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MY IDEAL CURRICULUM FOR A PSYCHOLOGY DEGREE
by Robert M. Young
The title given in your list of talks in this series is one in my list of publications that caught the eye of the person who got me invited. Instead of reciting that paper I have written a new but closely related one, drawing on some of the ideas in that one. The new title is ‘My Ideal Curriculum for a Psychology Degree’, Perhaps I ought to be more modest and call it ‘Notes Toward My Ideal Psychology Curriculum’.
When I was a graduate student in the Department of Experimental Psychology in Cambridge in the early 1960s I was impressed that the head of the department, Oliver Zangwill, had fought for and succeeded in getting the subject placed inside of the Natural Science Tripos. His motto was that ‘Psychology is a Biological Science’. Indeed, there were corridors on several floors connecting the department to that of physiology. My own research was certainly embarked upon under that way of locating the discipline. I set out to look at the history of ideas about mind and brain, in particular, cerebral localization, in the hope that brain science, especially exciting work then going on the limbic system which was commonly called the ‘emotional brain’, could act as an objective test of the psychiatric and psychoanalytic theories which interested me and of which I intended to be a practitioner. The resulting monograph has, much to my surprise, come to be considered a classic (Young, 1970). My old friend and fellow graduate student, Charlie Gross, now Professor of Psychology at Princeton and a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, told me last week that it is the text most plagiarized by his students. Surely that is some sort of compliment, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
I remain convinced that psychology is a biological science. Indeed, a colleague, Dr Ian Pitchford, and I maintain a web site which publishes daily updates of findings and debates in the brain and behavioural sciences and in evolutionary psychology which is one of the most popular of all the 34 million web sites on the internet. We have also founded an ejournal entitled Evolutionary Psychology, which has a distinguished board of editors and will support ongoing discussions of the articles it publishes and the issues they raise. Moreover, in the period since completing my doctoral research I have spent more time researching on the place of humanity in the biological order and have published more on this than any other topic, including two books and dozens of articles on Darwin, evolutionary theory and the biomedical and human sciences. All of these are available at my web site - http://human-nature.com/rmyoung/papers/
I begin with all these immodest remarks to establish my bona fides, in the hope that you will not think me a traitor, an apostate from the true faith of science and of scientific psychology, when I spend most of my time arguing that psychology - as I conceive it and advocate that it be taught - is or should be much, much more than a biological science. I want to give my reasons for saying this and then to offer a sketch of a curriculum in psychology I would like to have been taught and to teach. I offer these remarks in my capacity as an old man and an emeritus professor and who has been studying, teaching and doing clinical work on human nature for just short of half a century.
Of course, the question immediately arises: how can anything about human nature not be part of biology? We evolved via the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection. Let’s spend a few moments on this matter. Although, as you’ll see, I have grave reservations about some of the more ambitious claims of evolutionary psychology, I also welcome a suitably modest version of it. However, I am in no doubt about the importance of Darwin’s theory.
If we look at Darwin’s theory of evolution as one of the great ideas in the history of science and of culture, we can characterise it in two ways. Evolution ranks with gravity, the central concept in physics, and affinity, the key idea in chemistry, as one of the most basic concepts in the natural sciences. Beyond that, however, evolution by natural selection is a widely applicable theory in two senses. It is the law that binds all of life together and defines its relations with the physical environment - how the history of living nature relates to the history of nature. And, of course, it binds humanity by causal laws to the rest of life and of nature. Evolution by natural selection is the process that accounts for the history of living nature, including human nature. It is arguably the most important idea in the history of the natural and the human sciences. Suitably interpreted, I think it is.
All of the above is fairly common knowledge, though the breadth and depth of the scope of Darwinism is rarely adequately presented. However, there is a huge problem, which is left unresolved -- or perhaps I should say it is in some hands too easily resolved -- by evolution. If we take evolution to be an all-embracing explanation of living, including human, phenomena, then must also include human psychology, society and culture within the causal nexus of deterministic scientific laws. If this is so, what is the basis for the parameters of human culture and morality? Put another way, how should we think of the role of values and morality in human nature? Is the only truth natural science truth? At its most stark, evolution by natural selection proceeds by competition for resources and/or mates to achieve viable offspring that live to reproduce. How can this conception of the interrelations between creatures be subtle enough to include processes which transcend competition - altruism, charity, generosity, self-critical reflection, including what Darwin’s great inspiration, T. R. Malthus, called ’moral restraint’ (Young, 1999)? How can it explain the diversity of customs and mores in different cultures? Providing such explanations is an important and controversial part of the project of the practitioners of new Darwinian sciences, in particular Darwinian (sometimes called Evolutionary) Psychology. The answers they have so far tended to provide often strike me as less useful than the ones we can gain from more traditional ones employing human purposes, consciously conceived and/or discerned in unconscious motivations, which do not rely in any simple, direct or obvious way on selfish genes and competition for resources and/or mates.
It seems to me to be approaching things the wrong way up to claim that Darwinian explanations provide the most basic accounts for the subtleties and complexities of human relations when literature, philosophy, theology, analytical psychology and other cultural approaches evoke and explore them so well. Perhaps I should say, rather, that it seems wrong-headed to me to offer Darwinian explanations as superior to or as replacements for traditional explorations of such matters derived from the arts. It may well be that evolution explains humanity and all its works, but we must still find a way of paying due respect to established forms of reflection on human nature and not run headlong into a single explanatory paradigm -- and a reductionist one, at that. The general applicability of evolutionary explanation is not the same as its replacing other explanations or as being seen as more appropriate or basic than them. Hence we need science and the humanities; neither will do alone now or, in my opinion, ever.
You begin to see why my proposed curriculum will move freely across the divide usually maintained between the arts and the sciences. There is also a deeper reason. To get a sense of it we have to put some philosophy into our curriculum, in particular, two books that have been guiding lights for me since I was an undergraduate. Both mount critiques of the explanatory paradigm of modern science that was codified in the seventeenth century, especially as it applies to psychology and the human sciences. René Descartes, whose Discourse on Method, published in 1637 and often called the founding document of modern science, was philosophically explicit about what counts as a scientific explanation. He divided the world into two sorts of things -- extended substances and thinking substances. Extended substances had extension, figure and motion and made up the world of matter, while thinking substances were defined negatively as that which does not pertain to matter, and their essence was will. We were left with a world of minds and bodies -- since commonly called Cartesian dualism. This radical definition of reality was very useful for certain scientific purposes, but it left a dreadful legacy of unsolved problems, for example, how minds and bodies interact. Many, many philosophers have lamented this split.
Alfred North Whitehead was co-author with Bertrand Russell of Principia Mathematica, one of the great mathematical works of all time and the foundation stone of modern symbolic logic. Late in his life Whitehead accepted an invitation to give the Lowell Lectures at Harvard. He stood back and reflected on Science and the Modern World, in which he had this to say about the modern world-view:
The seventeenth century had finally produced a scheme of scientific thought framed by mathematicians, for the use of mathematicians… The enormous success of the scientific abstractions, yielding on the one hand matter with its simple location in space and time, on the other hand mind, perceiving, suffering, reasoning, but not interfering, has foisted onto philosophy the task of accepting them as the most concrete rendering of fact.
Thereby, modern philosophy has been ruined. It has oscillated in a complex manner between three extremes. There are the dualists, who accept matter and mind as on equal basis, and the two varieties of monists, those who put mind inside matter, and those who put matter inside mind. But this juggling with abstractions can never overcome the inherent confusion introduced by the ascription of misplaced concreteness to the scientific scheme of the seventeenth century (Whitehead, 1925, p. 70).
A younger contemporary of Whitehead’s who reflected on the consequences of the world-view of modern science was Edwin Arthur Burtt who taught at Cornell and wrote about The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science. Reflecting on the consequences of this world-view for any attempt at understanding human nature, he said,
...it does seem like strange perversity in these Newtonian scientists to further their own conquests of external nature by loading on mind everything refractory to exact mathematical handling and thus rendering the latter still more difficult to study scientifically than it had been before. Did it never cross their minds that sooner or later people would appear who craved verifiable knowledge about mind in the same way they craved it about physical events, and who might reasonably curse their elder scientific brethren for buying easier success in their own enterprise by throwing extra handicaps in the way of their successors in social science? Apparently not; mind was to them a convenient receptacle for the refuse, the chips and whittlings of science, rather than a possible object of scientific knowledge (Burtt, 1932, pp. 318-19).
Burtt’s critique is centrally relevant to our attempt to fathom human nature. He says,
But when in the interest of clearing the field for exact mathematical analysis, we sweep out of the temporal and spatial realm all non-mathematical characteristics, concentrate them in a lobe of the brain, and pronounce the semi-real effects of atomic motions outside, they have performed a rather radical piece of cosmic surgery which deserves to be carefully examined (p. 202).
A high price was paid for modern physical explanation:
To get ahead confidently with their revolutionary achievements, they had to attribute absolute reality and independence to those entities in terms of which they were attempting to reduce the world. This once done, all the other features of their cosmology followed as naturally as you please. It has, no doubt, been worth the metaphysical barbarism of a few centuries to possess modern science (p. 303).
Having shown how and why they created a mess, Burtt turns to the consequences for the study of mind: 'But when it comes to the question of replacing this impossible doctrine by a positive theory of mind, there has been a radical diversity of opinion and a philosophy which will be fair to all the data and meet all the basic needs clamouring to guide their interpretation is yet to be invented' (p. 318). He mentions two approaches. The first seeks to know mind as an object of scientific study according to the canons of scientific research. It is first necessary to jettison the mind-body dualism and treat what was formerly considered to be mental as something bodily, i.e., materialist reductionism. The other alternative is to keep mind special and separate - loosely equivalent to what we mean by the arts, culture and the humanities.
I have quoted the profound and searching critiques of Whitehead and Burtt to indicate where we need to look for the metaphysical foundations of the science-humanities split and the philosophical defensiveness of the human sciences. At a more technical level, they are challenging what is known as the doctrine of primary and secondary qualities that divides the world into extension and figure on the one hand. This is where all the causes lie. On the other hand are the effects of matter and energy, the secondary qualities, e.g., colour, odour, taste, smell, i.e., the realm of experience. This division, along with others generated from it, lies at the heart of the split that separates the sciences from the humanities. These splits parallel the one between mind and body and are so basic to our world-view that we seldom, if ever, examine them:
humanities - science
society - science
morality - science
culture - nature
qualitative - quantitative
value - fact
purpose - mechanism
subject - object
internal - external
secondary- primary (qualities)
thought - extension
mind - body
character - behaviour
human - animal
The reductionist programme of modern science seeks, in the fullness of time, to reduce the left-hand list to the right hand, since materialism and evolution attribute causal efficacy to matter, motion and number. As Isaac Newton once put it, the whole business of natural philosophy is this: from the phenomena of matter and motion to explain all the other phenomena. But, as Whitehead, Burtt and a number of others stress again and again, the split is actually very hard to maintain. It tends to collapse, and concepts have a way of sneaking across the divide. This is particularly true in the banishment of goals, purposes, values and what is called teleology or final causes from scientific explanations. Although they were banished from the new paradigm, they keep popping up, e.g., in functional explanations and in the evaluative terms all over the place in evolutionary theory, beginning with its mechanism, natural selection. How can nature select? We have here an apparently ineradicable analogy to human (or even divine) intention. Darwin said it was just a metaphor, and it vexed his supporters, but they could not, as I have shown in some detail (Young, 197?), wish it away. This has important implications for the philosophy of science (Young, phil sci) and for the claim, common in the middle decades of the last century, that physics was the paradigm science.
I suppose that some of you may have found that philosophical section of my paper hard going. I am not hoping that you will have grasped it all. I am only illustrating some of the reasons why psychology students should study the history of ideas in the development of the assumptions underlying modern science and some of the philosophical critiques of the scientific mode of explanation. Descartes, Whitehead and Burtt would be set texts in year one of my proposed curriculum, and certain texts in the philosophy of mind and perception would come along in the later years, e.g., the writings of P. F. Strawson (19xx) and of Donald Davidson (19xx).
But I would not confine myself to experimental psychology and its philosophical context -- far from it. I would introduce whole new strands, ones which I suggest are central to our understanding of human nature, biography, for instance. I mean by this, of course, biographies of great scientists, especially Darwin, Freud, William James, J. B. Watson, B. F. Skinner, Alfred Kinsey, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, James Watson and Francis Crick, Frederick Taylor, the founder of scientific management, who brought behavioural control to the factory and whose followers brought it to the fast food restaurant. The next generation brought a softer form of behavioural control as a result of that was known as The Hawthorn Experiments, and the biographer of their main researcher, Elton Mayo, would be high on my list.
I would also include biographies of whomsoever, the criterion being their insight into the human heart. Each of us will have his or her own candidates for this list. Mine would include The Autobiography of Malcolm X, specified biographies of Marx, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, Henry James, Virginia Wolfe, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemmingway, Elvis Presley, Nelson Mandela, Robert Moses (the main architect of modern New York), Lyndon B. Johnson (the most deeply studied and psychologically complex statesman of our era), Orson Welles (cinema’s greatest genius). I won’t extend this list, since, as I said, each will have his or her own favoured studies. By the way, this list and others I will offer may well be too long. I bow to experienced constructors of curricula who know what can be expected of a serious undergraduate.
The subjects of biography and autobiography as genres also have a fine literature, and some of this would also find a place in my syllabus. Please don’t think I am merely leavening the scientific curriculum. I commend to you a paper I wrote some time ago, one of several studies I have done on the genre. It is entitled ‘Biography: The Basic Discipline for a Human Science’ and concluded,
With biography we link ideas, like a reclining Gulliver, to the ground of place and time. We link them by a thousand threads - they are all threads of historicity. The more influences represented in a hagiographic biography, the less genius. I want to say that more articulations mean more social embedding and more ways of holding the Gulliver of human arrogance by Lilliputian ties (Young, 19xx, p. xx).
That essay also contains some other nominations of biographies that shed light on human nature on the hoof. I have two purposes in making a big place for biographies. They can illuminate the histories and labour processes in the human sciences while at the same time they can provide insights into the workings of the human mind and heart in context of societies and institutions.
I turn next to literature. Once we remove the straightjacket from the curriculum as we now find it and widen our brief to the sources of our most treasured insights into human nature, who could fail to include Sophocles, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, George Eliot on idealism, Kafka on guilt and paranoia, Dostoyevsky on Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov; Tolstoy on War and Peace; Arthur Koestler on totalitarian brainwashing (19xx). My list would include ‘King Lear’’, Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, ‘Richard III’ - where better to fathom the psychodynamics of ambition, familial relations, greed, spite, jealousy? I’d include Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, the classic text on reparative guilt and The Regeneration Trilogy, Pat Barker’s deep exploration of the psychological traumas of war. I am not a student of poetry, but it should have its place.
I trust that you have noticed that, as promised, in designing my ideal curriculum, I have moved boldly among academic disciplines, drawing mostly on history, philosophy, science and literature but including anything that I believe illuminates human nature. I say again that most people, including most psychologists when they are not fighting their academic corner for time in the curriculum for their very particular sub-discipline, believe that literature, philosophy and other cultural forms have at least as much to tell us about human nature and the human condition as does experimental research.
I am from time to time asked to give advice about where a young person interested in studying psychology should go to university, and the question is usually followed by a plea to be told of places where the curriculum is not largely or exclusively positivistic and experimental. They want something broader and deeper, something recognizably about people in the world as they experience it. In asking this they contravene two important principles, one of the embodied in the title of a book by Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science, in which he argues that science leads away from commonsense to things which at first seem unnatural. On this argument, my enquiring young person looking for a sympathetic course can be said to be misguided. He or she should accept what is on offer, because it will be good for them. The second principle is closely related to the first. It is that science can only advance where its methods and assumptions allow, so one cannot just ask for studies of human nature as we experience it in our everyday lives. We have to humble ourselves before the experimental methods and quantitative techniques of natural science.
You will recall my expositions of Whitehead and Burtt, who argued that the reductionist programme of modern science is excellent for certain purposes, in particular, the study of physics and chemistry, but that it is not suited to the study of human nature, what is loosely called mind, personality and character. Psychology makes a small gesture to these topics in some settings. There is even a chair of Qualitative Psychology at Leeds, a recent incumbent of which, Professor Wendy Hollway, is now head of department at the Open University. She is fighting an uphill battle in favour of rigorous but qualitative methods in research. She claims in a recent talk that ‘Scientific psychology has disavowed the central place of meaning and experience in understanding human behaviour’. I have discussed these matters with her and some other professors and have asked them where there are departments where a significantly broader curriculum is on offer. Their immediate response was to be stumped. The only two I have so far discovered are at the University of East London and Birkbeck College, London, both of which offer programmes in Psychosocial Studies.
What about the rest? There are over 120 universities in this country. Their psychology curricula are, I am reliably told, confined within in a straightjacket maintained by the British Psychological Society which can give or withhold the GBR, the Graduate Basis for Registration, which is the kite mark that determines whether or not graduates from a given university psychology department are eligible for graduate studies leading to membership in the BPS. That is, they are the gatekeepers controlling access to the foot of the ladder which one ascends to gain registration as a professional psychologist. They say that psychology is an experimental and quantitative science and that research methods and statistics are central to an undergraduate psychology curriculum. And, of course, psychology departments are overwhelmingly staffed by people who have been educated and have done their doctoral research in this climate. If they weren’t so inclined at the beginning, the process of socialization into the subculture of experimental psychology as it is now constituted will very likely and with a few exceptions have led them to take the party line to their hearts, believing that this is the only scientific way forward. It is, as they might say, a matter of principle, of integrity.
Just at the moment these sincerely held principles join up with the fashions of the times to give us passionate dedication to cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. As you have heard, I am involved in a new journal in evolutionary psychology. Indeed, as I also mentioned, I have devoted a lot of my scholarly career to research on Darwinism, broadly conceived. I do not want to deny the achievements or promise of either of these trends. However, I do want to advocate pluralism inside psychology and a broadening of its brief to include other sources of enlightenment about human nature and a moratorium on calling these other sources of insight mere intuition or folk wisdom. They include the best of human observation and thought about humanity.
Returning to the regulatory climate of the discipline. I suggest that for all the sincerity of its adherents, it is positivistic in the pejorative sense of that word, and sclerotic. You don’t have to take my undoubtedly biased word for this. A former President of the BPS and also chief honcho of its accrediting squad, Professor Tony Gale, wrote an article on this very matter in the July 2002 issue of the main organ of the BPS, The Psychologist. His article is entitled ’A Stranglehold on the Development of Psychology?’ Professor Gale is that rare breed, a gamekeeper turned poacher. His answer to his own question is an emphatic yes. He advocates, purely and simply, no regulation at the undergraduate level, since the gate keeping can be done as rigorously as you like at the graduate level. He writes,
…critics of the typical psychology curriculum have accused it of being over-academic, unquestioningly positivistic, eurocentric, phallocentric, ageist, about observing and not listening, and detached from everyday experience (Gale, 2002, p. 358).
If undergraduate accreditation were to end we could release psychology departments from the GBR straightjacket and allow teachers to determine the curriculum, enabling them also to implement an educational programme that best exploited the intrinsic interests of students. The discipline could be creative: it could experiment, explore, flourish (ibid.)
This emancipation could allow undergraduates to have as broad a curriculum as you like, for example, mine, or something a lot like mine or even a little bit like it. Part of his point and mine is that there should be different offerings at different universities: let a hundred - or 123 - flowers bloom.
Mine is long on some things and short on others, e.g., the psychology of women. There is a burgeoning and fiercely critical literature in this field. I am thinking, for example, of Naomi Weisstein’s pioneering essay, ‘Psychology Constructs the Female’ (1968; Lemisch and Weisstein, 1997; ‘Feminist Psychology…’, 2001), and a recent book, What Do Women Want? Another might stress ethnic differences, including black psychology or Roland Littlewood’s Aliens and Alienists: Minorities and Psychiatry. For example, an American analyst, Alan Roland, has written a lovely study of the differences between the inner lives of people in the East: In Search of Self in India and Japan. At Sheffield there is a Centre for the Study of Violence. There is an flowering of writings on Literature and Psychology. The same can be said of the psychology of racism, of sexual abuse, of gender identity, of groups and institutions. The list is long, e.g., space psychology, psychology of infants and of the elderly. Remove the current straightjacket and enterprising university lecturers could develop a new course from time to time, thereby keeping their minds lively and exploratory. I can well remember when I was a graduate student in Cambridge that one of the venerable lecturers was at a loss for words on occasion due to missing bits in notes that were fraying from repeated annual use. Let’s keep things fresh and lively.
Let us have illuminating documents about the stages on life’s way from the cradle to the grave. Melanie Klein and Judy Dunn on infancy, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye on adolescence; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night on young marriage; East of Eden and the film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ on father-son relations (I leave it to you to reflect on the potential role of films in your curriculum); Little Women on young girls; Philip Roth on middle age; Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, on family dynamics and senescence; Lael Wertenbaker’s The Death of a Man on dying. Once again, I hold no passionate brief for this list or its Yankee bias: make your own. Have a look at the list of 54 divisions listed at the web site of the American Psychological Association, and you’ll get a good idea of the scope of the discipline when it is broadly conceived.
Going further, if we can cast our net as widely as possible, let’s stretch it to include the domain of religion. I want to say something about its place of in my ideal curriculum. Some of you will say that now I go too far. Richard Dawkins, guru of many evolutionary psychologists holds that religion is reactionary, anti-rational and therefore antiscientific, and, of course, some of it is. If you don’t want to take this course (it’s an elective), give it a miss. I’d argue that understanding the psychology of fundamentalism is a deeply serious current priority, and there are excellent accessible texts on that topic, on the origins of the idea of Satan and related matters. Moreover, religion is the longest established cultural form for understanding nature and human nature and in seeking to improve human relations and our relations with the cosmos. We live in lineage from Judeo-Christian thought and are called upon to broaden the base of our tolerance of other theistic world-views. No less an eminent scientist than Robert Hinde, formerly Royal Society Professor of Animal Behaviour at Cambridge, has recently written most interestingly on the question Why Gods Persist (Routledge, 1999), as he has done so this year on Why Good Is Good: The Sources of Morality (Routledge, 2002). My reading list in this area also includes the writings of Émile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud and Max Weber on religion, but it also includes certain writings in religion. An example of the potential fruits in his area is a proposal I once had from an Indian psychologist to write a book on personality theory based on the pantheon of Hindu gods. Her thesis is that they covered the aspects of human character pretty thoroughly. Analogous claims could be made for he Greek and Roman pantheons. I could elaborate on what I hope to illuminate about human nature from reading certain theologians and certain sacred texts, e.g., The Bhagavad-Gita, St. Augustine, Kierkegaard, Buddhism, The Bible, The Koran and The Torah. The writings of Karen Armstrong offer sure-footed guides on the history of concepts of God.
I have left it to near the end to speak about scientific classics. Once again, to each his or her own. My reading list includes Darwin’s Origin of Species and The Descent of Man; Durkheim’s Suicide; Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Civilization and Its Discontents; Wilfred Trotter’s Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War; L. J. Henderson on The Fitness of the Environment; Walter Cannon on homeostasis; Wilfred Bion’s Experiences in Groups; Kai Erikson’s Wayward Puritans (on how you deal with delinquency in a supposedly utterly devout community); Elie Cohen’s Human Behavior in the Concentration Camp; Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority; Kurt Danziger’s Constructing the Subject: Historical Origins of Psychological Research; Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality; Nicholas Lemann’s The Big Test (a searching and critical history of the Princeton Educational Testing Service, a topic of contemporary interest if there ever was one) This portion of the programme would include certain classics in Psychology, Social Psychology, Anthropology and Sociology, the precise list to be determined by horse trading in the curriculum committee. It would also include collections of key and classical papers from the journal literature.
I would also add certain classics in the history of ideas, beginning with Arthur O. Lovejoy’s The Great Chain of Being, the founding document in that scholarly tradition. Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia is the founding document in the sociology of knowledge. As usual, others would add their own classics to this list.
My last category is history itself, giving a broad view of certain key episodes on human relations. I am thinking of James Walvin’s Black Ivory: The History of British Slavery; Richard Watt’s account of the failure to bring democracy to Europe at the end of the First World War, The Kings Depart; Martin Gilbert’s narrative history of The Holocaust, Harrison Salisbury’s account of the German siege of Leningrad, 900 Days.
I suppose you are beginning to feel that my remarks degenerated some minutes ago into the recitation of an annotated reading list. I am sorry if it seems so. My aim has been to be catalytic and a bit provocative, using my exemplars in the hope of evoking yours. When I spoke at the Cambridge Psychology Department about broadening the curriculum there, the first respondent said that’s all very well, but not one of us would willing give a second of timetable slot to anything other than what we already have and fought for the right to teach. It would be dishonest to pretend that all the course slots for perception, cognitive and evolutionary psychology and brain and behaviour research could stand just as they are while my domains - or some of them - were added. Every university will synthesize its own mixture of elements with varying emphases. My only answer to the inevitable conservatism of defending the course list as it now sands, beyond the appeal of what I have sketched, is to try to scare you into broadening your horizons. If Professor Gale has his way you will have to look to your laurels as other universities broaden their curricula and woo potential applicants away from your course.
I know a bit about such things. When I offered a Special Subject in the History Tripos at Cambridge on the debate about ‘Man’s Place in Nature’ in Nineteenth-Century Britain - a broad version of the controversies surrounding Darwin - old lags who were accustomed to offering topics like the Popes from 1202 till 1215 - smiled patronisingly and said my special subject would be a soft option and none of the better students would take it. Not only did they flock to it, but they also got disproportionately high exam results in my and their other papers, and a number, including the distinguished historian Roy Porter, alas recently deceased, took up research in the area I had taught. Broad issues can be studied deeply and meticulously researched, I promise you.
My last nomination is a book that exemplifies practically everything for which I am arguing. It is part history, part exposition, part conceptual critique, part ideological analysis, part institutional history, part analysis of science fiction and of popular culture and all excellent. I am referring to Donna Haraway’s history of the biological and behavioural discipline of primatology, entitled Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science, chosen in a recent poll as one of the best one hundred books published in the twentieth century. Her choice of topic is of considerable interest in placing us in the animal kingdom. Primatology is the discipline in which we create a pedigree for the concept of humanity.
I have written at length about the book’s strengths in an essay entitled ‘Science, Ideology and Donna Haraway’. Her next book, a collection of essays called Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, which I published, received an American Book Award. I commend her work to you and your students. She does not stop at disciplinary boundaries. She gathers up truth and enlightenment wherever she can find it. She has been given innumerable awards, prizes and honorary presentations and continues to write prolifically. You can find her publications at various web sites beginning with her own at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
One last point, which I offer as a taster. If you asked me what course I’d like to teach, it’s entitled ’Concepts of Human Nature and the Self’. I would present the debates on the concept of human nature, one that has been fiercely attacked and defended. The same is true of the concept of the self. Marxists, deconstructionists and post-modernists have argued that human nature and the self are ideological categories and that they are only hooks on which to hang determinations or to inscribe the influences of socialization. Other Marxists (e.g., Norman Geras and Sean Sayers) stoutly defend these concepts, as do many philosophers and psychologists, e.g., Stephen Pinker in his latest book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. There are also useful monographs on the concept of the self, e.g., by Jerome Levin and Anthony Elliott.
These are large topics. To give you an idea, the entry on human nature in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas occupies a whole page and extends from Achilles, Aeschylus, Agamemnon and Alcmaeon, the last of whom founded anatomy, to Xenophanes, Xenophon and Zeus, the last of whom created the world. The three founding figures of the empiricist tradition have it in the titles of major treatises: Humane Nature: Or the Fundamental Elements of Policie (1650) by Thomas Hobbes, An Essay Concerning Human Nature (1690) by John Locke, and A Treatise of Human Nature (1738) by David Hume. All were concerned to deny the existence of innate ideas in human nature. Hence, the problem of what is given and what is experienced lies at the foundations of our question. Leftists used to minimize what is given, but in recent years behavioural geneticists have found evidence for genes for some of the traits the left was keenest to deny the existence of. I am thinking of Robert Plomin’s work at the Maudsley in London on the genetics of general cognitive ability. Thus, Human nature poses perennial questions. Without making a special effort, I recalled more than a dozen books on my shelves with human nature in the title. Amazon lists 2608.
The phrase ‘human nature’ is, once you reflect on it for a moment, more problematic than helpful. Does it imply that humanity is wholly natural? In some sense it must be, since, as I’ve said before, we evolved as biological organisms by means of natural selection. But does the modifier mean that human nature is somehow not reducible to natural processes? And our troubles begin. That is, all versions of determinism and reductionism have wanted it both ways: to assert that humans (biologically: our species) are wholly natural but then to find it problematic, since our concept of nature is impoverished with respect to the matters which we most value about our humanity, emotions, for instance. Passion lurked somewhere in between the poles of the Cartesian ontological mind-body dualism. It is a topic that cognitive psychology was, at least in its early days, skittish about taking up. An early historian of the movement wrote,
Though mainstream cognitive scientists do not necessarily bear any animus against the affective realm, against the context that surrounds any action or thought, or against historical or cultural analyses, in practice they attempt to factor out these elements to the maximum extent possible... And so, at least provisionally, most cognitive scientists attempt to so define and investigate problems that an adequate account can be given without resorting to these murky concepts (Gardner, 1985, pp. 41-42).
This situation began to change about ten or fifteen years ago, soon after those words were written, as new journals such as Cognition and Emotion started to appear. Research on the emotions is now popular, due to the work of people like Paul Ekman, Joseph LeDoux, and Antonio Damasio, all three of whom seem ubiquitous in the media lately. Damasio’s recent books, Descartes’ Error and The Feeling of What Happens, both have Emotion in their subtitles. Needless to say, given my own professional work, I would argue that psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theory and clinical work have a lot to offer in the domain of the vicissitudes of emotional life.
I’ll stop here - deliberately in mid-flo. I hope you begin to see the sorts of issues that would be explored in my proposed course on the concepts of human nature and of the self. This taster is also an exemplar of the sorts of things I am advocating in a much-broadened curriculum in psychology.
In conclusion, there is a lot of dumbing down going on in culture and academia. There are, even so, a few remaining voices insisting on the complexity and depth of serious academic work or politics or culture. When I was Graduate Tutor at King’s College Cambridge, one of the most erudite and thoughtful students I encountered in over a decade of working with some of the best graduate students from all over the world had attended a course at St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland. The curriculum there consisted almost exclusively of great books chosen from the whole sweep of history. Even though he had undergone this wide curriculum, he was accepted by Cambridge to do graduate work in chemistry and did imaginative, excellent and highly original research and got his doctorate. The list of books the students at St. Johns read is on the web at http://www.sjca.edu/college/readlist.phtml
It’s a four-year programme, and its scope is, of course, much wider than psychology or human nature, but I am left feeling that, by analogy, reading and pondering my list may not be too much to ask. See what you think.
As Kevin Costner was so memorably told in ‘Field of Dreams’, ‘If you build it they will come’. I rest my case.
Talk given to the Psychology Department, Warwick University, 3 October 2002.
(Place of publication is London unless otherwise specified.)
Baritz, Loren (1960) The Servants of power: A History of the Use of Social Science in American Industry. Middletown, Ct: Wesleyan University Press.
Damasio, Antonio R. (1994) Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. Picador.
______ (1999) The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness. William Heinemann.
Elliot, Anhony (2001) Concepts of the Self. Cambridge: Polity
‘Feminist Psychology, Psychology of Women & Gender’ (2001) (readings) http://www.utexas.edu/depts/wstudies/publications/wslist/psych.html
Gale, Tony (2002) ‘A Stranglehold on the Development of Psychology?’, The Psychologist 15: 356-59 (July).
Gilbert, Martin (186) The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy. Collins.
Kanigel, Robert (1997) The One Best Way: Federick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. Viking/Penguin Books.
Lemisch, Jesse and Weisstein, Naomi (1997) ‘Remarks on http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUMemoir/weisstein.html
Levin, Jerome D. (1992) Theories of the Self. Taylor and Fancis.
Salisbury, Harrison (1969) The 900 Days: The Siee of Leningrad. N. Y.: Harper & Row
Trahair, Richard C. S. (1984) The Humanist Temper: The Life and ork of Elton Mayo. Transaction
Trotter, Wilfred (1919) Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War1916-1919, 2nd ed. Ernest Benn; reprinted Keynes Press, 1985.
Walvin, James Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery
Watt, Richard M. (1868) The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Clarion/Simon & Schuster
Weisstein, Naomi (1968) ‘Psychology Constructs the Female’, http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/psych.html
See also ‘Feminist Psychology…’ and Lemisch, 1997.
More refs to integrate:
Darwin, Charles (1967). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured
Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Facsimile reprint. New York: Atheneum; 6th ed. (1872a). Murray.
Darwin, Charles (1874). The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), 2nd ed. Murray.
Lovejoy, Arthur O. (1960). The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936). New York: Harper Torchbooks.
[Malthus, Thomas R.] (1798). An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of
Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers. J. Johnson. Reprint.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (1959).
Mannheim, Karl (1954). Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. Trans. L. Wirth and E. A. Shils. Routledge.
Whitehead, Alfred N. (1925). Science and the Modern World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reprint. Free Association Books (1985).
Burtt, Edwin A. (1932). The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (1924), 2nd ed. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Young, Robert M. (1981). "The Naturalisation of Value Systems in the Human Sciences." In Problems in the Biological and Human Sciences, pp. 63-110. Block VI of Open University Course, Science and Belief. from Darwin
to Einstein. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Bion, Wilfred R. (1961) Experiences in Groups and Other Papers. Tavistock
Caro, Robert S. (1974) The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. N. Y.: Knopf; reprinted N. Y.: Vintage, 1975.
______ (1983) The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. Knopf.
______ (1990) The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent. Knopf.
Lbj & amer dream
Descartes, René (1637) Discourse on the Method of Properly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking the Truth in the Sciences, in Discourse on Method and The Meditations. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968, pp. 25-91.
______ (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams. S. E. 4 and 5.
______ (1930) Civilization and Its Discontents. S. E. 21, pp. 59-145.
______ (1953-73) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 24 vols. Hogarth (S. E.).
Grosskurth, Phyllis (1986) Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work. Hodder and Stoughton.
Haraway, Donna (1989) Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. Routledge.
______(1990) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Free Association Books.
______ (1946) 'Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms', reprinted in W. M. K. III, pp. 1-24.
______ (1975) The Writings of Melanie Klein, 4 vols. Hogarth. Vol. I: Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works, 1921-1945. Vol. II: The Psycho-Analysis of Children. Vol. III Envy and Gratitude and Other Works; 1946-1963. Vol. IV: Narrative of a Child Analysis. all reprinted Virago, 1988. (W. M. K. )
Menzies Lyth, Isabel (1959) 'The Functions of Social Systems as a Defence Against Anxiety: A Report on a Study of the Nursing Service of a General Hospital', Human Relations 13: 95-121; reprinted in *Lyth (1988), pp. 43-88.
_____ (1988) Containing Anxiety in Institutions: Selected Essays, vol. 1. Free Association Books.
______ (1989) The Dynamics of the Social: Selected Essays, vol. II. Free Association Books.
Gay, Peter (1988) Freud: A Life for Our Time. Dent.
______ (1988) Melanie Klein Today, 2 vols. Routledge.
______ (1970) Mind, Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century : Cerebral Localization and Its Biological Context from Gall to Ferrier. Clarendon Press; reprinted Oxford University Press, 1990.
______ (1989b) ‘The Role of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in the Human Sciences’, paper presented to Zangwill Club, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge.
.______ (1992a) 'Science, Ideology and Donna Haraway', Sci. as Culture (no. 15) 3: 7-46.
______ (1993) ‘Darwin's Metaphor and the Philosophy of Science’, Sci. as Culture (no. 16) 3: 375-403.
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The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM