Valerie Gray Hardcastle (1994) Metapsychology for the Masses?. Psycoloquy: 5(14) Metapsychology (3)

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Psycoloquy 5(14): Metapsychology for the Masses?

Book Review of Rakover on Metapsychology

Valerie Gray Hardcastle
Department of Philosophy
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0126


Sam Rakover's book Metapsychology has an interesting and underexplored premise: that philosophy has something useful to say about psychological practice. However, the book itself disappoints since it does not communicate that message with sufficient depth or detail.


behavior, causality, experimentation, explanation, introspection, mind-body problem, observation, philosophy, psychology, reductionism, science, theory.
1. As a philosopher, I find Sam Rakover's book Metapsychology (1990; 1993) interesting for sociological reasons. It is interesting to see how a nonphilosopher reads the major movements in philosophy and how a psychologist might apply those movements to recent events in the behavioral sciences. Unfortunately, however, this sort of sociological curiosity is not enough to sustain reading over 400 pages. And in all honesty, I found little else to sustain me throughout the text.

2. Though this book is exceedingly well-referenced (for which Rakover deserves much praise), it is also fairly well out of date. In my perusal through his bibliographies, I noticed that no work later than 1986 was cited (and that was a reference to himself defending behaviorism); most were substantially earlier. Ordinarily, I suppose, this might not pose much of a problem (though it would be noteworthy considering the book was not published until 1990), but the emphases in both psychology and philosophy have changed so enormously in the past 10 years that Rakover's failure to keep up with current trends (or fads) is at once readily apparent in his book and detrimental.

3. I note the absence of any mention of connectionism and its influence on psychological theorizing. While I am not a wild-eyed, hard-core PDP-er, I do believe that any (current) book on philosophical psychology has to take this movement (or fad) into account. Many believe that connectionism has permanently changed the face of theories in the "softer" sciences. Regardless of whether you buy into such claims, they are still some that modern philosophers of mind have to reckon with.

4. For another, more telling, example, Rakover often refers to the "current debate between behaviorism and cognitive psychology" (p. 88). I know of no such debate. I know that there was a debate, but even the animal behaviorists acknowledge that they are a minority. Now, one can argue about whether they are an important minority (I happen to think they are), but surely we have to admit that, for better or worse, psychology as a field has moved inside the head. It would have been far better and far more interesting to see Rakover defend a version of behaviorism or neo-behaviorism against the tide of cognitive psychology, to try to bring the debate back on perhaps new and more substantive terms, than to ignore or overlook the recent history of psychology.

5. (I note in passing that Rakover attributes the decline of the behaviorist movement in psychology to the demise of logical positivism in philosophy and an example of how philosophy influences psychology (section 1.4). While this may be the propaganda philosophers offer one another, I take it as well documented that these two movements, though contemporaneous, existed largely independently of one another (see, e.g., Smith 1986). In particular, the decline of behaviorism can be attributed to conceptual difficulties in Skinner's original program, difficulties in other related programs, and the rise of artificial intelligence.)

6. And having an odd perspective is not just limited to the place of behaviorism in psychological history. Rakover often admits that how the mind could be connected to the body at all baffles him. "The suggestion that the mind is after all a physical material is so problematic that I cannot accept it as it stands" (p. 24). "It seems to me that... any conclusions we reach concerning the mind on the basis of our bodily activity... merely reflect our subjective faith" (p. 24). And later: "it seems impossible to develop an empirical theory which accounts for the mind-body relationship" (p. 311). As a staunch materialist, I find statements such as these odd, but, more important, they are also statements of a distinct minority (at least, they constitute a minority opinion among those who publically express opinions on such matters). Once again, this sort of position needs to be well supported -- whole books could be written (and have been) defending this view, not just the two pages that Rakover uses (pp. 311-312) to "prove" his point. (Indeed, this point is particularly important given that Rakover argues that psychology cannot "progress like the natural sciences when its program is focused on an attempt to provide a 'scientific' solution to the mind-body problem" (p. 416).)

7. Of course, one can dismiss what I have just written as uninformed poppycock from some nonpsychologist. I am willing to admit that we all carry around with us our own versions of history and mine is probably as skewed as I claim Rakover's to be. However, the second deficiency I see cannot, I think, be overcome: it is unclear who Rakover's audience is supposed to be. On the one hand, the vast majority of the book is a summary of the major movements in philosophy of science. But if one wanted a general survey of the philosophy of science, I would point one to an introductory philosophy of science text. Here, the various people, projects, and positions would be placed in a larger philosophical context which gives additional meaning and depth to the controversies. Moreover, the terminology would be standardized such that if one wanted to know more, one would be able to read other texts easily. (I mention this because some of the philosophical distinctions that Rakover uses are not entirely mainstream. For example, he claims that the branches of philosophy consist in epistemology, ontology, and logic (p. 10). However, whether logic actually is a separate area of study instead of being a branch of epistemology depends upon what you take logic to be about, and "ontology" refers both to a branch of study (more commonly known as "metaphysics") as well as to the objects that a metaphysical theory postulates. Now this is just so much philosophical niggling, but sometimes the details matter, especially if one is interested in talking to people outside one's major field.)

8. On the other hand, Rakover does spend some time in each chapter outlining how he understands philosophy of science as philosophy of psychology. However, what he has to say is altogether too brief to be useful to those steeped in philosophy, in addition to not being well supported by the evidence that he does use. To pick a particularly striking example, in his discussion of the structure of psychological theories and the notion of scientific progress, he tries an ecumenical approach by using the standard covering law model (what he calls "inductivism"), logical positivism, the Popperian method of conjecture and refutation or "falsificationism," and Kuhnian holism as different "methodological tools with which scientists try to learn about nature and solve empirical problems" (p. 142). In particular, scientists at different times rely on different methods.

9. But in making this claim, Rakover overlooks that these "methods" are fundamentally incompatible. He himself notes this incompatibility earlier: "rather than attempting to reconstruct science logically, or offering a set of rational rules for the practice of science [as the more traditional analyses do], the holistic program is principally concerned with providing a historical and theoretical analysis of how science progresses -- an analysis, that is, of the how [sic] the actual theories of science are produced, tested, and changed" (p. 134). He then goes on in the next few pages to document how different a Kuhnian approach is from standard inductive models.

10. If this be the case, then how does one switch from using induction as a "methodological tool" to holism (which is not a methodological tool at all) as one attempts to unify explanation in Rakover's "empirical problem-solving approach" (p. 142)? The few pages that Rakover spends on his view of psychological theorizing (pp. 142-145) do not contain an answer. Moreover, the extended example of how to understand interpersonal distancing that supposedly illustrates Rakover's ideas is of little help because no attempt is made to connect the example back to the scheme. How did "[placing] the multiplex phenomena of reciprocity and compensation (as well as other distancing responses) within a unitary frame" make Kaplan and Markus-Kaplan (1981; (unpublished ms. cited p. 148; see also Markus-Kaplan & Kaplan 1984) holists? How did what they do differ methodologically from what was done before? These questions are not even implicitly addressed.

11. Rakover's dismissal of functionalism (pp. 307ff) and his treatment of reductionism (chapter 10) are equally fast and loose. Mountains of literature have been published on these topics; hence, it is not enough simply to cite a party line and move on. One must at least allude to a bit of the complexity.

12. It is somewhat disappointing to read a book whose topic has such promise, but whose message is lost amidst the extensive retelling of philosophical history and the all too brief and confused "sound bites" of original thought. I suppose that what I have learned best in reading Rakover's book is that, after having an idea for a manuscript, the second, third, and fourth most important considerations in executing the project are: audience, audience, audience.


Kaplan, K., and Markus-Kaplan, M. (ms. 1981) Toward Operationalizing the Self in Relationship: A Bidimensional Taxonomy of Reciprocal, Compensatory, and Noncontingent Distancing Patterns.

Markus-Kaplan, M., and Kaplan, K. J. (1984) A Bidimensional View of Distancing: Reciprocity Versus Compensation, intimacy versus social control. Special Issue: Nonverbal intimacy and exchange. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 8: 315 - 326.

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

Rakover, S.S. (1993) Precis of Metapsychology: Missing Links in Behavior, Mind, and Science. PSYCOLOQUY 4(55) metapsychology.1.rakover.

Smith, L.D. (1986) Behaviorism and Logical Positivism: A Reassessment of the Alliance. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

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