Kelly and Lecky

Josh Soffer (
Wed, 10 Feb 1999 05:57:31 -0600 (CST)

The current discussion of Kelly's 'man the scientist' metaphor and his
treatment of cognition and emotion gives me the opportunity to add to
the conversation the voice of a writer who echoed Kelly's views
concerning the nature of psychological development and the relation of
affect to cognition. A psychologist by the name of Prescott Lecky
(1892-1941) created a personality theory but never was able to collect
his writing into a completed form. In 1945, his former Columbia U.
students published a small posthumous volume consisting of various notes
and lectures. The book, titled Self-Consistency Theory, came to the
attention of Kelly at some point, as he mentions it in his 1955 tome.
I've collected below some of the more striking examples from Lecky's
book of parallels with Kellian assertions. I apologize for the length.

>From Prescott Lecky's Self-Consistency Theory:

"Psychological as well as physical development depends upon
problem-solving , and independence and freedom are attained in
proportion as the individual is prepared to maintain his normal
organization in a greater variety of situations.
This means that the ability to foresee and predict environmental
happenings, to understand the world one lives in and thus be able to
anticipate events and prevent the necessity for sudden readjustments, is
an absolute prerequisite for the maintenance of unity. The subject must
feel that he lives in a stable and intelligible environment in which he
knows what to do and how to do it, and his attitude of confidence and
certainty is supported by this conviction. It is therefore not the
physical injury which causes the anxiety, but the breakdown of the
scheme of understanding and prediction( p.122).
A realistic psychology, in other words, must recognize that
prediction and control is the problem of the subject as well as the
experimenter. Both are seeking to formulate concepts which are
pragmatically valid and consistent with experience (p.123).
The essential objectivity of science does not lie in its methods,
but in its purpose of prediction and control. It is objective because it
is useful, because it aims at results, not because it is descriptive and
literal (p.111).
The problems of science are not abstractions, but the human
problems of scientists. If we did not strive for consistency in
ourselves, what possibly could be the motive for seeking and demanding
consistency in abstract scientific formulations?(187).
[The child] tends to select and avoid situations according to his
estimate of his own abilities. it is this limitation of his abilities
which constitutes the individual's standard of values, the line between
acceptance and avoidance. Thus we see that choice and selection have
their real basis in the individual himself, and the objective situation
merely provides the occasion for making a choice. To understand the
individual and the nature of his preparation, therefore, we must study
his choices (115).
The broad perspective requires that learning be conceived of not as
a series of separate adjustments, but as a single continuous process of
development. The achievement of unity in particular situations would
then be regarded as the manifestation of a general tendency which aims
at a unified attitude toward the life situation as a whole. Development
would have as its goal not only the achievement of a unified system of
behavior, but a stable attitude of preparedness and confidence (146).
Learning is not mechanical but adventurous. If a certain type of
situation has been assimilated, its presence tends to support the
attitude of confidence, but if it has not been assimilated the normal
attitude is threatened, and the process of assimilation itself brings
about a temporary disturbance. Thus the problem of development is that
of maintaining and strengthening the normal attitude by gradually
assimilating the situations which formerly had a disturbing effect. To
use a spatial metaphor, the field of normal behavior grows at the
expense of the abnormal (147). We propose to apprehend all psychological
phenomena as illustrations of the single principle of unity or
self-consistency. We conceive of the personality as an organization of
values which are felt to be consistent with one another. Behavior
expresses the effort to maintain the integrity and unity of the
The point is that all of an individual's values are organized into
a single system the preservation of whose integrity is essential. The
nucleus of the system, around which the rest of the system revolves, is
the individual's valuation of himself. The individual sees the world
from his own viewpoint, with himself as the center. Any value entering
the system which is inconsistent with the individual's valuation of
himself cannot be assimilated; it meets with resistance and is likely,
unless reorganization occurs, to be rejected. This resistance is a
natural phenomenon; it is essential for the maintenance of individuality
The most constant factor in the individual's experience, as we have
said, is himself and the interpretation of his own meaning; the kind of
person he is, the place which he occupies in the world, appear to
represent the center or nucleus of the personality (156).
The various so-called emotional states cannot be treated
independently, but must be regarded as different aspects of a single
motive, the striving for unity. For example, love is the emotion
subjectively experienced in refernce to a person or object already
assimilated and serving as a strong support to the idea of self. Grief
is experienced when the personality must be reorganized due to the loss
of one of its supports. Hatred and rage are impulses of rejection and
destruction felt towards unassimilable objects. The emotion of horror
appears when a situation arises suddenly which we are not prepared to
assimilate, such as the sight of a ghastly accident.
Experiences which increase the sense of psychological unity and
strength give rise to the emotion of joy and feelings of pleasure.
Occasionaly a person's own behavior may violate his conception of
himself , producing feelings of remorse and guilt. In that case, the
insult to himself, as it were, may be eliminated either by
reinterpretation, or by seeking punishment sufficient to equalize the
insult. Fear is felt when no adequate solution of a problem can be
found; it is due to dynamic disorganization (164).
It is this inability to unify on any course of action, in fact, which
keeps him perpetually in search of a solution and gives us the
opportunity to help him toward a clearer view of his problem (184).
From our standpoint, emotion is a concept which is necessary only
when the problem of behavior is stated descriptively. A psychological
theory which conceives of motivation as a phenomenon of organization has
no need for the conception of emotion (164).
Our chief problem in psychology is not merely to change the
attitude of the patient to some special detail of experience, but to
revise his old philosophy and develop a new general outlook. If a value
is assimilated into the organization or expelled from it, the process is
not one of addition or subtraction, but rather of general revision and
reorganization (171).
We do not aim at consistency with the demands of society, but only
at self-consistency. Social ends must be approached indirectly. In other
words, if the personal problem is solved and unity of action achieved,
the social problem disappears.
Everyone's behavior is logical from his own pont of view. If another
person's behavior seems illogical to us, the reason is that we do not
understand it, not that he is irrartional. The behavior of others seems
irrational and incomprehensible only when the diefnitions they are
striving to maintain bear too little resemblance to our own (185). "

It is remarkable how many points of similarity there are between these
statements of Lecky's and Kelly's ideas; the idea of construct
reorganization, the metaphor of man the scientist, the abandonment of
the concept of motivation, the central place of core role
identification in organization of personality. I don't believe Kelly was
inordinately influenced by Lecky. By the time this book came out in
1945, Kelly had already begun to piece together his orientation. But I
think Lecky does a nice job of presenting science as a metaphor for
the integral nature of personal experience, which is simultaneously
affective and cognitive. This is an outrageous claim to the ears of
those who believe in such a thing as an affectively neutral cognition,
as if we needed to import the 'emotional' meaning of thoughts from the
outside through a chain of conditionings leading inevitably to genetic
primitives of some sort. The phenomenologists had already resolved the
dualism of affect and cognition before Lecky and Kelly made the scene;
Heidegger's notion of thrownness made being-in-the-world always already
colored by particular modes of attunement (moods). And hermeneuticists
like Gadamer emphasize the 'scientific' function of intersubjective
experience as being aimed toward the reconciliation of difrferences, the
possibilities of negotiatied agreements and dynamic unities of
understanding transcending conflict.

Josh Soffer: