Then came summer, with another lull in correspondence, except for some brief exchanges about Robert Holt’s severely critical review contrasted with Brewster Smith’s enthusiastic praise for Dan Fishman’s book, Pragmatic Psychology. In our short notes, Meehl and I did little more than note the ironies of critical appraisal. Then, in October, Paul sent me another audiotape (which I can’t find; it must surely be resting alongside the tape that inspired a previous letter). Paul said he had had a “medical summer,” as Leslie described it. Probably return of endocarditis, he thought, with severe septicemia, high fever, loss of blood platelets, plus failing vision and a “big backache” that forced him for a time to hobble around with a walker. “Not good for the spirits,” he said. Now, as I look at my notes on Paul’s tape and at my lengthy written reply, I see little content that we hadn’t discussed previously. I think we both just wanted a friendly visit. But I told him I would hold good thoughts for him in his struggle with an ailing body, and I had brought up one topic that led us into new territory:
142 These days I’m headed off on the study of the course of American bigotry from Jefferson to Reagan. That’s history & biography, not science, but I see no reason for a psychologist to avoid the topic. I’m not a trained historian, & will say so, but neither were Gibbon (who went to Oxford for one year and said he got nothing out of it) or Churchill. In fact I think my training as a psychologist (on reliability of eyewitness testimony, distortions of memory, etc.) will help me avoid some of the errors I see professional historians & biographers making, so I’m not bashful about taking on the subject, though only the product (if there ever is one; I’m still “collecting”) will tell whether or not I can write an interesting, informative account.
Dear Don: On historians, I incline to think they are often poor thinkers. (W. S. Miller had data that PhD candidates in History have Miller scores at bottom among “social sciences,” about same level as Education PhDs. Psy and Econ are at top, predictably. The more quantitative, the brighter—can’t get around it.) So it wouldn’t bother me either to write on something “historical” without their union card. I think only a few technical things may sometimes matter. Not many!
You may enjoy recent book Isaac’s Storm , on the Galveston hurricane-flood of 1902. Fascinating examples of denial as a mechanism, plus the inefficient power-driven federal bureaucracy. The idiographic component limits “scientific” possibilities in all sciences where it occurs, whether geology, meteorology, orpersonology. I have never disagreed with oleAllport on that, although he thought I did. Nor with Paterson, who waffled a bit.
I’ve been ruminating about history lately, like you. About to re-read Marx’s 18th Brumaire , have re-read Gardiner’s book on historical explanation. Georgii Plekhanov (despite his dogmatic Marxism, a VERY smart, learned man) did a good job in his little book (1898!!). One of [the] best is Sidney Hook, The Hero in History. Hook almost never wrote anything silly, in my opinion, although I disagree with many of his views. But Croce—widely esteemed—strikes me as a complete muddle-head. I puzzle why some muddleheads gain repute as deep thinkers.
I see idiographic element in historiography as closely analogous, almost identical, with that of personology. It will never be like visual perception theory, for example. No sense in pretending it will, or trying to make it so.Paul
If you find Croce useful, don’t suffer cognitive dissonance. I haven’t, but have read little of him. He may be one of those clever muddle-heads that at times perceive a “deep truth,” like Jung. (Even Hitler in Mein Kampf saw some social truths that many sane people missed). It’s the Frank Barron creativity thing—high Sc correlated with creativity but needs high ES [ego strength] (reversing 143the usual correlation) to sift wheat from chaff Hathaway’s schizotypy showed this tendency if one knew him well. It was frustrating to me.
But 2 Croce arguments to make my point:
He says term “cause” doesnt apply in history, because if y is caused by x, then we may ask what caused x? So infinite regress, therefore….
He says history is “not in time,” because an event occurs, later a historian zvrites about it, so the same event exists at different times, therefore….
I could think better than that in 9th grade science, probably even in 6th grade. You know, there’s a difference between the scientific and pre-scientific intellect that has nothing to do with test tubes, instruments, or even use of mathematics. The pre-scientific mind often thinks crappily even when only words are involved. That’s why Glymour (no positivist!) wrote, “If I have to choose between the logical positivists and the goddam English professors, I’ll take the positivists.” Of course one knows English profs who can think clearly—I know a world authority on Coleridge who is a clear thinker—but there is a marked statistical trend. Partly education, partly self selection. I note few people with clear heads become anthropologists, but a few do. I’ve known three.
Miller’s data on MAT [Miller Analogies Test] scores of PhD candidates in history and other fields do not surprise me. I’m inclined to the view Lloyd Humphreys held re PhDs in education, i.e., the very best are the equal of scholars in any field, but the barfor entry is lower so the variance is greater dfmean is less. History is easier than math or chemistry as a subjectforgrad study. Isaiah Berlin mentions in passing another historian (Buckle, I think) who attributes the poor thinking evident in many historical accounts to the low IQs of their authors. Says history as a discipline does not attract the finest intellects. No Leibnizs or Newtons in their ancestry. So there’s a huge mass of junk out there dfthe main challenge for anyone in my position—trying to write a coherent, “accurate” account of the course of American bigotry—is to separate the credible & significant from the implausible & trivial.
In this, I find my career-long preoccupation with the vexations of personology relevant df my early studies in the “philosophy of science” as solid a grounding as I could possibly have wished. As you, Feigl, & your philosopher colleagues defined the territory in those days, coverage was very broad. Feigl wrote df talked about the “scientific outlook” & included history among the social sciences in readings. (I just checked, df sure enuf found essays on history by Sidney Hook df Ernest Nagel in Feigl df Brodbeck’s Readings in the Philosophy of Science (1953).
144 Speaking of Hook & recalling your letter of 10/26, I just took The Hero in History & Patrick Gardiner’s book on historical explanation out of the library &have read enough to know they’ll be useful to me. I think I’ll skip Croce (135 refs. in RU library alone). Writing history, Ifind, is tougher than writing about it. More or less as an archival duty, I decided to write a history of our school at Rutgers. I’m about halfway through now &am finding out the hard way how tough it is to reconstruct even relatively recent, not particularly controversial events, e.g., a hearing that determined the location, hence the decisively important surrounding culture, of the school. I called four people who were present at the meeting and got 4 different accounts. This allowed me to piece together a reasonably coherent, nowhere downright in accurate rendering of the event, but if any of my informants had written the history it would not have come out the same as mine. I also called Norm Garmezy [who had been hired as a consultant by the New Jersey Board of Higher Education to help decide whether the school should be located in Rutgers University or in the independently administered medical school] to verify a statement attributed to him. Norm frankly admitted that his memory of the hearing was so cloudy that he was not a very reliable witness but figured the remark was the “kind of smart-ass thing” he might have said. Through a series of discursions I do not recall, we wound up talking about our experiences in the Battle of the Bulge.Don
DRP: Yes, for Pete’s sake, skip Croce. One should always remember the point Humphreys makes (I tend to forget it, d.k. why, strange) that the BEST persons in even half-way scholarly fields are as smart as the BEST in any field. Miller told us that in his aptitude testing class. I’m sure top sociologists are as smart as top physicists, but “top” here is a smaller area of their curve. The smartest psychologists I know are smarter than the average chemists I’ve known, for example.
I’m reading Jacques Barzun’s latest (he’s 92) and he’s damn bright despite his “humanistic” bias against quantification. Clio and the Doctors is a fun read, if you haven’t.PEM
I found Sidney Hook’s Hero in History so clear, sound, & timely (still right to the point re current political situation nearly 60 years after original publication) that I intend to buy a copy of the 1990 Transaction [Publishers] issue. 145It’ll go on the growing stack of my books that I want to rereadfrom time to time. Gardiner’s Nature of Historical Explanation is sound & useful too, or so it seems to me. Thanks for mentioning them. I wish I could join you in reading some of the other items noted in yr. recent letters & may do so, but most evenings I’m tired, have a drink, & after dinner (horrors!) watch TV, or less often, listen to music or play the piano.
On more general questions of scholarly inquiry, the resemblance between the issues faced by historians and those encountered by clinical psychologists & personologists in their idiographic, biographical, & historical investigations continue to impress me, as do the differences between the issues faced by historians and those encountered by clinical psychologists and personologists in their nomothetic, observational, contemporary studies. In the field of psy. at large the main confusions seem to arise from those, like Gergen, who write as if psy were entirely a history-like enterprise, or on the other side from those, like McFall, who either see psy now, or would like to make it, just about like physics, or at least microbiology. I see no reason we can’t keep both kinds of inquiry within our purview, as long as the necessary distinctions are maintained, or, as in Lamiell’s idiothetic analysis & my disciplined inquiry, judiciously combined.Don
P.S. Note on quantification & conviction: Seems to me Hook’s argument that the Russian Revolution of 1917 would be “unthinkable” without the work of Lenin—the objectives, policy, controlling strategy, day-by-day tactics, were all his—and that without the October revolution we would be living in a vastly different world today, is as convincing an argument as any scientific proof I’ve ever seen, in psychology at least. But there’s not a number in sight. Purely verbal, logical argument. I remember your quoting C. S. Lewis once as saying, Tf nothing is nearly certain, then nothing is probable.” How does this square with your insistence on quantification as a necessary condition for settling factual questions?
Dear Don: Glad u find Hook useful. An amazing man! I disagree with him about many important matters (Freud, socialism, IQ tests, philosophy—he’s basically a Dewey disciple). But of his books & articles I’ve read, even his personal correspondence, where one feels free to be loose & even dogmatic at times, he NEVER says anything I consider downright silly or stupid. Given the range of his interests, and the big role of ethicopolitical issues, that’s an amazing track record. Query, what is the mental trait apart from sheer g (and wide learning) that does that? Whatever it is, it makes all the difference. I don’t claim Hook’s record, but I’m pretty close to it. Mistakes, yes. Plainly stupid or silly, no. I know a number of people who approach foolish-free” discourse—you, 146Feigl, Grove, Faust, Jenkins, MacCorquodale—but I can name many more who are high Miller + learned who have said, and written, quite a few pretty dumb things. Id.k. what that is. It’s notjust a matter of being “skeptical”; one form of being foolish is being (safely) hyper-skeptical. SRH [Starke Hathaway] did that at times, to the point of folly.
Your example of a non-quantitative but solid Hook argument, crucial role of Lenin, is well taken. Same could be argued for Hitler, and FDR. So the tough question is “Under what knowledge conditions can a completely unqualified inference be so clear & potent that only a hyper-skeptic would withhold belief?” I have never managed to formulate that even halfway decently. See my psychoanalytic examples of dream interpretation, in Minn. Studies Philos. Science. But SRH was unpersuaded. Why is it so hard to explicate this simple, obvious point? I give up.Paul
I wish I could offer a confident answer to your query “What is the mental trait apart from sheer g (& wide learning) [that permits demonstrably intelligent, learned people to say, and write, downright stupid, silly things]?” At the first level, the muddle-headed/simple-minded dichotomy comes to mind, of course, and your comment about the occasional foolishness of hyper-skeptics suggests that dumb arguments can be seen among the simple as well as the muddled, tho I presume we’d also agree that frequency is higher among the latter. I think your term “ safely ” hyper-skeptical moves us toward a plausible guess. Seems to me most of the really silly ideas I’ve read or heard comefrompeople who have an axe to grind—who are passionately insistent that their views be accepted by others (cf Hoffer)—and that they are so nervous about social approval of their views because they haven’t been able to separate their arguments, which will stand or fall on their own merit, from theirfeelings of personal worth. They have to prove themselves. Among commonly well-known, reasonably well-defined traits in the psy lit, I’d say ego strength comes closest.
Of all the people I know personally, you have the best record of avoiding foolish statements over a wide range of recondite issues, tho, like you, I’ve known quite a few others who approach “foolish-free” discourse, including the Minnesotans you name and several I met at Illinois, especially Cronbach & Humphreys. In the scholarly world at large (or at least the part with which I have some familiarity) Hook & Popper top my list.
147 The second question in yr. letter of 12/11 (generalized form of my Hook/Lenin example)—”Under what knowledge conditions can a completely unquantified inference be so clear and potent that only a hyper-skeptic would withhold belief? “—is equally tough, and I’ll bet my response will be equally uncertain. Isn’t this the basic question the hermeneuts have been trying to answer? I think so. That’s why I’ve tried to find some wisdom in their writings and may see more there than you do. But the knowledge conditions favored by the hermeneutical crowd, near as I can tell, seem to boil down to three: freedom from logical error, coherence, and rhetorical persuasiveness, with social consensus, the political consequence principally of Condition #3, as the main criterion for acceptance/rejection of a knowledge claim. And then, when I read these birds closely, I find their own writings anything but free of logical error (you are much sharper at spotting those than I am; you know more logic), not particularly coherent, especially when arguments of several authors are considered as a group, and even if rhetorically persuasive & widely endorsed (e.g., Hitler, historicist arguments of Marx), just plain wrong. We’ve traded many letters on this topic and I give up, as you do, on hope of going much further.Don
PS. I picked up a copy of Isaac’s Storm yesterday and am enjoying it greatly. A dreadful story of human denial & bureaucratic stupidity, beautifully told, and carrying along the way lessons in the history of meteorology. I have about 4′′ offile space devoted to episodes of this kind, starting with the story of the WASA, a 17th century Swedish man o’ war that capsized and sank, drowning all aboard, on her maiden voyage. Maybe you know the story. The WASA was to be the grandest vessel on the sea. The shipwright loaded her with more cannons than any other ship afloat. Questions arose about stability, so an admiral had the vessel towed out into the harbor and ordered 30 swabbies to run back & forth on the deck. After 3 runs, WASA rolled so far that she came close to capsizing. The admiral responded by halting the test. After all, the King had approved the plan. So, on the maiden voyage, the WASA set sail, pennants flying, crowds cheering, then caught a gust, shipped water through her multitudinous gunports, and sank. I’ve collected numerous comparable stories, including the Galveston flood ( Isaac’s Storm is much better than any account I’d seen before) and chunked them into a file labeled “Disaster Principle” (for “The Disaster Principle of Social Reform “) whose major tenets you can easily guess.
Have you read Earnest May’s “ Lessons” of the Past ? Shows we’ve learned damn little from history, so far.
Afterthought onyr. query re silly arguments by smart, learned people. Isn’t intellectual arrogance often a factor? I think of Pauling, Leakey, &some others who started believing their press notices and ignored Popper’s insistence that we all need the editorial help of others in appraising our statements, tho each of us has to be his own best critic. I’ll bet some such arrogance was at work in Croce’s case. In the Italian culture (still highly authoritarian when I spent a Fulbright year there in 1959-1960, with the status of “expert” going unquestioned and the “experts,” in response, saying whatever came to mind dogmatically) arrogance is encouraged. I haven’t read Croce and don’t intend to, but I suspect he, saying silly things with nobody around to raise a question about the Emperor’s clothes, just kept getting by with anything that came squirting out of his head. Mebbe the other end of the trait is something like confident humility—i.e., sufficient intelligence & scholarly depth to be pretty sure of the validity of anything you do say, but at the same time a readiness to admit there are some questions that are just beyond your ken. As you say in your letters & fairly often in your writings, “I haven’t been able to figure that one out.”With best wishes for the new year and beyond, Don