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The Case for Pragmatic Psychology

The Case for Pragmatic Psychology

Daniel B. Fishman
Foreword by Donald R. Peterson
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 414
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  • Book Info
    The Case for Pragmatic Psychology
    Book Description:

    Web Site The interested reader is urged to contact the author and join a Pragmatic Psychology Dialogue Group at the following web site: "At long last, a tightly reasoned, thoroughly grounded treatise showing that complex social programs can be understood far more profoundly and usefully than past mindsets have allowed." --Lisbeth B. Schorr, author of Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America "Fishman creates a new paradigm for advancing clinical science. Every mental health professional aspiring to be accountable and a scientist practitioner in their work should be aware of the ideas in this readable and entertaining book."--David H. Barlow, editor of Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders "Daniel Fishman cuts through rhetoric with clear writing and a razor-sharp wit. The chapter on education is like the welcome beam of a lighthouse in a fog." --Maurice J. Elias, coauthor of Social Problem Solving: Interventions in the Schools "Fishman makes the case for a pragmatic psychology in unusually lucid and forceful prose. This book should be read not only by professional psychologists but by anyone interested in the future of mind-related science." --John Horgan, author of The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age"Fishman's liberating insights will free his readers to set aside the intellectual quandaries that plague philosophers and psychologists at the end of the 20th century, and turn back with confidence to the practice of their work."--Stephen Toulmin, author of Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity"As we try to steer a course through the public policy debates of the 21st century, Fishman's pragmatic psychology for enhancing human services provides a far-reaching new resource for meeting this challenge." --Pat Schroeder, President and CEO, Association of American Publishers. Former Congresswoman from Colorado. About the Book A cursory survey of the field of psychology reveals raging debate among psychologists about the methods, goals, and significance of the discipline, psychology's own version of the science wars. The turn-of-the-century unification of the discipline has given way to a proliferation of competing approaches, a postmodern carnival of theories and methods that calls into question the positivist psychological tradition. Bridging the gap between the traditional and the novel, Daniel B. Fishman proposes an invigorated, hybrid model for the practice of psychology-a radical, pragmatic reinvention of psychology based on databases of rigorous, solution-focused case studies. In The Case for Pragmatic Psychology, Fishman demonstrates how pragmatism returns psychology to a focus on contextualized knowledge about particular individuals, groups, organizations, and communities in specific situations, sensitive to the complexities and ambiguities of the real world. Fishman fleshes out his theory by applying pragmatic psychology to two contemporary psychosocial dilemmas --the controversies surrounding the "psychotherapy crisis" generated by the growth of managed care, and the heated culture wars over educational reform. Moving with ease from the theoretical to the nuts and bolts of actual psychological intervention programs, Fishman proffers a strong argument for a new kind of psychology with far-reaching implications for enhancing human services and restructuring public policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6958-4
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Donald R. Peterson

    Daniel B. Fishman’s book,The Case for Pragmatic Psychology, is revolutionary, both in substance and in portent. I mean that literally. Instead of assuming, as prevailing ideology would have us do, that practically useful, socially beneficial psychology must begin with a science that is passed on through a closely sifted technology to more or less routine application by practitioners, Fishman proposes that we turn psychology upside down. As practitioners, we begin with our clients, be they people in distress, dysfunctional families, failing corporations, or violent, culturally deteriorating communities. We take them as they come, in all their natural complexity; bring...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  7. Introduction: A Better Way to Help by Reinventing Psychology
    (pp. 1-28)

    The human troubles of our times demand the attention of psychology. We seem caught in a web of social crises, powerless to generate effective solutions. Drugs and violence seem to pervade small towns, suburbs, and cities alike; homelessness abounds; the middle-class lives with job insecurity and worry that their health insurance will be discontinued; the public school system seems to be in a state of disarray and ineffectiveness; alienated white males join paramilitary militias devoted to racism, anti-Semitism, and violent resistance to government authority; and “culture wars” proliferate over issues like abortion, prayer in schools, school choice, gay rights, and...

  8. I History

    • 1 1600 to the Early 1960s: Psychology and Positivism—A Marriage Made in Enlightenment Heaven
      (pp. 31-43)

      The closest we can ultimately come to “objective reality” is history—the specific events that have actually happened to particular people and their contexts and meanings. Psychological experiments in artificially controlled environments can suggest general principles for predicting human action in concrete situations, but the final “test” of whether an action has occurred is history. Thus, the events of history are a vital empirical database for understanding our human identity, experience, and behavior.¹

      Postmodernists point out that while history might be a crucial database of human action, there is no way to be fully objective in our perception of it....

    • 2 The 1960s and Beyond: The Postmodern Invasion
      (pp. 44-72)

      Those of us who lived through the 1950s vividly experienced the stark contrast between the seeming stability and sense of unity during those times and the creative turmoil, innovation, and fragmentation of the 1960s and 1970s. Accepted roles, identities, and authority relationships were overturned by forces like the anti-Vietnam War protests, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, “hippie” counterculture, and the growth of multiculturalism, the concept of America as a “salad bowl” rather than a “melting pot” of different racial and ethnic groups.

      The universities led the way in the turmoil. In 1964, at the University...

  9. II Philosophy

    • 3 “Postpositivism”: Revolution within the Family
      (pp. 75-92)

      Psychology’s diversification since the 1960s has been supported by intellectual challenges to logical positivism by philosophers who were originally identified with it. These “postpositivistic” attacks from within on the philosophical foundation of modernistic psychology have shaken up the pre-1960s complacency and self-confidence of the field and have stimulated a search for a revised foundation in mainstream academic psychology.¹ Postpositivist challenges to traditional positivism inform my argument for a radical, pragmatic reinvention of psychology.

      Karl Popper’s “Falsifiability”

      Perhaps the first successful criticism of the classic logical positivist position was articulated by the philosopher Karl Popper in his 1935 book,The Logic...

    • 4 The Dialectic: Putting It All Together
      (pp. 93-101)

      Two competing visions overarch and energize the historical and philosophical details we have been reviewing. Modernism emerged from the Enlightenment not only to promote rationality and science, but also as a way of organizing the world and defining societal values and individual ethics. Postmodernism developed as a rebellion against the perceived faults, deficiencies, and oppressive forces of modernism. In the recent words of one postmodern critic: “Science has failed to deliver utopia: its materialist underpinnings have destroyed the basis of morality and esthetics, and have reduced the status of human beings to a collection of replicating molecules without meaning, sense...

    • 5 Transcending the Dialectic: The Emergence of Postmodern Pragmatism
      (pp. 102-132)

      I am calling for a radical restructuring of the way in which psychological research is conducted—from the experimental group investigation to the holistic case study. Since such a far-reaching proposal challenges the underlying philosophy of mainstream psychology, the legitimacy of the proposal requires an alternative foundational grounding. This is located in the philosophy of pragmatism, to which we now directly turn.

      This chapter explores the arguments for pragmatism, beginning with attacks on logical positivism. A historical review reveals that such attacks by nineteenth and twentieth century Continental philosophy had little effect until postpositivist critiques from within converged with and...

  10. III Method

    • 6 The Pragmatic Case Study: Psychology’s Tool for Enhancing Human Services
      (pp. 135-152)

      Today’s psychological and social problems press upon us: stress-related anxiety, alcoholism, and antisocial behavior in individuals; child abuse and father absence in families; poor communication, lack of cooperation, and racial tension within business teams; low student achievement test scores, administrative inefficiency, and poor teacher morale in schools; and unemployment, drug abuse, crime, and violence in inner-city communities. Human service programs have been created to address these and a whole spectrum of other troubles. The programs are planned intervention responses designed to reverse the human dysfunctions, environmental deficits, and environmental disincentives that are viewed as underlying the problems.¹

      Rather than the...

    • 7 Nuts and Bolts: The Pragmatic Case Study Method
      (pp. 153-196)

      In everyday discourse, stories—who did what to whom, how, and why?—predominate. In personal relationships, in business relationships, in the media, in entertainment, the focus is on particular people in concrete situations.

      When we turn to mainstream psychological discourse, the “narrative” mode disappears and is replaced by “propositional” ways of communicating.¹ Here we find an emphasis on statements that are abstract, formal, quantitative, precise, and unemotional. This reflects the positivist psychologist’s value on knowledge which can be stated in the form of decontextualized, general laws, like the ideal scientific format for knowledge found in physics and chemistry.

      Pragmatism returns...

  11. IV Application

    • 8 Psychology and Psychotherapy: From “House of Cards” to “House of Cases”
      (pp. 199-244)

      To be or not to be grounded in the “applied science” model:¹ that is the question faced by clinical psychology therapists. Yes, this model provides the scientific rationale for the privileged societal status that professionals claim for their expertise (e.g., via state licensing of psychologists). Yet to buy into this model relegates the practitioner to the role of a technician mechanically employing basic scientific principles from the laboratory, principles that are contextually peripheral to the systemic complexities and ambiguities of the natural world to which the practitioner is committed.

      At the opposite end of the continuum, some therapists who follow...

    • 9 Educational Reform: From “Culture Wars” and “Silver Bullets” to the Real Classroom
      (pp. 245-280)

      Today’s critiques of American education and calls for reform frequently harken back to a golden age—before drugs, guns, lax discipline, political correctness, entrenched teachers’ unions, and widespread cheating “dumbed down” the nation’s schools. But when, Peter Schrag¹ asks, was that golden age? In the early years of this century, when Jews, Italians, Chinese, and blacks were portrayed in American textbooks as “mean, criminal, immoral, drunken, sly, lazy, and stupid in varying degrees”? In the 1920s, when most students never went beyond the eighth grade, and large numbers of students in farming areas never went to school between April and...

  12. V Implications

    • 10 Manifesto for a Pragmatic Psychology
      (pp. 283-294)

      Postmodernism’s political, philosophical, and cultural attacks against modernism, and modernism’s predictable counterattacks, have created an intellectual age of polarization and cultural warfare. We saw this vividly embodied in the “psychotherapy wars” and “education wars” reviewed in the last two chapters. If psychology continues to enmesh itself in these debates, the discipline will dissipate many of its resources in a self-destructive struggle. We need instead to focus our energy and creativity upon substantive issues, such as addressing the major psychosocial problems of our times. Psychology’s capacity to do this is one of the crucial bases upon which the public supports our...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 295-338)
  14. References
    (pp. 339-360)
  15. Index
    (pp. 361-386)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 387-388)