S. Drob Fragmentation in Contemporary Psychology:
Journal of Humanistic Psychology
, Volume 43, No. 4, Fall 2003, 102-123.
© 2003 Sage Publications.
FRAGMENTATION IN CONTEMPORARY PSYCHOLOGY: A DIALECTICAL
Sanford L. Drob, Ph.D.
This article was originally published in
The Journal of Humanistic Psychology
Volume 43, No. 4, Fall 2003, 102-123,
© 2003 Sage Publications.
: The author proposes a dialectical/realist solution to the problem of multiple
paradigms in psychology.
Specifically, he argues that theoretical models in psychology
are akin to various two-dimensional maps of the three-dimensional, spherical earth.
cartography each projection serves as a complementary, if ultimately inadequate,
perspective on the whole, in a context where a “total perspective” is impracticable. Like
such cartographic projections, each paradigm in psychology (biological, behavioral,
cognitive, systems, psychoanalytic, phenomenological, etc.) necessarily distorts certain
aspects of human mind and behavior while being accurate regarding others which are, in
turn, distorted by other points of view. The author argues that the various paradigms in
psychology emerge as a result of (combinations of) answers to fundamental problems in
the philosophy of psychology. These are the problems of: (1) free will vs. determinism,
(2) materialism vs. phenomenology, (3) reductionism vs. emergent properties, (4) public
vs. private criteria for psychological propositions, (5) the individual vs. the system as the
basic unit of inquiry and description, (6) facts vs. interpretations (hermeneutics) as the
datum of psychology, and (7) knowledge vs. unknowability as a basic methodological
Psychologists have been mistaken in their assumption that the oppositions
or “antinomies” represented in these problems must lead to mutually exclusive ideas.
Instead, the polarities (e.g. free will and determinism) are better conceived dialectically
as complementary, interdependent ideas; each idea only making sense by assuming the
truth of its presumed contrary. When the complementarity of these contraries is
recognized the problem of multiple paradigms and factionalization in psychology is cast
in a new light. Psychologists can continue to flesh out details in their various maps,
secure that they are contributing to the exploration of a (dialectically) integrated whole.
At the close of its most distinguished century, psychology appears to be no closer
to resolving the issues that divide it than in the past.
It is perhaps symptomatic that the
, the borderline pathologies, and multiple personality disorder
(recently renamed dissociative identity disorder) should draw so much attention from
psychologists at a time when the identity of their own profession is itself open to such
A growing literature detailing the problem of psychology’s fragmentation has