Marxist Writers: A. N. Leont'ev
In order to overcome the dyadic scheme that dominated psychology, it was necessary first of all to isolate that “middle link” mediating connections of the subject with the real world. For this reason we began with the analysis of activity and its general structure. Immediately, however, we found that a concept of its subject necessarily enters into a determination of activity, that activity because of its very nature is subjective.
The concept of the subject of activity is another matter. In the first place, that is, before the more important moments that form the process of activity are explained, the subject remains as if beyond the limits of investigation. He appears only as a prerequisite for activity, one of its conditions. Only further analysis of the movement of activity and the forms of psychic reflection elicited by it makes it necessary to introduce the concept of the concrete subject, of the personality as of an internal moment of activity. The category of activity is now disclosed in all of its actual fullness as encompassing both poles, the pole of the object and the pole of the subject.
A study of personality as a moment of activity and its product constitutes a special, although not isolated psychological problem. This problem is one of the most complex. Serious difficulties arise even in the attempt to explain what kind of reality is described in scientific psychology by the term personality.
Personality appears to be not only a subject of psychology but also a subject for philosophical, social-historical cognition; finally, at a given level of analysis, personality appears from the aspect of its natural biological features as a subject of anthropology, somatology, and human genetics. Intuitively we know very well where the differences lie. Nonetheless, in psychological theories of personality serious misunderstandings and unwarranted oppositions to these approaches to the study of personality constantly arise.
Only a few general positions on personality, with certain reservations, are accepted by all authors. One of these positions is that personality represents some kind of a unique unity, some kind of wholeness. Another position recognizes as personality the role of the higher integrating powers that direct the psychological processes (James called personality a “manager” of psychic functions; G. Allport, “a determiner of behavior and thought”). However, attempts of further interpretation of these positions lead to a series of false ideas and a mystification of the problem of personality in psychology.
First of all, this is an idea that places in opposition the “psychology of personality” and the psychology that studies concrete processes (the psychology of function). One attempt to avoid this opposition was expressed in the desire to make personality a “departure point for explaining any psychic phenomena, ” “the center, and only by beginning from it is it possible to resolve all problems of psychology,” so that the necessity of a special division in psychology – psychology of personality – no longer exists. ’ It is possible to agree with this desire, but only if it is possible to see in it only an expression of some kind of highly general thought that is diverted from concrete problems and methods of psychological investigation. Notwithstanding all the persuasiveness of the old aphorism that it is “man who thinks, not thought,” this desire appears to be methodologically naive for the simple reason that the subject unavoidably appears before the analytical study of his higher life manifestations either as an abstraction, as an “unfulfilled” whole, or as a metapsychological “I” (persona), possessing dispositions or goals deposited in him from the beginning. This, as is known, is postulated by personalistic theories. Thus it does not matter whether personality is considered from the biologizing organic positions or as a purely spiritual beginning or, finally, as some kind of “psychophysiological neutrality.“ In addition, the requirement of the “personality approach” to psychology sometimes is understood in the sense that in studying separate psychological processes the attention of the investigator must first of all be concentrated on individual characteristics. But this does not in any way solve the problem inasmuch as a priori we are able to judge which of these traits characterize personality and which do not. For example, does the speed of a man’s reaction, the extent of his memory, or knowing how to type enter into the psychological characterization of personality?
One of the methods of bypassing this major question of psychological theory is by understanding the concept of personality as man in his empirical totality. The psychology of personality thus turns into a special type of anthropology that includes everything in itself – from the investigation of features of metabolic processes to the investigation of individual differences in separate psychic functions.
Of course, a complex approach to man is not only possible but necessary as well. A complex study of man (“ the human factor”) has now assumed a first-rank significance, but it is just this circumstance that makes the psychological problem of personality a special problem. It is known that no system of knowledge about a whole subject gives us its actual understanding if one of the essential specification of its characteristics is missing. This is how the matter stands with the study of man: Psychological investigation of man as a personality cannot in any way be replaced by a complex of comparisons of morphological, physiological, or isolated functional-scientific data. Dissolved in them, it will in the final account be reduced either to biological or to abstract sociological, culturological representations about man.
Up to this time a real stumbling block in the investigation of personality has been the problem of relations of general and differential psychology. The majority of the authors select the differential-psychological direction. Taking its beginning from Galton and Spearman, this direction initially limited itself to an investigation of mental capacities and subsequently understood the study of personality as a whole. Spear-man had already disseminated the idea of factors in the features of will and afference, isolating side-by-side with the general factor “g,” the factor “s.“ Further steps were taken by Cattell, who proposed a multiple measure and hierarchic model of factors (traits) of personality, which included consideration of such factors as emotional stability, expansiveness, and self-confidence.
The method of research developed by this trend consists, as is known, in studying statistical connections between separate traits of personality (its properties, potentials, or behaviors) disclosed by tests. The correlations established between them serve as a basis for isolating hypothetical factors and “superfactors,” which cause these connections. Such, for example, are the factors of introversion and neuroticism forming, according to Eysenck, the apex of the factorial, hierarchic structure that is identified by him with a psychological type of personality. Thus behind the concept of personality appears something “general,” which is isolated by means of one set of procedures or another of the statistical analysis of quantitative expressions of characteristics selected according to statistical criteria. For this reason, notwithstanding that empirical data are a basis of the characterization of this “something general,” still it remains in essence metapsychological, not requiring psychological explanation. If attempts to explain it are undertaken, then they follow the line of a search for corresponding morphophysiological correlates (types of higher nervous activity of Pavlov, the constitution of Kretchmer-Sheldon, the variables of Eysenck), and this returns us to the organistic theories.
The empiricism that is characteristic for this direction actually cannot give more. The study of correlations and factorial analysis deals with variations of characteristics that are isolated only to the extent that they are expressed in individual or group differences capable of being measured. The corresponding quantitative data, whether they relate to reaction time, to skeletal structure, to the features of the vegetative sphere, or to the number and character of images produced by the subjects in studying inkblots, are all subjected to processing without regard for the relation the measured traits have toward the features that actually characterize human personality.
Of course, what has been said does not in the least mean that it is generally impossible to apply the method of correlation in the psychology of personality. We are speaking of something else: of the fact that in itself the method of correlation of an empirical collection of individual traits is insufficient for psychological disclosure of personality inasmuch as isolating these traits requires bases that cannot be derived from these traits themselves.
The task of finding these bases arises as soon as we reject the concept of personality as some kind of a whole that incorporates the totality of all features of man – “from political views to the digestion of food.“ From the fact of multiplicity of traits and characteristics of man it simply does not follow that the psychological theory of personality must seek a global inclusion of them. As is known, man as an empirical whole exhibits his properties in all forms of interaction into which he is drawn. Falling from the window of a multistoried house, he of course exhibits properties belonging to him as a physical body having mass, volume, etc.; it is possible that, striking the pavement, he will be maimed or killed, and in this also his properties will be revealed, specifically properties of his morphology. No one, however, will think to include similar properties in a characterization of personality since no statistically reliable connections would be established between the weight of the body or the individual characteristics of the skeleton and, let us say, memory for figures.
When in everyday life we give a description of the personality of a man, we include without any special hesitation such traits as, for example, strength of will (“ a strong personality, ” “a weak character”), relations with people (“ benevolent, ” “indifferent”), etc., but usually we do not include such traits in describing personality as, for example, shape of eyes or ability to use an abacus; we do this without using any kind of perceptible criterion for differentiating between “personality” and “nonpersonality” characteristics. If we should go the way of selecting and comparing separate psychological and other characteristics, then such a criterion simply could not be found. The fact is that the very same characteristics of man can be related to his personality variously. In one case they appear as indifferent and in another case the same characteristics enter essentially into the characterization.
The last circumstance makes it especially apparent that contrary to widely held views, no empirical differentiating investigation can resolve the psychological problem of personality; that, on the contrary, the differentiating investigation itself is possible only on the basis of a general psychological theory of personality. Factually, this is how the matter stands: Behind any differential-psychological investigation of personality – testological or clinical – there always lies one or another clearly or not clearly expressed general theoretical conception.
Notwithstanding the seeming motleyness and even the mutual irreconcilability of contemporary psychological theories of personality, the majority of them preserve the dyadic scheme of analysis that was characteristic for pre-Marxist and extra- Marxist psychology, and I have already spoken about the insupportability of this. Now this scheme is being put forth in a new guise: as a two-factor theory of the formation of personality: heredity and environment. Whatever characteristic of man we might take, it is explained according to this theory, on the one hand, by the action of heredity (instincts deposited in the genotype, inclinations, potentials or even a priori categories) and, on the other hand, by the influence of external environment (natural and social, language, culture, training, etc.). From the point of view of common sense no other explanation can properly be made. However, ordinary common sense, according to the perspicacious note of Engels, is an altogether respected companion in everyday practice, surviving the most remarkable adventures if only it dares to go out into the expanse of investigation.
The seeming insurmountability of the theory of the two factors leads to the fact that arguments are carried on mainly around the questions of the meaning of each of these factors: Some insist that the main determinant is heredity and that external environment and social actions serve only as possibilities and forms for the appearance of that program with which a man was born; others extract the more important features of personality directly from the specific social environment, from “sociocultural matrices.” With all the differences in the ideational and political sense of the views expressed, however, they all maintain the position of a dual determination of personality inasmuch as simply to ignore one of the factors about which we are speaking would mean to go against the empirically substantiated effects of both.
The views of the relations between the biological and sociological factors as simply combining or dividing man’s psyche into coexisting endospheres and exospheres yielded to more complex representations. These arose because the movement of analysis seemed to turn around: The problem of internal structure of personality itself, the levels forming it, and their relationships became the major problem. Thus, in particular, there appeared a representation developed by Freud of the relations of the conscious and the unconcious that characterize personality. The “libido” isolated by him represents not only a bioenergetic source of activity but a special instance in personality – “it” (id), an opposing “I” (ego), and a “super I” (superego); genetic and functional connections between these instances, realized by means of special mechanisms (displacements, censorings, symbolization, sublimation), also form the structure of personality.
Here there is no need to enter into a criticism of Freudism, the views of Adler, Jung, and their modern followers. It is absolutely apparent that these views not only do not surmount but, on the contrary, sharpen the theory of two factors turning around the idea of their convergence, in the sense of V. Stern or J. Dewey, into an idea of confrontation between them.
Another direction in which the approach to personality from the aspect of its internal construction developed was represented by the cultural anthropological conception. Ethnological data showing that essential psychological features are determined by the differences not of human nature but of human culture served as a point of departure for this. According to this conception, the system of personality is nothing other than an individualization of the system of culture in which man is included in the process of his “aculturization.” It must be said that in this connection many observations are cited, beginning with the well-known works of Margaret Mead, who showed, for example, that even such a stable phenomenon as psychological crisis in adolescence cannot be explained by the onset of sexual maturity since in certain cultures this crisis does not exist. Arguments are also drawn from studying persons unexpectedly moved into cultural surroundings, and finally, from experimental investigations of such special phenomena as the effect of objects predominant in a given culture on the resolution of conflict in visual fields.
For psychology the significance of the cultural-anthropological interpretation of personality is, however, illusory: These interpretations inevitably lead to anti-psychologism. As early as in the 1940s Linton indicated the difficulty arising here, which is that culture really exists only in its conceptualized form as a generalized “construct.” Its carriers are, of course, concrete people, each of whom partially assimilated it; in them it is personified and individualized, but at the same time it forms not that which is personality in man but, on the contrary, that which appears to be without personality as, for example, a common language, knowledge, prejudices that are common to the given social environment, vogues, etc. For this reason for the psychology of personality the significance of a generalized concept (construct) of culture is, according to the expression of Allport, “deceptive.“ The psychologist is interested in the individual as a personality, and personality is not simply a copy of a partial personification of one culture or another. Culture, although it does exist in its personifications, is a subject for history and sociology, and not for psychology.
In this connection culturological theories introduce a distinction between personality proper as a product of individual adaptation to external situations and its general “base” or archetype, which is apparent in man from childhood under the influence of traits peculiar to the given race, ethnic group, nationality, or social class. Introducing this distinction, however, does not resolve anything because the formation of the archetype itself still needs to be explained further and allows various interpretations, particularly psychoanalytical. Thus the general “two-factor” scheme remains, although in a somewhat transformed aspect. The concept of genotype (heredity) now is complicated by the introduction of the concept of a basic personality, an archetype, or primary settings, and the concept of external environment by the introduction of the concepts of situation and role. The latter have now almost become central in the social psychology of personality.
According to a widespread determination, the “role” is a program that responds to the expected behavior of man who occupies a determined place in the structure of one or another social group; it is a structured method of his participation in the life of society. Personality represents nothing else than a system of assimilated (internalized) “roles.” In a social group that forms a family, this is the role of a son, a father, etc.; at work it is the role, let us say, of a doctor or a teacher. In indefinite situations a role also appears, but in this case the traits of the archetypes and individually acquired experience are much more sharply drawn in the role. Each of us, it is understood, assumes one set or another of social (for example, professional) functions and, in this sense, roles. The idea, however, of a direct reduction of personality to a collection of roles that a person fills is – notwithstanding every possible reservation of followers of this idea – one of the most monstrous. Of course, a child learns, let us say, how he is supposed to behave with his mother, that it is necessary to listen to her, and he listens, but can it be said that in this way the child plays the role of a son or a daughter? It is just as absurd to speak, for example, about the “role” of the polar explorer “accepted” by Nansen: For him it was not a role, but a mission. Sometimes a man actually plays one role or another, but nevertheless it remains for him only a role regardless of the extent to which it is internalized. A role is not a personality but rather a representation behind which it hides. If we are to use the terminology of P. Janet, the concept of a role corresponds not to the concept of personality (personnalität) but to the concept of personage (personnage).
The most important objections to “role” theories are not those that pursue the line of criticism of one or another understanding of the place given to roles in the structures of personality but those that are directed against the idea itself, which connects personality with its preprogrammed behavior (Gunderson) even if the program of behavior foresees its self redirection and formation of new programs and sub-programs. What would you say, asks the author cited, if you were to find out that “she” was only artfully playing a role before you?
The fate of the concept of role is the same as that of other “sociological,” cultural-anthropological concepts that are subject to the two-factor theory: In order to save the psychological in personality, it is forced to appeal to temperament and potentials contained in the genotype of the individual, and we again return to the spurious question about what is the main thing, the genotypic features of the man or the influence of the social environment. Moreover, we are warned about the danger of either kind of one-sidedness. It is best, we are told, to preserve a “reasonable equilibrium” in resolving this problem.
Thus, in fact, the methodological wisdom of these concepts leads to the formula of vulgar eclectism: “both one and the other,” “on the one hand, and on the other.” From the position of this wisdom inevitably comes a judgment also on psychologists-Marxists: It was they who were guilty (together with the defenders of culturology) of the underestimation of the internal in personality, its “internal structure.“ It is understood that statements of this kind may arise only as a result of thoughtless attempts to place the views of Marxism on personality into a conceptual scheme that is deeply alien to them.
The problem is not to ascertain that man is both a natural and a social being. This indisputable position indicates only the various systemic qualities evident in man, and nothing has yet been said about the essence of his personality, about that which gives rise to it. This is exactly where the scientific problem lies. This problem requires understanding of personality as a psychological neoformation that is formed in the life relations of the individual as a result of a transformation of his activity. But for this it is necessary at the very outset to reject the representation about personality as the product of the collective action of various forces, one of which is hidden as if in a sack, “under the surface of the skin” of man (and anything could be placed in this sack), and the other of which lies in the external environment (as if we did not consider this force as a force of the influence of stimulating situations, cultural matrices, or social “expectations”). Of course, no development directly comes from what comprises only the prerequisites necessary for it, no matter in what detail we might describe it. The method of Marxist dialectics requires that we go further and investigate the development as a process of “self-movement,” that is, investigate its internal moving relations,contradictions, and mutual transitions so that its prerequisites appear in it as its own changing moments.
Such an approach necessarily leads to a position on the social-historical essence of personality. This position means that personality originally arises in society, that man enters into history (and a child enters into life) only as an individual given determined natural properties and potentials, and that he becomes a personality only as a subject of social relations. In other words, as distinct from the individual, the personality of a man is in no sense preexisting in relation to his activity; just as with his consciousness, activity gives rise to personality. Investigation of the process of the engendering and transformation of the personality of man and of his activity, taking place in concrete social conditions, is also the key to its genuine scientific psychological understanding.
Studying the separate classes of life processes scientific psychology necessarily considers them as manifestations of the life of a material subject. In these conditions when a separate subject is under consideration (not a type, not an association, not society), we say, persons, or if we want to stress also his differences from other representatives of the species, individual.
The concept “individual” expresses indivisibility, wholeness, and special features of a concrete subject evident already at early stages of the development of life. An individual as a whole is a product of biological evolution in the course of which there takes place not only the process of differentiation of organs and functions but also their integration, their mutual “coordination.” The process of such internal coordination is very well known; it was noted by Darwin and described in terms of correlative adaptation by Cuvier, Platte, Osborn, and others. The function of secondary correlative changes of organisms that create a wholeness in their organization was particularly stressed by A. N. Severtsov in his “hypothesis of correlation.”
The individual is first of all a genotypic formation. But the individual is not just a genotypic formation; his formation continues, as is known, also in ontogenesis as he lives. For this reason properties and their integration coming together ontogenetically also enter into the characterization of an individual. We are speaking about the resulting “alloys” of innate and acquired reactions, about the changes of objective content of needs, about the forming dominants of behavior. The most general rule here is that the higher we ascend the ladder of biological evolution, the more complex become the life manifestations of individuals, and the more their organization expresses the differences in their innate and acquired characteristics, the more, if this can be said, the individuals are individualized.
Thus, as a basis for understanding of the individual, there lies the fact of indivisibility and wholeness of the subject and the presence of characteristics peculiar to him. Presenting in himself the product of phylogenetic and ontogenetic development in given external circumstances, the individual, however, is not in any way a simple “calque” of these conditions; he is specifically a product of the development of life interacting with an environment and not environment taken by itself.
All of this is known well enough, and if I begin with the concept of the individual, it is only because in psychology it is used in a very wide sense, which leads to a non differentiation of the characteristics of man as an individual and his characteristics as a personality. It is exactly here that their sharp distinction, and correspondingly also the distinction of the concepts “individual” and “personality” that are its basis, is an indispensable prerequisite for psychological analysis of personality.
Our language reflects very well the nonconformity of these concepts: the word personality is used by us only in relation to a person and then beginning only from a certain stage of his development. We do not say, “the personality of the animal” or “the personality of the newborn.” No one, however, finds difficulty in speaking about an animal or about a newborn as individuals, of their individual features (excitable, calm, aggressive animal; the same, of course, is said about the newborn). We don’t seriously speak of the personality even of a two-year-old child, although the child exhibits not only his genotypic features but also a great number of features acquired under the influence of social surroundings; incidentally, it may be said that this circumstance is another piece of evidence for understanding personality as a product of a cross between the biological and the social factors. It is curious, finally, that in psychology cases of split personality are described, and that this is not in any way only a figurative expression; but no pathological process can lead to a splitting of the individual: a duplicated, “split” individual is an absurdity, a contradiction in terms.
The concept of personality, just like the concept of the individual, is expressed by the wholeness of the subject’s life; personality does not consist of little pieces, it is not a “cluster of polyps”; personality represents a whole formation of a special type. Personality is not a whole, conditioned genotypically: one is not born a personality, one becomes a personality. For this reason we do not speak either of a personality of a newborn or of a personality of an infant although traits of individuality appear at early stages of ontogenesis no less sharply than at much later stages of growth. Personality is a relatively late product of social-historical and ontogenetic development of man. S. L. Rubinstein wrote about this in detail.
This position, however, may be interpreted variously. One of the possible interpretations is the following: The innate, if it can be expressed this way, individual is not yet a fully “ready” individual, and initially many of his traits are only virtual, a possibility; the process of his formation continues in the course of ontogenetic development until all of his characteristics are extended, forming a relatively stable structure; personality appears as if it were the result of the process of ripening of genotypic traits under the influence of the social environment. It is just this interpretation that is peculiar in one form or another to the majority of modern conceptions.
Another conception is that the formation of personality is a process sui generis, which does not correspond directly with the process of the vital change of the individual’s natural characteristics in the course of his adaptation to external environment. Man as a natural being is an individual with one or another physical constitution, type of nervous system, temperament, dynamic forces of biological needs, effectiveness, and many other characteristics that in the course of ontogenetic development either unfold and become obvious or are suppressed, in a word, change in many ways. The innate characteristics that do not change are those that determine man’s personality.
Personality is a special human formation that cannot be elicited from his adaptive activity just as his consciousness or his human needs cannot be elicited from it. Just like human consciousness, just like man’s needs (Marx says: the production of consciousness, the production of needs), the personality of man also is “produced” – it is created by social relationships into which the individual enters in his activity. The fact that in the course of this, certain of his characteristics as an individual are transformed or changed constitutes not a reason, but a consequence of the formation of his personality.
We will express this in another way: Traits characterizing one unity (individual) do not simply enter into the characteristics of another unity, another formation (personality) so that the first is eliminated; the traits are preserved but precisely as characteristics of an individual. Thus the characteristics of the higher nervous activity of the individual do not comprise the characteristics of his personality and do not determine it. Although the functioning of the nervous system is, of course, an indispensable prerequisite for the development of personality, yet its type does not all appear to be this “skeleton” on which personality is “constructed.” The strength or weakness of nervous processes and their balance are evident only at the level of the mechanisms through which the system realizes relationships of the individual with the world. This also governs the nonidentity of their role in the formation of personality.
In order to emphasize what has been said, I will allow myself a certain digression. When we are speaking about personality, we usually associate its psychological characterization with the nearest, so to speak, substrate of psyche – the central nervous processes. Let us imagine the following case: A child is born with a dislocated hip, which condemns him to lameness. Such a gross anatomical exception is very far from that class of characteristics included in the list of features of personality that enter into its so-called structure; nonetheless, its significance for the formation of personality is incomparably greater than, let us say, a weak type. Just imagine, when his peers chase a ball in the yard, the lame child stands by; then when he becomes older and the time comes for dancing, he can do nothing more than “hold up the wall.” How will his personality develop under these conditions? This cannot be foretold; it cannot be foretold especially because in spite of the very severe exceptionality of the individual, the formation of personality is not determined identically. In itself it cannot generate, let us say, an inferiority complex, reticence, or, on the contrary, a cordial attentiveness to people, or in general any kind of genuinely psychological features of man as a personality. The paradox lies in that the requisites for development of personality in their very essence are innumerable.
The personality, like the individual, is a product of the integration of processes that realize the life relationships of the subject. There exists, however, a fundamental difference of this special formation, which we call personality. It is determined by the nature of the very relationships that form it: the social relations specific for man into which he enters in his objective activity. As we have already seen, in the variety of its kinds and forms they are all characterized by a commonality of their internal structure and presuppose their conscious regulation, that is, the presence of consciousness and, at known stages, the development also of the self-consciousness of the subject.
Like these activities themselves, the process of their unification – origin, development, and disintegration of the connections between them – is a process of a special type, subject to special laws.
The study of the process of unification connecting the activities of the subject as a result of which his personality is formed represents a major problem for psychological investigation. Its resolution, however, is not possible either within the framework of subjective-empirical psychology or within the framework of behavioral or “depth” psychology, including its newer variants. This problems requires an analysis of the object activity of the subject, always, of course, mediated by processes of consciousness, which “stitch together” the separate activities. For this reason the demystification of the representations of personality is possible only in a psychology, the basis of which is a study of activity, its construction, its development, and its transformations, a study of its various types and forms. Only under these conditions will the contradiction of the “psychology of personality” and the “psychology of function” that we have mentioned be eliminated inasmuch as it is not possible to entertain the contradiction of a personality giving rise to its own activity. Also completely eliminated will be the fetishism that dominates psychology: ascribing the properties of “being a personality” to the very nature of the individual so that under the influence of external environment alone the manifestations of this mystical property change.
The fetishism about which we are speaking is the result of ignoring that most important position that the subject, entering into society in a new system of relationships, also acquires new - systemic – qualities that alone form the real character of the personality: psychological when the subject is considered within the system of activities realizing his life in society, social when we consider him in the system of objective relationships in society as their “personification.” K. Marx and F. Engels, Works, Vol 23. p. 244: Vol 46, Part 1, p. 505.
Here we approach the principal methodological problem, which is hidden behind the distinction between the concept “individual” and “personality.” We are speaking about the problem of duality of qualities of social objects, which is engendered by the duality of the objective relationships in which they exist. As is known, the discovery of this duality belongs to Marx, who showed the duality of the character of work, of the product produced, and finally, the duality of man himself as a “subject of nature” and a “subject of society.” For the scientific psychology of personality this fundamental methodological discovery has a decisive significance. It radically changes the understanding of its subject and destroys the schemes that have taken root in it in which are included such various traits or “substructures” as, for example, moral qualities, knowledge, habits and customs, forms of psychological reflection, and temperament. The source of similar “schemes of personality” is the representation of the development of personality as a result of adding layers of life acquisitions to some kind of preexisting metapsychological base. But personality as a specifically human formation cannot be understood from this point of view at all.
The true way to investigate personality lies in the study of those transformations of the subject (or, using the words of L. Sève, “fundamental revolutions”) which are the result of the self-movement of his activity in the system of social relations. On this road, however, we meet with the necessity of rethinking certain general theoretical positions at the very start.
One of these, a position on which the initial formulation of the problem of personality depends, turn us toward a theory that has already been mentioned, that external circumstances act through the internal. “The position that external effects are connected with their psychic effect mediated through personality is that center which serves as a basis for the theoretical approach to all problems of the psychology of personality. ... The fact that the external acts through the internal is true, and it is indisputably true also in cases where we consider the effect of one influence or another. It is another matter if we see this position as the key to understanding the internal as personality. The author explains that this internal in itself depends on previous internal influences. But in this, the appearance of personality as a special whole, not coinciding directly with the whole of the individual, has not yet been disclosed, and for this reason the possibility of understanding personality only as being enriched by the previous experience of the individual still remains as before.
It seems to me that in order to find an approach to the problem one must from the very start reverse the initial thesis: The internal (subject) acts through the external and this in itself changes him. This position has completely real sense. After all, in the first place the subject of life generally appears only as having, if we can use the expression of Engels, “an independent power of reaction,” but this power can act only through the external and in this external its transition from the potential to the actual takes place: its concretization, its development and enrichment – in a word, its transformation, which is essentially a transformation also of its carrier, the subject himself. Now, as a transformed subject, he appears as interpreting external influences in his passing conditions.
Of course, what has been said represents only a theoretical abstraction. But the general movement that has been described is preserved at all levels of the development of the subject, and I will repeat once more: After all, no matter what kind of morphophysiological organization, what kind of needs and instincts an individual might have from birth, they appear only as prerequisites of his development that immediately stop being that which they were virtually “in themselves” as soon as the individual begins to act. Understanding this metamorphosis is especially important when we move to man and the problem of his personality.
The main problem is to disclose the actual “formers” of personality this higher unit of man, changeable as his very life is changeable, but preserving within itself a stability, his autoidentity. After all, regardless of the experience, man accumulates the events that change his life situation, and finally, regardless of physical changes he undergoes as a personality, he remains the same in the eyes of other people and in his own as well. He is identified not only by his name; even the law identifies him at least to the limits of his responsibility for his acts.
Thus there exists an obvious contradiction between the apparent physical, psychophysiological changeability of man and his stability as a personality. This gave rise to the problem of the “I” as a special problem of the psychology of personality. It arises because the traits that are included in the psychological characterization of personality expressed clearly the changeable and “intermittent” in man, that is, that to which stability and continuity of his “I” are exactly contrasted. What forms this stability and continuity? Personalism in all its variants answers this question postulating the existence of some kind of special beginning, which forms the nucleus of the personality. This then is overgrown by numerous life acquisitions, which are capable of changing but not of essentially affecting this nucleus.
In another approach to personality its basis is the category of objective human activity, the analysis of its integral structure, its mediation and the forms of psychic reflection that it generates.
Such an approach from the very beginning allows a preliminary resolution of the question of what forms a stable base for personality; just what enters and what does not enter into the characterization of man especially as a personality also depends on this. This decision is made on the position that the real basis for human personality is the aggregate of his relationships to the world that are social in their nature, but relationships that are realized, and they are realized by his activity, or more precisely, by the aggregate of his multifaceted activities.
Here we have in mind especially the activities of the subject that are original “units” of psychological analysis of personality, and not actions, not operations, not psychophysiological functions or blocks of these functions; the latter characterize activity and not personality directly. At first glance this position seems contradictory to the empirical representations of personality and, moreover, seems to impoverish them. Nonetheless, it alone discloses the way to understanding personality in its true psychological concreteness.
More than anything this way eliminates the principal difficulty: determining which processes and features of man are those that characterize his personality psychologically and that are neutral in this sense. The fact is that taken in themselves, in an abstraction from the system of activity, they generally disclose nothing about their relations to personality. For example, operations of writing or the ability to do calligraphy can hardly be considered sensibly as “personality.” But here we have before us the picture of the hero of Gogol’s story, “The Overcoat,” Akaki Akikievich Bashmachkin. He was serving in some department as a functionary copying official papers, and he saw in this operation the whole diverse and fascinating world. Finishing work, Akaki Akikievich immediately went home. As soon as he ate, he took out an inkwell and began to copy papers that he had brought home with him, and if there were notes to be copied, he made copies for himself, as recreation, for his personal satisfaction. “Having written to his heart’s content,” Gogol tells us, “he went to sleep smiling in anticipation of the next day: whatever God would send to be copied tomorrow.”
How did it come about, how did it happen that copying official papers occupied a central place in his personality, became the sense of his life? We do not know the concrete circumstances, but in one way or another, these circumstances led to this: that there occurred a displacement of one of the main motives for what are usually completely indifferent operations, which were turned into an independent activity because of this, and in this form they appeared as characterizing personality.
It is possible, of course, to make a different, simple judgment: that in this development was disclosed some kind of “calligraphic potential,” with which nature had graced Bashmachkin. But this judgment is exactly in the spirit of the superiors of Akaki Akikievich who constantly saw in him the most diligent functionary for writing, “so that afterwards they became convinced that he apparently had been born this way. ...”
Sometimes the case is somewhat different, what seem from the outside to be actions that have their own meaning for man are disclosed by psychological analysis to be something else, and specifically that they are only means of achieving goals, the real motive of which lies as if in a completely different plane of life. In this case, behind the appearance of one activity there hides another activity. And it is specifically that activity that enters directly into the psychological aspect of personality no matter what the aggregate of concrete actions that realize it is. The latter constitutes as if only an envelope of this other activity that realizes one or another real relationship of man to the world – an envelope that depends on conditions that are sometimes incidental. This is the reason, for example, that the fact that a given man works as a technician in itself may still say nothing about his personality; its features are disclosed not in this but in those relationships into which he inevitably enters perhaps in the process of his work and perhaps outside this process. All of these things are almost truisms, and I am speaking about this only to emphasize once more that starting from a collection of separate psychological or social-psychological features of man, it is impossible to arrive at any kind of “structure of personality,” that the real basis for human personality lies not in genetic programs deposited in him, nor in the depths of his natural disposition and inclinations, nor even in the habits, knowledge, and wisdom acquired by him, including professional learning, but in that system of activities that is realized through this knowledge and wisdom.
The general conclusion from what has been said is that investigation of personality must not be limited to an explanation of prerequisites but must proceed from a development of activity, its concrete types and forms and those connections into which they enter with each other inasmuch as their development radically changes the significance of the prerequisites themselves. Thus the direction of investigation turns not from acquired habits, skills, and knowledge to activity characterized by them but from the content and connections of activities to which and what kind of processes realize them and make them possible.
Even the first steps in the indicated direction lead to the possibility of isolating a very important fact. This is that in the course of the development of the subject, his separate activities appear among themselves in a hierarchical relationship. At the level of personality they in no way form a simple cluster, the rays of which have their beginning and center in the subject. A representation of the connections between activities as rooted in the individuality and wholeness of their subject is confirmed only at the level of the individual. At this level (in animals and in infants) the range of activities and their intra-connections are directly determined by the properties of the subject – general and individual, innate and acquired. For example, a change in selectivity and change in activity are directly dependent on the current composition of needs of the organism and on a change of his biological dominant.
The hierarchical relationships of activity that characterize personality are another matter. Their feature is their “looseness” with respect to the condition of the organism. These hierarchies of activity are engendered by their own development, and it is they that form the nucleus of the personality.
In other words, “knots” that connect separate activities are tied not by the action of biological or spiritual forces of the subject which lie within him but by that system of relationships into which the subject enters.
Observation easily discloses those first “knots” from the formation of which starts the very earliest stage of the formation of personality in the child. In a very well expressed form this phenomenon at one time was observed in experiments with preschool children. The experimenter who was conducting the tests presented a child with a problem: to get an object that was out of reach without leaving his place. As soon as the child began to solve the problem the experimenter went into an adjoining room from which he continued the observation, using the optical apparatus that is usually used for such observations. After a series of unsuccessful attempts the child got up, approached the object, took it, and quietly returned to his place. The experimenter immediately came to the child, praised him for success, and offered him a piece of chocolate as a reward. The child, however, refused it and when the experimenter began to question him the youngster quietly began to cry.
What lies behind this phenomenon? In the process that we observed it is possible to isolate three moments: one, the conversation of the child with the experimenter who explains the problem; two, the solution of the problem; and three, the conversation with the experimenter after the child had taken the object. The child’s actions were a response thus to two different motives; that is, they accomplished two kinds of activity: one in relation to the experimenter, the other in relation to the object (reward). As observation indicates, at the time when the child was getting the object he did not experience the situation as conflict, as a situation of “collision.” The hierarchical connection between the two activities was evident only at the moment of renewal of conversation with the experimenter, so to speak, post factum: The candy appeared bitter, bitter in its subjective personal sense.
The phenomenon described belongs to a very early transitional stage. In spite of all the naivete of these first coordinations of the various life relationships of a child, it is precisely these relationships that are evidence of the beginning process of forming this specific formation that we call personality. Similar coordinations are never observed at an earlier stage of growth but they constantly reveal themselves in further development in their incomparably more complex and “intertwined” forms. Does not such a phenomenon of personality as pangs of conscience develop analogically?
The development and multiplication of an individual’s types of activity do not lead simply to an expansion of their “catalogue.” Simultaneously, there occurs a centering of them around several major activities to which the others are subordinated. This complex and long process of development of personality has its stages and its stops. We will not separate this process from the development of consciousness and self-consciousness, but consciousness does not constitute its beginning: it only mediates it and is, so, to speak, a resume of it.
Thus as a basis of personality there are relationships coordinating human activity generated by the process of their development. But how is this subordination, this hierarchy of activity, expressed psychologically? According to the definition we have accepted, we call activity a process that is elicited and directed by a motive – that in which one or another need is objectivized. In other words, behind the relationship of activities there is a relationship of motives. Thus we come to the necessity of turning to an analysis of motives and considering their development, their transformation, the potential for splitting their function, and such of their displacements as take place within the system of processes that form the life of an individual as a personality.