth-century science, some of them only loosely related to the movement described here.

Kant, writing in the middle and late 1700s and reacting against reductionism, is one of the intellectual ancestors of this issue (which can, of course, be traced back to Plato and Aristotle█like any other problem in psychology; see Popper, 1957). Though he did not himself fall into the dualistic belief that mind and matter were so different that different methods had to be applied to their study, he wrote about these issues on too sophisticated a level for his followers. Thus, the analytic and generalizing methods of natural science were fine for the study of matter, but the mind, according to the post-Kantians, had to be studied also by an additional method, intuition of the whole. Being impressed with the concrete uniqueness and individuality of personality, they did not want to analyze it but to grasp it by a direct empathic act [Footnote 3].

Footnote 3: For clarification of Kant's role in these matters, I am indebted to my friend Abraham Kaplan.

Yet for the next century, no one developed such an intuitive approach to personality into anything; meanwhile, physics and chemistry, and even some branches of biology, grew rapidly and used the developing scientific methods with great success in the realm of matter. Mechanics developed early, and Newton's laws of motion were misunderstood as being foundation stones of mechanism and materialism. As C. Singer (1959) points out, Newton's laws were quite abstract and did not deal with physical bodies at all; but in their early great successes they were applied to the motions of the planets, and thus were thought of as the laws of material masses. It could hardly have been otherwise, because of the prevailing tenor of philosophical and scientific thought. The world was simply not ready for the field-theoretical implications of Newton's theories. Even so great a physicist as Lord Kelvin found "meager and unsatisfactory" any physical knowledge that could not be expressed in a mechanical model.

Though the facts of their own disciplines did not require it, then, natural scientists█helped along by the overgeneralizations of contemporary philosophers█adopted a hard-headed, materialistic, and mechanistic positivism. It was assumed that all reality was orderly, classifiable, and susceptible of mechanistic explanation; to the extent that it seemed not to be, the province of science ended. It was expected that the secrets of life itself would shortly be reduced to physico-chemical formulas. The resulting clash with religion and humanism seemed an inevitable consequence of being a good scientist:

What was not realized was that the success of science was due to the faithfulness of its practice, while its destructiveness[of humanistic, cultural values] arose from the error of its philosophy which saw that practice as though it were the outcome of a world-view with which it was in fact fundamentally incompatible (C. Singer, 1959, p.420).

This was a classic atmosphere, ripe for the romantic revolt that started in poetry at the turn of the nineteenth century and swept through the arts. The humanities are accustomed to see the pendulum swing from classicism to romanticism and back again; from a time of reason, order, control, and clarity to one of passion, ambiguity, free expression, and revolt. To a degree, such movements are felt in the sciences as well, though usually less clearly. In science, we have a temperamental difference between the tough-minded and the tender-minded, as James put it, or in Boring's phrase, the advocates of nothing but against those of something more; in the nineteenth century, it was objectivism and positivism versus subjectivism and intuitionism. The hard-headed positivists had had their way for a long time; near the end of the century, however, there was something of a romantic revolt in science, tipping the balance toward the subjectivists. Independently, in two different parts of Germany, Wilhelm Dilthey in Berlin and the "southwesterners" Windelband and Rickert proclaimed the primacy of understanding (Verstehen) in certain kinds of science over quantification of elements, in the part of the general intellectual current with which we shall be concerned here.

They elaborated the distinction between two kinds of science: the Naturwissenschaften, natural sciences, and Geisteswissenschaften, the German translation of J. S. Mill's "moral sciences." The latter term, often retranslated as "social sciences," meant actually a good deal more, for it included philosophy and the humanities as well as history, jurisprudence, and much else that is often excluded from social science today. In an attempt to develop separate methodologies for the Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften, Windelband and Rickert took up, developed, and popularized a distinction between two types of science that had been proposed by Cournot, the French founder of mathematical economics [Footnote 4]. Cournot, who was also something of a philosopher of science, had a sophisticated concept of chance and examined the role it played in various fields of knowledge in the process of classifying them. In the exact sciences, precise laws were possible, he said, but in history, chance played such a large role that only a probabilistic discipline was possible. As a later philosopher of history, Meyer, put it: any particular event "depends on chance and on the free will of which science knows nothing but with which history dealt" (Quoted by Weber, 1949,p. 115, from Meyer's Zur Theorie und Methodik der Geschichte, Halle,1900.)

Footnote 4: See the article on Geisteswissenschaften in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences and Cournot (1851). The reader who is interested in a richly detailed picture of the issues and their background will do well to read Popper(1957) and Chapters 13 and 17 in Parsons (1937). An excellent briefer account is given by Klüver (1929), in which references to the principal relevant works of Windelband and Rickert may be found.

It should be clear by now that we are dealing with not just a pair of isolated terms but a complex set of methodological concepts and viewpoints. The nomothetic-idiographic distinction can no more be understood out of the context of the geisteswissenschaftliche movement than can any isolated culture trait torn from its cultural embeddedness. For the sake of convenience, I shall refer to this complex of ideas as the romantic movement in science. There have been so many major and subtle shifts in our outlook that it is difficult for us to see the issues with the eyes of ca. 1900; recall, however, that vitalism was a live doctrine then, and the ideas of chance and free will [Footnote 5] were closely connected, respectable concepts. Many scholars conceived of history as having been shaped primarily by the acts of great men; as we shall see, the theme of the relation between personality and achievement is a recurrent preoccupation of the romantics.

Footnote 5: At the time I wrote this paper, I shared the prevailing and largely thoughtless rejection of free will, accepting as self-evident the proposition that it was opposed to the scientifically necessary assumption of determinism. I have since mended my ways; see my papers of 1967a and 1972a; and in my book of 1989,see pp. 246-252. Similar arguments may be found in Russell (1929), Chein (1972), M.B. Smith (1974), Weiss (1969), and Rubinstein (1997, pp. 440ff.).

It is factually true that history, biography, and literary criticism are primarily interested in increasing our understanding of particular events, persons, or works, rather than in treating these as incidental to the discovery of general laws. But men like Windelband and Rickert took the jump from this proposition to the sweeping declaration that all of the disciplines concerned with man and his works should not and by their very nature cannot generalize, but must devote themselves to the understanding of each particular, and its integration "as a real causal factor into a real, hence concrete context" (Weber, 1949, p. 135). The repetition of the word "real" in this passage underscores the conception that only the concrete was real, hence abstractions could not be conceived of as causes of particular events. Moreover, abstract analysis of specific events or persons was thought to be fallacious, since it destroyed the unique unity that was the essence of any such particular. This essence was qualitative, not quantitative, and often consisted of verbal meanings (as opposed to objective facts, the subject matter of natural science), which could not be measured but only interpreted. By identifying Cournot's methodological distinction with their own between the knowledge of Being (Sein), obtained in physical science, and the consciousness of and relatedness to norms (Sollen) in the cultural sciences, Windelband and Rickert started the great debate on the role of values in science [See Chapter 10 of my Methods in Clinical Psychology (1978), Vol. 2, "The Problem of Values in Science"].

For psychology, Dilthey was the most important figure in this movement. He was a philosopher, an admirer of Goethe and Schopenhauer, rebelling against Christianity and Hegel, though influenced by the Biblical hermeneutics of Schleiermacher. He wanted to respect the heart's reasons the head will never know, to understand life in its own terms, not to explain it. The anti-intellectual element in such a goal is perceptible, and indeed, he is part of the current in German thought that provided the philosophical background for Nazism. He wanted, not a reduction of data either to physical-material or to idealistic terms, but a direct insight into the vital nature of things as articulated wholes. His approach was empirical, but in a different sense from the atomistic English tradition, stressing the importance and primacy of the unbroken whole, the Strukturzusammenhang. Obviously, he helped prepare the seedbed for Gestalt psychology. He was optimistic, unlike some of his successors (e.g., Spengler), and very influential in Germany.

Basic to the development of the social and cultural sciences, he thought, was the development of a new psychology, which he called verstehende psychology█a descriptive discipline concerned with the systematic knowledge of the nature of consciousness and of the inner unity of the individual life, and with the understanding of its development. It did not analyze or start with elements, but with experienced relationships. The most important unifying forces in a man were purpose and moral character. He saw the intimate relation of the person to his social setting and insisted that individual human character was an outgrowth of institutions, not vice versa.

These are only fragments from Dilthey's large output of ideas, which lacked system and order; his work was brought together only after his death, by friends. Nevertheless, it stimulated many workers in diverse fields: jurisprudence, economics, sociology, philosophy, genetics, history, and psychology.

Dilthey's most important psychological follower was Spranger, who is known chiefly for his book Lebensformen (Spranger, 1922; translated as Types of Men). He too distinguished sharply between explanatory and descriptive psychology, favoring the latter, verstehende, type. Verstehen, he says, is the mental activity "that grasps events as fraught with meaning in relation to a totality." He was opposed to the analysis of personality into elements, but wanted to stay on the level of "intelligible wholes." As a focus for the study of individuality, he followed Dilthey again in proposing that the person's values, which determined the direction of his strivings, be considered of primary interest.

Dilthey had propounded three forms of Weltanschauung which underlie and pervade the personalities as well as the doctrines of the philosophers whom he studied. Spranger proposed his famous six ideal types of values, to which actual individual values more or less correspond: the theoretical, economic, aesthetic, social, political, and religious. He did not recognize the possible cultural determination of his choosing just these six, but traced them back to instincts. Each value type has its own ethics (e.g., economic: utilitarianism; aesthetic: harmony), and its own style of life in many other ways. The entire scheme was rather ingeniously worked out.

This theory followed the new ideas in stressing the unity of personality, the way in which many details of behavior become comprehensible when we know such key facts about the total structure as the principal values toward which a man is oriented. To underline the contrast between the prevailing atomistic psychology and his own, Spranger called it Struktur psychology. As a general theory of personality, it suffers from incompleteness, and its main influence today comes from its having stimulated the production of a widely used paper and pencil test, the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Study of Values, which is still in active use as a research instrument.

The history of the psychology of Struktur and Verstehen since Spranger is not yet finished. Its influence is still felt in personology, and as a school it still has adherents in Germany. Allport has done the most to bring it to this country; there were a number of lesser figures, but they have not made significant contributions.

William Stern, a man of some influence in psychology, must be at least briefly mentioned even though he began in intelligence testing and his work converged only rather late with the main line of development traced above. The nomothetic-idiographic distinction played no part in his writings, though he was influenced by verstehende psychology. He had been a pioneer and an established figure in child psychology and the psychology of individual differences, when he became convinced that conventional psychology was wrongly conceived. As differential psychologists, he said, we are studying isolated mental functions, the ranges and correlates of their variations, but overlooking the important fact that all such functions are embedded in personal lives. As child psychologists, we talk about the growth of intelligence or the like, forgetting that only persons grow. Reasoning thus, and basing his psychology on his personalistic philosophy, he decided that a radical rebeginning was imperative; psychology had to be rebuilt with the indivisible, individual person as the focus of every psychological investigation. Even Gestalt psychology with its emphasis on totalities and its similar antielementarism was insufficient, for: "Keine Gestalt ohne Gestalter." Stern went into most of psychology's classical problems, such as perception, making the point that there are not separate problems of spatial perception in hearing, vision, touch, etc. there is only one space, personal space, and it is perceived by whatever means is appropriate. Most of the facts that had been established in traditional general psychology were brought in, with this new twist.

Stern's theory of motivation was a complex one, including drives (directional tendencies), instincts (instrumental dispositions), needs, urges, will, pheno-motives and geno-motives, etc., in too subtle and highly elaborated a structure to be recounted here. He did not have a theory of personality as such; rather, the personalistic viewpoint pervaded all of his general psychology. There was a specific theory of character, however, conceived of as the person's total make-up considered from the standpoint of his acts of will, his conscious, purposive striving. Though stratified, character is a unified structure and may be described by a list of traits, but this is only the beginning; much stress was laid on the particular, concrete structure. Particular traits, said Stern, no matter how precisely described, have meaning only when you see what function they play in the structure of the whole personality.

These are the principal psychological figures in the stream of ideas that produced the distinction between nomothetic and idiographic Wissenschaften and then applied the latter approach to the problems of psychology. Perhaps the name of Jaspers, in psychopathology, should be added. He helps to establish the continuity between the romantic movement at the turn of the century and the contemporary existentialist-phenomenological movement in psychiatry. The geisteswissenschaftliche point of view made even more headway in the social sciences, from which some influence still comes to bear on psychology. Popper (1957) has applied the term historicism to one of the main streams in sociology, history, and economics that developed as part of the romantic reaction against positivist, natural-scientific methodology. Such potent names as Marx, Engels, Spencer, Bergson, Mannheim, and Toynbee are among the historicists, and the movement is by no means dead today, despite the vigor of attacks by logical positivists which have refuted the underlying logic of this position. I will not further consider this important group of theorists, who have been adequately routed (Popper, 1957; cf. also Popper, 1950).

How useful were the new ideas to the group of psychologists discussed above? What they took from the romantic revolt was its emphasis on the permission to study as legitimate objects of inquiry, personality, values, motivation, and the interrelation of such factors with cognition (e.g., ideology, perception). Starting with Dilthey's first disciples and going on through the solid contributions of Spranger and Stern, these men did not adhere to a strict distinction between idiographic and nomothetic approaches, and were disinclined to make any substantial change in their accustomed ways of scientific work. Any follower who wholly gave up general concepts and stuck closely to intuitive contemplation of indivisible Gestalten simply dropped out of the picture. The men who are remembered used the new battle cries to help shift their fields of activity slightly, and to develop new types of concepts, which as concepts were on no different level of abstractness from the ones Dilthey and the southwesterners attacked so vehemently.

Note, for example in the above summaries, the generalizing, abstract nature of the motivational concepts used by Spranger and Stern: both retained values and instincts, which were assumed to be found in all persons.

As soon as they stopped their polemics and got down to work, the men of this romantic revolt strayed off the intuitive reservation and came up with conceptual tools methodologically indistinguishable from those of so-called nomothetic science. In a way, Stern was the most consistent in the attempt of his General Psychology from a Personalistic Standpoint (1938) to reshape all of psychology from bottom to top; but on closer examination, the changes turn out to be largely verbal. It is all very well to talk about personal space, for example, but no idiographically personalistic research methods were developed. One could hardly say that there has been any further development of a personalistic psychology of perception, except in the sense that Stern has helped focus attention on new types of generalized variables derived from a study of individual differences in perceptual behavior (see Klein & Schlesinger, 1949).

Nevertheless, all of this work did represent an important ground swell in the history of ideas, and it had some useful influence on the behavioral sciences. It did not make them idiographic, but it directed their attention to new or neglected problems and novel kinds of variables, as well as to the issue of structure: the ways the variables are organized. Like many rebellions, it revolted against a tradition that was stultifying, only to produce an opposite extreme, which if taken literally would have been equally useless or more so. Fortunately, scientists only occasionally take their concepts quite that literally and with such logical consistency. Especially at a time that old ideas are overthrown, the important content of the new movement is often emotional. Through the drama of overstatement, a prevailing but opposite overemphasis may be overthrown, and in calmer times other men may find a sensible position from which to move forward [Footnote 6].

Footnote 6: As stated here, the text seems to imply that the solution is a compromise, whereas I am now convinced that nothing less than a change of ethos or age, in Ackoff's (1974) phrase, is involved. See footnote 18, below.

Certainly the psychology and social science that held the stage in Germany during the 1880s and 1890s were in many ways inadequate as scientific approaches to important human problems. It was a day when not only value judgments but even an interest in the psychology of values was banned from scientific concern. Fechner and Wundt had started with problems it is easy to dismiss as trivial, minute, or far removed from what the man on the street thinks of as psychology. Experimental psychology had to start that way, and it can now look back on an illustrious, slow development of methods and concepts, which today permit laboratory studies of personality and some of life's more pressing issues. But a century ago, is it any wonder that a person who was interested in man the striver, the sufferer, the spinner of ideologies as Dilthey was█thought that the classical scientific approach itself might be at fault? Surely the world of inner knowledge, of passions and ideals, had been left out, and the verstehende movement was a revolt against this one-sidedness.

The historical role of differential psychology

In psychology, the romantic movement has been felt particularly in personology, the psychology of personality. And one reason that its impact was particularly great there is the fact that personology grew out of differential psychology, the psychology of individual differences.

The first efforts of the "new psychology" of the 1890s were devoted to finding empirical generalizations and abstract laws about such functions as sensation and perception (concepts which themselves were the heritage of faculty psychology). It was what Boring has called the science of the average, healthy, adult (and, one might add, male) mind, a subtly Aristotelian conception that generally relegated the study of women and children, and of abnormal and exceptional behavior, to a subordinate status. Even so, there remained embarrassing observations of exceptions to the general laws even when the subjects were "average, healthy adults." Accordingly, the field of differential psychology was invented as a kind of wastebasket to take care of these annoying anomalies. From the standpoint of the highest type of psychology, which was concerned with laws in a way not expected of differential psychology, the unexplained residual variance continued to be considered error and to be treated as if it were random and unlawful.

The psychologists who were content to work with the miscellany of leavings from all the high-caste tables in psychology were further handicapped by the taint of practical application, for they were principally involved in applying psychology to mundane problems like educating children, treating the disturbed, and selecting employees. Such work called for the prediction of behavior, and it quickly became apparent that the general laws provided by "scientific psychology" left a great deal unpredicted; it was practically imperative to supplement them by some kind of lore that dealt with all the other important determinants.

As time went on, differential psychologists made a radical shift in approach. In the era when individual differences were thought of as error as not lawful, really they were catalogued and measured, and a few attempts were made to parcel out the variance in terms of sex, age, ethnic, group, and other gross demographic categories. During the past couple of decades, however, personologists have increasingly begun to recognize that all the error-terms of standard psychological equations are their own happy hunting grounds. Individual differences in such hallowed perceptual phenomena as time-error, size-estimation, and shape-constancy proved to be not random at all but reliably related to other dimensions of individual differences in cognitive phenomena and in noncognitive realms, too (see Gardner, Holzman, Klein, Linton, & Spence, 1959).

The fallacy involved in treating individual differences as if they were random and unlawful resembles that of the eighteenth-century scientists who concretized Newton's laws as propositions concerning mechanical bodies. In both cases, the grasp of certain principles lagged behind what could have been expected. Objectively viewed, the laws that govern individual variation in the perception of apparent movement are just as abstract as the laws that cover the general case, and seem to have a different methodological status only because of the accident of history that brought about the discovery of the latter first. And, despite the implied promise in Klein and Schlesinger's title (1949), the study of such general principles does not bring the perceiver, the person in Stern's sense, back into perceptual psychology. It is merely a change in the axis of generalization, so to speak, not a way of becoming less abstract about perception.


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