Five contributors

Following the example of Nicholas Gruen who posted on some people who helped to save the world, I will put up some little-known people who were less involved in affairs of state but instead made their contribution in the world of ideas. Let me introduce Ian D Suttie, Bill Hutt, Karl and Charlotte Buhler, and Peter Bauer.
Those people who wait in eager expectation of each new edition of the Revivalist supplements to the Rathouse will recognise these names but others may not. Incidentally Revivalist 5 will feature R G Collingwood and Edmund Wilson but production has been delayed indefinitely due to other commitments especially on the part of the webmistress.
Why these five? They are selected because their ideas have, or had, the capacity to correct some of the debilitating intellectual fashions and misconceptions that dogged the 20th century.
Three of the five were psychologists – Suttie and the Buhlers, and the other two were economists and also classical (non-socialist) liberals. In this post I will introduce the psychologists and leave the economists for later.

Reductionism versus existence
The contribution of Suttie and the Buhlers can be seen as an alternative to the reductionism of the two dominant schools of psychology in the twentieth century, the Freudian-inspired psychoanalytic movement (sometimes called dynamic psychology) and behaviourism, sometimes called rat and pigeon psychology. The reductionism of the two dominant schools had two kinds of negative impact (1) on the scientific development of psychology and the understanding of human behaviour and motivation and (2) on the popular mind and the way that people think about themselves and the prospects for improving society by critical and imaginative thought and action.

No doubt the rise of cognitive psychology in recent times will eventually undo the negatives of dynamic psychology and the cruder forms of behaviourism, but the benefits of these advances could have been obtained decades earlier if Suttie and the Buhlers had achieved more impact and especially if they could have pooled their resources in collaboration.

Ian Suttie
Suttie (1889-1935) was a Scottish psychiatrist who worked at the famous Tavistock Clinic in London. He wrote one book, The Origins of Love and Hate, and he died, still quite young, while the book was being printed. He took issue with some of the major Freudian doctrines but his ideas remained marginal even though they probably represented a significant advance in the field.

His challenge to Freudian orthodoxy ran along these lines:
a) The human infant starts out in a state of blissful non-sexual union with the mother. That is the paradigm of love.
b) The great challenge of psychic development is separation from the other. The trauma of badly negotiated separation from the love-object gives rise to hate.
c) The main task of early childhood is coming to terms with idependence, and especially separation from the mother or the most significant figure in early life.
d) Coming to terms with genital sexuality is not a task of early childhood and the notion of sexual rivalry with the father is a fiction, a construction put on the jealousy of the child confronted with another person who makes claims upon the mother.
e) The great range of human activities including religion, science and culture can be seen as autonomous activities and not derivatives or sublimations of the sexual impulse.

Some of his very interesting ideas were spelled out in connection with the “taboo on tenderness“.

“It is quite conceivable then that features of our mode of up ­bringing, which I have vaguely generalized as a tenderness ­taboo, create an artificial mental differentiation and consequent emotional barrier between adult males on the one hand and women and children on the other. Women, of course, can never, consistently with their rearing functions, lose touch with the child
so completely as is possible for men…”
“My point is that the taboo on infantile activities, gratifica ­tions, and relationships to mother, the condemnation of re ­gression, spreads to harmless and even necessary feelings and attitudes of mind. It artificially differentiates men from women, making them bad comrades and throwing the women back upon a dependency on their children, thus further widening the breach and aggravating jealousy. But its worst effects lie in separating parent from child…”
“Apart from these individual variations in responsiveness and spontaneity of feeling we find wide and general differences between the people of different cultures in this respect. We actually find, for example, that the taboo on friendly relations can become explicit even while sexual indulgence is regarded as harmless.”

“Professor Malinowski reports of the Trobriand Islanders that while it is quite in order for a girl to sleep with her lover, it is regarded as improper for her to be too friendly (e.g. to prepare food) before marriage. They regard this very much as we are supposed to regard pre-marital intercourse. If their civilization were like ours presumably they would con ­sider a restaurant bill good grounds for divorce; the Sunday papers would print the menu and the Bishops would talk of the decay of morality and the dangers of neo-paganism.”

The Buhlers
The Buhlers moved from Dresden to Vienna in 1921 where Karl took the chair of psychology. The university had no psychological laboratory and they occupied some rooms in the office of Otto Glockel, the Viennese school supervisor and education reformer. This became the Vienna Institute of Psychology which gained worldwide renown due to sixteen years of immensely fuitful work guided by the Buhlers, aided by a long-term Rockefeller grant.
Both Karl and Charlotte Buhler pursued important and fundamental studies with many colleagues and students, including visitors from overseas. Their work included major scholarly landmarks such as Charlotte Buhler’s book “From Birth to Maturity: An Outline of the Psychological Development of the Child” which was published in English in 1935. Buhler supervised some 130 dissertations with each of two colleagues in psychology and 40 with the philosopher Moritz Schlick. One of these students was Karl Popper.

During 1927-8 Buhler was a visiting professor at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Chicago. He could have taken a post at Harvard but he did not want to abandon the artistic and cultural life of Vienna. This was a fateful decision because when the Germans occupied Austria in 1938 Buhler was kept in “protective custody” for six weeks (no good reason has been found). Upon release he put his library and papers into storage, hoping to have then sent on, then he walked over the border with a backpack of possessions to start a new life in the US. This venture did not work out because the best positions were already taken by that time and his research program was out of step with the behaviorist spirt of the times. He and Charlotte moved from one minor appointment to another until they came to rest in California. Charlotte became a pillar of the ‘third force’ or ‘humanistic psychlogy’.

Buhler’s major book was only translated in 1992 and the editor wrote “The breadth and depth of Karl Buhler’s work has not yet been fully fathomed. Although there are probably few who seriously treat linguistic problems who have never heard of Karl Buhler, many of Buhler’s lasting insights are so much a matter of course in science that they are detachedfrom the name of their author. Buhler’s theories quickly became fundamental elements of our linguistic thought, which are regarded as “innate” or as a part of an ancient heritage that is as anonymous as folklore’….examples are his famous organon model of language, which consitututes an elementary statement of semiotic, communication-theoretical and linguistic principles; his lifelong concern with the Gestalt principle in human and animal life; his idea of the aha-experience, which has become proverbial; his cybernetic model of the control of community life”.

Buhler proposed a number of principles which he called “maxims of life-research” to define his research program.
1. The situational model of action, emphasising that the individual is not passive but participates in the formation of the environment. ‘To put it bluntly, there are markets in the psychophysical system of the acting individual, and there is a specific class of experiences in which this measuring and evaluating becomes evident.’ (Sounds Austrian!)
2. Actions are oriented in relation to space and time. Temporal considerations include the daily rhytm of sleeping and waking, and the longer-term activity of planning. In the US Buhler wrote on various aspects of space and time in papers like “The skywise and neighbourwise navigation of ants and bees” and “Human orientation at a distance”. He also studied the migration of birds and a described a series of studies under the title “The clocks of living beings”.
3. The inventiveness of the acting individual and creative behaviour.
4. The transcendence of individualism that is manifest in procreation and the changes in behaviour that ensue to raise the young.
5. The transcendence of individualism that is required for life in a community.
6. The problem of form, noted by Aristotle in antiqity and taken up as the conceptual core of Gestalt psychology.
7. The use of language, especially in its higher forms which makes it possible to have community life and especially the life of an intellectual community.

Buhler envisaged three books on language to deal with each of the three functions that he identified (expression, resentation and appeal) . Only one of the three books was written, and just before the time of his exile he was planning to start on the second volume.

The upshot of all this was that Suttie and the Buhlers were out of the mainstream of work in psychology by 1938 and they never had the chance to defend and develop their ideas.

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8 Responses to Five contributors

  1. Thanks for that Rafe,

    I really enjoyed reading about those people about whom I’m ignorant. On your own cursory summaries, I’m sold that they offer more than Freud’s tragic (and slightly loopy) vision or the reductionism of Skinner’s mechanised view of humanity.

    Lets say for argument’s sake that they are better theorists than those whose theories eclipsed theirs. Should we go back to them? As you hint with your comment on cognitive psychology, perhaps not in any very literal sense – though of course they are of great historical interest and no doubt will yield insights.

    But I think to some extent that this is a bit like finding out that the reciprocating piston engine wasn’t the best place to start with motor cars. So much development has gone into them since they became the dominant design that ‘better’ designs cannot replace them, not being able to call upon millions of man-years of development work. Software is an even more powerful example. None of Bill Gates’ sofware is much good, but its the standard.

    So they are probably always condemned to a certain extent to being historical curiosities. Just a thought. What do you reckon?

  2. Rafe says:

    “Should we go back to them? As you hint with your comment on cognitive psychology, perhaps not in any very literal sense – though of course they are of great historical interest and no doubt will yield insights…
    So they are probably always condemned to a certain extent to being historical curiosities. Just a thought. What do you reckon?”

    Yes for the most part, although some of their insights are still fresh, for example Suttie’s critique of the taboo on tenderness should still be inspirational for feminists of both genders.

    Besides, I think the Freudian movement still exerts a stulfifying influence in psychiatry.

    These folk deserve to take their place in the history of ideas with better appreciation of their achievements. In addition there is probably much to be learned about the reasons for the neglect that they have suffered.

  3. jen says:

    “there is probably much to be learned about the reasons for the neglect …”

    Yep that’s the interesting bit. Suttie and the Buhlers aren’t sexy like Freud, but then either was Skinner. So what was it about the way that their ideas were promoted that drove them into the common consciousness?

    I’m unashamedly fishing for free information with that last question.

  4. observa says:

    “But I think to some extent that this is a bit like finding out that the reciprocating piston engine wasn’t the best place to start with motor cars.”
    OT but whaaa..! Try sealing vey hot pressurised things with corners on them and you’ll see why the round piston ring rules. Good luck looking for non-round hydraulics too.

  5. Rafe says:

    Hello Jen, I am from the Government and I am here to help with as much free information as I can manage. As to the dominance of Freudian and Skinnerian ideas in the popular mind, I think that applied to Freud but not to Skinner.
    Writing off the cuff, the Freudian movement advanced on two fronts, one in the medical profession where it became an entrenched medical/academic empire and the other in the popular mind by trickle-down from the avant garde who enjoyed the shock/horror effect, then all the way down to B and C grade writings, films and drama that retailed garbled scraps of Freudian lore.
    Skinner by the way was a fine writer (he turned from writing to science) and his three-volume autobiography is a great read. Like Eysenk he also enjoyed participating in amateur theatricals!
    The rat and pigeon movement in psychology (including Skinner and other streams) was anchored in the crude positivist/empiricst “just give me the facts” mode of thought. Skinner was really excited when he thought he had recruited Rudolph Carnap (leader of the logical empiricists) to his cause.
    Two chapters in Liam Hudson’s book that I have put on line give a priceless insight into that world (and the world of Oxford philosophy in the 50s as well). Do read it without delay! I have put the link into my signature for this comment.
    I should have linked to Hudson from the first post but was in a hurry.
    “Psychology stands low in this pecking order, and contains a pecking order within it. Again, the pure look down on the applied, and the clean on the messy. The experimental, usually physical or biological in background, look down on the social, industrial, clinical and educational. The psychologist of high status works in a laboratory, and studies either a sub-human species – rat, pigeon, monkey – or some simple aspect of human skill. The psychologist of low status works with human beings in their natural habitat, and studies them in their full complexity. The psychologist of high status works on problems that to the untutored eye seem trivial; the one of low status, on problems that laymen are more likely to understand.
    As in all systems of social snobbery, participants are under continual pressure to appear, indeed to become, what they are not. Research problems tend as a consequence, in psychology at least, to be tackled in a manner which is more artificial than either common sense or logic would dictate. Each problem is ‘promoted’ until it reaches its own level of methodological inappropriateness…
    Among those psychologists who work with children, the situation is complicated further by the spectre of the schoolteacher. To work in schools is to risk being confused by your colleagues with the person who teaches in one. It can scarcely be coincidental that psychologists who have measured children’s intelligence have armoured themselves to a greater extent than any other with the protective magic of number. Nor can it be coincidental that in the course of half a century, the mental testing movement has told us little about children that we did not already know, but has made major contributions in the field of statistics.”

    Hope that helps!

  6. Ken Parish says:

    There once was a man named Skinner
    Who had a young lady to dinner.
    They had cocktails at seven and dinner at eight
    And by eight forty five it was in her.
    Not Skinner, the dinner.
    Skinner was in her before dinner.

    I suppose it’s a different Skinner. No drugs, no fun, no funny business? Not while my arsehole points to the ground, sunshine. Anyway, now I’ve lowered the intellectual tone, I’ll go back to what I was doing.

  7. Rafe says:

    Ken I am loth to lower the normally scholarly and ascetic tone of Troppo by any more of this low talk but Skinner’s autobiography revealed him to be a much more human person than you would have ever expected from his theories. He started his sex life with a visit to a brothel and so had none of the awkward inexperience that most middle class lads took to their first serious relationships.
    After a failed love affair he put a piece of wire into a flame and burned her initial into his arm. He noted that this would appear to demonstrate that behaviorists are not devoid of strong emotions.
    As noted, he loved amateur drama as well.
    All in all a decent and productive fellow but a disaster in the science of psychology.

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