“Folk” psychology vs. science

If one is raising the question about the reality of the responsible, unified, personal subject, then the opposition between “folk” psychology and scientific findings is a false dilemma. There are plenty of scientific psychologies that presuppose a self as an ontological foundation. Frankl’s Logotherapy is an clear instance: he formed his thought after extended clinical experience, followed by forming testable empirical definitions that were subjected to statistical analysis, and yet the core of the theory is an explicit rejection of the idea that the self is reducible to natural drives and forces.  More generally, the success of any scientific psychology that places real value on personal choice, responsibility and maturity can serve as scientific verification for the reality of the self.

Maybe neurology will succeed in explaining all of human behavior without having to posit the reality of a unified self. I doubt it, and my money’s on that after a string of early successes all of its claims will seem as naive as any of the previous attempts at a single-principle catch-all explanation of human behavior: cf. repression theories, behaviorism, inner parent/child conflicts, transactional analysis, psychiatry itself, etc.. Still, maybe it will be different this time (!) and neurology will explain it all. Nevertheless, any reduction-of-self theory is opposed not just to unrefective “folk” psychology but also to many reflective, rigorous, scientific psychologies, and it does not follow from this opposition that we get to treat one as true and the other as false. All sorts of scientific theories are at loggerheads in their fundamental principles, and no one thinks this requires us to throw out one of them root and branch (think of the role of probability in Thermodynamics and QM as opposed to the Einsteinian block-universe.) These are paradoxes: i.e. invitations to further research that strives to preserve the essential truths of both horns of the dilemma. Beating one horn of a paradox against the other is the reasoning of a child.

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