Hypothesis for a Scientific Theory of Personality

‘Time is the room of human development’.
(K. MARX).’

‘Will man not one day make similar advances in time to those he has made in space?’.
(P. JANET).2

THE preceding chapters suggest a solution to the problem of the subdivision of the field of the sciences in the region of human psychism and in particular a definition of the psychology of personality which seems to us to be a science essentially to be constituted on new bases. We think that reflecting on these questions on the basis of dialectical and historical materialism and the articulation which the science of the human individual necessarily assumes with it, commits us in principle not to an arbitrary intervention of the non-specialist on the terrain of a praticular science, but to a legitimate investigation in general anthropology and epistemology, and therefore in philosophy in the Marxist sense of the term, an investigation the results of which are simply suggested to the psychologist so that he can assess their possible congruence with the results and obstacles which he meets on his terrain. But in this last chapter we propose to go further: to put forward, by way of indicative hypotheses, a number of ideas related to basic concepts and general laws of development which could give substance to this science of personality suggested earlier. It is sufficient to announce such a project to give rise to an urgent preliminary question: for a Marxist philosopher, is this taking up a position in glaring contradiction to what was recalled here, in Chapter I, concerning the absolute illegitimacy of external intervention in the affairs of a particular science?

I. Preliminary remarks

As a matter of fact, such an intervention of the non-specialist of the terrain of a psychological science appears impossible for the crucial reason that all scientific psychology is founded on objective observation and experimentation or it does not exist. No methodological lesson emerges more forcefully from its whole history: psychology took the scientific road only from the moment and in so far as it broke with the old dogma of metaphysical spiritualism according to which psychology only existed as armchair philosophical introspection. For scientific psychology the basic rule is therefore the axiom of objectivity. And it is precisely increasingly to reach this objectivity that psychology has gradually elaborated its vast set of specialised methods. This being so, how could a philosopher as such, by definition a non-specialist, claim to contribute anything concrete to psychology unless he still imagines
that skillful observation of oneself or one’s friends has a some chance of being of interest for science today? This is why, if a philosopher announces that he proposes to deal concretely with the content of a psychological science, this understandably arouses the psychologist’s most open hostility, or compassion. It is generally agreed that, to a certain extent, the philosopher can answer questions – notably epistemological questions – which the psychologist asks him. But rightly it is the psychologist and he alone who has the proficiency to ask concrete questions in psychology, as the astronomer alone is qualified to ask concrete questions in astronomy: where would the philosopher deduce the particular science from? At best he is therefore a man to be consulted. But let him not think of consulting himself: luminary but blind, instructive but incapable, he can have no license to set up as a psychologist on his own account. And if, in spite of everything, he attempts to do so, is this not proof that by profession he is unable to adhere to the axiom of objectivity and that he inevitably relapses into introspective tinkering and speculative construction?

The difficulty seems quite insuperable. But an altogether unique situation now presents itself to Us: if the foregoing is well-founded a new psychological science is being considered, new not in relation to the site which it occupies of course, but to the subdivision which it installs and to the type of content at which it aims; a new science which is based on reflection which one can if one wishes describe as inter-disciplinary, in this case on the effect of historical materialism on anthropology and the conception of the individual; by definition this new science has still not constituted its own specialisation for itself. It is vital to note that this planned psychological science is by no means to be found on requestioning the axiom of objectivity but, on the contrary, on its deepemng What, in fact does it really mean, to demand a genuinely objective psychology? This is the question we asked above and which, via a critical examination of the very principles of any conception of man, led us to reply that it does not mean merely the requirement of objectivity from the methodological point of view, though this is important, but also from the point of view of content, which is even more vital. As Marx says: ‘A “view” cannot be concrete when its subject matter’ is abstract’. Now to demand that the psychology of personality be concrete and objective as far as its content is concerned is to demand that it reaches the essence of its object, and therefore that it takes for its object not only this or that aspect of psychism but the whole structure and development of real human personalities, that it sets itself
the task of helping us to recognise theoretically and to intervene practically in the growth of these personalities, not in this or that set of artificial conditions or from this or that particular angle but in actual life and globally. The old philosophical psychology fundamentally violated the axiom of objectivity in this respect because it theorised in the abstract and far removed from any practice. But conversely, current psychological theorisations about the personality are too often carried out by way of practices which are themselves very ‘theoretical’ and not very concrete – Politzer clearly demonstrated this and his observations are far from being out of date – in so far as they merely grasp personal activity in a marginal, fragmentary, if not artificial way, because they neglect the conditions of real life, starting with social labour. And this is why it seems to us that the first principle of the axiom of objectivity
might be: the psychology of personality is the science of individuals’ real life or it remains immersed in ideological illusion.

If this is the case, then the basic material of every objective scientific investigation into the human personality is the biography; and the basic practical relation with this material is the set of planned interventions with a view to altering the ‘spontaneous’ – spontaneous compared with these interventions – growth of human personalities. One can immediately see that neither the imposing totality of what up to now has constituted experimental psychology, nor even clinical psychology in the Pathological sense, constitute the only possible way to a truly objective knowledge of the personality, and in fact are possibly not the most fruitful. Why, for example, despite Politzer’s suggestions in this respect, should one persist in discounting the body of observations and experiences deriving from ‘popular psychology’, or merely see in them the most superficial, indeed most ideological, aphorisms (which do actually abound there), but not notice that over and above the meagre and often mystified result of an antiquated, primitive empiricism and parasitic beliefs, there can also be found in this ‘popular psychology' the fund of concrete knowledge, which is poorly elaborated of course but practically proved, which the great progressive social movement and particularly the worker’s movement have accumulated over generations, concerning the development of individuals in real life? Is what an experienced workers’ party, for example, can suggest to us connection with certain aspects of the growth of human personalities less interesting in principle than what the worst of psychosociologists can show us about small group dynamics, or even possibly than the best of psychoanalysts can show us about the structure of the unconscious? At all events, this is worth examining. For my part I consider that the degree of real objectivity reached by certain psychological principles in the politiLs of cadres in the French Communist Party (in connection with the symptomology of the poor cadre, for example) is far higherb than that of many of the results of characterology of social psychology, however much these latter may be emblazoned with superficial scientificity and even mathematical formalisation.

However do not misunderstand me. When I give such an example of one possible way to the region where the genuine object of the science of personality is situated – a typical example in its total contrast to the way generally used by psychologists at the present time but a limiting example too – I do not have in mind, through some ouvrierist demagogy, to suggest that militant practice should take the place of scientific research here. Actually it is just as little a case of opposing some psychology of the poor to currently dominant theories in the name of the concrete as it is, for example in the question of wages and profits, a case of Marxist political economy opposing the spontaneous practice of the workers’ movement to bourgeois economic science. The psychology of personality can only reach full development at a higher, nor a lower, level of theory than it has reached on the whole today. It is
therefore in no way a question here of a defence of scientific primitivism: perhaps it has been noticed from what has already been said that it is rather a question of the opposite. Indeed, I repeat, in my opinion the psychology of personality essentially suffers not from an excess of formalisation but from a lack of content: if its discourse so often appears formal to us it is because it rarely, much too rarely, refers to real men. Consequently, without disregarding any of the tools, any of the procedures of a learned science, it is a matter of never losing sight of the fact that, even in the midst of the most extreme specialisation, the ultimate aim is theoretically and practically to control the psychological conditions for a full flowering of personalities. And if one does not lose sight of this, one cars see that of all the psychology of personality which is possible , i.e. which is thinkable, that which exists today has still only is accomplished a small part, and it is by no means certain that this is the most interesting part, nor even that it can be guaranteed to be safe fom fundamental dispute. And one is convinced that the exploration of new means of access, which are not officially recognised and still less endowed with specialists, to the raw materials of a science thus defined and conceived, is not only theoretically permissabie but undoubtedly represents the determinant condition of its transition to adulthood.

In this connection, making use of the psychological experience accumulated by the workers’ movement is merely an example of what might be done. There are many others, a systematic recording of which is essential, beginning with the enormous variety of educational practices in the most general sense of the adjective. Is not the contrast striking and preposterous, from this point of view, between the very rare gestures of acknowledgement given from afar to the considerable work of a Makarenko, who remains almost totally unused in France from the point of view of the basic theory of personality, and the unbelievable bibliographical proliferation of second or third rate works
on psychoanalysis, which at this level ends up by essentially being the shabby excuse for running away from the crucial psychological questions of labour and social relations? More generally one may think that there is an open mine of psychological raw material everywhere where there is regular social practice relating in some way to improving the spontaneous growth of personalities, and all the more when it is already amassed in empirical culture – and everywhere where there are conscious practitioners of this practice there is a potential psychology of personality. Thus we arrive at the proposition – a fact of major importance in relation to the objection of lack of competence before us here – that the case of the psychology of the normal human individual, considered in his psychic structure and development as a whole, is from the outset quite different from that of most sciences, including the human sciences. In astronomy or microphysics, and even in essentials in political economy or inguistics, the non-specialist has no means of real access to scientific material, or else he only has access to the most superficial layers the seams of which have long been exhausted and no longer present any interest for he progress of the science. In the Psychology of personality, in the sense in which it has been defined earlier and in the embryonic state in which still exists, not only is access to currently useful raw material not the privilege of the specialist, at least as he is trained and works in general today, but one can raise precisely the question of whether the secret of this science’s marking time as far as basic theory is concerned does not lie in this, that to a large extent it even the Marxist does not easily free himself.

The result of this state of affairs and the point I wish to come to that if the non-specialist in psychology – even a philosopher for example – is clearly unable to intervene concretely in psychological work as it has constituted its specialisation until now, then the radical re-examination of the foundations of the psychology of personality, cannot allow itself to be forbidden to question the limits of this specialisation itself, nor to suggest constituting new types of research with every promise of new specialisations of course, but open at the outset to anyone who is in a position to move forward more or less fruitfully. In a book wholly devoted to criticism of the illegitimate, pretensions of philosophers like Bergson, Sartre or Merleau- Ponty to deal with psychological problems as such, Piaget himself has no difficulty in agreeing that at times philosophers have made ‘fruitful suggestions anticipating the possibility of sciences yet to be constituted, of which the history of ideas has given subsequent proof’: the aim of the present essay may be classified quite accurately under this heading. In other words, in so far as he combines a knowledge of the articulation of historical materialism with the theory of the individual and full, participation in different educational practices, a non-specialist in the, current sense of this term – a Marxist philosopher, for example – is’ not a priori incapable of having access to the material which he wishes to deal with if he is interested in the human personality. Naturally, and even in the best of cases, the experimental value of hypotheses put forward like this still remains to be demonstrated practically, and I emphasise this fundamental point: in the last resort it is for the experts to determine this value according to tested scientific procedures, whether already existing or yet to be devised. Therefore, this last chapter strictly proposes nothing else than to submit to the critical examination of anyone who is interested a coherent set of hypotheses concerning the general aspect of the possible content of the science of
personality defmed above. The character of the pages which follow is therefore very different from that of the preceding chapters, being situated solely at the level of the articulation between historical materialism and psychology, and proceeding through critical construction starting from the scientific results obtained on the basis of the former. On the contrary, although logically connected to the theses of the last chapter, the hypotheses which follow are not at all deduced from them – one could certainly deduce others from them – but formed both by theoretical conjecture and by a semi-empirical method. The judgement to be passed on them cannot at the same time be extended to the overall views on the psychology of personality to which are articulated without being their sole and necessary corollary.

What prompts me to bring them up here is, therefore, quite the site of the old philosophical temptation correctly criticised by the experimental psychologist; it is much rather a matter of providing the psychologist with a further means of doing his critical work in relation to general hypotheses put forward in the preceding chapters. For it would be too easy to maintain that, for reasons of principle and purely at the level of theoretical considerations, a modified subdivision can provide the science of personality with the opportunity of escaping from its current impasses, and then prudently to avoid any indication other than a programmatic, even ungraspable, one, concerning what the secret content of this science might be. Politzer has often been reproached for having announced a psychology of ‘drama’ without having provided even the beginnings of its construction. Even if many replies could be made to this objection, as we will show further on, it seems to me that it is formally acceptable. To submit, by way of indicative hypotheses, some ideas helping any and everybody to concretise the meaning of the theoretical propositions that we are putting foward and to pass judgement on them in full knowledge of the case, is therefore simply to assume one’s responsibilities. Moreover, as we have said, the danger which currently threatens the psychology of personality does not seem to be the proliferation of irresponsible hypotheses but the scarcity of new views able to give rise if necessary to an expansion of research. Probably I have said enough to prevent some misunderstanding and possibly to save undue precautions in writing the pages which follow.