Re: re Grand Unified Theory
Sun, 6 Nov 1994 23:29:19 +0000

Hi Hemant, and everyone else who isn't bored yet by this topic,

You replied to my message id <> from
which I extract the quote:

>I get so _tired_ of having to say it all again, d'you see? Clearly, I'm not
> saying that the whole structure should be set in stone (though I've met at
> least one PCPer who takes a "holy writ" approach to it and, absurdly,
> forgets the constructive alternativist bit); but in an intellectual climate
> which searches for certainties, there does seem to be a logical problem
> with a theory, Kelly's, which includes in its epistemology an assertion of
> its own contradictions. Maybe that's why we're doomed to wander the
> psychological sidelines?
> I suspect that there may be an issue of levels of analysis here, and it may
> not in fact be a problem, but I'm not clever enough to see a way through
> it.

by making three key points in your message
id <>

a) the difficulty may well be one of levels of analysis; these comprise
b) the personal level: deals with why people become interested in PCP and
c) the superordinate level of the discipline itself (it names itself after
its creator, it has intellectual subgroupings within it, and it may be
sidelined because, inter al., it is political viz., it threatens the
position of people whose position and power-base are wedded to positivist

Well, yes and no. Let's be hard on ourselves and see where it gets us.

1. You say:
>Personally, I think George Kelly was a thinker not only far ahead of his

I too admire his achievement but I'm not sure how far the "ahead of his
time" view helps us explain what's going on. The bare bones of the matter
are that he lived by definition in his time, and articulated his theory in
his time. We, in our own time, are trying to make sense of why it hasn't
taken, and we have no privileged access to future theorising in psychology
to allow retrospection which would illuminate our difficulties in being
taken up by the mainstream. We work with where we're at now.

2. You continue:
>...but also one who revamped
>some dimensions of science and knowledge that many people don't want/
>like to consider as it shakes their core constructs and threatens their
>worldview. Earlier on the mailbase, I had mentioned that pcp, to me,
>implies a motto of "power to the people". For if everyone is a scientist
>or at least functions like one, it demands a restructuring of the
>established social order.
I recognise the argument and have some but not complete sympathy at the
level of the heart, as it were. But at the level of the head I must reply
that to _demand_ a restructuring is precisely what Kelly's theory doesn't
do. _Because_ constructive alternativism legitimises alternative
constructions as different ways of making meaning to a particular end,
whether we agree with them or not: where those goals are the same as our
own. And clearly, where the goals are different, the issue is entirely

I'd say that there are indeed levels of analysis involved, but when
speaking of levels
I meant different logical or linguistic levels rather than different

Statement 1:
Kelly asserts a theory which we find bloody convincing and in that sense, true
Statement 2:
The theory states that no theory can be true because alternate
constructions are always possible

Well, no: that's not quite what he or we say, and so there's no necessary
contradiction. Try instead

Statement 3:
Kelly asserts a theory which we find convincing because it is so very
useful (e.g. because it's self-referential, the "person as scientist" bit,
accounts for itself, etc.)
Statement 4:
The theory states that there's no point in claiming truths or otherwise
because alternative constructions, viz. other useful formulations, are
alway possible

Now, positivist epistemologies make statements modelled on Statement1
(convincing to a current cabal of scientists, and in that sense true for
them) and explicitly reject statements modelled on Statement 2 (by adopting
hypothetico deductive method which
eliminates, rather than tolerates, alternative explanations).
While constructivist epistemologies make statements modelled on Statement
3; though some, e.g. some social constructivist approaches, haven't got
round to adopting a position on self-reference, which one might see as
their weakness if one was so inclined. Moreover, constructivist
epistemologies make statements modelled on Statement 4.

Statement 5: Our political problem (convincing the positivists) is that
they accept Statement 1, we accept Statements 3 and 4: Statement 4 placing
us at a disadvantage.

Statement 6: Our logical problem exists only if we see a contradiction
between Statements 3 and 4. And there is one, to the extent that we equate
"usefulness" with "truth"; if we make this equation, then accepting
Statement 4 prevents acceptance of Statement 3. Try substituting either
term for either and you'll see what I mean.

Why should we make this equation, you reply? We don't, do we? "Truth" is
different from "usefulness", by definition!

Er. Wait for it. Here it comes. That's _precisely_ what we, as Kellians, in
fact do:

Statement 7. We say that the truths people construct for themselves,
whether as personal scientists or members of a cabal of official
scientists, are those which they find useful, and the whole of humanity's
search for truth boils down to a development of ever-more useful

Notice that Statements 5 and 6 are in fact _Metastatements_. Especially
obvious in Statement 6, which is about a contradiction between Statements 3
and 4. How can you tell? Notice the inverted commas round the terms "truth"
and "usefulness". That's what I had in mind when I said that I suspected my
problem was one of levels of analysis.

And that's the point at which I get tangled up. I can't tell whether
Statement 7 consists of a Statement at a single logical level of discourse,
or whether it confounds several parts at differing levels of discourse;
(viz., in Statement 7, should the character strings t-r-u-t-h and
u-s-e-f-u-l and their generics terminating in -s and -n-e-s-s respectively
have inverted commas round either or both?)

Nor am I enough of a philosopher or logician to know what one's supposed to
do next in situations of this kind. Ill-remembered associations to Godels'
Theorem and to Stafford Beer's practical black-box technique for resolving
linguistic incompletenesses swim dimly into my ken, but I haven't a clue if
they're relevant or not.

Are there any philosophers out there? Logicians?
Clear thinkers? (By which I mean anyone who can suggest what to do next in terms
I can understand, of course!)

Thanks for your patience,

Devi Jankowicz