Sunday, December 1, 2013

Personhood Beyond the Human: A Paradigm Case Formulation of Persons

Below is a draft of the paper I presented at the Yale conference: Personhood Beyond the Human, Saturday, December 7, 2013 in New Haven.  Also note the lawsuit filed on behalf of "Tommy", a chimpanzee seeking legal personhood by the Non Human Rights Project.

A current prepublication version of this paper can be found here: What is a Person?

Apparently humanity has matured enough for us to ask in a non-trivial way, “Are human beings the only persons we encounter?”

Historically, we have only recognized others who share our human embodiment as fellow persons. This matters legally, morally and ethically since people are granted rights, privileges and protections that are not offered to non-persons.These rights, privileges and protections are subject to revision. We no longer allow people to be chattel, the property of other people. 

If we recognize animals other than our own species as persons, asking whether we are holding some of them in slavery is a legitimate question.

How can we sort out what constitutes a Person if we accept that the category is not based simply on having a particular body? What I will offer is the Descriptive Psychology method of Paradigm Case Formulation applied to the concept of "Persons". (A full presentation of this methodology and conceptualization can be found in Peter Ossorio's, The Behavior of Persons, 2013). Using this methodology, I will show that it is reasonable to include non-humans as persons and to have legitimate grounds for disagreeing where the line is properly drawn. (I will also argue that answering this question leaves unresolved how we should treat non-person animals except in an appeal to people’s intrinsic ethical concerns). 

What I am going to do is make explicit what is already implicit in what we mean by "Persons". I am going to tell you what you already know. 

What is the point of a Paradigm Case Formulation? Paradigm Case Formulations are employed when it is desirable to achieve a common understanding of a subject matter but where definitions prove too limiting, various, ambiguous or impossible. I think the concept of “Person” poses this definitional problem. 

Finding a fully inclusive definition is a common conceptual dilemma. Consider how difficult it is to exactly define what is meant by the word “family” or the word “chair” if we wish to achieve agreement on all possible examples of “families” and “chairs”.  Must families all have two parents of different genders plus their children?  Must all chairs have four legs and a backrest?  

A Paradigm Case Formulation should provide competent users a starting point of agreement. Generally it should consist of the most complex case, an indubitable case, or a primary or archetypal case.  It should be a sort of “By God, if there were ever a case of “X”, then that’s it.”  

For example, most would agree that a group of people living together consisting of a married father and mother and their biological son and daughter is a family. But what if there is only a husband, his husband and their dog? Or three best friends who live under one roof and make their significant decisions together?  What elements must be present and what can we change, add or leave out and still meet what different people call a family?

By starting with a paradigm case that everyone easily identifies as within their understanding of a concept, it becomes possible to delete or change features of the paradigm with the consequence that with each change some people might no longer agree that they are still talking about the same thing. But because of the shared paradigm, they can show where there is disagreement and where they draw the line. 

A Paradigm Case Formulation of Persons

A Person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical Pattern.

Deliberate Action is a form of behavior in which a person (a) engages in an Intentional or goal directed Action, (b) is Cognizant of that, and (c) has chosen to do that.  A person is not always engaged in a deliberate action but has the eligibility to do so.  A human being is an individual who is both a person and a specimen of Homo sapiens. (Ossorio, 2013).

Deliberate Action is fundamental to any claim of personal autonomy. 

As deliberate actors, Paradigm Case Persons act on Hedonic, Prudent, Aesthetic and Ethical reasons when selecting, choosing or deciding on a course of action. Why these four? Simply that these are the ones that we know. There may be more; if another one is discovered, it would be included, somewhat like taste experts now agree that there is a fifth sensation, "umami," in addition to sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Ossorio (2013) indicated that these four classifications, Hedonic, Prudent, Aesthetic, and Ethical are intrinsic or fundamental motivations.  They provide reason enough to do something. They stand on their own. These reasons for action can conflict, operate in a complementary or independent fashion, and so on. If you have two or more of these reasons to do something, you have more reason than if you had only one of them.  

These four classifications are "family resemblance groups". Hedonics refers to the value of pleasure, pain, disgust, and so on; Prudence to self-interest; Aesthetics to the artistic, social and intellectual values of truth, rigor, objectivity, beauty, elegance, closure and fit; Ethics with right and wrong, fairness and justice, the level playing field, the Golden Rule and kindred notions.  

Hedonic and prudent motivations operate consciously, pre-consciously or unconsciously. They can be an aspect of both deliberate and non-deliberate Intentional Action. As a fundamental aspect of the general case of goal directed behavior, they are features of all sentient animal life, whether Human or not. They also provide a basis for cross species empathy and shared understanding.

Aesthetic and Ethical motivations are in an important way different from hedonic and prudent concerns in that they require that the actor is in a position to make a choice. Aesthetic and ethical motivations are only relevant when Deliberate Action is also possible since aesthetic and ethical action require the eligibility to choose or refrain, to potentially deliberate about the desirable course to follow. In the service of being able to choose, and perhaps think through the available options, a person’s aesthetic and ethical motives are often consciously available (Schwartz, 1984). 

I can’t help it that it feels good, or that I see it as in my self-interest.  But as a mature Paradigm Case Person, I can consciously attempt to refrain from seeking pleasure or self-interest on aesthetic and/or ethical grounds. And, at times, I might set my ethics and aesthetics aside for the sake of pleasure and self interest.

It is a matter one's personal characteristics how an individual weighs their hedonic, prudent, ethical and aesthetic reasons in a given circumstance, and how these perspectives may operate independently, antagonistically, harmoniously, and so on. 

As part of our social contract we expect that the normal mature human can make use of all four of these motivational perspectives.  Any general theory of human behavior that does not adequately address these motivations will be defective. Any adult human who does not have these interests will likely seem primitive or pathological. 

It is the formal requirement that Ethical and Aesthetic acts are Deliberate that positions these motives as quintessential Person qualities. Any action that is fundamentally motivated by ethical or aesthetic concerns is evidence of the involvement of a Person. 

Also paradigmatic of Persons is Language, shared symbolic representations that correspond to the concepts used in social practice based on shared "forms of life" as Wittgenstein put it.  Language is vital in the detection of Deliberate Action since with language we can represent choices symbolically, both what was chosen and what was renounced. 

We don’t have direct access to what goes on in another person’s head. We can only observe each other's overt performance, including what we tell each other about what we are up to. Language is the ideal format for representing option and choice, since we can speak about what we did not do, what we rejected or refrained from. 

You see me take the low road but unless there is some way of representing that I was aware that I could have taken the high road, you might be hard pressed to see my action as a choice, a potential deliberation that I am accountable for in a manner akin to ethical and legal concerns with responsibility. If I don’t confess that I knew there was another way to go, I might not be found guilty as charged. It will be harder build a case.

That life is lived in a Dramaturgical Pattern is to say that people’s lives are potentially understandable. Their stories can be intelligibly told. Life consists of episodes of unfolding social practices.  Actions have an ongoing significance creating through-lines that an observer can employ in recognizing behavior that is both in and out of character. This is to say that people make sense and that their life course is not random but is instead a meaningful unfolding of behavior in response to the circumstances of their worlds. People have their reasons for doing what they do. (This point may have implications for artificial or manufactured persons).

The Paradigm Case Formulation offered here allows for nonhuman persons, potential persons, nascent persons, manufactured persons, former persons, "deficit case" persons, and "primitive" persons. (I am not going to dignify the political claim that corporations are persons.)

Although Deliberate Action is not dependent on the availability of Language, language is a form of Deliberate Action essential to the full paradigm. A person without language would be a deficit case. 

Must a person have an ethical and aesthetic perspective to count as a person? Must a person be linguistically competent?  Or is the eligibility to engage in any sort of Deliberate Action enough?  Clearly to me, my dog Banjo is a deliberate actor. But our conversations are pretty one sided. He has, I am sure,  hedonic and prudential perspectives.  About his ethical and aesthetic concerns, I am not so sure, except that I think I might have a hard time convincing myself or you.  I think he understands affection and kindness similar to how I feel, even though I would not trust him with my lunch. I know he is an intentional actor but I am a bit uncertain about the range and nature of his deliberations.  (Still, I am certain that he is a
family member and is to be treated as such). 

About the Cetecea, the elephants, the other primates, and some parrots, I suspect they might fill out some or most of the Paradigm Case. To the extent they are not domesticated (or enslaved), they don’t "talk" with us. Non human animal communication, including the possibility of language use, is difficult to study when there is an absence of "shared forms of life." The domesticated are interdependent with humans in a way other animals are not. We share and interact with the domesticated, we correspond with them in ways we can't with the "wild".  Do wild animals talk with each other and could they talk with us?  We may not have sufficient shared social practices to make inter-species communication, speech, and translation feasible, so it is very hard to tell. This is an empirical issue. But to some observers they appear to speak to each other. 

Since language requires shared social practice, an animal’s ecologically bounded social practices limit its expected linguistic range and competence. Humans are adept at disrupting their environments and coercing their practices. If they wanted to talk to us, I’m not sure we’d welcome what they have to say. 

If someone actually taught a nonhuman animal to competently use language, would that be teaching them to be a person? Yes, that is an implication of the paradigm offered here. And by that reasoning, we teach our human children to be persons, too.

So what should we do with our uncertainty? Logically, we are never in a position to prove that something is a person but we can adopt a policy that if we have any grounds for seeing the other as one of us we should treat that entity as a person until we have reason enough to feel we are misguided. With persons it should always be I to Thou. There are people whose cultures and social practices leave me mystified, but it is prudent and ethical to proceed from the belief that I simply don't understand what they are about. I suspect the same holds for some of the other animals I know.

I am not particularly concerned about initial false positives.  In my scientific training, I was told to avoid anthropomorphism.  I have become skeptical about the morality of this stance.

A troubling and significant ethical question remains: After the line on personhood is drawn, what considerations apply to the treatment of animals that do not fall into the person category? Since all animals as intentional actors have an interest in the avoidance of suffering, is it ever ethical to inflict harm on an animal if there is a way not to? What other priorities need be weighed? 

Person status defines a domain where social and legal rights reside, hence a proper abhorrence with slavery.  Judges in good faith might differ as to what animals are included as persons, but it is a moral and ethical mistake to limit concerns about the quality of a life to whether that animal is also a person.  

Post Conference Post Script:

Deliberate actors, cognizant of self and circumstance, are ordinarily able to reorder priorities, to change their mind. This is part of why the behavior of Persons is less stereotyped and predictable than the behavior of nonpersons. People can develop, invent and reconsider. They can think about their thinking.

Language is especially significant in a person's ability to reorder priorities. Since language can be used to represent the consequences of a course of action not yet followed, it serves as a fundamental means of personal and social negotiation. I can weigh the consequences of my potential acts and you can tell me your thoughts about them. The reordering of priorities is a vital aspect of social life hard to accomplish without language. 

The ability to weigh Hedonic, Prudent, Ethical and Aesthetic interests is a defining personal characteristic since these perspectives shape an individual's Deliberate Actions. A robot or manufactured person, given its physical form, might not have an hedonic perspective since the visceral sensations of pain or pleasure might not be available; a chimpanzee person, apparently lacking language, probably has underdeveloped or absent ethical and aesthetic concerns and this suggests a sort of "primitive status".  Human children developing  their perspectives are nascent persons. (And note how unclear where to draw the line, how it is exactly a matter of "more or less").

The ability to manifest, develop and refine Hedonic, Prudent, Aesthetic and Ethical concerns is a way to classify different sorts of persons relevant to a consideration of appropriate rights and responsibilities. This is also germane to how we'd all get along.

Abstracts from the Personhood Beyond the Human Conference and  YouTubes of the presentations.

Thanks to Joe Jeffrey, C. J. Stone, Greg Colvin, Pat Aucoin, Walter Torres, Richard Singer, Ray Bergner and Tony Putman for comments and suggestions regarding this draft.  And thanks Ricky Gervais for clarifying Wittgenstein on  if the lion could speak.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Animal Slavery: A conversation among Descriptive Psychologists on the conditions of captive primates, elephants, and cetecea.

Should we enjoy the tricks a slave performs for her masters? 

Further thoughts on "The Problem of Other Possible Persons" and the conditions of captive primates, elephants, and cetecea.

Can an animal be a slave? What follows is a conversation among members of The Society for Descriptive Psychology about the status of captive animals who are possible persons. 

Should we only recognize others who share our human embodiment as a fellow person?  What we accredit as a person matters legally, morally, and ethically. People are offered rights, privileges, and protections not given to non persons. As a community, we no longer allow one person to be the property of another person. When we own people and require them to act as we wish, they are slaves.  

Slavery is enforced by coercion. Coercion elicits resistance and resigned compliance.
From: Wynn Schwartz
Date: November 13, 2013 7:25:52 AM MST

Should we enjoy the tricks a slave performs for her masters?
What we count as a person matters. Are humans the only persons?

A conference at Yale in December:      

Do you enjoy SeaWorld? Should you? 

From: Tony Putman
Date: November 13, 2013 8:29:57 AM MST

A human is a Person with a Homo sapiens embodiment.

Persons have rights.

Proceed from there.

From: Clarke Stone
Date: November 13, 2013 9:17:53 AM MST

Let's back off a bit and see if we can learn something. Following Tony's lead, let's imagine we are visited by creatures with non-homo-sap embodiment; that is, a flying saucer lands in Central Park, and critters descend the gangplank.

We take it that “someone” involved is a person, otherwise there wouldn't be a saucer. That kind of thing is indicative of social practices, civilization via division of labor (status), a lengthy ladder of significance, and so on. The object itself is evidence of a history of deliberate action.

But what about these critters coming down the gangplank? They might merely be the saucer-person's space-dogs, having got loose while the door was open. (Ain't it the way with dogs, even in space? Sheesh!) So...what are we looking for? What kinds of behaviors would give us reason to believe they were living out a history of social practices or deliberate action?

Let's try the reverse. What if the possibly space-dogs swarmed down the gangplank, jumped over and around one another, swirled around a bit, and went back up the gangplank? If we're trying to see them as persons, what is deliberate about that? What social practice could that be?

And at this point, we can look at "Planet of the Apes", the 1968 original. Taylor, the human protagonist, is merely shocked to see apes behaving like humans. But he takes them as persons very quickly and treats them as such very seriously. Why? He had only a few seconds to judge, he did judge, and the right way.

They, on the other hand, had never seen an instance of homo sap who was also a person, so they mistook him for what they'd seen before. Scriptwriter Rod Serling cleverly gave them reason to do so by cutting off Taylor's language ability via a throat injury, then let him plan to steal a notebook and write, showing he was a person. And not merely a very clever human imitating apes ("human see, human do"), but a creature who has significance to his actions. What was he doing by writing that? Proving he was a person.

So, is significance the thing we should be looking for in non-human behavior when looking for person-ish-ness? What are the dolphins doing by doing...what? How long is that ladder of significance? What is the extent of the social practices they do have? How much do social practices vary among groups of the same species?

From: Joe Jeffrey
Date: November 13, 2013 12:46:59 PM MST

As Serling (and innumerable other people, including Pete) have recognized and somtimes said, language is crucial.  It's crucial in a very specific way and for a very specific reason: once you move to non-human embodiments, the question of what you can recognize gets very hairy very fast. Consider CJ's possible-space-dogs.  The very question has to be re-stated: What kinds of physical performances would give us reason to believe they were the performances of behaviors, rather than merely physical processes?  And then, stipulating that we see, for example, processes that appear to be instances of acting on concepts not reducible to physical things (so that we're confident we're observing at least something more than mere physical processes), how could we determine that the maybe-behaviors comprise larger patterns -- social practices?  Well, if we see them repeat.  But that gets harder and harder to observe, the higher you go in the maybe-significance-ladder.  I conjecture it gets exponentially harder each move up the possible-ladder.  And the initial move, deciding it's not just physical movement, gets harder and harder the farther you get from non-human embodiment.  It's not accidental that everybody in their right mind notices how person-like chimps, orangs, gorillas are, and it's almost that extreme with dogs. (I refuse to discuss the case of cats).  And all that difficulty is because, as Pete once put it, "They can't tell us."

So I think caution is called for, on both sides.  Calling whales slaves is brilliant rhetoric, but it's rhetoric, and not to be taken literally.  Ya gotta be careful with that kind of thing (which is one of the important things Descriptive can bring to the table: the necessity for precision).  If you're not, pretty soon you get extremists like PETA passing laws saying you can't call a dog a pet, only a companion animal, or killing human lab scientists to free the "enslaved" persons in the cages.  On the other hand, seeing the complex sets of movements of whales, elephants, dolphins, etc., it's pretty damn hard to NOT say, "Geez, those sure look like behaviors."  With all that implies: significance, community, and personhood.

Perhaps a practical maxim is in order: When you're dealing with a non-paradigm case, be careful.

From: Wynn Schwartz
Date: November 13, 2013 1:01:23 PM MST

Actually, I am concerned that we should err on the side of false positives rather than risk being wrong. Since there is considerable reason to see some Cetacea as language users, that potential is reason enough to be very careful regarding their use as chattel. The value of a Paradigm Case Formulation of persons is that it shows where agreement and disagreement occur. My concern is how to deal with ambiguity in the empirical findings. I think the ethical stance is to worry less about whether they aren't persons and more about whether they are. If they are, then we are enslaving them since slavery is a concept, like murder, that we apply to persons.

For many years the Australian government got away with not granting person status to some of its aboriginal people. Not exactly the same thing but they denied them that status initially on embodiment grounds.

From: Tony Putman
Date: November 13, 2013 1:59:30 PM MST

There are two questions (at least) here:

Are whales (et. al) persons?

Should we grant rights to whales?

The first one is essentially an aesthetic question: do whales, as we know them, fit the paradigm case of person well enough to call them persons? The other is an ethical question: granted the current state of our knowledge about the person status of whales, should we grant them person rights? The answer to the first question lies somewhere between "Of course they fit!" and "Obviously they don't." Almost anyone today who is not merely debating the point will agree that it's a close call, even though some legitimately say "Yes" and others, "No."

So the ethical question becomes: In cases where the facts lead to both conclusions, but to neither conclusively, what is the ethically right thing to do? For this we can take guidance from well-established ethical standards, like "First, do no harm" to see that what we lose by granting rights that, as it turns out, were not warranted is greatly outweighed by what we lose by denying them when they turn out to have been warranted after all.

In short, the aesthetic question is a tough call; the ethical is not.

From: Joe Jeffrey
Date: November 13, 2013 2:23:21 PM MST

I'm not addressing what side we should err on; I'm addressing the wisdom of slogans like calling whales slaves.

I'm very much in favor of erring on the side of "they're persons."  But I'm not much in favor of firebrand slogans or extreme formulations of principles -- or extremist actions.

From: Clarke Stone
Date: November 13, 2013 2:30:12 PM MST

I agree with Joe. It tends to polarize, and then the thinking stops. Tony's treatment is reasonable and gets at everyone's values.

From: Wynn Schwartz
Date: November 13, 2013 3:49:25 PM MST

It does.

From: Wynn Schwartz
Date: November 14, 2013 8:59:32 PM MST

In 2008, the Spanish Parliament mandated that the condition of slavery was illegal in property relations between humans and the other great primates: chimps, bonobos, orangs and gorillas. This was mandated as the State position to offer to the European Union. I think they found the concept of slavery precise rather than inflammatory. This last year the Indian government made the same point in regard the Cetacea.

I don't think we should be entertained by slaves of any sort or species. I also think the language of slavery is both polemical and politically precise.

From: Clarke Stone
Date: November 15, 2013 5:58:38 AM MST

But not persuasive. I can't get people to bite down on the conversation if I'm bandying about a word like "slavery" when humans are starving, dying from lack of clean water, being sold into sex slavery, and so forth. It's an invitation to a dismissal.

From: Wynn Schwartz
Date: November 15, 2013 7:25:21 AM MST

And that's why it has a place in a political/legislative dialog specially targeted to jolt awareness (and that is also why it can go wrong). Many voices are always needed to find the language that fits and persuades in a political process.

From: Greg Colvin
Date: November 15, 2013 8:16:30 AM MST

I'd say the best things we could do for the other species on the planet is not drive them to extinction, but it's too late for that.

As for "slavery" being inflammatory, I think it makes a difference that Europe abolished slavery three centuries before we did, and is not still suffering the wounds of a civil war about it.  Even the claim that our civil war had to do with slavery can start an argument here.

And I think this is a difficult topic.  Is my assistance dog a slave?  I bought her, own her, and am responsible for her behavior.  Is she a person?  I think so.  Do I have the right to keep her?  At this point I feel obliged.  We keep many animals for companionship, work, and food.  Which of them are persons?  And when they are, do we have the right to keep them, let alone eat them?

I think the issue is usually not whether we have a right to keep animals, but whether we treat them humanely.  Which was the issue for slaves for thousands of years.  The US not only held slaves for hundreds of years after Europe, but refused to recognize slaves as persons, or even treat them humanely.

So what about whales, dolphins, elephants, horses, dogs, cats...?  What about apes, bears, wolves, coyotes, lions...?  What about oaks, pines, and roses?  With persons as the paradigm case, they are all describable as persons, but some more than others. (Animal Farm?)

So is the issue with Cetacea that they are persons?  Or that we are not able to keep them humanely?

Anyway, these are lovely videos about dogs and elephants who are best friends:

From: Tony Putman
Date: November 15, 2013 10:24:11 AM MST

Nice, Greg.

From: Clarke Stone
Date: November 15, 2013 12:59:51 PM MST

It's taken me a little while to figure out what bothers me about invoking slavery on the Cetacean issue, but here it is: it's a degradation. You are saying to other people, "This is an ethical matter that everyone should see the same way ("slavery is bad"), so if you don't, there's something wrong with you--you're unethical." Degradation elicits self-affirmation, so you can't get agreement ("You're right, I'm morally defective"), only statements like "Now hold on. I'm <a good person>, not <a bad person>"; and "Who are you to tell me X about Y?" questioning your status to make any such judgment, period, let alone about any particular individual.

In common terms, it's a personal attack.

This move flips the argument from the ethical perspective to the aesthetic perspective (as described by Tony), that is, into a realm where there is no resolution.

Degradation and "permanent argument"--can't see the advantages, esp. given that the Cetaceans have a clock ticking against them.

Can someone suggest an approach that accredits, clarifies, and unifies? or implements Tony's analysis?

From: Greg Colvin
Date: November 15, 2013 1:29:07 PM MST

Of course, it depends.  What flies in Spanish politics doesn't fly in America.  What offends one friend or family member doesn't bother another.  And so on.  But Descriptive tools can at least do justice to the complexity of the question.

So more complexities: for some species, and more to come, zoos and other captive situations are the only hope of survival.  Is it then ethical to keep them?  And is it then ethical to play games with them?  And is it ethical to have others pay to watch the games, so as to fund their upkeep?  And are these games the animal is being coerced to play?  And if they are coerced, is that unethical?  After all, in our culture we commonly make our children do things they don't want to.  And force adults to work on pain of hunger, exposure, and death.  We used to force children to work, too.

My personal experience is that as a boy I got to swim with a captive porpoise named Mitzi, who played Flipper on TV.  She surfaced alongside me and let me hold her fin as she pulled me.  For me it was magical.  For her?  I don't know whether she considered herself a degraded slave, or an honored ambassador.

From: Wynn Schwartz
Date: November 15, 2013 2:07:03 PM MST

Yes, you don't know and she couldn't tell you. People are always only as free as the boundaries of their cells but in the case of Mitzi she was forced into one of ours. When Kunta Kente ended up in South Carolina, did he eventually find friendship? Maybe. That coercion and degradation limit the available options is the political/power theme that interests me. There are, of course, other considerations.

And whatever is limiting the survival of the Great Apes and some of the Cetacea, it is mostly on us and not them.

From: Greg Colvin
Date: November 15, 2013 3:43:42 PM MST

Yes, even without abusing species in captivity we are driving them to extinction.

I did some Googling on Mitzi.  She starred in the 1963 and 1964 movies, but not the TV series.  I found a picture of a woman swimming with her in the same place I did.  You can imagine the impact on a ten year old.  It would probably be better for her had she never been captured, but indeed I couldn't ask her.

I'd say for many animals that we have learned enough from our captives to know that they probably should not be captives.  There are alternatives:

From: Greg Colvin
Date: November 15, 2013 3:50:15 PM MST

-- Bob Marley

An afternote:

(Hyperlinks connect some of the relevant terms to specific resources. Other resources can be found on the Descriptive Psychology Facebook site.)

Some of the discussion above involved the Descriptive Psychology community's use of a method, Paradigm Case Formulation, and a specific conceptualization of "Persons".

A Person is a Cognizant individual whose actions are, paradigmatically, Deliberate Actions, i.e., actions in which a person knows what he is doing and chooses to do it. Patterns of deliberate action follow from the actor's hedonic, prudent, aesthetic and ethical reasons for doing one thing or another. Verbal Behavior, as an expression of linguistic competence, is a form of Deliberate Action paradigmatic of Persons. 

Further, Deliberate Actions are also Social Practices selected and attempted by what a person finds Significant. Patterns of social practices with their results create intelligible "Through-Lines" that are elements in the "Dramaturgical Pattern" of a Person's life.  

One use of a Paradigm Case Formulation is to facilitate clarity about agreement and disagreement regarding whether something counts as a proper example of a case in question. Another is to identify cases where some but not all aspects apply and to treat and respect those cases accordingly. A competent judge could argue that even without all of the elements of the paradigm case present, it is still appropriate to treat an entity as a Person. Different judges might have different criteria for what is sufficient but a paradigm case formulation should allow them to know where they agree or disagree. 

A troubling and significant ethical question remains:  After the line on personhood is drawn, what considerations apply to the treatment of animals that do not fall into the person category? Since all sentient animals have an interest in the avoidance of suffering, when is it ethical to inflict harm on any animal? 

Person status defines a domain where social and legal rights reside, hence a proper abhorrence with slavery.  Judges in good faith may differ as to what animals are included as persons, but it is a moral and ethical mistake to limit concerns with the quality of life to whether that animal is also a person.  

Postscript June 3, 2016

Harambe RIP

The major problem is that the Cincinnati Zoo is legally permitted to treat such extraordinarily cognitively complex and gentle animals as slaves […] and that Harambe, like every other nonhuman animal, was a legal 'thing' that lacked the capacity for any legal rights, even the fundamental rights to his life and liberty.
Steven Wise

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More on People Make Sense. A note on money and motivation.

Further thoughts on "People Make Sense: Foundations for a Human Science"

The most irrational claim about people is that they are generally irrational. This includes their ways with money. 

Many of the current claims of general irrationality found in the literature of the behavioral sciences and economics stem from an inadequate and limited concept of motivation. Limiting what we call rational to "self interest" or "financial gain" ignores the multiplicity of reasons people have for sensibly doing what people do. This is no different from saying everything is fundamentally done to maximize pleasure, avoid pain, or deny death. Any adequate model of human behavior needs to respect that people can intrinsically act for hedonic, prudent, ethical and aesthetic reasons (and perhaps others as well)

Most of what we do makes sense even if it doesn't fit some theorist's Procrustean bed. 

I know that some people are difficult but that is beside the point. I also am not endorsing the false distinction between rational behavior and emotional behavior.

My late Aunt Anita was notoriously tight with money and highly
critical about the way others managed their finances. I suffered more than a few lectures from her. Nonetheless, she would lose tens of thousands each year playing the slots at one of the reservations near her home in Minneapolis. Anita knew the odds and did not kid herself that she would win back her losses. Knowing her well, I am sure her gambling was neither compulsive nor an "addiction".

Clearly Anita wasn't in it for the money. Nor, do I suspect, are most of the people who play the lottery.

In a recent paper in The Journal of Behavioral Finance"The Irrationality Illusion: A New Paradigm for Economics and Behavioral Finance", my friends and fellow Descriptive Psychologists Joe Jeffrey and Tony Putman provide the following framework of seven economic principles. The principles make explicit what we implicitly know about each other. They are profoundly pragmatic. These principles make sense even if forgotten or ignored in some "scientific" accounts of behavior.  

1. Choice is choice of behavior.
2. By “behavior,” we mean intentional action.
3. The paradigm case of human behavior is deliberate action.
4. Behavior choices are made in light of the individual’s reasons to engage in one behavior or another. 
5. People choose what matters to them.
6. Every behavior is an instance of engaging in a social practice of a community.
7. For any person, a particular state of affairs may be real, actually possible, or merely possible.

So why did Anita continue with her losing ways?

In her final months, dying of lung cancer, vocally concerned about her legacy, she still continued a weekly hour drive to the casino. 

She told me why and I believe her.

"I can sit in the smoke and pull the handle and watch the lights flash. I have my little cocktail. It's exciting if I win, the people around me cheer." She was feeling happy and having fun.

She was gambling away my inheritance, but she was having fun. Finally, for her, having fun was reason enough. There is nothing irrational about that. If you knew her, you would know it was in character.  It made sense. 

Descriptive Psychology resources and discussion can be found on The Boston Study Group's Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Examples of Through-Lines

Here's how they look.  The through-line concept refers to a person's history of varied performances that have a common and recurring Significance.  Any Personal Characteristic can be an aspect of a through-line description. Through-lines are patterns observed by oneself or others identifying what is in-character for the actor in question. 

Some examples of Through-Lines


When there is opportunity and while doing other things as well:

She heedlessly and perhaps unconsciously goes through life attempting to score competitive victories with women who resemble her mother and does so with an eye toward currying favor with unobtainable men. 

While fearfully avoiding degradation, he manages his affairs in such a way as to offend no one while never stepping outside of what he thinks are his competencies. 

He consciously and unconsciously strives to put people in a helpless position in a manner that keeps him, in his view, on the moral high ground. 

Terrified of being alone and doubting her worth to others, she seeks satisfaction by tolerating the abusive needs of others or in actions that undo and distract her from being aware of her loneliness.

Requiring a sense of specialness, he looks for opportunities to demonstrate his worth by achievement in competitive arenas while making sure not to out-step the values and achievements of those he considers the conventional esteemed judges. 

Notice the multiplicity of similar and dissimilar performances that can be the enactment, performance or implementation of the Significance described in any of the examples above. 


The opportunity that exists in the ongoing circumstances might not be reason enough for behavior of a particular Significance to be enacted. A person's other significant hedonic, prudent, aesthetic and ethical perspectives might prevail. 

Some through-lines can coexist with other through-lines. And some implementations may satisfy a variety of through-lines. 

A through-line is a significance driven description that can be built with any and all of the relevant features needed to make a pattern understandable regarding what a person is repeatedly up to in the course of their life. 

Some through-lines can end in satisfaction, some can be out grown or are no longer relevant, some can be repeated compulsively without satisfaction, while others can be repeated because the satisfactions remain valued. 

They may look, in some cases, to the psychoanalytic observer as a function of a fixation or a repetition compulsion. 

A through-line that has significant unconscious aspects is prone to unsatisfying repetition since the actor is not in a good position to critically modify behavior or reorder priorities.  This is the heart of the repetition compulsion if it involves fundamental and ongoing desire. Sex, trauma and dependency may work this way when the desire for connection, restoration or support remains without a self-aware potential for practicing alternative serviceable implementations. Instead, the person, not learning from the mistakes repeats a tragic pattern

Through-lines organize a description in a manner that highlights a status dynamic.

If this also sounds like an example of what Roy Schafer called action language, then I’ve gotten it right.  

While posting this I was troubled by the generally negative, restrictive and pathological tone of the examples. To the extent that pathology involves a restriction in behavior potential, it can be easier to identify patterns. Pathological restrictions in behavior potential limit performance in a manner that produces routines and stereotyped behaviors and this allows diagnostic categories to work. Pathology is simpler than health. The through-lines of the healthy are organized in a manner that involves varied and flexible satisfactions with less insistent repetition. A happy and healthy life is less predicable than one restricted by fixation and compulsion. 

I am not saying that there aren't healthy through-lines, there are, but I'm just too busy watching Game One of the World Series to care at the moment. 

Go Sox! Boston Strong! At the moment Boston 3, St. Louis 0. 

But how's this:

Aware of the rights and plights of others, mindful of her failing, careful not to overly compromise herself, she deliberately seeks novelty, pleasure, and beauty ironically embracing that what's good for the goose might not be good for the gander.

Addendum on 1/23/14
Joe Jeffrey offers this insight as another way of positioning the concept of through-lines within Descriptive Psychology. I think it is a clear advance in clarity.

"The core idea of the dramaturgical model is on p. 290 of Ossorio's Behavior of Persons: “[the] behavior pattern is a sequence of Versions of multiply overlapping social practices.  The larger scale structure will not be a social practice. It will…have the ad hoc character of a drama or a scenario in a life history. Ultimately, it is a life history.”  So, we’re talking about 1) a person, 2) a person’s life history, and 3) multiply overlapping social practices comprising a behavior pattern.  What Ossorio has done here is articulate and say something about the fact that, in the paradigm case, a person’s life is not just an assortment of actions; the actions are pieces of a pattern of overlapping practices. (Remember that an action is a practice; engaging in an action is the same thing as engaging in a practice.)

Unfortunately, Ossorio didn’t say much about those overlapping patterns, except to note that they are there. Nothing about how they overlap, kinds of overlap, how they relate to other patterns such as traits, attitudes, the enactment of a self-concept, etc. etc. Looking at the examples of through-lines you've given, it looks to me like “through-line” is a name for those overlapping patterns of action in a person’s life. A through-line is not some special kind of pattern; it’s the general case of a pattern of overlapping social practices in a person's life.  One kind of through-line (a simple one) would be a trait. Another kind might be someone with a continuing need to affirm himself as tough man who can handle whatever comes up and does so by joining the NRA, buying large handguns, and going to the firing range weekly. Both his self-concept, the need for continuing self-affirmation of that concept, and the way he affirms are all part of the pattern – the through-line. Somebody else with the same need might do it by beating up his wife whenever he gets dissed by his boss, and that would be a different through-line, one which shared an element (the self-concept) with the other one, but differing in important ways. The example of the baseball player who throws high and inside far too often and is cruel to his kids and wife is of the same sort: his behavior obviously constitutes a trait (cruelty), but that description leaves out a lot, like what he’s doing by being cruel to child and a hardass to opposing players, presumably yet another self-concept issue.  So the pattern – the through-line – is the trait and the self-concept. Both are constituents of that pattern. "

Joe then went on to say:

"There's a point to being able to highlight, to foreground, the basic fact of there being behavior patterns in a person’s life, and that some patterns are not simply one of the things we’re familiar with, such as traits, self-concept issues, and so forth.  There’s a point to being able to ask, “OK, what’s the through-line here?” That point is to direct people toward patterns of action, extending over time, regardless of what kind of pattern or what makes up that pattern. And of course the next step, having identified the through-line, is to ask, “OK, so what else can we say about this pattern?”  What we in Descriptive often do is the familiar, “Drop the details and look at the pattern.” And that’s fine.  But sometimes there’s important, valuable insight to be gained from the “pieces” of the pattern – the fact that, say, the guy is both continuously needing to self-affirm and that he does so in a cruel way (rather than, say, by bragging, or faking credentials, etc.)."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Through-lines: What Makes Something Descriptive Psychology?

A talk given at the 35th Annual Meeting of The Society for Descriptive Psychology.

A person is defined essentially as a life history. The number of ways that one life history as such can be the same as another or different from it is astronomically large and therefore not directly manageable. Peter Ossorio

There are more ways than one to skin a catSeba Smith 

A through-line description is, paradigmatically, the description of a non-contiguous sequence of a person's courses of action as having a shared significance.  For me, that's sufficient formulation.  Greg Colvin 

Through-lines serve as a manageable unit for identifying significant and recurring themes in a life history. A through-line is a stable feature of personality. 

I am proposing that the through-line concept has a useful place within the Dramaturgical Model of Descriptive Psychology. This claim has created controversy and goes to the heart of the question of what makes something authentically Descriptive Psychology.

Concepts, Practices and Subject Matters

What gives a subject matter its integrity? How do people recognize that they are working in a common intellectual endeavor? The answer can be intellectually and politically problematic since it will involve accreditations and degradations.   Since every idea is someone's idea, it comes down to who's in and who's out.

Since I am a practitioner of both psychoanalysis and  Descriptive Psychology, it is these disciplines that I'll address. The answer to my question requires an insider's perspective.  

What holds psychoanalysis together as a coherent intellectual domain? What allows someone working within Descriptive Psychology to recognize that someone else is also? 

The philosopher Stephen Toulmin suggested that to understand what actually counts in a science, look at what the various communities of scientists do rather than focus on their theories. 

What people do is a matter of the conceptual distinctions they have available to guide their actions. Concepts define the actions of the community that uses them. 

This implies that a subject matter is defined primarily by the policies that indicate when and what concepts are employed. An intellectual community's policies and practices point to what is significant and essential to their subject matter. 

Concepts can be appropriate or inappropriate, accepted or rejected, competently or incompetently employed or ignored. Members of a community will have varied reasons, personal or objective, for the concepts they favor and find legitimate.  

One way or another, the question of authenticity involves the concepts and practices employed by the good standing members of the community.

The introduction of through-lines to the community of Descriptive Psychologists involved all these issues.

Since offering this concept, the objections have varied from misunderstandings that pointed to a necessity for greater clarity, to “it’s already covered by existing Descriptive concepts" (It is.  I will turn to this recognition later) to, “call it what you like, just don’t call it Descriptive Psychology.”  

I have been cautioned to keep in mind the problems that attend borrowing a concept that has an established place in other subject matters since through-lines already has a home in sociology and dramaturgy.  All this requires response.

I will not address whether the concept of through-lines is useful except to say it is being actively employed by some of my students and colleagues in making sense of what is in-character and out-of-character behavior. It seems to offer better access than other available concepts.

But the question that concerns me most is what constitutes authentic Descriptive Psychology. The Society for Descriptive Psychology is inexperienced with wrestling with this since there have been no basic concepts accepted that Peter Ossorio did not pen or endorse.  We have had refinements to the basic conceptual network and further applications but nothing really new.

Forgive me in advance, I am going to make a distinction between Peteists and Descriptive Psychology similar to the distinction between Freudians and psychoanalysis. 

The subject matter and communities that practice psychoanalysis are informative. Both Descriptive Psychology and Psychoanalysis were created largely out of the efforts of a single charismatic genius. Freud and Ossorio are similar in other ways as well. Both, for a time, celebrated and complained about isolation. 

Freud and his early circle of followers defined and policed psychoanalysis from 1900 until the late 1930’s.  A body of practices and theories developed during this period that came to rigidly define what Freudians called psychoanalysis. Carl Jung and Alfred Adler’s extensive contributions were included and then excluded when the concepts and language they used and the empirical patterns they privileged were deemed non-psychoanalytic. Eventually, they went their own way.  Similarly, from the 1930’s until the 1970’s, the work of Harry Stack Sullivan and Karen Horney, whose practices and writing clearly resembles Freudian psychoanalytic thought, were also rejected or ignored by the international psychoanalytic establishment.

After Freud’s death the politics of psychoanalysis changed regarding the inclusion and exclusion of people and ideas. Traditionally trained analysts such as Ronald Fairnbain and Donald Winnicott subverted and expanded the subject matter with their “Object Relations” theories.  They used the standard language but employed different meanings for their re-worked concepts.  They dared point where Freudian theory was wrong or incomplete. But as valued insiders they stayed within the organized psychoanalytic community that found their reformulations clinically useful. 

Jung, Adler, Sullivan and Horney created their own Societies and training institutes separate from the organizations that originated with the Freudians, the International Psychoanalytical Association. 

But by the late 1980’s the classical Freudian institutes faced major challenges.  They began to see their memberships decline with a corresponding reduction of their status in the broader intellectual and therapeutic communities. It became harder for their students to find suitable control cases for supervised classical analysis. Under the pressures of a reduced standing in an increasingly medicalized psychiatry, and in fear of restricted trade litigation, the institutes in the United States expanded membership by opening their doors to psychologists and later social workers.

Fortunately by this point, psychoanalysis had undergone a radical self-examination and a reformulation of its essential subject matter. Psychoanalysts had listened to their critics and found many of the critiques on target and consistent with their own evolving world-view. Psychoanalysis dropped its untenable reductionistic metaphysics, attended to its sexism and homophobia, and began to pay heed to the empirical realities.  It got better. It might even survive.

The object-relations people no longer pretended to be talking about libido. Self Psychology and a clinical theory of intentional action and narrative moved to center stage.  The Interpersonal and Cultural schools of Sullivan and Horney were embraced. John Bowlby and the empirically informed Attachment Theorists were quoted, debated and incorporated. Adler was taken almost as seriously as Freud had always taken him.  A conceptually integrated and inclusive Relational Psychoanalysis emerged.

Jung and the mystics remained mostly on the outside. Although Freud and Jung practiced similar clinical methods, the foundations of their subject matters were different. To the Freudians, Jung remained a field mystic with his synchronicity and Time 1–Time 1 shared actions. Freudians are mostly comfortable with Time 1-Time 2 causality of pushes from the unconscious and the past effecting the intentional pull of a person's conscious goals.  Freud and Jung believed they lived in very different worlds, one mechanical and organic, the other spiritual and atemporal.

Nonetheless, the current psychoanalytic community became far more inclusive than the early Freudians allowed. Even with greater inclusion, psychoanalysis maintained an integrity that allows various analysts to recognize each other as kin.  The common ground has less to do with a commitment to theory and more to do with shared central concepts, beliefs and therapeutic policies. Here’s some of why:

Psychoanalysis as a community began to take seriously the question of what makes something psychoanalytic in contrast to what makes someone a strict Freudian.

                     What Makes Something Psychoanalytic?

From 1900 to now, psychoanalytic theory underwent enough transformation that Freud's language is barely recognizable in contemporary writings. Still, something has remained constant in the fundamental style of engagement between analyst and analysand that would allow the first analysts to recognize their  kinship, their clear family resemblance, with the actions of current psychoanalytic therapists. This common ground does not hold for some other therapeutic methods: Analysts have always attempted to engage in a non-coercive therapeutic relationship by  encouraging "free association" in the service of confronting repression.

Since I have written about this elsewhere (Schwartz, 1988), I will only briefly summarize. Freud’s cornerstone of psychoanalysis was the phenomena he called “repression”. Repression variously understood as motivated non-cognizance, avoidance and self-deception is held as a basis of pathology.  Pathology, in the broadest sense, concerns restrictions in a person's ability to effectively and knowingly choose.  

Liberation from repression require analyst and analysand to maintain or develop “an analytic attitude” as they explore what is interfering with the analysand’s competence to love and work.   The focus on attempting “free association” is coupled with the empirically supported belief that the history of a person's body and relationships are what makes them understandable, with early family life setting a course hard to undo. Confronting pathology requires repeated exercises in toleration and awareness. The point of awareness is the possibility of making better choices. This requires knowing what the choices are, given whom one is.

The work requires an open ended engagement for as long as it takes.

The therapeutic goal of psychoanalysis remains a self-aware maturation through the voluntary examination of “transference” and “resistance”.  The goal has always been to increase a person’s potential to engage in Deliberate Action.

The rest are the details. 

My life as an analyst is lived though the varied implementations of the intrinsic social practice of facilitating free-association.  In any way I can, I implement this through empathic and non-coercive attempts at a non-judgmental interpretation of what another person is doing while they are trying to be utterly honest in my presence.  This defines a through-line descriptive of my work life. It also defines the unbroken history of psychoanalysis and my kinship to other analysts. 

What makes something psychoanalytic is not an adherence to Freud but a respect for a particular vision of liberation from unserviceable self-coercive constraint. Freud set the course and identified the project. His words remain informative but only as one voice in the chorus. 

So What Makes Something Descriptive Psychology?

So what makes something Descriptive Psychology?  What are the fundamental commitments of Descriptive Psychologists? Is it devotion to the words of its creator or to the enterprise itself?  Are we Ossorians or are we Descriptive Psychologists?

For the time being we have no choice but to be both since the basic conceptualizations come from one source.

Ossorio created a vast, interrelated and differentiated system that allows for precise descriptions and formulations of the Person Concept. The system’s extent and complexity provide a serviceable map of the interdependent concepts of Individual Person, Behavior, Language, and World. The goal of the project is to make explicit the pre-empirical conceptual foundation required for systematic and complete access to all the facts about persons, their verbal and nonverbal behavior, and their worlds. 

Descriptive Psychology contains a collection of tools for mapping the full set of actual and possible objects, processes, events and the  states of affairs related to behavior. The goal is not a theory to explain or predict a specific pattern but to map where all possible patterns can be located pre-empirically. We still have to go out and see what actually happens, but Descriptive Psychology provides the tools to look carefully without preconceived blinders that limit what we can find. If the existing tools prove inadequate they are replaced or supplemented by more serviceable concepts and formulations. Some mapping tools are better at getting at the relevant terrain than others. 

Descriptive Psychologists are fond of slogans and maxims. We remember Wittgenstein’s policy that "the work of the philosopher consists of assembling reminders for a particular purpose", to "show the fly the way out of the fly bottle". Our job is to see our way clearly without foreclosing on what we might find if we care to look. 

Descriptive Psychologists develop tools that are precise and permissive with the goal that they exactly include what we are after without excluding what we may also need to consider. (Hence, the Paradigm Case Formulations and Parametric Analyses described below).

The Descriptive Psychological slogans and maxims provide a behavioral logic, an ever-expanding collection of reminders and guides, for sound description and explication.

Descriptive Psychology has other associated commitments. Since the tools are concepts rather than theories the criteria for success are competence and effective action. The project is essentially pragmatic, not metaphysical or ontological.

Given the absence of theory or metaphysics, there is not a commitment to forms of explanation that are exclusively causal or deterministic.  Descriptive Psychology relies on rules and unless clauses rather than laws.

Descriptive Psychology also has methods for systematically getting at everything in a fashion that allows critics to precisely determine where they agree and where they disagree.  As a system, Descriptive Psychology is essentially top-down and non-reductionistic; it establishes a format for all possible compositions and decompositions.  Generally we like to start with complex, indubitable and primary examples before we get too engaged with their parts and variations. We employ Paradigm Case Formulations and Parametric Analysis for this purpose and to establish common ground with different observers and critics. We like to know if we are on the same page with others and employ methods specific for accomplishing this.

Descriptive Psychology is the intellectual discipline devoted to making coherent and explicit the implicit structure of all other intellectual disciplines. I believe the existing body of Descriptive Psychology has gone a considerable distance toward accomplishing this goal. I think it is mature enough that refinement and expansion can proceed on a shared understanding of what it is about. 

Some areas are more extensively mapped than others. I think some important conceptual relationships remain under-articulated or are yet to be explored. With new problems and recognitions will come new tools that maintain a coherent connection to what has already been elaborated as The Person Concept.

For example:

The first 20 or so years of Descriptive Psychology, “Persons” were defined as Individuals whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action.  By 1999 the definition was further elaborated to “a person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical Pattern.”

At the 2000 meeting of The Society for Descriptive Psychology, Ossorio said: 

“The  Dramaturgical pattern is based on the model of a social practice. It’s an episode. And that’s what human life consists of,  this kind of episode. The discussion of self-concept depended on that, that you live your life not just engaged in this Deliberate Action followed by another one followed by another one. What you’re living is meaningful patterns of Deliberate Actions. And the closest approximation we have is a social practice. So that’s what I mean by a dramaturgical pattern. You have to have that kind of history, not just a history of Deliberate Action.”

This later addition to the canon of Descriptive Psychology has its origins in other arenas. When Ossorio was introducing his use of dramaturgical he was clear that he didn’t need to reinvent the wheel nor did he need to take on all of the baggage that attends dramaturgical in other contexts. And drama , he pointed out, is a conceptual option, more inclusive than “narrative” but, at times, less intuitively on point than “game”.

You buy your ticket and you take your chances.

Does Descriptive Psychology really need the concept of “through-lines”?  My assertion is that the “through-line” concept offers a more effective and exact way to get at important patterns in the lives of persons than our other conceptual tools. “Through-lines” connects to all the rest of Descriptive Psychology through the concepts of “social practice”, “significance”, “performance” and “achievement”. It is a specific assemblage of concepts that has not, until now, been adequately articulated. Without this concept, we can make sense of what it gets at, but only awkwardly and ineffectively. "Through-lines" captures a set of distinctions central to how we know each other. It intuitively makes sense.

It's a better mousetrap.

It provides a strategic form of description for Descriptive Psychology's Dramaturgical Model. 

Occupying the intermediate zone between social practices and ways of life, “through-lines” distinguish a fundamental aspect of the conservative and stable structure of personality.  As a concept, it is non-theoretical, pre-empirical, non-deterministic, connects to all other Descriptive concepts, respects the slogans, doesn’t violate any maxims, can be subjected to a parametric analysis and doesn’t exclude other behavioral facts or possibilities.

It sounds pretty much like Descriptive Psychology to me. (Say with dramatic flourish, bow, dim lights, fade to stage left).

This is a draft of a paper presented at The 35th Annual Meeting of the Society for Descriptive Psychology in Golden, Colorado, October 17-20, 2013. 

Here's an explication of a "through-line" description.

To say that a Person "A"  knows one of Person "B's" Through-Lines, she would have observed that

A) "B" engaged in a series of social practices that

B) Share a common significance 

C) The specific implementation/performance of the practices

D) What the implementations achieved in "B's" world

E) What "B" knows regarding what the implementations achieved

F) How "B" appraised the consequences of the achievement

G) How "B" did or did not correct his course of action based on his appraisal of the consequences.

And produce

H) A significance description that encompasses A) through G) and names this particular through-line. (Reduce the details until a workable encompassing significance description is offered)

From Anthony Putman on 2/02/2016

From a note written to the Descriptive Psychology Community:

"Dropping the details (and a nod to Greg Colvin):  "Through-line" is a complex form of behavior description, which one might treat as a Personal Characteristic Description. It is a pattern consisting of a sequence of courses of action, by a particular person, that have shared significance. 
Everything else is detail.

"Through-line" is a Descriptive Psychology formulation, offered by a fully-accredited member of the DP community using the DP conceptual framework. 

Like any community without a "living source", we change our concepts and practices via consensus, that is, enough members including elders think it's right, and everyone else can at least live with it. Anyone who can't live with "through-lines" as a DP concept really should consider their ethical obligation to speak up and say why.

It is Observer/Critic, not Actor concept. Through-lines explicitly are not causes of behavior, nor could they be. In that regard I would remind you of Ossorio on the Actor's world: "As an Actor I see the real world as a field of action, as the domain within which I live my life. In it are givens and possibilities, opportunities and non-opportunities, hindrances and facilitations for behavior. In it are reasons for acting one way or another. I am sensitized to behaviors that are available and ways of being that are available. There is no question of who or what I am – I am me. There is no question of my inclinations and proclivities; I do not need to know what they are, although I often do – what is primary is that I have them, and my having them is not something different from being me. In particular, they are not peculiar entities or forces that cause me to do what I do.""

In a 1980 seminar, Peter Ossorio talked about personal identity. 
His remarks are consistent with the through-line concept and can be heard here: 

Or read here: Pete: This guy doesn't know his own mind. The kind of cases where we start talking about identity problems fall in this general area. They have to do with the kind of things choices, things like personal relationships. things like tastes in avocations or interests. You might say those things that have a high degree of personal significance. And when somebody says, I'm going to do X or I like X, you expect that not to change from day to day, from week to week, or even month to month. In effect, the kind of thing where when somebody says that, he's making a long-term commitment. And carrying off the long-term commitment is based on that kind of consistency and stability over time. I used to ask the question, Why can't a three year old make you a promise? The answer is exactly this kind of thing. With a three-year-old, you don't expect that kind of consistency. So when a TYO says I promise I will do something or just says I will do something, it doesn't carry the same implication that, in fact, he's going to do it; and there's something wrong if he doesn't. A TYO is not only not consistent enough but he doesn't know enough about himself, so that even if he were consistent, he would know it. So there are several grounds on which young children cannot make the kind of commitments, the failure of which we call identity issues or identity problems. 
You can classify these kinds of issues. That's why you get things like masculine identity, career identity, personal identity. You can subdivide into types of identity. ?!What about the problem of identifying with...the whole issue of identification? It's a relatively different kind of problem. ?!In what way? That has to do with positive characteristics. You acquire positive characteristics by identifying. So far, what we've been talking about is inconsistency. So even though we classically use "identify", which has the same etymological root, the background phenomenon is a different one, even though there are certain connections. ?!It's interesting...this approach, the expectation is the intrinsic social practice, whereas a lot of the literature, you know, how the Goffman sort of tradition on identity management puts the emphasis on—
Pete: self presentation
?: —just the presentation for the purpose that you have to be predictable. So that's a distinction between the typical literature and this one.
?: Have you ever read Keith's paper on this? Keith in his article Identity, Alienation and Ways of Life, his first subhead is What holds a society together? This social norm thing you are talking about—if the society is held together by more than fear, then the positive basis must consist in some appreciation by the individual of his own place in it and if what everyone else is getting out of society's practices and institution. In a sense, that the arrangement benefits those taking part in it. So it's the intrinsic practice...<omitting CZ'z reading of KED's article> He's talking here about changing identity.
?: Isn't there a qualitatively between a sense of identity and what we were talking about?
Pete: Sense of identity is one of those subjective notions. When I say identity, I mean identity. There's nothing called identity out there. It's objective language, but it's not referential. It doesn't refer to a thing called your identity.
?: Would you say a little bit more about central vs. masculine identity, career identity? It sounds like something like masculine identity gets into role, it has responsibilities and duties and rights assigned to it. That gets into this thing. Something that's more central Erickson's kind of thing, they talk about identity diffusion. Then there's for example time confusion. There's identity integration, there's time orientation. That seems to be a more basic kind of thing than masculine identity, and knowing what to do with that in that role.
Pete: Tee, give Carl a five-minute lecture on status and role.
?: and relate it to identity, please.
Pete: in relation 6, he's talking about masculine role. There isn't any. There's masculine status. There isn't a specification of behaviors, which is what's required for roles.
?: I was going back to your saying in the culture, once you are past a certain age, if you say you're going to do a certain thing, people expect you to follow through in a certain way. That sounds like responsibilities, duties, and obligations.
Pete: No, it's not that they expect you to follow through in a certain way, it's that they expect you to follow through. It's up to their own competence to recognize whether what you've done qualifies as following through. That's why I say there's no role. There's no way...If I say I'm going to be an important man some day, and later on, you see me trying to get myself elected senator, you can't say, well back then when he said I'm going to be an important man some day, this is what he was promising us. But you can sure as hell recognize I'm on the same track and I am in fact delivering what I promised.
I think...let's switch to some positive. Think of why someone with multiple personalities would qualify as somebody with identity problems. 
?: A lot of the schizophrenics I saw at some point in therapy when they were getting better, they came to a point where they said Well, I think what I have is an identity crisis. I certainly validated that because it's a lot easier to work on that than to say you're crazy and let's work on that. But there's like a good grain of truth in that.
Pete: in what?
?: In their saying I have an identity crisis. It was really a lot of people that said that.
Pete: let's stick with the question of why would somebody with multiple personalities would have an identity problem.
CZ: Well, if you're Pete today and Dan tomorrow, you can't follow through very well.
Pete: Yeah. The only time we say that somebody has multiple identities is when there's enough difference between how you're operating when you're one of these and how you're operating when you're another; when that difference is comparable to the difference between one person and another. And that means there is the kind of discontinuities I was talking about. 
Now, what's added with this notion of multiple personalities is that you have the whole you might say flow of lives segregated into subunits, each of which has the very kind of continuity within that that you expect in a normal person. So, on the days when I'm Pete, from the last time I was Pete and today, you can detect the same kind of continuity that a normal person will show over that much time. And on successive times when I am Dan, you can detect the same kind of continuity, too.
But that brings us back to the original notion of consistency and what kind of consistencies are involved. In consistency there are all kinds of possibilities and different people will choose different possibilities; and the same person will continue to choose the same sorts of possibilities over time. If you introduce a taxonomy or some way of describing or characterizing which of the possibilities a person chooses, there you get the positive notion of identity. That amounts to <skip> itself. What kind of person is he? That’s the one that connects to identification. Identification is used to account for why you are the kind of person you are. Why you have the personal characteristics you do.
?: going back to earlier, when Jane asked the question about adolescents, what if you say something you will know turns somebody off...there is the move of saying "you don't really expect me to be consistent"
Pete: At a minimum, I would say, You don't expect me to be consistent that way, do you? You don't want to deny consistency, you want to reject some particular consistency. 
?: usually they are preoccupied enough with that whole being consistent themselves.
Pete: even so, #1, you don't want to reject explicitly that you are going to be consistent. What you do is identify whatever it is you want to reject and say you don't expect me to be consistent that way.
?: Inconsistency jars. If you are watching, an inconsistency will catch you. You can be inconsistent, but you must be inconsistently inconsistent. Much like Steve Martin. For him to launch into a serious talk in the middle of one of his monologues, everyone would be taken aback.
?: You're talking about what we call out of character.
?: Not even out of character. The inconsistency jars. Think about Jim Neighbors, his speaking voice vs. his singing voice. A remarkable difference. It's the same thing with people. They're behaving along, and everything is going right with the world, no matter how strange it is, and for them to do something that is inconsistent, you have to go back and reconstruct the character in which that is possible, particularly if it happens often enough. Or: he always does that when he's drunk. That explains it. Or: something like that. Or: he's that way unless he gets angry, then the whole thing changes. Which brings me to: what's the difference between talking about multiple personalities and multiple identities? Because when you were talking about it, you shifted over to multiple personalities. Is that the same as a person with multiple identities? Except we don't use that term.
Pete: No, but I think you could. Whenever you have somebody who has MP, you could straightforwardly say they have MI, and here's what they are. And that's because of the regularities within the personalities. And if there weren't that regularity, then you'd talk about diffusion, fragmentation, and so forth.
Something just occurred to me. The issue is: what kind of unit a person is. It occurred to me that one reason identity is such a magic term is that most people think of persons as organisms. They think of the person right now as the state of the organism right now, so things that have to do with unity over time have a kind of magical quality. The basic set of ideas has no way to encompass a unity over time. It has to appear like some very special and peculiar phenomena. In contrast, think of the definition of a person as an individual whose history is one of intentional action. The idea that the basic concept of a person is a life  history. So if there is such a thing as a single person, then that corresponds to a history that has certain distinguishable characteristics as a history. That  means over time there must be something consistent, or you couldn't distinguish it as A history.
?: So, in that sense, identity would be a kind of unifying element, or you as an observer would look at the totality and say that's his identity.
Pete: No. You'd say "that's him". You don't need a magic term like identity to do the job of pulling these various cross-sections together because your basic unit is a longitudinal unit. A longitudinal unit doesn't need anything to hold the cross-sections together.
?: What was the distinction you were making between the identity and self, then?
Pete: I said that in the cases of multiple personalities, you could say that a person had multiple identities.
?: I think it was the same thing you just said to Dan. You don't need to just say it's him. 
Pete: yeah
?: Was that the same as just saying it's himself. You made some distinction between talking about identity and talking about self.
Pete: yeah. Identity becomes redundant in most of its traditional uses in Descriptive because you have a different kind of unit for people, namely, one which is longitudinal. And since you have a long. unit, all you need is the notion of some thing of that sort. What you don't need is a concept that connects the pieces through time. 
?: Identity would be a term you use when you went over people, or trying to explain the same sort of thing...
Pete: Yeah, distinguishing one person from another. Part of the etymology of identity is to identify. Identify contrasts with describe. You identify a person if you are able to specify which person this one is. It is no descriptions implied whatever. For example, your name normally in practical circumstances does that it distinguishes which person is involved. It has nothing to do with description. Simply which. On the other hand, there needs to be something talked about that way. The closest thing there is to that something is a life history. If you can think of it as a something, then it can't be just scattered, just fragmentary, the parts of it can't be just plain unconnected. Our usual way of talking about the connectedness of the parts is to talk about consistency over time. It's not sameness over time, identical sameness. It's simply that there is something there. If you look at a table, when you see it, you don't see it as a surface, not even  a three-dimensional surface. You see it as a solid something with parts of it you don't see yet, and the whole thing hangs together. What would that table look like if the edges were discontinuous?  You know, like the stick in the water. What would things look like if there were those kinds of discontinuities in their texture, shapes, etc. If there was a 1 foot gap in the middle of this table. Or on this side it's gray and on this side, it's bright orange. 
?: I'm trying to think now about Erickson and what he was talking about, if not identity. He was talking about the points of expected discontinuity in a person's life history. In terms of "the issues at various points in time" that Ericksen wrote about.

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