Re: intersubjectivity (was crazy people)

Tim A. Connor (
Sun, 13 Apr 1997 22:29:13 -0700 (PDT)

On Tue, 8 Apr 1997, Gary F. Blanchard wrote:

> could your comments accurately be assessed as leaning
> toward solipsism-type construing, meaning only that such a construer
> holds that everything is a construct and cannot be verified beyond that?

It is true that PCP, like other constructivist theories, denies that there
is a fixed, singular, fully knowable reality; the world is not apprehended
directly, but construed--and it can be construed in different ways (Kelly
did not call his epistemology constructivism but constructive
alternativism). But the fundamental postulate of PCP, that people are
psychologically channelized by the way they anticipate events, keeps it
from being solipsistic, in my view. The central metaphor of the person as
scientist--devising constructs for the prediction and control of
experience, testing those constructs through action, and revising them as
needed--is hardly solipsistic. Kelly's epistemology is (again, my view)
pragmatic, in the William James tradition--all we can know about the world
is what we can do with it as we extend our ability to anticipate events.
(This seems to me to be where Kelly and Maturana diverge--though this may
be due to my superficial understanding of Maturana, and perhaps you can
set me straight. I don't see much of a role for anticipation in structure
determinism, while it is absolutely central in PCP). A construct can
accurately predict events without being "true"--both the Ptolemaic and
Newtonian systems accurately predict the movements of the planets,
eclipses, etc. (Actually, the Ptolemaic system yields more accurate
predictions, I'm told, because of the difficulty of solving multi-body
problems in Newtonian mechanics). We prefer the Newtonian construct
system because it doesn't require us to assume that planets behave
differently from all other bodies, and permits us to predict the motion of
comets, asteroids, spacecraft, baseballs, etc.--it has a broader range of
convenience, and is more coherent with other observations (which doesn't
mean it's absolutely "true" either, at least in all settings, as
relativity and quantum theory have shown).

Then there are the sociality and commonality corollaries. Professional
scientists don't derive all their constructs from their own
experiments--and no more do personal scientists. We don't necessarily
have to touch the stove when we're two years old to construe it as hot
(though some of us radical empiricists insist on it :-). Actually, most
of our construct system is based on our construing of others'
constructs--we are incorrigibly, irreducibly social animals and cannot
function without those shared symbolic systems of which language (strictly
defined) is the most prominent, though not the only one. Kelly had
relatively little to say about this (he suggests at one point that he is
choosing to leave it to the social psychologists to elucidate those
aspects), but it's implicit in the theory, IMHO.

It's important to keep in mind that PCP developed out of the practice of
psychotherapy--out of George Kelly's ongoing effort to help people find
ways to get on with their lives. It's very much a psychology of
engagement with the world and commitment to testing one's beliefs by
acting on them. This doesn't seem solipsistic to me.