Unity: Fuzzy Terminology


[Photo by larryosan]

More criticism of attempts to
unify psychology which, as you will see, don’t much impress me. Lilienfeld
(2004) responds to Henriques’ article by asking whether attempting to define
psychology is worth the trouble. Lilienfeld (2004) argues that there is little
utility in defining psychology more precisely – after all biologists
(apparently) have some difficulty in defining what life is. The word
‘psychology’ is inherently ‘fuzzy’ and unity would simply encourage ‘turf-wars’
between psychology and sociology, ethology and so on.
My response: Don’t pretend
there aren’t different levels of satisfaction with a definition. I would guess
the biologist would be able to define biology, however imprecisely, much
quicker than the psychologist would be able to define psychology. No one is
claiming that biology is perfectly unified, what Henriques argues is that
biology is relatively more unified or, alternatively, less disorganised, than
I also don’t think that the
encouragement of ‘turf-wars’ is a justifiable reason to avoid defining
psychology. Imagine: “Let’s not define psychology properly, it might cause trouble.”
Surely you’ve got to have some common ground before you can start a proper
argument – otherwise all the shouting is pointless.
The second prong of Lilienfeld
(2004) argument is aimed at Henriques’ claim that unity in psychology will help
to narrow the gap between research and practice. Lilienfeld (2004) argues,
however, that there is a group of clinical psychologists who would hang on to
their belief in ‘clinical intuition’ whatever theoretical unifying rabbits were
pulled out of the hat. Instead better training is required.
My response: Perhaps it is the
very disunity and disorganisation of psychology that repels clinical
psychologists from the scientific side of the discipline. However much you tell
someone to refer to the research literature, if it’s incomprehensibly
fragmented then it’s going to be practically useless in real life clinical
situations. Training, presumably in the form of forcing noses into the academic
journals, won’t solve the problem.

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.