Re: The scientific status of PCP

Tim A. Connor (
Sat, 15 Jun 1996 15:22:47 -0700 (PDT)


I'm finding it increasingly difficult to formulate responses to your
posts, for a couple of reasons: First, you are attempting to challenge a
theory that has been elaborated over more than forty years on the basis
of a few brief summary statements. It is clear that you have not read
Kelly or any of the other major theorists and researchers in PCP--if you
had, some of the questions you ask would simply not arise. To try to get
us to doubt the scientific standing of a theory when we know what the
theory states and you don't seems, at best, quixotic. This isn't to say
that such challenges aren't legitimate or worthwhile--I think it is great
to be forced to reexamine your assumptions, however uncomfortable it may
be. But for such a challenge to be really useful it needs to be
informed and focused--which yours, so far, is not. The two chapters I
put in the mail yesterday should answer some of your questions; I do not
believe they will give you a deep enough understanding for you to engage
in a thoroughgoing critique of personal construct theory, but I hope they
will make it seem worthwhile for you to explore a bit more, if only to
know your target better (though I hope the process won't be as
adversarial as that metaphor makes it sound). But until you are able to
identify specific problems with PCP (rather than simply issuing a global
challenge that we demonstrate that it meets your criteria for "science")
I see no point in continuing this part of the discussion. I believe it
was John Stuart Mill who said something like "Who knows not the other
side of an argument, knows not his own."

Second, on the broader issue of the nature of science (as opposed to
religion, etc.), my difficulty is in identifying your position clearly.
You describe yourself as a constructivist (or a Constructivist, if that
makes a difference), but seem to define science in terms of a strict
operationalism that I identify with positivism. I'm sure you know that
scientists and philosophers of science disagree about the definition of
science; that definition rests upon a foundation that is not scientific
but philosophical. I've tried, in my last post, to give a concise
statement of the philosophical basis from which I address scientific
questions; I'd appreciate it if you would do the same.

Constructivism is not a homogeneous and perfectly integrated philosophy.
It's a "fuzzy set" of ideas that blurs into other positions such as
phenomenology, dialectics, and existentialism. I offer what I see as the
minimal constructivist position:

1. There is no single, fixed, fully knowable reality. (not all
constructivists would insist on all three adjectives).

2. Human beings are not passive recipients of their experience but
active constructors of it.

3. There is _in principle_, no possiblity of knowledge that is not
dependent on the position (physical and conceptual) of the observer/knower.

Among the implications of these for science is that theory precedes data:
data are not data until a theory (however rudimentary) defines them as
such. As the physicist Wolfgang Pauli put it, "the state of a system is
defined only through indication of an experimental set-up." In other
words, before you can find out anything, you have to decide what you're
looking for (the decision is implied in whatever experimental setup you
use, whether you realize it or not). This is in contrast to the more
traditional, positivist assumption that one accumulates "facts" until one
can put them together into a theory.

So, is this what you mean when you refer to Constructivism? If not,
where do you see the differences? I think we need to define our terms so
we can stop talking at cross purposes, as it seems to me we have been



Tim Connor, M.S. "Psychotherapy is not
Pacific University an applied science, it
School of Professional Psychology is a basic science in
2004 Pacific Avenue which the scientists
Forest Grove, OR 97116 USA are the client and his
<> therapist"
--George Kelly