chapter  4
17 Pages

Psychology and the Decline of Positivism: The Case for a Human Science

WithM. Brewster Smith

The older positivism that is built into much behavioral science methodology assumed a mechanical view of linear causation, on the folk model of impacting billiard balls. In the years since 1950, the so-called cognitive revolution in psychology has evoked imagery of a paradigm shift, though in a preparadigmatic field the term was presumptuous. The spread of the cognitive approach throughout psychology brought the mainstream closer to what social psychologists had been doing all along, as well as leading them to what might be regarded as hypertrophy in the subfield of social cognition. An equally radical rejection of the usual framework of causal explanation in personality and social psychology is embraced by advocates of a descriptive account of human action in terms of intentions, meanings, rules, roles, and narratives, within a socially constructed moral order. Some areas of psychology obviously are embedded in the biological sciences; others just as obviously require humanistic interpretative methods.