Front Page Titles (by Subject) Psychology, Self, and Society - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Psychology, Self, and Society - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Psychology, Self, and Society
“Psychological Research and its Significance for Modern Man.” Universitas (English edition):21(No. 3, 1979).
In the past fifty years psychology has succeeded in developing objective methods for studying human behavior. These research techniques have led to general statements on the probability of particular human responses under specified conditions. According to Prof. Mitscherlich, however, these advances have been achieved at the cost of a considerable impoverishment of outlook. Academic psychology's elimination of such crucial human factors as individual subjectivity and self-reflection has reduced this science to a kind of “human engineering.” Instead of cultivating and deepening human awareness, it relies to a large extent upon lack of awareness for its success in the “prediction and control” of behavior.
Pre-experimental psychologists, by contrast, viewed their function in almost Socratic terms. They sought to provide individuals with reliable help in the task of self-understanding. They assumed that each person was unique in his responses to the physical and social environment which he encountered. Because he was a decision-making being, the individual was not governed by species-specific behavioral patterns.
The hypothesis that man's psyche can be studied like any other natural object gave rise to laboratory techniques which effectively eliminated any examination of the inner, decision-making man. Experimental psychology's focus upon exterior behavior turned it into a “psychology without a soul,” cut off from actual life-situations and thus meriting the ridicule it has received.
Sigmund Freud, while admitting the necessity of isolating natural laws of behavior, recognized the folly of eliminating so crucial a human dimension. He, therefore, tailored his method to the object of his research. Depth psychology relied on a more cumbersome, long-term observation of emotional processes within the dynamics of a true two-person relationship. A perceptive and trained observer derived general statements concerning human behavior based on the unfolding of this dynamic process.
In Prof. Mitscherlich's view, the results of such human-oriented study have been both fruitful and far-reaching. Developmental and social psychologists as well as researchers in other fields of applied psychology have long accepted notions of the unconscious process and the role it plays in generating conflict and decision. These psychologists have also made extensive use of the theory of defense mechanisms which serve to attenuate a conflict in impulses.
Nevertheless, the split between depth psychology and experimental psychology remains. According to Mitscherlich, academic psychology consciously or unconsciously encourages regressive social processes by its manipulation (in conditioning) of low-level motivation, such as the need for social approval. By relying upon immature emotional functions to exercise scientific control and by excluding critical self-perception, modern experimental psychology actually works against the assertion of individuality and augments already heavy social pressure at the level of “archaic psychic responses.”
Looking toward the future, Mitscherlich finds hope in the possibility that psychoanalysis may extend its curative influence beyond the level of the two-person relationship to the level of society as a whole. The insights of psychoanalysis into the sublimation of human instinct, emotional deformation, rational hypertrophy, and the formative pressure of social conditions might well help alleviate many pathogenic social conflicts and encourage the development of higher ego functions on a mass scale.