[Fwd: PsychNews Int'l 2(1)#2: The Fifth Column]

Mancuso, James C. (mancusoj@capital.net)
Sat, 01 Feb 1997 22:18:50 -0500

This is a multi-part message in MIME format.

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

Hi to the PCP networkers:

Since PSYCHNEWS has made it so easy to do this, I am forwarding a paper
that they put on their network....

Looking forward to responses.....

Jim Mancuso

Content-Type: message/rfc822
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Content-Disposition: inline

Received: from listserv.nodak.edu (listserv.NoDak.edu []) by Omega.Capital.Net (8.8.4/8.6.12) with ESMTP id UAA09541 for <mancusoj@CAPITAL.NET>; Fri, 31 Jan 1997 20:28:29 -0500 (EST)
Message-Id: <199702010128.UAA09541@Omega.Capital.Net>
Received: from listserv ( by listserv.nodak.edu (LSMTP for Windows NT v1.1a) with SMTP id <0.4B2552A0@listserv.nodak.edu>; Fri, 31 Jan 1997 19:23:53 -0600
Date: Sat, 1 Feb 1997 02:23:41 +0100
Reply-To: PsychNews International <PSYCHNEWS@LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU>
Sender: PsychNews International <PSYCHNEWS@LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU>
From: Sunkyo Kwon <fu03c2dj@zedat.fu-berlin.de>
Subject: PsychNews Int'l 2(1)#2: The Fifth Column





Note: The Fifth Column is a regular, independent column
written by Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

For this issue, Dr. Schaler has invited his colleague,
Psychology Professor Emeritus James C. Mancuso, to
contribute to the Psychnews as a guest columnist.

Opinions and comments are invited. Please send them to
the PsychNews Int'l mailbox: pni@badlands.nodak.edu



James C. Mancuso

According to the cynical humorist, "If you're not crazy,
you're not paying attention to what really goes on."

On the other hand, a very contemporary textbook (Sarason
and Sarason, 1993), designed for instruction in undergraduate
courses tells us that

Someone who is psychotic makes incorrect inferences
about reality..., and believes that the inferences are
real and actual. When the person can understand that the
inferences are not _real_ but are the products of fantasy
or misperception, the psychosis is no longer present.
(p. 323, emphases added by JCM)

According to the cynical humor, an attempt to attend to
and to make sense of a chaotic world leads to a "crazy" state.
On the other hand, the abnormal psychology textbook marks a
person as psychotic (crazy) when he/she uses incorrect inferences
to create a non-conforming view of what is really happening.

In either case, the definition of "craziness" depends on
whether or not anyone can tell us what is really going on "out

The text below prompts considerations about how we discuss
"what is really going on." Many ideas in this essay come from
the works (e.g. Sarbin and Kitsuse, 1994) which have honored
Berger and Luckman's (1966) recommendation that scholars must
understand "How it is possible that subjective meanings become
facticities" (p. 18). In the case of this essay, I work to
understand how the subjective "feeling" of a _real_ world becomes
"the fact" of _truth_ and _reality._ I will show the ways in
which the concept of _reality_ has girded the pronouncements
of people who are accorded status and power in modern societies.
The very use of the concept fortifies positions of power,
particularly when powerful persons endorse methods by which to
verify that persons can _discover_ the status of a world that
"exits out there." I offer specific instances of the ways in
which modern thought has supported "the fact" of "a reality."
Then, I endeavor to outline the possibilities of and benefits
to be derived from discussing our search for "working knowledge"
as _social construction_, rather than as a search for and
validation of _truth_.

Concerns about _reality_ clearly surface in the document
_Telling the Truth_, (National Endowment for the Humanities, 1992)
-- a document "presented in fulfillment of the congressional
mandate" to report on the state of the humanities." The report
concentrated "specifically on higher education" (p. 53).
The dominant voice speaking through this 1992 report apparently
was that of Lynn Cheney, the then-chairman [title from the report]
of the U.S.A. National Endowment for the Humanities.

Cheney prepares to take issue with two active historians.
She offers a summary of what she perceives to be their position:
"We cannot know the truth, in other words, so we should abandon
the pursuit of it in scholarship and in the classroom -- and
advance whatever is politically useful" (p. 20) Cheney then
registers her disagreement with the view which she ascribes to
these historians: "Indeed, to abandon truth and objectivity as
goals and put political expedience in their place is to move
perilously close to the world of George Orwell's _1984_, the
world where two and two make five -- if it's politically
useful" (p. 20).

Cheney asserts, in this quasi-governmental document, that

There are those who still value truth and objectivity
as aims of education and who believe deeply that their
pursuit, both by professors and students, must be protected.
When that pursuit is hindered from within...academic freedom
may well require those outside the department -- and outside
the university -- to speak in its defense. (p. 35)

Clearly, Cheney, as a powerful government functionary, could
thus threaten the increasing number of scholars who do not think
of knowledge-building as "discovering truths" about "things out
there;" as acquiring "_true_ knowledge of _real_ things."
Cheney's request for a commitment to a search for TRUTH, appeals
to the ancient idea that a knowledge-making person ultimately can
ascertain that his/her knowledge directly matches a reality which
exists outside his/her knowledge system. One who accepts this
commonplace view readily finds supporters. Nevertheless,
considering the troubles we engage when we accept this idea, we
surely should ask the question, "Why do we need the concept
'reality' -- the idea that we relate to a 'real, out there

Cheney's position, of course, relies on the belief that
"those outside the...university" can convince "errant"
scholars that there is value in pursuing something which
she and everyone else can unequivocally know as TRUTH --
knowledge that copies a "real world." Just as a harried wife
confidently turns to "mental health professionals" to determine
whether or not her husband can or cannot make correct inferences
about reality, Cheney would need to trust an approved arbiter to
chart the way for those who would propose that we need not think
about truth and objectivity.

If Cheney were to call in her experts, how might they verify
that a particular knowledge system can stand as an accurate
"picture of reality?" Would they try to rely on the social
conventions of _logic_ and _reason_ to assess progress toward
building _accurate representations of reality_? _Logical
reasoning_ has been granted the status of a method of ascertaining
the _credibility_ of a proposition. It would follow that anyone
who persists in presenting a personal view of an event,
particularly when everyone else uses another construction of the
event, can face the challenge, "Be _reasonable_!" _Reason_, one
should assume, provides a means of demonstrating the presence of
_truth_. _Reason_, itself is _truth_! Reason reflects the _true_
working of the world! If one accepts these notions about reason,
other "inappropriate" means of establishing knowledge stand in
contrast to reason. It can be said that people follow their
_emotions_ to _unreasonable_ knowledge, and must often require
professional help in order to break free of the clutches of
their _emotions_ and to return to _reasonableness_.

In effect, then, so long as one uses language that shows
that he/she agrees on what people accept as _reason_, _logic_,
_rational_, etc., he/she can make allowable claims about reality.
Within such linguistic systems, when Mr. Perdito develops
propositions which contradict statements that are regarded as
valid by his fellows, someone among his colleagues will
confidently claim that Perdito has allowed his _emotion_ to
override his _reason_. Or, Mr. Perdito could be granted the
role of a person of a lesser intellect, and then some of his
associates will excuse his failure to see the inaccuracies of
his premises and/or the fallacies of his logic!

Societies have developed other conventions by which to
decide who knows what is "really going on." Most governments
have arrangements by which one can engage the subtleties of the
law to check out conflicting _truths_ about _reality_. By
applications of fine points of contracts and/or tort procedures
litigants can determine which views of "reality" shall prevail.
Less formally, societies either can respect or can condemn a
prophet who claims to speak as a representative of the prime mover
-- the entity which created all truths. Some seers are allowed to
act as a mouthpiece for that supreme cause: The prophet speaks
only of what is _real_. In special cases the followers of the
prophets can then create cloisters at which their elite interpret
those words of their deity which have been transmitted through
their prophets. Those admitted to study at the holy place may
then emerge as interpreters of _reality_ as created by the deity.
In other cases, a society can deny a would-be prophet the status
of an interpreter of _reality_, and tag him with negatively-valued
labels: _delusional_ or _charismatic cult leader_. By yet another
strategy, thought leaders can assert that methods such as the
_scientific method_ can lead only to the _discovery of truth_.

In the end, however, we need to admit that all of these
conventions by which we "prove" the truth of a statement depend
on our accepting a whole series of prior assumptions which would
result from answering the following questions: Does the working
of the world follow a definable logic? Do people communicate with
prime movers? Does a statement become more valid if it is reduced
to a mathematical formulation, which is, after all, another human
invention? With only a bit of directed provocation, an adult can
conclude that whatever comes through a human's senses -- inputs --
cannot be regarded as unequivocal signifiers of "out there givens."
"...[T]he substance which [a person] construes does not produce
the structure [of his knowledge]: the person does" (Kelly, 1991/
1955). The patterns of light which arrive at a person's retina do
not create the idea of _two_. Those patterns serve as the
"aliment" for the creation of a society's number system. The claim
that "two and two make five" would be taken as absurd only in a
world in which two is previously defined within a coherent,
socially-developed system of mathematical terms devised to
designate number. In a binary system of counting, which works
superbly well in many applications, our decimal system's _two_
and _five_ would stand as "translations" of a _zero-one_ system.
In another example, two persons, Person A and Person B, who had
never learned the decimal system of numeric terms could readily
"count out" equal shares of a commodity. What we designate as two
would stand as the first turn for Person B; i.e., "Yours, mine,"
says Person B. _Five_ would stand as the third turn for Person A:
"Yours, mine, yours, mine, yours." This third turn need not be
taken as a reality which exists outside of the social interaction
in which this system of counting is invented and applied. Those
of us who use the decimal system can use our preexisting
assumptions to announce blithely that "Since we have five of these,
you take two and I take two, and we'll give the fifth one to Aunt
Carmella." When we do so, we have no need to claim that we are
reacting to the _five out there_. We need only believe that we
are reacting to our system for constructing -- making mental
sense of -- whatever is out there! We need not worry about what
is _really_ out there.

Such worries, of course, readily arise when our psychological
development takes place in a society that constantly uses terms
that hinge on the belief that a "real" world is "out there,"
awaiting to be included in our knowledge system. One needs to
understand, then, that long before humans gave thought to their
own thought processes, people had already developed languages
which included "reality-based" terms, such as _to be_, _to become_,
and _to have_. "That event out there, which _has_ four-legs, _is_ a
puppy. It will _become_ a dog."

If we observe a child aged less than six years, we can see
that he/she believes that everyone has the same understanding
of an event. After the child reaches the age of six, it is
capable of grasping the notion that each individual can construe
an event in his/her own unique fashion. The post-six-year-old,
generally, also knows that rules stand as socially agreed-upon
constructions of events, and that, as such, rules may vary if
people agree to look at things in a particular way (Piaget, 1932).
By this time, however, the child's realist naive epistemology has
a head start. Language, with verbs that imply "real" existence
and rigid "out there" categories, prompts the child to continue
its reliance on his/her belief that he/she "knows the real thing."
He/she can "identify" a dog, and knows "the characteristics of"
a dog. The developing child's knowledge of its own knowing
process are, however, hidden deep within his/her psychological

Further, it is to the advantage of particular social
groupings to foster childish naive realism -- to promote the
belief that we can know things simply by having events "pressed
into our minds." (A counterpart view of "reality" may be promoted
by scholars and sages who can offer sophisticated justifications
for a formal realist view). In special cases of doubt, "superior
intellects" can inform lesser minds of what is really happening
"out there!" By certifying those "superior minds," and locating
them in hallowed halls -- to which other elite of the society are
admitted -- a society can establish rituals by which TRUTHS are
"discovered" and transmitted. Thereupon, a university president
may say

Because Rochester is a world player, a Rochester
education is different from that of any liberal arts college
and different again from the vast number of nominal universities
in the land. ...We know a lot about cancer -- but we don't know
enough. The world, reality, the actual course of the disease
eludes us...and we want to press on to the _real_ truth.
(O'Brien, Winter, 1992- 93; emphasis O'Brien's)

Those who think about the concept of _reality_ may assess the
consequences of asking the person-in-the-street to consider the
possibility that each of us must be satisfied with our own
personal realities. People easily experience threat when they meet
the possibility of a chaotic world in which one construction is as
valid as another. To avoid such threat, for example, one can
believe that an event which has been _discovered_ to be _good_ must
perpetually and eternally remain as _good_. If "man is the measure
of all things," -- if that which is _good_ is relative to a social
group's changing ideas of value -- then that which is _good_ can
tomorrow earn the category of _bad_. People can easily believe that
a society avoids chaos only by upholding the _reality_ of moral
values. People worry about the dangers of living in a society in
which rules can never be enforced on the basis of upholding that
which is "really just."

Nevertheless, people should be prompted to consider the gains
that would derive from abandoning the concept of _reality_.
In the long run, the concept fosters elitism. Thereupon, the
"reality finders" can cynically warn the populace of the dangers of
_rampant relativism_. The concept fosters _submissive-dominance_
relationships as people compete to establish methods of affirming
or denying the validity of one or another "realistic" position.
Very simply, the person-in-the-street should be encouraged to
consider the advantages of speaking of their knowledge in ways
which do not require a discussion of _reality_.

From the position of constructionism (Anderson, 1990), one
takes the view that persons construct the world from the elements
of their own minds -- that humans proactively "send out"
constructions in order to give shape and meaning to the signal
patterns (whatever they are) that affect our sensory systems.
A constructionist need not engage the problems that arise from
attempting "to tell the _truth_." Instead, a constructionist
tries to look at how a person determines the adequacy of his/her
knowledge. How does a person determine that his/her construction
effectively _fits_ the signal patterns? More importantly, in that
most of us spend most of our lives immersed in a group, we should
understand how a group prompts us to determine the _fitness_ of a
particular knowledge statement.

The supporters of a realist perspective -- those inclined to
advocate the search for TRUTH -- can immediately fall back on the
vast network of supports, linguistic and otherwise, to counter a
constructionist approach. "You mean that there isn't a chair
there?" "Every society accepts the concept of mental illness, and
you are trying to tell me that _schizophrenia_ is nothing but a
social construction?" "Reasonable people of all cultures all over
the world have averred that murder is _evil_. Why would you take
a _moral relativist_ position to tell us that it ain't necessarily

To accept constructionism is to give up the capacity to
tell another person, "You are wrong!" To reject another person's
construction, the constructionist rejecter (reprimander?) must say,
"I cannot construe this situation as you have construed it."
Thereupon, the participants in the interchange may dialogically
negotiate a fitting construction. A _socially agreed-upon
construction_ then may guide the actions of the group.

As a consequence of universal acceptance of constructionism
Professor Sapiente would need to take the position that she, like
every other person, at best builds a construction by which she
anticipates the flow of signals. As a professor and researcher,
she has learned to use "a scientific method" to demonstrate the
ways in which she has derived her propositions. If her rhetoric
proves acceptable (McCloskey, 1985), and if her colleagues judge
that her method conforms with current usages, then her peers may
regard her propositions as valid. As a constructionist she would
have no reason to believe that she has "made a discovery," or that
she has "demonstrated a TRUTH" or "a NATURAL LAW."

In a society which generally accepts constructionism, a
person would not attempt to relegate a construction to the
garbage heap on account of it's failure to reflect _truth_.
A failed construction might, at another time, gain acceptance
when the society later uses new technologies, or invents new
foundational constructions, or accepts goals which differ from
those in effect when the construction was judged to be nonfitting.
If a society has the goal of maintaining a population growth of
two percent, its membership might determine that it should use
the construct _bad_ to construe _coercive_ methods of gaining
individual compliance toward achieving that goal. Following a
change in the goal, a change, for example, toward a minus two
percent growth rate, a different construction of _coercion_ might

Working from a base of these views about _truth_, _knowledge_,
and _constructions_ a group must express an explicit commitment to
the need to work out ways to determine the acceptability of a
construction. That is, a group must specify its rules for
determining what should be taken as working knowledge.

Paradoxically, one can argue that those concerned with
"telling the truth," by their recourse to the confirmatory
devices of _logic_, _authority_, the _scientific method_,
_systems of jurisprudence_, etc., have done nothing more than
co-opt the rules for determining the fittingness of constructions.
Such rules, though they might appear otherwise, represent socially
agreed-upon propositions about what shall be taken as _true_
constructions. These systems of rules prescribe the society's
methods of inventing _local truths_. Again, these rules about
establishing the validity of knowledge can be made to appear as
_realities_ -- as incontrovertibly appropriate means of assuring
that one has managed, at last, to devise techniques which
adequately give persons access to what is really going on "out
there." Though there has been social agreement on the use of
epistemic values such as _logical thought_, they are no different
from other value-laden notions about how one develops knowledge --
_communicating with one's deity or developing a coherent theory
which is consistent with one's overarching hypothesis about the
functioning of the social order_ (e.g., racist, classist, or
sexist explanation). In this sense, all knowledge would be taken
as "ideological," in that it is based on accepted doctrine about
the ways in which one gathers knowledge. If one sees these
preferred confirmatory processes as the approved devices for the
"construction of a good narrative," -- devices for authoring a
useful story about what is going on -- one must also keep in mind
that "_All_ our notions are narrative-dependent, including the
notion of rationality" (Hauerwas and Burrell, 1977, p. 21).

In short, it is advisable to extend our public discussion to
cover not only the content of a knowledge base, but also to cover
the processes of developing knowledge bases. Just as Mrs. Duce
should meet the obligation of defending her constructions of an
assumed world, she should defend her methods of developing those
constructions. Her knowledge is based on following private guides
for accepting evidence -- guides which might also attain social
consensus, that is, attain the status of a rule. Insofar as all
knowledge evolves from the practice of such guidelines, one cannot
claim that his/her knowledge has derived from some kind of
uncontaminated observation of an extant world. No one should be
allowed the easy course of simply asserting that her constructions
have a privileged position because they had been developed through
the use of _logic_, or by _the scientific method_, and so on.

At this point in the history of the debates about _truth_,
I cannot envision a system for determining the validity of
knowledge that would function more effectively than would a
system of multiple systems which function on a competitive basis.

The implementation of a multiple system approach leaves
unsolved the matter of which construction shall be taken as the
base for social action. The solution to this problem, of course,
would be a socially agreed-upon construction -- a rule. As such,
we must recognize that a society's rules about which constructions
shall prevail also evolve from interactions of multiple systems of
validation. At this time, the prevailing ideal construction
appears to be the rule that law -- formally prescribed rules --
shall stand as the agreed-upon construction. Again, from a
constructionist perspective, one could not take a position that
formal legal systems are _correct_ or _incorrect_. One could,
however, object to claims that one or another legal system
represents "natural law," or some equivalent transcendent,
"truthful" formulation of "the way things really are."

I must note, however, that the adequacy of a system of
multiple systems would depend on two important constructions about
truth-making; constructions which have already been discussed above.
First, every person must be given the opportunity to explore the
matter of knowledge-making. Just as the knowledge maker would be
constrained from asserting a privileged position regarding his/her
particular system of knowledge making, all instruction must be built
on a view that humans have exercised multiple systems of knowledge
making, and that societies have worked out methods for determining
which knowledge shall serve as the basis for social action. A second
construction must under gird the implementation of a multiple systems
approach. Every person must have access to a forum in which his
constructions may be explicated. Conversely, specific individuals
cannot be allowed to monopolize the media by which persons exchange
their constructions and their justifications for adopting those
particular constructions.

Current discussions of issues regarding knowledge-making
have moved thinkers to take a more sympathetic view to social
constructionist thought. That is, those who think about these
issues are more willing to think of knowledge as a system of
constructions which cover the inputs which we, as humans, are
inclined to experience. Contrariwise, thinkers have moved away
from views of knowledge-making which assert a privileged position
from which one builds knowledge about an extant, mind-independent
world. Indeed, growing numbers of people are willing to refrain
from talking about a "real world" or about "reality"
(Anderson, 1990).

With these developments, thought leaders can promote the
general acceptance of constructionist views. The considerations
of concerned scholars should be transmitted throughout the society,
and people should be prompted to consider their personal knowledge-
making from constructionist perspectives. People should have the
opportunity to explicate their understandings of the ways in which
they formulate and validate their own personal knowledge. They
should have the opportunity to perceive all knowledge-making from
a constructionist perspective.

In the end, it is advisable for societies to refrain from
trying to convince its members that knowledge-making is a special
enterprise by which select individuals search for "out there
realities" from which to derive transcendent rules for the
functioning of that society. Our current understandings of
knowledge making should be put into effect in order to prompt
every person to take the opportunity to participate in the making
of the constructions which shall guide his/her society. All
of this, of course, evolves from placing positive value on each
person's participation in a multiple systems approach to evolving
the "local truths" which the society invents in its efforts to
organize and control social action.

Anderson, W. (1990). Reality isn't what it used to be.
New York: Free Press.
Berger, P. L. & Luckman, T. (1966). The social construction of
reality. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Hauerwas, S. & Burrell, D. (1977). From system to story: An
alternative pattern for rationality in ethics. In S. Hauerwas
(Ed.). Truthfulness and tragedy: Further investigations in
Christian ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre
Dame Press.
Kelly, G. A. (1991). The psychology of personal constructs.
New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1955).
McCloskey, D. N. (1985). The rhetoric of economics. Madison,
WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
National Endowment for the Humanities [Lynne V. Cheney,
Chairman]. (1992). Telling the truth. Washington, DC: National
Endowment for the Humanities.
O'Brien, D. (Winter, 1992-93). Letter from the President:
Exacting tolerance. Rochester Review, 2.
Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child (M. Gabain,
Trans.). London: Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1932).
Sarason, I. G. & Sarason, B. R. (1993). Abnormal psychology:
The problem of maladaptive behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice Hall.
Sarbin, T. R. & Kitsuse, J. I. (Eds.). (1994). Constructing
the social. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

James C. Mancuso, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology
emeritus at the University of Albany, in Albany, New York.
Professor Mancuso's major writings have been devoted to
elaborating Personal Construct Psychology. He also has
written extensively on the construction _mental illness_
as a social construction.
E-mail: mancusoj@Capital.Net

To join the PsychNews International (PsychNews) forum, send the command
to leave the forum, send the command
to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU or, if you experience difficulties, write to PSYCHNEWS-request@LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU.