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

12: The Driving Forces of the Crisis

Now we must briefly dwell upon the proximate causes or driving forces of the crisis.

Which factors lead us to the crisis, the rupture, and which passively experience it as an inevitable evil? Naturally, we will dwell here only upon the driving forces within our science, leaving all others aside. We are justified in doing so, because the external – social and ideological – causes and phenomena are, one way or the other, represented in the final analysis by forces within the science, and they act through them. It is our intention, therefore, to analyse the proximate causes lying within the science and to refrain from a deeper analysis.

Let us say right away that the main driving force of the crisis in its final phase is the development of applied psychology as a whole.

The attitude of academic psychology toward applied psychology has up until not remained somewhat disdainful as if it had to do with a semi-exact science. Not everything is well in this area of psychology, there is no doubt about that, but nevertheless there can be no doubt for an observer who takes a bird-eye's view, i.e., the methodologist, that the leading role in the development of our science belongs to applied psychology. It represents everything of psychology which is progressive, sound, which contains a germ of the future. It provides the best methodological works. It is only by studying this area that one can come to an understanding of the meaning of what is going on and the possibility of a genuine psychology.

The center has shifted in the history of science: what was at the periphery became the center of the circle. One can say about applied psychology what can be said about philosophy which was rejected by empirical psychology: “the stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner.”

We can elucidate this by referring to three aspects. The first is practice. Here psychology was first (through industrial psychology, psychiatry, child psychology, and criminal psychology) confronted with a highly developed – industrial, educational, political, or military – practice. This confrontation compels psychology to reform its principles so that they may withstand the highest test of practice. It forces us to accommodate and introduce into our science the supply of practical psychological experiences and skills which has been gathered over thousands of years; for the church, the military, politics, and industry, insofar as they have consciously regulated and organised the mind, base themselves on an experience which is enormous, although not well ordered from the scientific viewpoint (every psychologist experienced the reforming influence of applied science). For the development of psychology, applied psychology plays the same role as medicine did for anatomy and physiology and technique for the physical sciences. The importance of the new practical psychology for the whole science cannot be exaggerated. The psychologist might dedicate a hymn to it.

A psychology which is called upon to confirm the truth of its thinking in practice, which attempts not so much to explain the mind but to understand and master it, gives the practical disciplines a fundamentally different place in the whole structure of the science than the former psychology did. There practice was the colony of theory, dependent in all its aspects on the metropolis. Theory was in no way dependent on practice. Practice was the conclusion, the application, an excursion beyond the boundaries of science, an operation which lay outside science and came after science, which began after the scientific operation was considered completed. Success or failure had practically no effect on the fate of the theory. Now the situation is the opposite. Practice pervades the deepest foundations of the scientific operation and reforms it from beginning to end. Practice sets the tasks and serves as the supreme judge of theory, as its truth criterion. It dictates how to construct the concepts and how to formulate the laws.

This leads us directly to the second aspect, to methodology. However strange and paradoxical it may seem at first glance, it is precisely practice as the constructive principle of science which requires a philosophy, i.e. a methodology of science. This does not in any way contradict the frivolous, “light-hearted” (in the words of Munsterberg) relation of psychotechnics to its principles. In reality, both the practice and the methodology of psychotechnics are often amazingly helpless, weak, superficial, and at times ludicrous. Psychotechnic diagnoses are vacuous and remind us of the physician's reflections about medicine in Moliere. The methodology of psychotechnics is invented ad hoc each time and lacks critical sense. It is often called picnic psychology, i.e., it is something light, temporary, half-serious. All this is true. But it does not for one moment change the fundamental state of affairs, that it is exactly this psychology which will create an iron methodology. As Munsterberg says, not only the general part, but also the examination of particular questions will force us time and again to investigate the principles of psychotechnics.

That is why I assert: despite the fact that it has compromised itself more than once, that its practical meaning is very close to zero and the theory often ludicrous, its methodological meaning is enormous The principle and philosophy of practice is – once again – the stone which the builders rejected and which became the head stone of the corner. Here we have the whole meaning of the crisis.

Binswanger says that we do not expect to get the solution to the most general question – the supreme question of all psychology, the problem which includes all problems of psychology, the question of subjectivating and objectivating psychology – from logic, epistemology, or metaphysics, but from methodology, i.e., the theory of scientific method. We would say: from the methodology of psychotechnics, i.e., the philosophy of practice. The practical and theoretical value of Binet's measuring scale or other psychotechnic tests may be obviously insignificant, the test bad in itself, but as an idea, a methodological principle, a task, a perspective it is enormous. The most complex contradictions of psychological methodology are transferred to the grounds of practice and only there can they be solved. There the debate stops being fruitless, it comes to an end. “Method” means “way,” we view it as a means of knowledge acquisition. But in all its points the way is determined by the goal to which it leads. That is why practice reforms the whole methodology of the science.

The third aspect of the reforming role of psychotechnics may be understood from the first two. It is that psychotechnics is a one-sided psychology, it instigates a rupture and creates a real psychology. Psychiatry too transcends the boundaries of idealistic psychology. One cannot treat or cure relying on introspection. One can hardly carry this idea to a more absurd consequence than when applying it to psychiatry. Psychotechnics also realised, as was observed by Spiel'rejn, that it cannot separate psychological functions from physiological ones, and it is searching for an integral concept. About psychologists who demand inspiration from teachers, I have written that hardly any one of them would entrust the control of a ship to the captain's inspiration or the management of a factory to the engineer's enthusiasm. Each of them would select a professional sailor and an experienced technician. And these highest possible requirements for the science, this most serious practice, will revive psychology. Industry and the military, education and treatment will revive and reform the science. Husserl's eidetic psychology, which is not interested in the truth of its claims, is not fit for the selection of tram-drivers. Neither is the contemplation of essences fit for that goal, even values are without interest. But all this will not in the least protect it against a catastrophe. The goal of such a psychology is not Shakespeare in concepts, as it was for Dilthey, but in one word – psychotechnics, i.e., a scientific theory which would lead to the subordination and mastery of the mind, to the artificial control of behaviour.

And it is Munsterberg, this militant idealist, who lays the foundations for psychotechnics, i.e., a materialistic psychology in the highest sense of the word. Stern, no less enthusiastic about idealism, is elaborating a methodology for differential psychology and reveals with fatal precision the untenability of idealistic psychology.

How could it happen that extreme idealists play into the hands of materialism? It shows that the two struggling tendencies are deeply and with objective necessity rooted in the development of psychology; how little they coincide with what the psychologist says about himself, i.e., with his subjective philosophical convictions; how inexpressibly complex the picture of the crisis is; in what mixed forms both tendencies meet; what tortuous, unexpected, paradoxical zigzags the front line in psychology makes, frequently within one and the same system, frequently within one term. Finally, it shows that the struggle between the two psychologies does not coincide with the struggle between the many conceptions and psychological schools, but stands behind them and determines them. It shows how deceptive the external forms of the crisis are and that we need to take account of the genuine meaning behind them.

Let us turn to Munsterberg. The question of causal psychology's legitimacy is of decisive importance for psychotechnics.

This one-sided causal psychology only now comes into its own . . . explanatory psychology is the answer to an unnatural, artificial question; mental life requires understanding, not explanation. Psychotechnics, however, which can only work with a causal psychology, testifies to the necessity of such an artificial statement of the question and legitimatise it. The genuine meaning of explanatory psychology is only revealed in psychotechnics and, thus, the whole system of the psychological sciences culminates in it.

It is difficult to demonstrate the objective force of this tendency and the non-coincidence of the philosopher's convictions with the objective meaning of his work more clearly: materialistic psychology is unnatural, says the idealist, but I am forced to work with precisely such a psychology.

Psychotechnics is oriented toward action, practice – and there we act in a way which is fundamentally different from purely theoretical understanding and explanation. That is why psychotechnics cannot hesitate in the selection of the psychology it needs (not even when it is elaborated by consistent idealists). It is dealing exclusively with causal, objective psychology. Non-causal psychology plays no role whatsoever for psychotechnics.

It is precisely this situation that is of decisive importance for all psychotechnical sciences. It is consciously one-sided. It is the only empirical science in the full sense of the word. It is – inevitably – a comparative science. The link with physical processes is for this science so fundamental that it is a physiological psychology. It is an experimental science. And its general formula is:

We proceeded from the assumption that the only psychology relevant for psychotechnics must be a descriptive-explanatory science. We may now add that, on top of that, it must be an empirical, comparative science which takes physiology into account, and which, finally, is experimental [Munsterberg].

This means that psychotechnics introduces a revolution in the development of the science and marks an era in its development. From this viewpoint Munsterberg says that empirical psychology hardly originated before the second half of the 19th century. Even in the schools which rejected metaphysics and studied the facts research was guided by another interest. Application of the experiment was impossible as long as psychology did not become a natural science. But along with the introduction of the experiment there evolved a paradoxical situation which would be unthinkable in the natural sciences: equipment equivalent to the first steam engine or the telegraph was well known in the laboratories, but not applied in practice. Education and law, trade and industry, social life and medicine were uninfluenced by this movement. To this very day it is considered a profanation of the investigation to connect it with practice and it is advised to wait until psychology has completed its theoretical system. But the experience of the natural sciences tells us another story. Medicine and technique did not wait until anatomy and physics celebrated their ultimate triumphs. It is not only that life needs psychology and practices it in different forms everywhere: we must also expect an upsurge in psychology from this contact with life.

Of course, Munsterberg would not be an idealist if he accepted this situation as it is and did not retain a special area for the unlimited rights of idealism. He merely transfers the debate to another area when he accepts the untenability of idealism in the area of a causal psychology that feeds on practice. He explains this “epistemological tolerance” [ibid.] and deduces it from an idealistic understanding of the essence of science which does not seek for the distinction “between true and false concepts, but between those suited or not suited for certain ultimate hypothetical [gedankliche] goals” [ibid.]. He believes that a temporary truce between psychologists can be established as soon as they leave the battlefield of psychological theory [ibid.].

Munsterberg's work is a striking example of the internal discord between a methodology determined by science and a philosophy determined by a world view, precisely because he is a methodologist who is consistent to the very end and a philosopher who is consistent to the very end, i.e., a contradictory thinker to the very end. He understands that in being a materialist in causal psychology and an idealist in teleological psychology he arrives at some sort of double-entry bookkeeping which inevitably must be unscrupulous, because the entries on the one side are different from those on the other side. For in the end only one truth is conceivable. But for him the truth is not life itself, but the logical elaboration of life, and the latter can vary, as it is determined by many viewpoints [ibid.] He understands that empirical science does not require the rejection of an epistemological point of view, but a certain theory, but in various sciences different epistemological viewpoints are possible. In the interest of practice we express the truth in one language, in another in the interests of the mind [Geist].

When natural scientists have differences of opinion these do not touch upon the fundamental assumptions of the science.

It is no problem at all for a botanist to communicate about his subject with all other plant researchers. No botanist bothers to stop to answer the question what it actually means that plants live in space and time and are ruled by causal laws [ibid.].

But the nature of psychological material does not allow us to separate the psychological propositions from philosophical theories to the extent that other empirical sciences have managed to do that. The psychologist fundamentally deceives himself when he imagines that his laboratory work can lead him to the solution of the basic questions of his science; they belong to philosophy.

The psychologist who does not want to join the philosophical debate about fundamental questions must simply tacitly accept one or the other epistemological theory as the basis of his particular investigations [ibid.].

It was exactly epistemological tolerance and not a rejection of epistemology which led Munsterberg to the idea of two psychologies, one of which contradicts the other, but both of which can be accepted by the philosopher. After all, tolerance does not stand for atheism. In the mosque he is a Mohammedan, but in the cathedral a Christian.

There is only one fundamental misunderstanding that may arise: that the idea of a dualistic psychology leads to the partial acceptance of the rights of causal psychology, that the dualism is transferred into psychology itself, which is divided into two phases; that Munsterberg proclaimed tolerance also within causal psychology. But this is absolutely not the case. This is what he [ibid.] says:

The fundamental question as to whether a psychology that thinks along teleological lines may really exist alongside a causal psychology, whether in scientific psychology we can and should deal with apperception, task awareness, affect, will, or thought in a teleological fashion, does not concern the psychotechnician, for he knows that we can always somehow handle these events and mental performances in the language of causal psychology and that psychotechnics can only deal with this causal conception.

Thus, the two psychologies do not overlap, do not supplement each other, but they serve two truths, one in the interest of practice, the other in the interest of mind [Geist]. Double-entry bookkeeping is practiced in Munsterberg's world view, but not in psychology. The materialist will fully accept Munsterberg's conception of causal psychology and will reject dualism in science. The idealist will reject dualism as well and will fully accept the conception of a teleological psychology. Munsterberg himself proclaims epistemological tolerance and accepts both sciences, but elaborates one of them as materialist and the other as idealist. Thus, the debate and the dualism exist beyond the boundaries of causal psychology. It is not part of anything and in itself does not form part of any science.

This instructive example of the fact that in science idealism is forced to find its grounds in materialism is fully confirmed by the example of any other thinker.

Stern followed the same path. He was led to objective psychology through the problems of differential investigation, which is likewise one of the main reasons for the new psychology. We do not investigate thinkers, however, but their fate, i.e., the objective processes that stand behind them and control them. And these are not revealed through induction, but through analysis. In the words of Engels, one steam engine demonstrates the law of transformation of energy no less convincingly than 100,000 engines. We add as a mere curiosity that in the preface to the translation of Munsterberg the Russian idealistic psychologists list among his merits that he meets the aspiration of the psychology of behaviour and the requirements of an integral approach of man without pulverising man's psychophysical organisation into atoms. What the great idealists accomplish as a tragedy, the small ones repeat as a farce.

We can summarise. We view the cause of the crisis as its driving force, which is therefore not only of historical interest, but also of primary – methodological – importance, as it not only led to the development of the crisis, but continues determining its further course and fate. This cause lies in the development of applied psychology, which has led toward the reform of the whole methodology of the science on the basis of the principle of practice, i.e., towards its transformation into a natural science. This principle is pressing psychology heavily and pushing it to split into two sciences. It guarantees the right development of materialistic psychology in the future. Practice and philosophy are becoming the head stone of the corner.

Many psychologists have viewed the introduction of the experiment as a fundamental reform of psychology and have even equated experimental and scientific psychology. They predicted that the future would belong solely to experimental psychology and have viewed this epithet as a most important methodological principle. But in psychology the experiment remained on the level of a technical device, it was not utilised in a fundamental way and it led, in the case of Ach for instance, to its own negation. Nowadays many psychologists see a way out in methodology, in the correct formation of principles. They expect salvation from the other end. But their work is fruitless as well. Only a fundamental rejection of the blind empiricism which is trailing behind immediate introspectional experience and which is internally split into two parts; only the emancipation from introspection, its exclusion just like the exclusion of the eye in physics; only a rupture and the selection of a single psychology will provide the way out of the crisis. The dialectic unity of methodology and practice, applied to psychology from two sides, is the fate and destiny of one of the psychologies. A complete severance from practice and the contemplation of ideal essences is the destiny and fate of the other. A complete rupture and separation is their common destiny and fate. This rupture began, continues, and will be completed along the lines of practice.

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