Vygotsky. The Historical Meaning of The Crisis in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation
If one would like to get an objective and clear idea of the contemporary state of psychology and the dimensions of its crisis, it would suffice to study the psychological language, i.e., the nomenclature and terminology, the dictionary and syntax of the psychologist. Language, scientific language in particular, is a tool of thought, an instrument of analysis, and it suffices to examine which instruments a science utilizes to understand the character of its operations. The highly developed and exact language of contemporary physics, chemistry, and physiology, not to speak of mathematics where it plays an extraordinary role, was developed and perfected during the development of science and far from spontaneously, but deliberately under the influence of tradition, critique, and the direct terminological creativity of scientific societies and congresses. The psychological language of contemporaneity is first of all terminologically insufficient: this means that psychology does not yet have its own language. In its dictionary you will find a conglomerate of words of three kinds: (1) the words of everyday language, which are vague, ambiguous, and adapted to practical life (Lazursky levelled this criticism against faculty psychology; I succeeded in showing that it is more true of the language of empirical psychology and of Lazursky himself in particular; see Preface to Lazursky in this volume). Suffice it to remember the touchstone of all translators–the visual sense (i.e., sensation) to realize the whole metaphorical nature and inexactness of the practical language of daily life; (2) the words of philosophical language. They too pollute the language of psychologists, as they have lost the link with their previous meaning, are ambiguous as a result of the struggle between the various philosophical schools, and are abstract to a maximal degree. Lalande (1923) views this as the main source of the vagueness and lack of clarity in psychology. The tropes of this language favor vagueness of thought. These metaphors are valuable as illustrations, but dangerous as formulas. It also leads to personifications through the ending -ism, of mental facts, functions, systems and theories, between which small mythological dramas are invented; (3) finally, the words and ways of speaking taken from the natural sciences which are used in a figurative sense bluntly serve deception. When the psychologist discusses energy, force, and even intensity, or when he speaks of excitation etc., he always covers a non-scientific concept with a scientific word and thereby either deceives, or once again underlines the whole indeterminate nature of the concept indicated by the exact foreign term.
Lalande [1923, p. 52] correctly remarks that the obscurity of language depends as much upon its syntax as upon its dictionary. In the construction of the psychological phrase we meet no fewer mythological dramas than in the lexicon. I want to add that the style, the manner of expression of a science is no less important. In a word, all elements, all functions of a language show the traces of the age of the science that makes use of them, and determine the character of its workings.
It would be mistaken to think that psychologists have not noticed the mixed
character, the inaccuracy, and the mythological nature of their language. There
is hardly any author who in one way or another has not dwelt upon the problem
of terminology. Indeed, psychologists have pretended to describe, analyze and
study very subtle things, full of nuances, they have attempted to convey the
unique mental experience, the facts sui generis which occur only once, when
science wished to convey the experience itself, i.e., when the task of its language
was equal to that of the word of the artist. For this reason psychologists recommended
that psychology be learned from the great novelists, spoke in the language of
the impressionistic fine literature themselves, and even the best, most brilliant
stylists among the psychologists were unable to create an exact language and
wrote in a figurative-expressive way. They suggested, sketched, described, but
did not record. This was the case for James, Lipps, and Binet.
The 6th International Congress of psychologists in Geneva (1909) put this question on its agenda and published two reports–by Baldwin and Claparède–on this topic, but did no more than establishing rules for linguistical possibilities, although Claparêde tried to give a definition of 40 laboratory terms. Baldwin’s dictionary in England and the technical and critical dictionary of philosophy in France have accomplished much, but despite this the situation becomes worse every year and to read a new book with the help of the above-mentioned dictionaries is impossible. The encyclopedia from which I take this information views it as one of its tasks to introduce solidity and stability into the terminology, but gives occasion to new instability as it introduces a new system of terms [Dumas, 1923].  The language reveals as it were the molecular changes that the science goes through. It reflects the internal processes that take shape–the tendencies of development, reform, and growth. We may assume, therefore, that the troubled condition of the language reflects a troubled condition of the science. We will not deal any further with the essence of this relation. We will take it as our point of departure for the analysis of the contemporary molecular terminological changes in psychology. Perhaps, we will be able to read in them the present and future fate of the science. Let us first of all begin with those who are tempted to deny any fundamental importance to the language of science and view such debates as scholastic logomachy. Thus, Chelpanov (1925) considers the attempt to replace the subjective terminology by an objective one as a ridiculous pretension, utter nonsense. The zoopsychologists (Beer, Bethe, Von UexkUll) have used “photoreceptor” instead of “eye”, “stiboreceptor” instead of “nose,” “receptor” instead of “sense organ” etc. (Chelpanov, 1925). 
Chelpanov is tempted to reduce the whole reform carried out by behaviorism to a play of words. He assumes that in Watson’s writings the word “sensation” or “idea” is replaced by the word “reaction.” In order to show the reader the difference between ordinary psychology and the psychology of the behaviorist, Chelpanov (1925) gives examples of the new way of expressing things:
In ordinary psychology it is said: ‘When someone’s optical nerve
is stimulated by a mixture of complementary light waves, he will become conscious
of the white color.’ According to Watson in this case we must say: ‘He
reacts to it as if it were a white color.’
The triumphant conclusion of the author is that the matter is not changed
by the words used. The whole difference is in the words. Is this really true?
For a psychologist of Chelpanov’s kind it is definitively true. Who does
not investigate nor discover anything new cannot understand why researchers
introduce new terms for new phenomena. Who has no view of his own about the
phenomena and accepts indifferently both Spinoza, Husserl, Marx, and Plato,
for such a person a fundamental change of words is an empty pretension. Who
eclectically–in the order of appearance–assimilates all Western European
schools, currents and directions, is in need of a vague, undefined, levelling,
everyday language–”as is spoken in ordinary psychology.” For
a person who conceives of psychology only in the form of a textbook it is a
matter of life and death to preserve everyday language, and as lots of empiricist
psychologists belong to this type, they speak in this mixed and motley jargon,
in which the consciousness of the white color is simply a fact which is in no
need of any further critique.
For Chelpanov it is a caprice, an eccentricity. But why is this eccentricity so regular? Doesn’t it contain something essential? Watson, Pavlov, Bekhterev, Kornilov, Bethe and Von Uexkull (Chelpanov’s list may be continued ad libitum from any area of science), Kohler, Koffka and others and still others demonstrated this eccentricity. This means that there is some objective necessity in the tendency to introduce new terminology.
We can say in advance that the word that refers to a fact at the same time
provides a philosophy of that fact, its theory, its system. When I say: “the
consciousness of the color” I have scientific associations of a certain
kind, the fact is included in a certain series of phenomena, I attach a certain
meaning to the fact. When I say: “the reaction to white” everything
is wholly different. But Chelpanov is only pretending that it is a matter of
words. For him the thesis “a reform of terminology is not needed”
forms the conclusion from the thesis “a reform of psychology is not needed.”
Never mind that Chelpanov gets caught in contradictions: on the one hand Watson
is only changing words; on the other hand behaviorism is distorting psychology.
It is one of two things: either Watson is playing with words–then behaviorism
is a most innocent thing, an amusing joke, as Chelpanov likes to put it when
he reassures himself; or behind the change of words is concealed a change of
the matter–then the change of words is not all that funny. A revolution
always tears off the old names of things–both in politics and in science.
But let us proceed to other authors who do understand the importance of new words. It is clear to them that new facts and a new viewpoint necessitate new words. Such psychologists fall into two groups. Some are pure eclectics, who happily mix the old and new words and view this procedure as some eternal law. Others speak in a mixed language out of necessity. They do not coincide with any of the debating parties and strive for a unified language, for the creation of their own language.
We have seen that such outspoken eclectics as Thorndike equally apply the term “reaction” to temper, dexterity, action, to the objective and the subjective. As he is not capable of solving the question of the nature of the studied facts and the principles of their investigation, he simply deprives both the subjective and the subjective terms of their meaning. “Stimulus-reaction” is for him simply a convenient way to describe the phenomena. Others, such as Pillsbury [1917, pp. 4-14], make eclecticism their principle: the debates about a general method and viewpoint are of interest for the technically-minded psychologist. Sensation and perception he explains in the terms of the structuralists, actions of all kinds in those of the behaviorists. He himself is inclined towards functionalism. The different terms lead to discrepancies, but he prefers the use of the terms of many schools to those of a single specific school. In complete accordance with this he explains the subject matter of psychology with illustrations from everyday life, in vague words, instead of giving formal definitions. Having given the three definitions of psychology as the science of mind, consciousness, or behavior, he concludes that they may very well be neglected in the description of the mental life. It is only natural that terminology leaves our author indifferent as well Koffka (1925) and others try to realize a fundamental synthesis of the old and the new terminology. They understand very well that the word is a theory of the fact it designates and, therefore, they view behind two systems of terms two systems of concepts. Behavior has two aspects–one that must be studied by natural scientific observation and one that must be experienced and to these correspond functional and descriptive concepts. The functional objective concepts and terms belong to the category of natural scientific ones, the phenomenal descriptive ones are absolutely foreign to it (to behavior). This fact is often obscured by the language which does not always have separate words for this or that kind of concept, as everyday language is not scientific language.
The merit of the Americans is that they have fought against subjective anecdotes in animal psychology. But we will not fear the use of descriptive concepts when describing animal behavior. The Americans have gone too far, they are too objective. What is again highly remarkable: Gestalt theory, which is internally deeply dualistic, reflecting and uniting two contradictory tendencies which, as will be shown below, currently determine the whole crisis and its fate, wishes in principle to preserve this dual language forever, for it proceeds from the dual nature of behavior. However, sciences do not study what is closely related in nature, but what is conceptually homogeneous and similar. How can there be one science about two absolutely different kinds of phenomena, which evidently require two different methods, two different explanatory principles, etc.? After all, the unity of a science is guaranteed by unity of the viewpoint on the subject. How then can we build a science with two viewpoints? Once again a contradiction in terms corresponds to a contradiction in principles.
Matters are slightly different with another group of mainly Russian psychologists,
who use various terms but view this as the attribute of a period of transition.
This “demi-saison,” as one psychologist calls it, requires clothes that combine
the properties of a fur coat and a summer dress, warm and light at the same
time. Thus, Blonsky holds that it is not important how we designate the phenomena
under study but bow we understand them. We utilize the ordinary vocabulary for
our speech but to these ordinary words we attach a content that corresponds
to the science of the 20th century. It is not important to avoid the expression
“The dog is angry.” What is important is that this phrase is not the explanation,
but the problem (Blonsky, 1925). Strictly speaking, this implies a complete
condemnation of the old terminology: for there this phrase was the explanation.
But this phrase must be formulated in an appropriate way and not with the ordinary
vocabulary. This is the main thing required to make it a scientific problem.
And those whom Blonsky calls the pedants of terminology appreciate much better
than he does that the phrase conceals a content given by the history of science.
However, like Blonsky many utilize two languages and do not consider this a
question of principle. This is the way Kornilov proceeds, this is what I do,
repeating after Pavlov: what does it matter whether I call them mental or higher
nervous [processes]? But already these examples show the limits of such a bilingualism.
The limits themselves show again most clearly what our whole analysis of the
eclectics showed: bilingualism is the external sign of dual thinking. You may
speak in two languages as long as you convey dual things or things in a dual
light. Then it really does not matter what you call them.
So, let us summarize. For empiricists it is necessary to have a language that
is colloquial, indeterminate, confused, ambiguous, vague, in order that what
is said can be reconciled with whatever you like–today with the church
fathers, tomorrow with Marx. They need a word that neither provides a clear
philosophical qualification of the nature of the phenomenon, nor simply its
clear description, because the empiricists have no clear understanding and conception
of their subject. The eclectics, both those that are so by principle and those
that adhere to eclecticism only for the time being, are in need of two languages
as long as they defend an eclectic point of view. But as soon as they leave
this viewpoint and attempt to designate and describe a newly discovered fact
or explain their own viewpoint on a subject, they lose their indifference to
the language or the word. Kornilov (1922), who made a new discovery, is prepared
to turn the whole area to which he assigns this phenomenon from a chapter of
psychology into an independent science–reactology. Elsewhere he contrasts
the reflex with the reaction and views a fundamental difference between the
two terms. They are based on wholly different philosophies and methodologies.
Reaction is for him a biological concept and reflex a strictly physiological
one. A reflex is only objective, a reaction is subjective objective. This explains
why a phenomenon acquires one meaning when we call it a reflex and another when
we call it a reaction. Obviously, it makes a difference how we refer to the
phenomena and there is a reason for pedantry when it is backed by an investigation
or a philosophy. A wrong word implies a wrong understanding. It is not for nothing
that Blonsky notices that his work and the outline of psychology by Jameson
(1925)–this typical specimen of philistinism and eclecticism in science–overlap.
To view the phrase “the dog is angry” as the problem is wrong if only
because, as Shchelovanov (1929) justly pointed out, the finding of the term
is the end point and not the starting point of the investigation. As soon as
one or the other complex of reactions is referred to with some psychological
term all further attempts at analysis are finished. If Blonsky would leave his
eclectic stand, like Kornilov, and acknowledge the value of investigation or
principle, he would find this out. There is not a single psychologist with whom
this would not happen. And such an ironic observer of the “terminological
revolutions” as Chelpanov suddenly turns out to be an astonishing pedant:
he objects to the name “reactology.” With the pedantry of one of Chekhov’s
gymnasium teachers he preaches that this term causes misunderstanding, first
etymologically and second theoretically. The author declares with aplomb that
etymologically speaking the word is entirely incorrect–we should say “reactiology”
[reaktsiologija]. This is of course the summit of linguistic illiteracy and
a flagrant violation of all the terminological principles of the 6th Congress
on the international (Latin-Greek) basis of terms. Obviously, Korniov did not
form his term from the home-bred “reaktsija,” but from reactio and
he was perfectly right in doing so. One wonders how Chelpanov would translate
“reactiology” into French, German, etc. But this is not what it is
all about. It is about something else: Chelpanov declares that this term is
inappropriate in Kornilov’s system of psychological views. But let us speak
to the point. The important thing is that the meaning of a term is accepted
in a system of views. It turns out that even reflexology conceived of in a certain
way has its raison d’être.
Let people not think that these trifles have no importance, because they are too obviously confused, contradictory, incorrect, etc. Here there is a difference between the scientific and the practical points of view. Munsterberg explained that the gardener loves his tulips and hates the weeds, but the botanist who describes and explains loves or hates nothing and, from his point of view, cannot love or hate. For the science of man, he says, stupidity is of no less interest than wisdom. It is all indifferent material that merely claims to exist as a link in the chain of phenomena. As a link in the chain of causal phenomena, this fact—that terminology suddenly becomes an urgent question for the eclectic psychologist who does not care about terminology unless it touches his position—is a valuable methodological fact. It is as valuable as the fact that other eclectics following the same path come to the same conclusion as Kornilov: neither the conditional nor the correlative reflexes appear sufficiently clear and understandable. Reactions are the basis of the new psychology, and the whole psychology developed by Pavlov, Bekhterev and Watson is called neither reflexology nor behaviorism, but ‘psychologie de reaction,’ i.e., reactology. Let the eclectics come to opposite conclusions about a specific thing. They are still related by the method, the process by which they arrive at their conclusions.
We find the same regularity in all reflexologists—both investigators and theoreticians. Watson [1914, p. 9] is convinced that we can write a course in psychology without using the words “consciousness,” “content,” “introspectively verified,” “imagery” etc. And for him this is not a terminological matter, but one of principle: just as the chemist cannot use the language of alchemy nor the astronomer that of the horoscope. He explains this brilliantly with the help of one specific case: he regards the difference between a visual reaction and a visual image as extremely important because behind it lies the difference between a consistent monism and a consistent dualism [1914, pp. 16-20]. A word is for him the tentacle by which philosophy comprehends a fact. Whatever is the value of the countless volumes written in the terms of consciousness, it can only be determined and expressed by translating them into objective language. For according to Watson consciousness and so on are no more than undefined expressions. And the new textbook breaks with the popular theories and terminology. Watson condemns “half-hearted psychology of behavior” (which brings harm to the whole current) claiming that when the theses of the new psychology will not preserve their clarity its framework will be distorted, obscured, and it will lose its genuine meaning. Functional psychology perished from such half-heartedness. If behaviorism has a future then it must break completely with the concept of consciousness. However, thus far it has not been decided whether behaviorism will become the dominating system of psychology or simply remain a methodological approach. And therefore Watson (1926) too often takes the methodology of common sense as the basis of his investigations. In the attempt to liberate himself from philosophy he slips into the viewpoint of the “common man,” understanding by this latter not the basic feature of human practice but the common sense of the average American businessman. In his opinion the common man must welcome behaviorism. Ordinary life has taught him to act that way. Consequently, when dealing with the science of behavior he will not feel a change of method or some change of the subject (ibid.). This [viewpoint] implies the verdict on all behaviorism. Scientific study absolutely requires a change of the subject (i.e., its treatment in concepts) and the method. But behavior itself is understood by these psychologists in its everyday sense and in their arguments and descriptions there is much of the philistine way of judgment. Therefore, neither radical nor half-hearted behaviorism will ever find—either in style and language, or in principle and method—the boundary between everyday and philistine understanding. Having liberated themselves from the “alchemy” in language, the behaviorists have polluted it with everyday, non-terminological speech. This makes them akin to Chelpanov: the whole difference can be attributed to the life style of the American or Russian philistine. The reproach that the new psychology is a philistine psychology is therefore partially justified.
This vagueness of language in the Americans, which Blonsky considers a lack of pedantry, is viewed by Pavlov [1928/1963, pp. 213-214] as a failing. He views it as a
gross defect which prevents the success of the work, but which, I have no doubt, will sooner or later be removed. I refer to the application of psychological concepts and classifications in this essentially objective study of the behavior of animals. Herein lies the cause of the fortuitous and conditional character of their complicated methods, and the fragmentary and unsystematic character of their results, which have no well planned basis to rest on.
One could not express the role and function of language in scientific investigation
more clearly. And Pavlov’s entire success is first of all due to the enormous
consistency in his language. His investigations led to a theory of higher nervous
activity and animal behavior, rather than a chapter on the functioning of the
salivary glands, exclusively because he lifted the study of salivary secretion
to an enormously high theoretical level and created a transparent system of
concepts that lies at the basis of the science. One must marvel at Pavlov’s
principled stand in methodological matters. His book introduces us into the
laboratory of his investigations and teaches us how to create a scientific language.
At first, what does it matter what we call the phenomenon? But gradually each
step is strengthened by a new word, each new principle requires a term. He clarifies
the sense and meaning of the use of new terms. The selection of terms and concepts
predetermines the outcome of an investigation:
I cannot understand how the non-spatial concepts of contemporary
psychology can be fitted into the material structure of the brain [ibid., p.
When Thorndike speaks of a mood reaction and studies it, he creates concepts
and laws that lead us away from the brain. To have recourse to such a method
Pavlov calls cowardice. Partly out of habit, partly from a “certain anxiety,”
be resorted to psychological explanations.
But soon I understood that they were bad servants. For me there
arose difficulties when I could see no natural relations between the phenomena.
The succor of psychology was only in words (the animal has ‘remembered,’
the animal ‘wished,’ the animal ‘thought’), i.e., it was
only a method of indeterminate thinking without a basis in fact (italics mine,
L. V.) [ibid., p. 237].
He regards the manner in which psychologists express themselves as an insult against serious thinking.
And when Pavlov introduced in his laboratories a penalty for the use of psychological
terms this was no less important and revealing for the history of the theory
of the science than the debate about the symbol of faith for the history of
religion. Only Chelpanov can laugh about this: the scientist does not fine for
[the use of] an incorrect term in a textbook or in the exposition of a subject,
but in the laboratory–in the process of the investigation. Obviously, such
a fine was imposed for the non-causal, non-spatial, indeterminate, mythological
thinking that came with that word and that threatened to blow up the whole cause
and to introduce–as in the ease of the Americans–a fragmentary, unsystematic
character and to take away the foundations.
Chelpanov (1925) does not suspect at all that new words may be needed in the laboratory, in an investigation, that the sense [and] meaning of an investigation are determined by the words used. He criticizes Pavlov, stating that “inhibition” is a vague, hypothetical expression and that the same must be said of the term “disinhibition.” Admittedly, we don’t know what goes on in the brain during inhibition, but nevertheless it is a brilliant, transparent concept. First of all, it is well defined, i.e., exactly determined in its meaning and boundaries. Secondly, it is honest, i.e., it says no more than is known. Presently the processes of inhibition in the brain are not wholly clear to us, but the word and the concept “inhibition” are wholly clear. Thirdly, it is principled and scientific, i.e., it includes a fact into a system, underpins it with a foundation, explains it hypothetically, but causally. Of course, we have a clearer image of an eye than of an analyzer. Exactly because of this the word “eye” doesn’t mean anything in science. The term “visual analyzer” says both less and more than the word “eye.” Pavlov revealed a new function of the eye, compared it with the function of other organs, connected the whole sensory path from the eye to the cortex, indicated its place in the system of behavior–and all this is expressed by the new term. It is true that we must think of visual sensations when we hear these words, but the genetic origin of a word and its terminological meaning are two absolutely different things. The word contains nothing of sensations; it can be adequately used by a blind person. Those who, following Chelpanov, catch Pavlov making a slip of the tongue, using fragments of a psychological language, and find him guilty of inconsistency, do not understand the heart of the matter. When Pavlov uses [words such as] happiness, attention, idiot (about a dog), this only means that the mechanism of happiness, attention etc. has not yet been studied, that these are the as yet obscure spots of the system; it does not imply a fundamental concession or contradiction.
But all this may seem incorrect as long as we do not take the opposite aspect into account. Of course, terminological consistency may become pedantry, “verbalism,” common place (Bekhterev’s school). When does that occur? When the word is like a label stuck on a finished article and is not born in the research process. Then it does not define, delimit, but introduces vagueness and shambles in the system of concepts.
Such a work implies the pinning on of new labels which explain absolutely nothing,
for it is not difficult, of course, to invent a whole catalogue of names: the
reflex of purpose, the reflex of God, the reflex of right, the reflex of freedom,
etc. A reflex can be found for everything. The problem is only that we gain
nothing but trifles. This does not refute the general rule, but indirectly confirms
it: new words keep pace with new investigations.
Let us summarize. We have seen everywhere that the word, like the sun in a
drop of water, fully reflects the processes and tendencies in the development
of a science. A certain fundamental unity of knowledge in science comes to light
which goes from the highest principles to the selection of a word. What guarantees
this unity of the whole scientific system? The fundamental methodological skeleton.
The investigator, insofar as he is not a technician, a registrar, an executor,
is always a philosopher who during the investigation and description is thinking
about the phenomena, and his way of thinking is revealed in the words he uses.
A tremendous discipline of thought lies behind Pavlov’s penalty. A discipline
of mind similar to the monastic system which forms the core of the religious
world view is at the core of the scientific conception of the world. He who
enters the laboratory with his own word is deemed to repeat Pavlov’s example.
The word is a philosophy of the fact; it can be its mythology and its scientific
theory. When Lichtenberg said: “Es denkt, sollte man sagen, so wie man
sagt: es blitzt,” be was fighting mythology in language. To say “cogito”
is saying too much when it is translated as “I think.” Would the physiologist
really agree to say “I conduct the excitation along my nerve”? To
say “I think” or “It comes to my mind” implies two opposite
theories of thinking. Binet’s whole theory of the mental poses requires
the first expression, Freud’s theory the second and Kulpe’s theory
now the one, now the other. Høffding [1908, p. 106, footnote 2] sympathetically
cites the physiologist Foster who says that the impressions of an animal deprived
of [one of] its cerebral hemispheres we must “either call sensations, or
we must invent an entirely new word for them,” for we have stumbled upon
a new category of facts and must choose a way to think about it–whether
in connection with the old category or in a new fashion.
Among the Russian authors it was Lange (1914, p. 43) who understood the importance of terminology. Pointing out that there is no shared system in psychology, that the crisis shattered the whole science, he remarks that
Without fear of exaggeration it can be said that the description of any psychological process becomes different whether we describe and study it in the categories of the psychological system of Ebbinghaus or Wundt, Stumpf or Avenarius, Meinong or Binet, James or E. Muller. Of course, the purely factual aspect must remain the same. However, in science, at least in psychology, to separate the described fact from its theory, i.e., from those scientific categories by means of which this description is made, is often very difficult and even impossible, for in psychology (as, by the way, in physics, according to Duhem) each description is always already a certain theory. ... Factual investigations, in particular those of an experimental character, seem to the superficial observer to be free from those fundamental disagreements about basic scientific categories which divide the different psychological schools.
But the very statement of the questions, the use of one or the other psychological
term, always implies a certain way of understanding them which corresponds to
some theory, and consequently the whole factual result of the investigation
stands or falls with the correctness or falsity of the psychological system.
Seemingly very exact investigations, observations, or measurements may, therefore,
prove false, or in any case lose their meaning when the meaning of the basic
psychological theories is changed. Such crises, which destroy or depreciate
whole series of facts, have occurred more than once in science. Lange compares
them to an earthquake that arises due to deep deformations in the depths of
the earth. Such was [the ease with] the fall of alchemy. The dabbling that is
now so widespread in science, i.e., the isolation of the technical executive
function of the investigation–chiefly the maintenance of the equipment
according to a well-known routine–from scientific thinking, is noticeable
first of all in the breakdown of scientific language. In principle, all thoughtful
psychologists know this perfectly well: in methodological investigations the
terminological problem which requires a most complex analysis instead of a simple
note takes the lion’s share. Rickert regards the creation of unequivocal
terminology as the most important task of psychology which precedes any investigation,
for already in primitive description we must select word meanings which “by
generalizing simplify” the immense diversity and plurality of the mental
phenomena [Binswanger, 1922, p. 26]. Engels [1925/1978, p. 553] essentially
expressed the same idea in his example from chemistry:
In organic chemistry the meaning of some body and, consequently, its name are no longer simply dependent upon its composition, but rather upon its place in the series to which it belongs. That is why its old name becomes an obstacle for understanding when we find that a body belongs to such a series and must be replaced by a name that refers to this series (paraffin, etc.).
What has been carried to the rigor of a chemical rule here exists as a general
principle in the whole area of scientific language.
Lange (1914, p. 96) says that
Parallelism is a word which seems innocent at first sight. It
conceals, however, a terrible idea–the idea of the secondary and accidental
nature of technique in the world of physical phenomena.
This innocent word has an instructive history. Introduced by Leibniz it was
applied to the solution of the psychophysical problem which goes back to Spinoza,
changing its name many times in the process. Høffding [1908, p. 91, footnote
1] calls it the identity hypothesis and considers that it is the
only precise and opportune name ... The frequently used term ‘monism’ is etymologically correct but inconvenient, because it has often been used ... by a more vague and inconsistent conception. Names such as ‘parallelism’ and ‘dualism’ are inadequate, because they ... smuggle in the idea that we must conceive of the mental and the bodily as two completely separate series of developments (almost as a pair of rails) which is exactly what the hypothesis does not assume.
It is Wolff’s hypothesis which must be called dualistic, not Spinoza’s.
Thus, a single hypothesis is now called (1) monism, now (2) dualism, now (3)
parallelism, and now (4) identity. We may add that the circle of Marxists who
have revived this hypothesis (as will be shown below)–Plekhanov, and after
him Sarabjanov, Frankfurt and others–view it precisely as a theory
of the unity, but not identity of the mental and the physical. How could this
happen? Obviously, the hypothesis itself can be developed on the basis of different
more general views and may acquire different meanings depending on them: some
emphasize its dualism, others its monism etc. Haffding [1908, p. 96] remarks
that it does not exclude a deeper metaphysical hypothesis, in particular idealism.
In order to become a philosophical world view, hypotheses must be elaborated
anew and this new elaboration resides in the emphasis on now this and now that
aspect. Very important is Lange’s (1914, p. 76) reference:
We find psychophysical parallelism in the representatives of the most diverse
philosophical currents–the dualists (the followers of Descartes ), the
monists (Spinoza), Leibnitz (metaphysical idealism), the positivists-agnostics
(Bain, Spencer ), Wundt and Paulsen (voluntaristic metaphysics).
Høffding [1908, p. 117] says that the unconscious follows from the hypothesis
In this case we act like the philologist who via conjectural critique [Konjekturalkritilc] supplements a fragment of an ancient writer. Compared to the physical world the mental world is for us a fragment; only by means of a hypothesis can we supplement it.
This conclusion follows inevitably from [his] parallelism.
That is why Chelpanov is not all that wrong when he says that before 1922 he called this theory parallelism and after 1922 materialism. He would be entirely right if his philosophy had not been adapted to the season in a slightly mechanical fashion. The same goes for the word “function” (I mean function in the mathematical sense). The formula “consciousness is a function of the brain” points to the theory of parallelism; “physiological sense” leads to materialism. When Kornilov (1925) introduced the concept and the term of a functional relation between the mind and the body, he regarded parallelism as a dualistic hypothesis, but despite this fact and without noticing it himself, he introduced this theory, for although he rejected the concept of function in the physiological sense, its second sense remained.
Thus, we see that, beginning with the broadest hypotheses and ending with the
tiniest details in the description of the experiment, the word reflects the
general disease of the science. The specifically new result which we get from
our analysis of the word is an idea of the molecular character of the processes
in science. Each cell of the scientific organism shows the processes of infection
and struggle. This gives us a better idea of the character of scientific knowledge.
It emerges as a deeply unitary process. Finally, we get an idea of what is healthy
or sick in the processes of science. What is true of the word is true of the
theory. The word can bring science further, as long as it (1) occupies the territory
that was conquered by the investigation, i.e., as long as it corresponds to
the objective state of affairs; and is in keeping with the right basic principles,
i.e., the most general formulas of this objective world.
We see, therefore, that scientific research is at the same time a study of
the fact and–of the methods used to know this fact. In other words, methodological
work is done in science itself insofar as this science moves forward and reflects
upon its results. The choice of a word is already a methodological process.
That methodology and experiment are worked out simultaneously can be seen with
particular ease in the case of Pavlov. Thus, science is philosophical down to
its ultimate elements, to its words. It is permeated, so to speak, by methodology.
This coincides with the Marxist view of philosophy as “the science of sciences,”
a synthesis that penetrates science. In this sense Engels [1925/1978, p. 480]
Natural scientists may say what they want, but they are ruled
by philosophy. ... Not until natural science and the science of history have
absorbed dialectics will all the philosophical fuss ... become superfluous and
disappear in the positive science.
The experimenters in the natural sciences imagine that they free themselves
from philosophy when they ignore it, but they turn out to be slaves of the worst
philosophy, which consists of a medley of fragmentary and unsystematic views,
since investigators cannot move a single step forwards without thinking, and
thinking requires logical definitions. The question of how to deal with methodological
problems–”separately from the sciences themselves” or by introducing
the methodological investigation in the science itself (in a curriculum or an
investigation)–is a matter of pedagogical expediency. Frank (1917/1964,
p. 37) is right when he says that in the prefaces and concluding chapters of
all books on psychology one is dealing with problems of philosophical psychology.
It is one thing, however, to explain a methodology–”to establish an
understanding of the methodology” – this is, we repeat, a matter
of pedagogical technique. It is another thing to carry out a methodological
investigation. This requires special consideration.
Ultimately the scientific word aspires to become a mathematical sign, i.e., a pure term. After all, the mathematical formula is also a series of words, but words which have been very well defined and which are therefore conventional in the highest degree. This is why all knowledge is scientific insofar as it is mathematical (Kant). But the language of empirical psychology is the direct antipode of mathematical language. As has been shown by Locke, Leibnitz and all linguistics, all words of psychology are metaphors taken from the spatial world.