Reflexivity and psychology : an unresolved dilemma.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The seemingly endless possibility of reflecting upon psychological theories and 'knowledge' has created an intractable difficulty in understanding what psychology is about and what it produces. This 'problem of reflexivity' was therefore adopted as the focus of this dissertation. The aim was to determine whether it is possible for psychology to be understood clearly without ignoring or denying the 'problem of reflexivity'. Selected dichotomies and debates representative of various subject areas and theoretical and philosophical 'levels' within psychology were outlined and examined. These included: the prospects for theoretical unity in psychology; the distinction between 'pure' and 'applied' psychology; difficulties with the concepts of 'consciousness' and 'perception'; and theories concerning the nature and status of knowledge in psychology. In each of these areas reflexive problems were found that originated in two incommensurable versions of the concept of 'meaning': meaning as reference and meaning as an activity or use over time. Radical behaviourism, despite its uniqueness, was found to be unable to resolve these difficulties, especially in its characterization of 'private events'. Ludwig Wittgenstein's investigations into the limits of sense were found to provide a way to reconcile the two versions of meaning and to thus resolve reflexive problems. It was concluded that reflexive problems must be approached grammatically if any sense is to be made of them. Therefore, psychological theories can be understood as language-games which both explore and provide 'training' in the grammatical possibilities of human action. Finally, it was claimed that reflexivity should be understood grammatically and not as a psychological (orcausal) ability or process. Thus theorizing in psychology has an unavoidable grammatical aspect. In this aspect the study of psychology finds a clear home in the world of 'ordinary', meaningful human action.