Sam S. Rakover (1993) Metapsychology: Missing Links in Behavior, Mind, and Science. Psycoloquy: 4(55) Metapsychology (1)

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PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 4(55): Metapsychology: Missing Links in Behavior, Mind, and Science

[New York: Paragon/Solomon (1990) 449 pp. ISBN 1-55778-036-6]
Precis of Rakover on Metapsychology

Sam S. Rakover
Dept. of Psychology,
Haifa University,
Haifa, Israel



Empirical and theoretical difficulties in psychology arising from the mind-body problem are discussed in connection with the "introspective dilemma" of private behavior, the multiplicity of psychological models of explanation, and psychology's progress as a scientific discipline.


behavior, causality, experimentation, explanation, introspection, mind-body problem, observation, philosophy, psychology, reductionism, science, theory.


1. The book has two main goals. The first is to provide a critical introduction to the philosophy of science and of mind for psychologists. The second is to present the author's approach to psychology. The basic idea is that psychological theories, explanations and progress are properly understood by examining their relation to the mind-body problem. The book does not attempt to propose a new "solution" to the problem but to elucidate its ramifications for psychology.

2. The book offers a critical review of the most important developments in philosophy of science and of mind as applied to contemporary psychology. Since it is impossible to review all these topics, I shall list the major issues in the philosophy of science and of mind that were applied to psychology. The rest of the Precis is devoted to the second goal of the book. The main subjects discussed are: causality, models of explanations, theory, models and analogies, theory-data relationships (inductivism, positivism, falsificationism and holism), hypothesis testing and acceptance, reductionism, scientific progress (Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos and Laudan), private behavior (e.g., sensations, feelings, thoughts, images, voices which are consciously introspected), introspection, free will, the mind-body problem, the role of private behavior in psychological explanation, behavioral vs cognitive explanations (behaviorism vs cognitive psychology), functionalism, cognitive representation, and the growth of psychology as a scientific discipline.


3. A basic assumption behind this book is that science cannot be practiced without philosophy of science, and that psychology in particular is deeply involved in both the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind. One could even go so far as to maintain that the philosophies of science and of mind are essential parts of the corpus of knowledge constituting psychology as a scientific discipline and that the field cannot be properly understood without studying them.

4. Science and philosophy are interconnected: science is an open system of knowledge, in the sense that scientific knowledge grows and changes with time. Indeed, science consists of three subsystems that are also open: the experimental system, the theoretical system; and the philosophical system. These are interdependent (so, for example, our observations of phenomena are not purely objective, but are laden with theoretical and philosophical assumptions). However, each system is concerned with its own kind of subject matter. Thus, the experimental system deals with making observations; the theoretical system with explaining these observations; and the philosophical system with the principles according to which the first two systems operate. The philosophical subsystem is the one that describes, elucidates, explains, and partially determines the ways the two other scientific systems interact with one another.

5. Science may be conceived as a system of specific and very complex values and rules of behavior whose followers are considered scientists - just as whoever follows the rules of chess is a chess player (whether good or bad) and whoever does not follow the rules of the game is not a chess player. Unlike chess, science is difficult to describe by a set of fixed and agreed-upon rules, since it is a much more complex mode of human activity. Moreover, in order to understand the rules and values of science it is necessary to investigate its methodological, logical, epistemological and ontological structure. (Section II was based on Chapter 1.)


6. Psychology is distinguished from other sciences in that it must contend with the mind-body problem, which generates severe difficulties not only for the philosophical subsystem but for the experimental and theoretical ones too. In the experimental subsystem private behavior (PB) does not fulfil the requirements for being accepting scientific data. There are three requirements for a scientific observation: objectivity is the requirement that the observational process not influence or be influenced by what is observed; public availability is the requirement that different observers make the same observation; and repeatability is the requirement that the same observation hold up across different times that it is made. Private behavior fails to fulfill at least one of these requirements (e.g., my introspected feelings cannot be observed by anyone else).

7. Theoretically, psychological explanations are torn between two opposing approaches: the mechanistic approach, wherein the causal explanatory model used in the natural sciences is applied to psychology; and the nonmechanistic approach, wherein behavior is accounted for by other models of explanation, such as the rule-following model and the purposive or teleological model. One of the major difficulties connected with the nonmechanical models of explanation is that they cannot specify how subjective states of mind such as one's will, thought or belief, which lack physical properties (e.g., weight and location) can either affect or be transformed into bodily movements or events possessing physical properties. By contrast, although the causal model can explain the act itself - say, raising one's hand - it is unable to explain the meaning of the act. The purposive model, on the other hand, can explain the meaning of the raising of the hand (e.g., a gesture of greeting), it but fails to specify how the wish to greet someone interacts with the neurophysiological events that cause the hand to be raised. It is hard to see how the causal model can capture meaning and how the purposive model can capture performance, or how either of these models of explanations can provide us with an understanding of the interaction between the mind and the body. (Section III was based on chapters 1, 4 and 6.)


8. The book goes on to discuss three areas in psychology where the mind-body problem has produced certain empirical and theoretical difficulties. These areas are: the "introspective dilemma," multiplicity of models of explanation, and scientific progress.


9. Psychology faces a very difficult dilemma, an epistemological-methodological variant of the mind-body problem I call the "introspective dilemma." On the one hand, private behavior does not seem to fulfill the requirements for scientific observations (i.e., those of objectivity, of being public, and of repeatability), and on the other hand, psychologists find it hard to relinquish private behavior. First, they feel that to shun PB is to ignore what is perhaps the most psychological of all behaviors, it is to avoid talking about feelings and thoughts, to disregard the entire domain of the self. Second, psychologists find it almost impossible to account for public behavior without referring to PB.

10. One important partial solution to the introspective dilemma that I call "PB as a theoretical concept," is to conceive of PB as a set of theoretical terms in the framework of a scientific theory. For example, fear is defined functionally, and it is inferred from certain relevant observations. Fear is not viewed as a description of a subjective experience of a particular individual, Cy for example, but rather as an explanatory concept, by which certain behavior of Cy is accounted for. Cy's behavior is conceived as an instance which confirms a theory of fear.

11. This solution to the introspective dilemma is no more than a general schema. It merely delineates the direction of the solution without determining, for example, which of all the possible models of explanation is to be chosen. Whereas both behaviorism and cognitive psychology may be conceived as applying this general solution, they differ in the type of the explanatory model they use and in the way the relationship between mind and body is conceptualized. According to behaviorism, (a) explanation should be deductive, following the Hempelian models of explanation, and (b) PB should be either ignored (as in classical behaviorism), explained (as in radical behaviorism), or treated as a dispositional hypothetical construct (as in neobehaviorism.) In contrast, in cognitive psychology, (a) explanation should be of the rule-following or information processing type, and (b) PB should be characterized functionally, by analogy with the computer, as a cognitive state that causally intervenes between inputs and outputs, interacts with other cognitive states, and is realized materially.

12. Although the "PB as a theoretical concept" solution elevated the methodological status of PB with regard to its explanatory role in psychological explanation, introspections were conceived as having a secondary status, as being no more than supplementary data that help the scientist in constructing a theory. People have very little access to their own cognitive processes, and introspective reports cannot provide us with reliable and valid information concerning those processes. Based on certain arguments showing that introspections can fulfill the three requirements for scientific observation indirectly (e.g., the accuracy of self reports can be checked by other relevant external observations), and that people do have access to their inner world, I propose a different approach to introspection: "methodological introspectionism," in which introspections are regarded as having a methodological status similar to external observations. Private behavior can be legitimate data for psychological research, that is, PB can be introspected and communicated as:

    a. data to be explained;
    b. data to be used for confirming and falsifying a theory; or
    c. data to be used to induce theoretical concepts or
       generate hypotheses to explain covert as well as overt

(Section V was based on chapters 6 and 8.)


13. An examination of the literature in psychology reveals that psychologists use all types of models of explanation, salient among which are three Hempelian models, the rule following and teleological models. This eclectic approach produces problems, because these models of explanation are incongruous and irreconcilable with one another. Teleological, intentional and reason-based explanations cannot be reduced to mechanical causal explanation; it is also hard to see how causal models can capture meaningfulness and intentionality and how a teleological model accounts for the transformation of a mental state into action (see paragraph 7).

14. If the unity of a science is dependent upon unity of explanation, psychology is far from becoming a unified scientific discipline. Psychology is torn, on the one hand, between competing theories based on the same model of explanation and, on the other hand, between competing models of explanation applied to the same behavioral domain. This has created fertile ground in the field for confusion between competition among models of explanation and competition among the theories themselves. Furthermore, an area of behavioral research for which there exists a multiplicity of models of explanation tends to be inundated by ad hoc theories. If a given phenomenon cannot be accounted for by one model, a second may be called on to do the job, and if this fails, a third may be invoked, and so on, in a process that yields an entire set of psychological theories that are not falsified but simply abandoned. (For further developments of these ideas, see Rakover (in press). (Section VI was based on chapters 2 and 7.)


15. Given the above, the question raised is whether or not psychology progresses like a natural science. To answer this, it is first suggested that science, viewed as a learning process, progresses continuously. Learning and continuity are discussed next, and finally it is suggested that a significant part of psychology does not progress in the way the natural sciences do.


16. Science is a learning process through which we gain understanding of nature. The process is continuous, not in the accumulation of data, but in the development of basic scientific ideas. The fundamental ideas of science are not eliminated by revolution or displaced by totally new ideas; rather, they are reformulated and changed in the light of developments and discoveries. As a learning product, scientific knowledge accumulates over time. Scientists store this information and hand it on to succeeding generations. Scientific endeavor is cumulative because the present endeavor of scientists is founded on past endeavor.

17. Scientific progress may be viewed as a cumulative increase of empirical and theoretical knowledge and an attempt to provide a unified explanation for empirical data. This is an interactive process that begins with a relatively limited amount of scientific knowledge and with multiple explanations. It continues as scientific knowledge accumulates; scientific understanding shuttles endlessly between the two extremes of offering multiple explanations on the one hand, and a unified theory on the other.

18. At no point in scientific development is there an ultimate solution to any empirical problem. Rather, the problem undergoes constant reassessment and reformation as science progresses. An empirical problem is created when currently available knowledge is inadequate in accounting for an observable phenomenon. Hence, an empirical problem does not present itself to the scientist in its entirety, in the way that a mathematical problem does. Rather, the problem is constantly being redefined, and changes as investigators formulate new theories and accumulate more unbiased data.

19. A continuous scientific research program is characterized as follows. In relation to a preceding scientific endeavor, a subsequent scientific research program (a) deals with past research ideas and concentrates on new research issues that have grown out of those of the past; (b) uses the same techniques and methodologies which were used in the past (or modified ones), as well as new ones that are founded on or derived from those of the past and that have (c) produces results similar to and in many cases more accurate than those in the past, and also new results based on the developments described in (a) and (b).

20. By contrast, a research program is discontinuous from the preceding one if the new program (a) deals with ideas which have not grown out of those of a previous program; (b) uses techniques and methodologies that were not founded on or derived from those used in a preceding research program; and (c) produces new results which are not connected with a previous research program.


21. The above discussion (paragraphs 16 - 20) does not specify how learning and continuity are achieved in a research program. They only set out the range of what learning and continuity consist of. I shall first suggest a partial answer to the question of learning and then a partial answer to the problem of continuity.

22. Consider the following four approaches to the relationship between theory and data as conceptual working tools, tools with which scientists can solve empirical problems and construct explanations and theories: Inductivism uses data for the purpose of inferring hypotheses; Positivism uses data for supporting (verifying) a unified theory; Falsificationism uses data to refute hypotheses; And Holism uses data to confirm or disconfirm a unified theory along with its relevant auxiliary hypotheses and background theories. There is a certain correlation between the use of these conceptual tools and various stages in the development of a research program. For example, the inductivist approach is involved in the initial stage of work, when the researcher is puzzled by what he already knows and by what he observes. A variety of explanations suggest themselves with regard to different aspects of observed phenomena. The positivist approach is used at the stage where one attempts to construct a unified theory to explain empirical observations. That is, one tries to understand a variety of phenomena and their alternative explanations through a single unified theory. Observations on the research literature in psychology show that psychologists use all four of these approaches to advance their research programs.

23. I propose a schema structure for a psychological theory based on aspects of the positivistic, holistic and semantic approaches to a scientific theory. The schema is based on three levels of concepts. The lower level represents the organism, the stimulus and the response. The upper level represents certain hypothetical processes describing how and why the organism's response results from stimuli in conjunction with assumed mechanisms within the organism. The upper and lower levels are bridged through the medium level. The lower level and the medium level are related by operational definitions connecting observations with observational concepts. The medium and the upper level are related by linking-hypotheses that tie observational concepts with theoretical concepts. Another linkage between the upper and the lower levels is made through the use of analogies. The upper level is conceived as a model of the organism's behavior, reflecting what is happening in the organism when it reacts to a given stimulus. An examination of the processes of theory acceptance or rejection shows that multiple considerations are involved: logical, epistemological, ontological and psychosociological.

24. Other important conceptual tools are the procedures of reduction. Their use gives rise to the continuity of a research program. Although the attempt to reduce PB to physiology encountered insurmountable obstacles, psychologists applied different reduction schemes to various phenomena and explanations in order to develop a unified theory that would explain all relevant observations and hypotheses. A "dimension of reduction schemes" can be established, functioning as an ordinal scale along which various models of reduction can be ranged from one end to the other. At one extreme one can place the scheme for explaining a given phenomenon by alternative hypotheses; at the other extreme, the scheme for explaining a given theory by other, alternative theories. Examples of the first variety of schemes are furnished by the routine research of every experimentalist. A classic example of the second variety is offered by the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics. In between these extremes one can range the following three possible reduction schemes: (1) reduction by overlapping observations; (2) reduction by overlapping observations and overlapping theoretical concepts; (3) reduction by analogy. These are illustrated by various examples taken from the literature of physiological psychology.

25. Given the above, I propose that a significant part of psychology does not progress continuously, as the natural sciences do. According to the "outflanking hypothesis," discontinuity in psychological research programs results from their attempts to describe and explain the mind-body relationships using, for example, the mechanistic models of explanation that were developed in the natural sciences. Research programs that have not addressed themselves to the mind-body problem as their primary concern have a good chance of progressing continuously. To support the proposed hypothesis I discuss three examples taken from the history of psychology - structuralism, behaviorism, and cognitive psychology - as representing instances of discontinuity, and then consider radical behaviorism and psychophysics as instances of continuous research programs (see Rakover, 1992, for a further development of these ideas).


Rakover, Sam, S. (1990). Metapsychology: Missing Links in Behavior, Mind, and Science. New York: Paragon/Solomon.

Rakover, Sam, S. (1992). Outflanking the Mind-Body Problem:

Scientific Progress in the History of Psychology. Journal of the Theory of Social Behavior 22: 145-173.

Rakover, Sam, S. (in press). Empirical Criteria for Task Susceptibility to Introspective Awareness and Awareness Effects. Philosophical Psychology.

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