Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Here's why I've been absent:

The volume starts with an orientation to Descriptive Psychology and then turns to the fundamental concepts of “Individual Persons”, “Intentional Action”, “Language and Verbal Behavior”, “Community and Culture”, and “Reality and Real Worlds”. It ends with an examination of empathy as the practice that makes people humane, and an Afterword on satisfaction and the construction of a person's world.  The first sixty pages are available as a sample from Google Books

From the Preface:

Inauspiciously, I started graduate school skeptical about my field of study –– clinical and experimental psychology.  As an undergraduate, I was impressed by the reasonably designed experiments described in my psychology classes, but the personality theories taught read like warring theologies. And what made it worse, the more scientific they sounded, the less I recognized anyone I knew. Where was the person in the theory? Not alone, I remember one of my professors saying, "with so much horseshit around, there must be a pony in there somewhere". 

Other than refinements in experimentation and the acknowledgment of failures to replicate classic studies, not much has changed, except, too often, rebranding practices with the prefix 'neuro'. Clinicians, if they bother with theory at all, still align as partisans of faith. Even today when my students interview for training sites they’re asked if their orientation is psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, or humanistic.  To quell their anxiety, I suggest they answer they’ve a psychodynamic and social-learning appreciation of relationships, and a set of cognitive-behavioral tools, they empathically apply.  Some hear this and relax, intuitively feeling it expresses what they actually try to do. I’d like to offer their intuition explicit coherence.

What gives a subject matter coherence and integrity? Once a subject matter is identified –– in our case, the behavior of persons –– what must it account for, and what manners of observing, formulating, theorizing, explaining, etc., are compatible with the subject or violate its integrity? And, crucially, are there concepts so fundamental to the subject that they must be maintained?  Here’s a first reminder: As a psychologist and a behavioral scientist, all of my professional work is the work only a person can do. This, of course, holds for all of us. 

As a psychologist who practices psychotherapy, my interests center on the behavior and characteristics of people, especially how we come to be the way we are and how we can change. This requires having the concept of a person in the first place. Fortunately, we already do, but it’s mostly implicit. This book is about making it systematic and explicit. Being systematic and explicit provides clarity; and facilitates negotiation about where we agree, disagree, or don’t have a clue. 

My introduction to the Person Concept came early fall 1972 when I read somewhere NASA had asked, "If green gas on the moon speaks to an astronaut, how do we know if it's a person?"  God knows why it came up, but north of Nederland, high in the Rockies warm around a campfire, a classmate said one of our professors had an answer.

I entered doctoral study having read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Stephen Pepper's World Hypotheses.  Kuhn taught that when a scientific community encounters a sufficient number of anomalies that do not fit the established paradigm, it is eventually replaced by a new paradigm. From Pepper, I learned the troubling idea that most contemporary personality theories stem from incompatible 'root metaphors' grounded in ancient metaphysical assumptions that the world is a machine, or an organism, and so on.  Working my way through Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, its end notes especially resonated, ".... For in psychology, there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion." From these texts I gathered that psychologists have significant knowledge and useful practices, but their theories aren't built on a coherent conceptual base.  Fundamental concepts in one theory can mean something quite different in others. Nor, for that matter, do their theories start with a similar appreciation of what is real. One theory's thorny anomaly is another's starting point; an unquestioned given for one is treated as unreal by another.

It still seems that concepts of accountability, choice, reason, and intention –– ideas at the cornerstone of civilization and my practice of psychotherapy –– when taught along with a ‘scientific’ requirement for reductionism and determinism, reside in contradictory intellectual universes. When I read physics, chemistry, and biology, the foundational concepts in one text resemble their use in the others, and when they don’t, that problem is recognized as requiring a shared lexicon; and, if the data requires, an improved paradigm. Psychology is different. Psychology lacks a common lexicon and a comprehensive foundation. And psychology is different in other ways as well. 

Psychology is special.  It has, at least for me, a more interesting problem than sorting out the meat and potatoes of the natural sciences. Psychology must have a place within its domain for the creation and practice of science itself. The physicist, chemist, and geologist do not have to account for their personal interests as part of their subject matter, but the psychologist must. Inescapably, every scientific theory and experiment is someone's theory and experiment. Behavioral science has to account for scientific behavior –– the sort of behavior only persons can do. Fundamentally, behavioral science has to provide an explicit and comprehensive account for the behavior of persons as persons –– and not as if we are something else. 

So, I entered graduate school ambivalent about the discipline, expecting contradictory and barely relevant theory, but with faith I would learn reasonable methods for establishing facts. Sticking close to the empirical seemed a smart way to go.  But being no fan of theology, what was I supposed to do with all those theories? No surprise, I ended up in my chairman's office worried I'd made a bad choice.  Not smiling, he responded, "I suspect you might like Pete's stuff,” and with that I went off to meet the guy pondering the green gas problem. This book is mostly about what I learned from him and the people that formed a community around his work.

Peter Garcia Ossorio introduced me to the job of making explicit and systematic the knowledge and competence of living as a person in a world of people.  He called this discipline Descriptive Psychology. By 1972 he was well into working on the Person Concept, the central concern of Descriptive Psychology.  He told me to start with what I already know about people; to start with what is required to live as a person in the community of others. The work of Descriptive Psychology, he said, was to carefully and explicitly formulate concepts and rules that can systematically interconnect everything we know about people without leaving anything out. He also reminded me, "things that aren't intellectually satisfying tend to be unsatisfactory in other ways as well".  Sharing this aesthetic, I began.  

What I will present here is not the usual fare for the practice of behavioral science. Descriptive Psychology is not psychology in the conventional sense of a comprehensive personality theory. It is not a theory, but instead a pre-empirical conceptualization, a formulation of the essential attributes of persons and behavior that any adequate theory must encompass.  The function of Descriptive Psychology's Person Concept is to provide an explicit, extensive, and systematic analysis and connection of all the 'moving parts' of what we implicitly mean by persons and behavior.  To accomplish this requires a shared lexicon and set of rules, clearly articulated and suitable for coordinating all possible facts regarding people and behavior.  As such, one use of this project is a framework for comparing theories and judging their scope and adequacy. The goal is a map with a place for what is already known with room for what is yet to be found. 

Why not call this a theory? Unlike a theory, a conceptualization of a subject matter attempts to establish its full possible range by identifying what it is about rather than the empirical or historically particular form it takes. The focus is the range of possibility. Finding out what really happens, on the other hand, is the empirical task. But before attempting systematic observation, it is usually wise to have some idea what you are looking for. Descriptive Psychology's mission is this sort of pre-empirical formulation. The job of theory is post-empirical to explain why out of the possibilities only certain patterns occur. Good theory can then be vindicated by predicting new observations that are found and fit.  We then face the dilemma of how to fit our theories together.  Under current conditions, attempting integration can be a fool's errand. 

The continued absence of a shared framework for investigation and practice has resulted in the fragmented state of current psychology and the neurosciences. As an aesthetic judgment, some find this more disturbing than others. Descriptive Psychology was invented in response to those who share this discomfort.  To the extent the Person Concept is well-formed, its explicit conceptualization should sharpen observation and refine our ability to share and integrate what is found.  I believe it has for me. 

What follows is a work in progress.  The essential nature of Descriptive Psychology requires room for significant distinctions yet to be recognized. Nonetheless, what is already built is nuanced, systematic, and entirely interconnected. The Person Concept has complex interdependent component concepts: Individual Persons, Behavior as Intentional Action, Language and Verbal Behavior, Community and Culture, and World and Reality. Tying these together are the transition rules of The State of Affairs System for unpacking and connecting everything. 

Some words of caution. The foundational concepts are interdependent –– resembling aspects of a map –– so grasping them will be easier after they have all been filled in. The reward for effort will require patience.  I have a promise for the practitioner. Descriptive Psychology is a pragmatic enterprise, its success rests on enhancing effective action.  I earn most of my keep in the practice of psychotherapy. Any adequate understanding of persons and behavior necessarily involves an appreciation of how people change.  If this is your interest, this book should hold some value for you. That's my intent. 

A few more words before we begin. I am writing in first person. This book is my understanding, shaped by my interests. As a member of the community that developed these ideas, I believe they accurately represent Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept.  Still, this is my understanding; and the idiosyncrasies, examples, and digressions reflect my values, practices, and fascinations as an academic clinical psychologist. 

                                                     Table of Contents

Chapter One. What is Descriptive Psychology and The Person Concept?
            Let’s start with people make sense.
            A few remarks on science and what a science of persons should respect.
            The Descriptive Maxims: Behavioral logic and some reminders for well-formed descriptions.   

Chapter Two. Individual Persons, Personhood, and the Problem of Definition.
            Paradigm Case Formulations. 
            Three Definitions and a Paradigm Case Formulation of Persons.
            Deliberate Actions and Intrinsic Motivation.
            What about language and verbal behavior?
            Individual Differences and Person Characteristics.
                        Abilities, Competence, and Skill
            Additional Individual Difference and Personal Characteristic Categories.
            Some Embodiment Theory.
            Through-lines and the Dramaturgical Pattern.
                        Examples of Through-Lines
                        Non-human Through-lines
            Through-Lines and Dogs. Significance in Dog Psychology.
            Some Limitations to a Dog's Through-Lines. 
                        Some implications
            What about other animals?
            The ethics of uncertainty about personhood.

Chapter Three. Behavior as Intentional Action.
            Some Quibbling about Conceptualization and Theory.
            Some Action Vocabulary. 
            Intentionality, Back Where It Belongs.
            What About Robots? 
            Observed meanings, movements, and significance, and some preliminary connections to verbal behavior. 
            We need a common Lexicon.
            At last! The Parametric Analysis.
            The Formulation of Intentional Action (IA).
            The Parametric Analysis of Intentional Action.
                        Identity (I)
                        Wants (W)
                        Some thoughts on empirically identifying or interpreting wants and motivations. 
                        Knows (K)
                        Knows How (KH)
                        Some issues that attend KH deficits.
                        Performance (P) and Achievement (A)
                        Significance (S)
            Significance, Implementation of Significance (Performance), and Some Thoughts about Psychotherapy.                                
            Some Examples and Dilemmas of Significance to the Actor and the Observer.
                        Personal Characteristics (PC)
            A Brief Summary and some Practical Questions for Structured Interviews.
            Some Notational Devices: The Intentional Action Diamond, Agency Descriptions, and Self-Regulation.
            The Actor-Observer-Critic (AOC) Model of Self-Regulation and the Dramaturgical Pattern.
            The Actor and the Drama (All the world’s a stage)                                      
                        Authenticity and the Actor
                        The Observer-Describer
                        The Critic
            Appraisals, Final-Order Appraisals (FOAs), and Altered States of Consciousness  
                        Hypnosis as a Test Case.
            Back to the AOC Feedback Loop.

Chapter Four. The Judgment Diagram, Some Categories of Cognizance, and the Unconscious.
            A Distressing Example and Some Grouping of Reasons.
            The Judgment Diagram Modified for Problems in Social and Self-Regulation.
            A Theory-Neutral ‘Psychodynamic’ Judgment Diagram.
                        Implications and Stray Thoughts.
            The case of Tommy.
            About Ambivalence and Conflict.
            Some Content and Behavioral Logic of the Three Domains 
            Domain One: The world of easy awareness.
            Back to the Three Domain JD and Features of Domains Two and Three.
            Domain Two and Three are ‘Triggered’. 
                        Empirically speaking, what do people tend to avoid and disown?
            Domain Two: Reluctance, bad faith and self-deception.
            Domain Three: Impossible and intolerable circumstances.
            The Logical Structure of Defensive Distortion
                         The Unthinkability Model
            Transference and Resistance can be features of both the Unthinkability and the Insistence Model.
            An example and some clinical implications.
                        Demystifying Projective Identification
            On the Interpretation of Unconscious Action and Self-Deception.

Chapter Five. Relationships, The Relationship Formula, and Emotional Competence
            What are relationships?
            The Relationship Formula.
            The Relationship Change Formula
            Emotional Behavior
            Shared and Observable Relations are Required for Naming Emotions. (Sensations Won't Do).                              
            Fear in Action.
            What about love? 
            Steps Toward a Theory of Emotional Competence.
            How is Emotional Competence Facilitated? 
            Anxiety, Depression and Overwhelming Sensation.

Chapter Six.Verbal Behavior, Language, and Linguistic Self-Regulation.
            Ossorio’s Formulation. 
            Verbal Behavior is our Defining Social Practice and How I Earn My Keep.
            What is the function of language and the status of the speaker?
            Formal Aspects of the Place of Language and Verbal Behavior in the Person Concept.
            The Descriptive Account of Verbal Behavior is Pre-Empirical.
            Forms of Life, Social Practices, and some more Wittgenstein.

Chapter Seven. Community and Culture
            Community and Culture.
            A Fifth Major Piece of the Person Concept.
            The Concepts of Community and Culture.
                        Social Practices.
                        Choice Principles.
            Culture as a Special Sort of Community.
                        Institutional Social Practices.
            Choice Principles, Policies, and Values.
            Some Behavioral Logic and Some Dilemmas: More Maxims.
            Degradation, Accreditation, and Rites of Passage: Gains and Loss of Standing.
            Some Effects of Degradation.
            The Degraded Have Reason to React Against the Community.
            The Ceremony Can Be Accepted as the Natural Order of Things (Or as Already Happened). 
            Indoctrination and Degradation.
            General Considerations for Undoing Degradation.
            Accreditation Ceremonies, Psychotherapy, and Values.

Chapter Eight. Reality and the Worlds
            Persons and the Elements of the World.
            What are the Elements of the World? Objects, Processes, Events, and States of Affairs. 
            State of Affairs System Transition Rules. 
            World Construction: The World Found is the One Created.
            A Person's Place in the World Provides Behavior Potential.
            Consciousness, Final Order Appraisals (FOAs), and World Maintenance.
            Consciousness, Imagination, and The Opportunity of the Dream World.
            Worlds Change: Reconstruction of Worlds and Cultures.
                        Loss, mourning, and reconstruction.
                        Cultural and world transformation and reconstruction.
                        Trauma, Resilience and World Reconstruction.
            Monday April 15th, 2013, Marathon Day.
                        Restoration is participation.

Chapter Nine. Empathy in Practice: A Demonstration of Some Person Concepts
            What do people mean by empathy?
            Theory of Mind.
            Mirror Neurons.
            How is empathy described in the work of major psychotherapy theorists?
            A very brief history of the concept of empathy.
            An example from psychotherapy.
                        Tommy Revisited.
            Empathy and Empathic Action.
            Empathy, Paradigm Case Formulation (PCF), Paradigmatic Social Practices Formulation (PSPF), and Parametric Analysis (PA).
            A PSPF of Empathic Action.
                        An Example and a PA.
            A Practical Checklist of Empathy Reminders.
            The IA Parameters and Some Reminders for Psychotherapy.
                        Wants and Values.
                        Knowledge and Knowing.
                        Know-How and Toleration.
                        Significance, Through-lines, and the Development of Character.
                        Personal Characteristics.

Afterword and Summary: Satisfaction and the Construction of Worlds or, At the End of the Day, How Does It Feel?

Appendix One: Ossorio's Status Dynamic Maxims, Behavioral Logic, and Reminders for Proper Description. 

Appendix Two. A Glossary of Descriptive Psychology Concepts Compiled by Clarke Stone.
















  1. This is an interesting approach - will that be available in University databases, not sure if Elsevier has contracts with JStor, etc.?

    I'd like to, if not do a cover to cover reading, browse the contents.