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Conceiving of Personality

Conceiving of Personality

Michael Robbins
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Conceiving of Personality
    Book Description:

    The quest to comprehend the essence of human nature is as old as the capacity for reflective thought. In this provocative book, Dr. Michael Robbins proposes a new approach that draws upon psychoanalysis but is shaped by awareness of the limits that the particular circumstances of historical epoch, Western culture, male gender, and modal population from which psychoanalysis was derived impose on its modernist claims to being a universal theory.Dr. Robbins addresses these limitations from the perspective of philosophy of science, focusing on the paradigm shift from logical positivism, which seeks to reduce complexity and diversity to its presumptive causal building blocks, to the postmodern emphasis on pluralism and on relativistic, contextual, evanescent knowledge. He examines the implications of this shift for the disciplines that study human nature-neuroscience, psychoanalysis, gender studies, anthropology, and sociology. After considering whether typical personality has changed over historical time and studying the cross-cultural diversity of human nature, the relationship of gender to personality, the spectrum of personality variability within Western culture, and the relationship of the contextual embeddedness of the conceiver to his or her theory, he proposes a dialectical conception of personality based on systems and chaos theories that respects its multiple guises and circumstantial richness of content without abandoning the quest for universal principles of organization and development.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14609-7
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    The enigma of personality, the universal and the idiosyncratic elements that constitute ourselves, the significant people in our daily lives, or those we know only through the media, history, and literature, is an endless source of fascination and curiosity. Sometimes we are convinced we understand ourselves or those with whom we interact, but often we are baffled. Strangers may seem even more incomprehensible—for example, a medieval monk, a member of a fanatical cult, a person from another culture (“the inscrutable Oriental”), a schizophrenic street person, or, closer to home, someone of the other sex who infatuates us, or even...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Can We Conceive of Ourselves? Three Instances of Theoretical Conversion
    (pp. 10-26)

    The Omphalopsychites were a medieval group of mystics whose practice involved contemplation of their navels (omphalos), an activity they believed facilitated access to their souls (psyche). Can a human personality comprehend the essence of personality, or even theorize meaningfully about it, or are our efforts more likely to be expressions of our personalities than conceptions of them? Kant (1781) introduced the idea of dual self-consciousness. Remarking on the transcendental role of mind (subjectivity) in constituting the world, he noted the paradox that the subjective mind can make subjectivity itself the object of study. Wittgenstein (1980) noted the contradiction inherent in...

  6. CHAPTER 3 A Brief History of Conceptions of the Person
    (pp. 27-36)

    Foucault’s (1973) observation that the self cannot meaningfully be considered apart from the larger sociohistorical fabric of its time will serve as the theme for this highly selective discussion, which is limited to the development of ideas of the person in Western civilization. Evidence from Western civilization should suffice to substantiate Foucault’s point. Discussion of personality in other cultures may be found in chapters 6 and 8.

    As of so many aspects of Western culture, the roots of our contemporary concepts of personality can be found in ancient Greece, both in the period of the Homeric epics, around the seventh...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Monistic Thinking and Modal Constructs
    (pp. 37-51)

    Theoretical monism is the conviction of the explanatory sufficiency of a single system. It leads to universalistic generalization and reductive impoverishment and oversimplification of experience, and its quality is totalitarian or ideological. Monistic or monothetic thinking seems to be integral to the human mind. The very attributes that contribute to the success of a theorist and his model—tendencies toward organization and coherence, abstraction and simplification—also predispose toward monistic thinking. It follows that the clearest and most powerful theories are most likely to become monistic systems, overgeneralized as universal explanations. It is a relatively rare individual, at least in...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Constitution-Bound: The Neurobiological Basis of Personality
    (pp. 52-61)

    When attempting to conceptualize unfamiliar phenomena I sometimes scan familiar imagery to find a match. The relationship of a foundation to the superstructure of a building is analogous to the relationship between the biological and mental systems of personality. A foundation is necessary and limiting but not sufficient or totally determinative. But this imagery is in certain respects inaccurate and misleading. The neurobiological substrate appears to be organized, activated, and reconstituted in relation to life experience. For this reason, although we may envision the neurobiological element as having an antecedent quality with regard to mind or as being somehow more...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Ethnocentrism: Culture, Local Knowledge, and Universal Truth
    (pp. 62-75)

    The brain, the culture, and the disciplines that study them comprise the outer limits or bookends, so to speak, of the human person. The leap from the human brain to human culture, and from neuroscience to anthropology, is immense, and the task of conceiving of it and of modeling just how one might get from one to the other occupies a substantial portion of this book.

    The diversity associated with major differences among cultures is arguably the single most important of the dimensions that are not adequately conceived of in existing theoretical conceptions of personality. However we choose to understand...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Psychoanalysis as an Indigenous Psychology
    (pp. 76-90)

    I set as my task in writing this book to attempt a broad conception of personality, defined as the study of subjective identity, meaning, and value. In my judgment, psychoanalysis is the most comprehensive and powerful model of personality available to accomplish this; yet it is also profoundly limited by being a linear monistic theory based on a modal personality. As a result of its contextual embeddedness, psychoanalysis expresses an inherent contradiction: it is at the same time both the unconscious bearer and representer of contemporary cultural beliefs and perspectives about the person and the consciously designated analyst of these...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Indigenous Psychologies of the East and West: Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
    (pp. 91-99)

    Twentieth-century Western culture, with disciplines such as psychology and psychoanalysis, is far from unique in attempting systematic conceptions of personality. Philosophy, theology, myth, and folklore have all served this function in other cultures and historical epochs. I have chosen to contrast psychoanalysis, a youthful centenarian, with Buddhism, an indigenous psychology of Eastern culture which has survived two and a half millennia, and whose purpose, like that of psychoanalysis, is to enable people to remediate needless emotional suffering.

    There appear to be some striking resemblances between Buddhism and psychoanalysis. Each is based on a specific and disciplined form of personal reflection...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Gender, Personality, and Culture
    (pp. 100-114)

    Although all cultures have specific, differentiating, gender-related conceptions of personality, it is only in the later years of the twentieth century that a serious effort has commenced, ideologically in the women’s movement, and then in the human sciences, including psychoanalysis, to ascertain whether these are products of acculturation or whether female personality is innately or constitutionally different from male, or both, and to formulate the differences in a way that is not nullifying or devaluing to one sex or the other. In this chapter I review some of the psychological, psychoanalytic, and anthropological findings and theories about gender and gender-related...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Psychoanalytic Monism and Intracultural Diversity
    (pp. 115-132)

    Every culture establishes its own standards of normal or modal and deviant personality typologies. The local systems or indigenous psychologies that each culture constructs to conceive of personality, such as psychoanalysis and Buddhism, use these standards as references. The modal personality organization tends to be the centerpiece of a linear scale, and what is unusual tends to be viewed as abnormal or deviant from it. In earlier chapters I demonstrated how the scope of psychoanalysis has been limited by its monistic model with regard to conceiving of personality differences among cultures (intercultural) and between the genders. In this chapter I...

  14. CHAPTER 11 How Models Become Movements: The Ideological Dimension
    (pp. 133-139)

    In previous chapters I explored the human tendency to fabricate monistic models of the phenomenological world and the resulting reductionistic impoverishment of our ability to appreciate diversity and complexity. This tendency is exacerbated by the ideological fervor that tends to possess model-makers. Ideologies are founded on the conviction that a particular system of thought is not simply a model of the world, but a way of life. They tend to rigidify models and guard them against change, and to generate action in the form of proselytizing and propagating them as faith. Ideological “isms” are encountered in the political sphere (imperialism,...

  15. CHAPTER 12 Summary of the Monism-Pluralism Debate
    (pp. 140-144)

    As a prelude to my synthetic endeavor in the concluding chapters, I should like to summarize salient aspects of our efforts to conceive of personality thus far.

    There appears to be a qualitative diversity of personality organization—among different cultures, within each culture, and across gender lines at any particular time in history. Each of these changes over historical time, as well. This diversity is not encompassed in existing monistic models such as psychoanalysis as it is currently constituted, and, indeed, it appears to be beyond the conceptual power of such models.

    Broad classes of constitutional difference in the central...

  16. CHAPTER 13 Systems in Transformation: A Model for the Dialectic between Discovery and Creation
    (pp. 145-153)

    In this chapter I sketch the outline of a model that might subsume human phenomena, individual and collective, in a manner that incorporates the strengths of monistic and pluralistic ways of thinking and enables an epistemological dialectic between discovery and creation. The notion of an overarching theory of systems in transformation arises from a confluence of historical developments in several disciplines. One of the earliest suggestions of such an approach may be found in the nineteenth-century work of Hughlings Jackson (1931–1932), who suggested that organisms are integrated in a hierarchical series of increasingly complex neural levels, and that in...

  17. CHAPTER 14 Modeling the Dialectic between Discovery and Creation
    (pp. 154-168)

    The model I proposed in chapter 13 based on the orthogenetic principle, a kind of calculus of mental development (differentiation and integration) and on the theory of systems in transformation, enables us to conceive of personality, whether at the particular individual level or at the level of generalization and typology, in a flexible, dialectic manner. With it we need not choose between the monistic rigidity of logical positivism and universalism and the pluralistic nihilism of extreme postmodernism. It enables us to search for essence and lawfulness, for universal structure, in each qualitatively unique personality system without having to generalize our...

  18. CHAPTER 15 Conceiving of Personality: The Warp and the Woof
    (pp. 169-174)

    The recent flood of relativist, perspectivist, subjectivist, postmodernist rhetoric has highlighted the naivete of the positivist conception of a world of absolute substantial reality and truth, external and internal, there to be discovered. The notion of a world out there awaiting capture, naming, comprehension, and control by an elite cadre of trained objective (scientific) male observers, and a world within, similarly awaiting empathic comprehension and ultimate objectification by therapists more invested in relating clinically to others than in conducting experimental research, is an illusion. Monism, the mode of thinking predicated on such a belief, is rigid, reductionistic, and mentally and...

  19. References
    (pp. 175-196)
  20. Index
    (pp. 197-209)