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.
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 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.