Comprehensive Handbook of Personality and Psyсhopathology
Kurt Lewin wrote some 70 years ago (1936) that “there is nothing so practical as a good theory.” Theory, when properly fashioned, ultimately provides more simplicity and clarity than unintegrated and scattered information. Unrelated knowledge and techniques, especially those based on surface similarities, are a sign of a primitive science, as has been effectively argued by modern philosophers of science.
All natural sciences have organizing principles that not only create order but also provide the basis for generating hypotheses and stimulating new knowledge. A good theory not only summarizes and incorporates extant knowledge but is heuristic, that is, has “systematic import,” as Hempel has phrased it (1961), in that it originates and develops new observations and new methods. It is unfortunate that the number of theories that have been advanced to explain clinical phenomena is directly proportional to the internecine squabbling found in the literature.
Paroxysms of “scientific virtue” and pieties of “methodological purity” rarely are exclaimed by theorists themselves but rather by their less creative disciples. Of course, formal theory should not be pushed far beyond the data, and its derivations should be linked wherever feasible to established observations.
However, even a reasonable speculative framework can be a compelling instrument for helping coordinate and give consonance to complex and diverse observations—if its concepts are linked where possible to relevant facts in the empirical world. By probing beneath surface impressions to inner structures and processes, previously isolated facts and difficult-to-fathom data may yield new relationships and expose clearer meanings. Progress does not advance by brute empiricism alone, that is, by merely piling up more descriptive and more experimental data.
What is elaborated and refined in theory is understanding, an ability to see relations more plainly, to conceptualize categories more accurately, and to create greater overall coherence in a subject, that is, to integrate its elements in a more logical, consistent, and intelligible fashion.
Unfortunately, the formal structure of most clinical theories of the past has been haphazard and unsystematic; concepts often were vague, and procedures by which empirical consequences could be derived were tenuous, al best. Instead of presenting an orderly arrangement of concepts and propositions by which hypotheses could be clearly derived, most theorists presented a loosely formulated pastiche of opinions, analogies, and speculations. Brilliant as many of these speculations may have been, they often have left the reader dazzled rather than illuminated.
Though many theories in personality generated brilliant deductions and insights, few of these ideas could be attributed to their structure, the clarity of their central principles, the precision of their concepts, or their formal procedures for hypothesis derivation. It is here where the concepts and laws of adjacent sciences may come into play, providing models of structure and derivation that may undergird and parallel the principles and observations of personology.
A unifying theory for pcrsonology must coalesce the disparate schools of personality study, not in a haphazard way that merely identifies or records their separate contributions, but in a manner that integrates alternative perspectives at a deeper level, that is, one that synthesizes the several viewpoints intrinsically.
Whereas eclectic approaches have as their benefit the advantages of open-mindedness and comprehensiveness, they are likely to generate little more than a measure of illusory psychic comfort. A substantively unifying paradigm will interweave fundamental relationships that exist among the cognitive, biological, intrapsychic, and behavioral elements that inhere in the person.
This will, for example, generate synergistic therapeutic strategies such as those that have been demonstrated by employing combinatorial treatment approaches (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy [CBT], pharmacologic/family interventions). However, even more synergy is possible and desirable.
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