Tag Archives: agency

Carl Rogers and B. F. Skinner and Role of Values and Personal Interests in Psychology

AHP readers may be interested in an article in the November 2017 issue of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology.

“Carl Rogers’ and B. F. Skinner’s approaches to personal and societal improvement: A study in the psychological humanities,” by Jack Martin. Abstract:

Carl Rogers and B. F. Skinner were highly successful 20th century American psychologists who founded historically important schools of psychological inquiry and practice. Their theories, research, and professional practices were embedded within but also challenged American sociocultural concerns and conventions. The focus of this article is on how their research, theories, and ideas, especially those related to the freedom and control of persons, were drawn from their own life experiences and interacted with their penchants for personal freedom versus personal control. The deeply personal bases of Rogers’ and Skinner’s contributions to psychology also are instructive with respect to several issues in the theory of psychology, including the role of values and personal interests in psychological science and practice, relationships between basic research and applied research and professional practice, the generalization of results from experimentation and research, questions concerning human agency, and the place of social advocacy and reform in psychological science and professional practice. More generally, the work reported herein demonstrates the utility of biographical inquiry in particular and the psychological humanities more generally for theoretical purposes in psychology.

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The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick

Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick may be of interest to AHP readers, particular its exploration of agency and intelligence. The book is described as follows:

Today, a scientific explanation is not meant to ascribe agency to natural phenomena: we would not say a rock falls because it seeks the center of the earth. Even for living things, in the natural sciences and often in the social sciences, the same is true. A modern botanist would not say that plants pursue sunlight. This has not always been the case, nor, perhaps, was it inevitable. Since the seventeenth century, many thinkers have made agency, in various forms, central to science.

The Restless Clock examines the history of this principle, banning agency, in the life sciences. It also tells the story of dissenters embracing the opposite idea: that agency is essential to nature. The story begins with the automata of early modern Europe, as models for the new science of living things, and traces questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among many others. Mechanist science, Jessica Riskin shows, had an associated theology: the argument from design, which found evidence for a designer in the mechanisms of nature. Rejecting such appeals to a supernatural God, the dissenters sought to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to a “divine engineer.” Their model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines.

The conflict between passive- and active-mechanist approaches maintains a subterranean life in current science, shaping debates in fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. This history promises not only to inform such debates, but also our sense of the possibilities for what it means to engage in science—and even what it means to be alive.

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