(?) If we were trying to name "Pete's Stuff" today, would you suggest a term other than Descriptive Psychology?
Ossorio: I'm not sure I would, even though I'm not that happy with "Descriptive Psychology". Number one, the operative term is Descriptive. If Iíd been an anthropologist, you would be hearing about Descriptive Anthropology. But that would have many of the same problems that "Descriptive Psychology" has, so it's a marginal improvement if any.
(?) Are you having problems with "Descriptive" as the lead word?
Ossorio: I'm not. But the topic has come up half a dozen times in the last few days.
(?) Are there any other candidates?
Ossorio: Bob Brill is working on it. He may come up with something. The intent and why descriptive is the operative word is to contrast with theoretical and explanatory, but primarily theoretical. After all, you can see that thereís lots of explanatory power in "Descriptive Psychology". In the full range of sciences, there's a number of them that begin with "Descriptive". And if I were going to anchor Descriptive Psychology anywhere within the sciences, it would be among those whose titles begin with Descriptive.
Now one of the implications of Descriptive Psychology, of the term, is that there is enough there to describe, prior to any attempt at explanation, to constitute a task of sufficient magnitude to call for a separate discipline just to accomplish that task. And I think you can see that is borne out in that Descriptive Psychology is more complex than any theory in psychology. It has more pieces. It has deeper logic. It extends across more phenomena than anything else you come across. Well, that's what calls for a separate discipline to accomplish it. Because it is not a trivial task. On the other hand, there's no good word that I know of for it.
Now what Bob is working on is, to see if he can finally arrive at a term, is the idea --Oh hay, I've got it -- I was going to use this tomorrow. Wynne, who is the guy who did the work on Wittgenstein? The one who went to Berkeley and is now at Harvard?
Ossorio: There's a philosopher named Stanley Cavell. And he was, as I understand it, explaining Wittgenstein's philosophy and trying to explain why it was so different from what had gone before. And he said something, either literally or very close to what I'm about to quote. He said, "For Aristotle, to speak the truth is to say of what is, that it is." In this new way of talking he says, "To speak the truth is to say of what is, what it is."
Well, you might say that Descriptive Psychology is an attempt to say of what is, namely people, what it is. What is a person? And since persons are complex things, saying what a person is, is a complex thing and it's going to come out in reams and reams of paper. And if it's that sort of thing, you better believe that we're better off first having at least a first cut at a description before we go around trying to explain things. And what history has shown is that most of the things that psychologists have done in their theories to try to explain things are simply more or less crude approximations of some portion of Descriptive that simply says what the thing is. So there was a strong polemic intent in calling it Descriptive Psychology. And I hope Bob finds a better term.
(?) I usually get mileage from telling people that what DP is, is a pre-empirical, nontheoretical approach that you have to do before you can do psychology in the ordinary sense of doing experiments.
Ossorio: Well that's what Bob is dealing with. What that invites is the same kind of response as saying that "Faith is knowledge without evidence."
(?) I point out that Descriptive Psychology is a species of conceptual system ... But that's no different than syaing what is psychoanalysis or what is Gestalt psychology.
Ossorio: There are conceptual systems and there are conceptual systems. Most of them are theories. A pre-empirical, nontheoretical something is going to show important differences from theories. And only in the abstract principle are there a million ways to do it, because right now there's only one.
(?) Yeah, Descriptive Psychology is a pre-empirical, nontheoretical psychology. There may be other ways of doing it, but this is the one we've got.
Ossorio: The Psychology part [of Descriptive Psychology] - Remember that this was introduced in the context of psychology, and usually what you do is you introduce a formulation that says, hereís what I take the phenomenon to be, and then you study it, in one way or another. So that eventually you do the things that psychologists do with it. But what you first do, is do justice to the phenomenon. You don't study something fictitious. You study what you take it actually to be.
(?) Are there any other candidates for a name that are not totally distasteful?
Ossorio: There haven't been many candidates that you would take seriously.
(?) What are some of the ones you've considered?
Ossorio: The Person Concept is something I've used from way back partly as an alternative to calling it Descriptive Psychology. There's a place for both of those. That's why they've both survived.
I take it that the Person concept is something that we all have. Just like the English language is something that we all have without knowing that we have it at the time we acquired it, without having good descriptions of it. So, the person concept is that sort of thing. That's what is common to all of us. And the primary task of Descriptive Psychology is to formulate the Person Concept.
I see a parallel to the problem of the grammarian to write the grammar of English, when everybody knows how to talk English. But writing the grammar of English is a very different sort of task, and very difficult. And yet if there wasn't a grammar of English, there would be no point in trying to write it. So where they fit is that the Person concept is what we share and what makes us persons. And Descriptive Psychology is one of the things that can attempt to formulate that.
(?) What about the idea that Descriptive Psychology isn't psychology?
Ossorio: It is and it isn't. It's designed to give you access to everything about people. And in that sense itís Psychology. On the other hand itís not restricted to that. In that sense it's not just a psychology and not just an anthropology. It's more on the order of an intellectual discipline. Think of the State of Affairs System and the applications to computing and physical phenomena. You can't restrict its application. It covers everything.
Ossorio: Remember I said the Person Concept. What would you think of the "Three System System"? [laughter] Now you know why I want to keep it quiet. That appears in Meaning and Symbolism.