Vygotsky. The Historical Meaning of The Crisis in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation

Chapter 6

General psychology stands to the special disciplines as algebra to arithmetic. Arithmetic operates with specific, concrete quantities; algebra studies all kinds of general forms of relations between qualities. Every arithmetical operation can, consequently, be considered as a special case of an algebraic formula. From this it obviously follows that for each special discipline and for each of its laws the question as to which general formula they form a special case of is not at all indifferent. The general science’s fundamentally guiding and supreme role, so to speak, does not follow from the fact that it stands above the sciences, it does not come from above, from logic, i.e., from the ultimate foundations of scientific knowledge, but from below, from the sciences themselves which delegate the authorization of truth to the general science. The general science, consequently, develops from the special position it occupies with regard to the special ones: it integrates their sovereign ties, forms their representative. If we graphically represent the system of knowledge which covers all psychological disciplines as a circle, general science will correspond to the center of the circumference.

Now let us suppose that we have various centers as in the case of a debate between separate disciplines that aspire to become the center, or in the case of different ideas claiming to be the central explanatory principle. It is obvious that to these will correspond different circumferences and each new center will at the same time be a peripheral point on the former circumference. Consequently, we get several circumferences that intersect with each other. In our example this new position of each circumference graphically represents the special area of knowledge that is covered by psychology depending on the center, i.e., the general discipline.

Whoever takes the viewpoint of the general discipline, i.e., deals with the facts of the special disciplines not on a footing of equality, but as the material of a science, just as these disciplines themselves deals with the facts of reality, will immediately change the viewpoint of critique for the viewpoint of investigation. Criticism is on the same level as what is being criticized; it proceeds fully within the given discipline; its goal is exclusively critical and not positive; it wishes to know only whether and to what extent some theory is correct; it evaluates and judges, but does not investigate. A criticizes B, but both occupy the same position as to the facts. Things change when A begins to deal with B as B does with the facts, i.e., when he does not criticize B, but investigates him. The investigation already belongs to general science, its tasks are not critical, but positive. It does not wish to evaluate some theory, but to learn something new about the facts themselves which are represented in the theory. While science uses critique as a means, the course [of the investigation, Russian eds.] and the result of this process nevertheless differ fundamentally from a critical examination. Critique, in the final analysis, formulates an opinion about an opinion, albeit a very solid and well-founded opinion. A general investigation establishes, ultimately, objective laws and facts.

Only he who elevates his analysis from the level of the critical discussion of some system of views to the level of a fundamental investigation by means of the general science will understand the objective meaning of the crisis that is taking place in psychology. He will see the lawfulness of the clash of ideas and opinions that is taking place, which is determined by the development of the science itself and by the nature of the reality it studies at a given level of knowledge. Instead of a chaos of heterogeneous opinions, a motley discordance of subjective utterances, he will see an orderly blueprint of the fundamental opinions concerning the development of the science, a system of the objective tendencies which are inherent in the historical tasks brought forward by the development of the science and which act behind the backs of the various investigators and theorists with the force of a steel spring. Instead of critically discussing and evaluating some author, instead of establishing that this author is guilty of inconsistency and contradictions, he will devote a positive investigation to the question what the objective tendencies in science require. And as a result, instead of opinions about an opinion he will get an outline of the skeleton of the general science as a system of defining laws, principles and facts.

Only such an investigator realizes the real and correct meaning of the catastrophe that is taking place and has a clear idea of the role, place, and meaning of each different theory or school. Rather than by the impressionism and subjectivism inevitable in each criticism, he will be led by scientific reliability and veracity. For him (and this will be the first result of the new viewpoint) the individual differences will vanish–he will understand the role of personality in history. He will understand that to explain reflexology’s claims to be a universal science from the personal mistakes, opinions, particularities, and ignorance of its founders is as impossible as to explain the French revolution from the corruption of the king or court. He will see what and how much in the development of science depends upon the good and bad intention of its practitioners, what can be explained from their intentions and what from this intention itself should, on the contrary, be explained on the basis of the objective tendencies operative behind the backs of these practitioners. Of course, the particularities of his personal creativity and the entire weight of his scientific experience determined the specific form of universalism which the idea of reflexology acquired in the hands of Bekhterev. But in Pavlov [1928/1963, p. 41] as well, whose personal contribution and scientific experience are entirely different, reflexology is the “ultimate science,” “an omnipotent method,” which brings “full, true and permanent human happiness.” And in their own way behaviorism and Gestalt theory cover the same route. Obviously, rather than the mosaic of good and evil intentions among the investigators we should study the unity in the processes of regeneration of scientific tissue in psychology, which determines the intention of all the investigators.