Category Archives: Human Science

Personality and Social Behaviour


Melancholia (detail).  H. ter Brugghen (1588-1629).

 1.  Personality assumptions

2.  Description and personality

3.  Mental function and typology

4.  Experience and pattern typology

5.  Comparison of trait and type descriptions

6.  Personality structure

7.  Argyle, personality, and social behaviour

8.  Scientific personology

9. Summary

The social psychologist of interpersonal behaviour Michael Argyle has pointed out that, where social interaction is concerned, different people need to be treated differently. He has also demonstrated that interactors in a given situation try to categorise each other. These categories are generally considerations of age, sex, social class, occupation, and personality traits.

1.  Personality assumptions

In the study of personality, or personology, there are two basic assumptions which need to be challenged. The first assumption, current with some psychologists, is that an individual’s actions have sufficient consistency so illustrating the behaviour to be a characteristic, a function of a stimulus situation. Then, secondly, there is another assumption that holds the view that the idiosyncratic ways in which individuals behave can be compared and contrasted along dimensions and continua that allow measurement. The issue revolves around the problem of whether personality is due to specific habits or a general disposition.

J. B. Watson’s thought behaviour was a reaction to a stimulus response situation, hence the theory of behaviourism. The behaviourist view is that personality is a composite of specific habits which are built upon an individual’s previous interactions with his environment, Hans Eysenck expressed the view that “…no broad general traits of personality, no general and consistent forms of conduct…” exist, but personality is “…only independent and specific S-R response bonds or habits.” This was his view in 1953.

In 1928 Carl Jung took the view that a personality was a general disposition and tendency towards either introversion or extroversion, and that this colours all activities. A compromise position was adopted by Hartshorne and May in 1928 and 1929. The problem of personality thus becomes a problem of unique or common characteristics, and is seen as a contrast between two approaches. These two approaches are the idiographic which concentrates upon the individual person, and the statistically biased nomothetic approach which concerns itself with differences between individuals.

The idiopathic orientation stems largely from the studies of clinical abnormality. The work of Allport in 1939, and Hall and Lindzey in 1957. The basic view here is that “…in reality no two individuals possess exactly the same trait…” though there “may be similarities in trait structure…” there are “…always unique features…” in the “…operation of the trait.” Hence all traits are individual traits, are unique, and applicable only to the single individual.

In contrast, the nomothetic approach involves the study of many individuals. Ant trait can be taken as the main point of reference, this being known as the average trait position. Guilford, in 1959, regarded the idiographic as the personal, and the nomothetic as the impersonal. He described the two approaches as “…generalisations that apply to classes of phenomena not as descriptions of particular events.”

2.  Description and personality

Descriptions of personality are couched in terms of traits or types. Traits are inscribed as consistent, are characteristic, are the modus operandi, the style of behaviour of a person. The extent to which this pattern of responses occurs independently of any particular immediate stimulus configuration defines the existence of a trait. Carr and Kingsbury in 1938 drew the conclusion that traits are abstractions, and have no structural relation in an individual , and proceeded to identify trait elements, source traits, and dimensions of personality.

Personality typology involves the characteristic techniques of picking out a salient feature, and this labels the total personality. Type notions fall into three categories or typologies of: mental function; physical characteristics; and experience patterns. Physical typologies are based upon constitutional factors. The original notion was that of Hippocrates, Galen and others, who defined personality as a preponderance of body humours. The classification into four types is quite well known, being the sanguine, choleric, melancholic and the phlegmatic. A neurophysiological development of this typology is that of Pavlov, who used it to elaborate four basic types of higher nervous activity.

Another correlation between physical type and personality was postulated by Kretschmer in 1925, A further constitutional typology was put forward by Sheldon in 1942. He delineated three physical types based on his concept of the primitive mesodermal, endodermal and ectodermal embryonic layers. Hence the terminology of endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs. The bulky ectomorphs (the equivalent of Kretschmer’s pyknics) were typed as viscerotonic personalities. The mesomorphs (Kretschmer’s tall, thin asthenics or leptosomatics) were termed cerebrotonics. The theory then postulates that people’s social relations were thus determined by physique.

Viscerotonics were supposed to love comfort, enjoy sociability, are affectionate, and possess a general body relaxation, Somatotonics are active. energetic, assertive, concerned with the here and now and meet problems with action. Cerebrotonics however, are characterised by an excessive restraint, inhibited, and tend to withdraw from social contact.

3.  Mental function and typology

This typology has psychological foundations, its focus is upon the direction of interest, and attention exhibited by the individual – supposedly outwards or inwards. Typologies of this type were elaborated by Stern, James, and Rorschach. The best known is the introversion-extroversion theory of Jung. His was postulated in 1928 and developed by Fordham in 1953.  Essentially, Jung’s concept states that introvert personalities are based upon subjective determinants, with an important inner world, inner thoughts, internalised actions, with a philosophical approach.

The extroverts objective determinants cause an outward directed consciousness, with feeling predominating over thought, action rather than fantasy, with scientific rather than philosophical outlook. Later work concerning this was done by Eysenck and Carrigan in 1960. These personality theories, like the physical variants, have extrapolated to psychopathology. This claim tries to plot a path from normal introversion to the abnormal reactive depression, anxiety and psychasthenia. The extrovert personality supposedly underlies the pathology of the hysteric or the manic.

4.  Experience and pattern typology

Implicit in these theories is the idea that the personality is tight, unchanging, and dependent upon a vulgar innate determinism. This view bases its concepts on a model of the mind which possesses permanence, and stability, over time. The main theory that postulates these views is the anthropomorphic and mystification of Freud – psychoanalysis. Freud’s view was that one had to consider the influence of childhood events in personality analysis, and that normal personality development required the successful negotiation of developmental phases.

These phases are related to the disposition of erotogenic zones. Psychoanalytic typology rests upon the idea of so-called fixation in stages of development. Personalities depend in many ways, it  is assumed, upon residual elements of fixation manifest in adult life. Three analytic types are described – the oral, the anal, and the phallic – between birth and the mature, genital level of development.

5.  Comparison of trait and type description  

The enduring feature of trait personality assessments is the individual, whereas the constant features of types is the group. The main distinction between the two approaches is generality. Typologies are wider, more inclusive than the artificial trait categories. Hence there developed the cardinal trait approach of Eysenck. In 1953 the concept put forward claimed that trait and type were complimentary – that a trait was thus distinguished by position held in a hierarchical scheme of personality organisation.

In Eysenck’s view a trait is a group of correlated behavioural acts or action patterns. It has to be remembered that Eysenck, along with Burt, was a Black Paper ‘pundit’ much devoted to the biological determination of human mental attributes, personality as well as intelligence. Argyle, when speaking of the so-called biological core of a personality claims there is consistent evidence to support this innate hypothesis, quoting Eysenck’s view of 1968.

6.  Personality structure

Structural models have been suggested by Eysenck and Cattell. Based upon empirical data and factor analysis. These two psychologists are the principal exponents of the quantitative and objective approach to personality analysis. Cattell postulates the trait analysis and Eysenck is a contemporary typologist. In respect to his metrical work on the topic of intelligence Eysenck has been criticised by Daniels and Houghton in 1972 when they wrote that statistical results are a functional aspect of the particular mathematical methodology employed.

Perhaps the same criticism could be levelled at metrical analysis of personality trait and type views. The questions raised concern the validity of mechanistic models and analyses, especially when such views are based upon individual innateness undefined.

Cattell thinks traits are synonymous with mental structures and his search was for the source traits which comprise the fundamental structures of the total personality. Cattell developed a complex hierarchical model of inter-relationships between source traits, surface traits, and primary group factors. Insisting that factor analysis is the only methodology of value. Eysenck developed his own multilevel hierarchical model of personality, with the emphasis on the isolation of general factors. His research in 1947, using factor analysis, led him to his bipolar conclusions. This model demonstrated in his view the evidence of extroversion, introversion for one set of dimensions, and neuroticism and stability for his other set.

The view is a mixture of Jung’s and Sheldon’s typology. In 1952 Eysenck isolated another polar dimension, that of psychoticism. The psychotic dimension is orthogonal to the neurotic. These dimensions are the highest levels of the hierarchy. Below the type level there is the trait level. Below traits occur the response levels. The specific level is described as “…acts such as responses to an experimental trait or experience.”

7.  Argyle, personality and social behaviour

Michael Argyle thinks that individuals differ in their regard of the importance of traits and that this affects the way in which they treat others.  He points out that some people raise questions about anthers religion, some question intelligence. He develops his view further  to say that all categorisations have their basis in verbal and non-verbal communication or cues, and that the non-verbal concept is of particular importance. Physical cues, after Allport 1961, are skin colour, hair colour, hair length, forehead size, height, eye wrinkles, lip thickness, nose and chin size. These features are then taken as category membership, from which inferences are made. Individuals are thus concentrating on certain categories and dimensions, assuming from this that another individual possesses all the stereotyped qualities associated with the particular category he is a member of.

Argyle and Little in 1971 stated that an individual has only a limited number of social performances, each of which is used in a range of social situations and relationships. He then postulates that personality be regarded as the sum of all these social performances. For Argyle then, personality consists of the relation between behaviour of different peoples in different situations. His interest was whether people behave similarly in successive experimental situations, and which group of situations produce some ordering of subjects. In his personality studies he believed the origins to be inheritance and social learning. Some research was conducted by Argyle when he considered personality in regards individual and group leadership. His conclusions were that leadership depends upon different personality qualities, varying with the type of group or group task plus membership of a group.

8.  Scientific personology

There does exist a consistent materialist analysis of the personality and the social interaction of people. This theory is based upon evolutionary development and neurophysiology. In regards to zoo-psychology and primatology we have to be aware that there as many individuals as there are animals. Likewise in anthropopsychology we have to be aware that there are as many individuals as there are persons. Furthermore – the more pronounced and higher the personality level, there occurs more often individual distinctions in persons desires, thoughts, attitudes.

In terms of a hierarchy of elements, somatopsychics, thymopsychics, vegetopsychics, and sophropsychics, these are the result of the evolutionary development, and the functional manifestations of the brain as a whole. The highest level is the egospyche, and its associated egopsychics. Demonstrated at this level are manifestations of consciousness, an orientation of the individual to both self and the environment, a personality evaluation of man’s meaning and purpose, and the development of categories concerning work, morality, and duty.

In regards to personality, the essential dynamic base is shaken and changes characteristics under the impact of various factors. The concept thus develops that the essence of personality embraces tendencies, attitudes, endurance and reactivity. Evolutionary analysis of the central nervous system demonstrates that integrative activity is a most specific peculiarity of the brain and in fact contributes to its perfection. This is confirmed by synaptology and hodological considerations. Hodology meaning the concept of dynamic connections between cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain.

Integration is a synthetic activity, of structural, morphological and dynamic systems of the organism. This is provided by the central nervous system. In humans, this synthesis of an individuals possibilities depends therefore upon the co-ordination of the mental apparatus on a personality level. The idea of a ‘Totus Homo’ or integrate man indicates the biophysical ontogeny of man. Personality research is only correct if insight exists into the integrated psycho-social nature of man.

The personality activity of man should be based on principles of duty. social spirit, conscience, heroic ideas, and this implies that every function at personality level, every personality category is invariably positive, whole and creative. Man therefore is endowed with a personality plus a complex subjective world. Human wisdom in its decisions, actions, and behaviour is governed by the personality with its notions of conscience, duty, work and love – not by the individuals intellectual resources.

Personology demonstrates that man’s meaning, purpose and significance is not the pursuit of an outer form to the detriment of content, nor ignoring individuality, nor superficial philosophising – but the attainment of economical logical thinking. Coupled with this the aim is the gaining of insight into the inner world of phemomena, and respect for the individual self governed by principles of duty, work, trust and morals.

9.  Summary

The view cannot be held of a one way process of the reaction of personality and environment. The personality of an individual does not passively influence his reactions to his social milieu – there exists a dynamic relationship between the individual and his environment. The environment also determines the personality in its characteristic changing role. A personality reacts upon, and is reacted upon, by its social life. Innate theories cannot explain change, cannot comprehend development of attitudes in a constantly changing environment.

An example of this process, whereby the central nervous system is exemplified exists in the realm of persanopathology – namely the phenomenon of psychopathy or personality disorder.  Great importance must be attached to psychopathy having its roots in both faulty nervous organisation and faulty environment. Kretschmer’s views are invalidated because he did not see, or understand, the process of the transition from quantity to quality. This is exemplified by his theories of physique to illness – his biologisation of a number of states which were conditioned by social factors renders him and Sheldon as unscientific. The same trap is shared by Eysenck and Argyle.

In conclusion – the genetic basis of personality is in the main untenable – alcohol changes personalities. Are we to assume central nervous system involvement or a situation of intoxicated genes? Are we to conclude nervous alteration with pre-frontal leucotomy or are we to conclude that genes have been cut in half?

Essay contribution to Human Sciences course paper Social, Developmental, and Personality Psychology, University of Oxford, 1973.


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On Aggression – a humanist perspective


Lucrezia.  Artemesia Gentilleshi.

There are limits to what is meant by the term aggression when applied to conflicts between small groups or individuals. Aggression in animals is limited to behaviour and the mechanisms underlying it. Behaviour is thus properly labelled aggressive when it is behaviour directed towards causing harm to another individual of the species. Attack is often associated with elements of self-protective and withdrawal responses. Many threat postures consist therefore of a mosaic of elements of attack and withdrawal. For convenience the term agonistic behaviour is often used to denote those threat, fleeing, and submissive elements that are associated with attack behaviour.

Aggressive behaviour is not pointless because it often results in settling disputes about status, precedence and access. Therefore, it is necessary in order to avoid confusion, to limit the term aggression to behaviour directed towards violence to others. Violence can be inflicted in various and diverse ways, not only by direct trauma – being influenced by a variety of causal factors. A further distinction to note is that aggressive behaviour is sometimes directed towards producing status or access. Obviously we can still conclude that variations in circumstances will lead to variations in behaviour.

It is agreed by some authors that since aggression arose through natural selection then it must be valuable to the species. Wynne-Edwards in particular puts forward arguments that involve the postulate that territorial aggression evolved as a part of a population control mechanism. This was aimed at keeping density below that level at which food supplies would become insufficient. The conclusion drawn from this was that animals who lost in a contest withdrew due to altruistic motives and perished in the interest of the species.

Criticism of this view includes the concept that the point is couched in human value judgements. Hinde, in criticising such a view of altruistic territorial acts, put the view that to conclude that nature would select both winners and losers was a rather slip-shod hypothesis. This was on the grounds that evolutionary forces in the past had not promoted the behaviour of both territorial winners and losers for the good of the species as a whole. Even if maintenance of population density within limits is a consequence of territorial behaviour, is an adaptation for that purpose, it is a dubious hypothesis.

Alternatively, even though losers may be doomed to perish they will stand a better chance of another opportunity if they withdrew. Withdrawal from a hopeless fight is tactful while there is a chance of gaining another territory. Thus this view postulates that natural selection operates on individuals to promote balance between aggression and a tendency to retreat. Inherently more plausible than the mechanisms of group selection propounded by Wynne-Edwards. With regard to human evolution the group selection theory cannot be applied because it neglects man’s cultural evolution which has placed him in circumstances quite different from those in which selection operated.

Other theories suggest that aggression is a benefit to a species because it ensures fitter individuals who have a priority access to food. This theory equates fitter with more aggressive. This implies not only that ‘fitter’ more aggressive individuals are those which society wishes to perpetuate but also does not equate ‘fit’ with  those able to adapt. Another postulate puts the concept forward that a hierarchical structure ensures peace and order within a community, it often being said that aggression forms part of normal pleasurable human activities. It is also claimed that aggressive behaviour and fleeing responses are closely linked with sexual ones. In many instances however aggressive postures actually interfere with mating rather than promote it.

Korand Lorenz argues that only those species that show inter-individual aggressiveness show what are inter-individual bonds. Further from this he asserts that some of the best aspects of social life exist only because of their antithesis. Hinde views that evolutionary correlations between aggressiveness and social bonds are of dubious nature, and points out that the logical outcome of this hypothesis are the absurdities of Anthony Storr who claims that “…it is only when intense aggressiveness exists between two individuals that love can arise.”

There is no dispute that aggressive behaviour was selected as an adaptive characteristic in a great majority of animals. Individuals who display it to a more or less reasonable degree are more likely to survive and leave offspring than individuals who do not. This however is a completely different matter from the implication that aggression in man is a valuable character in human society. It is, as Nikko Tinbergen and others stress, always foolhardy to extrapolate from animals to man in a naïve, uncritical fashion.

In an examination of the causation of aggression it is best to note that a prime generator is the proximity of other individuals. The degree of proximity and the aggression elicited may be affected by the internal state of the individual. Worthy of note is the fact that hormonal changes can underlie the changes in aggressive behaviour. Examples can be found in birds in the breeding season, as well as those comparable fluctuations in mammalian oestrus cycles. Sometimes the internal state seems to affect the aggression by determining when and how the behaviour occurs. For example, the rank in non-breeding Weaver Finches is determined or influenced by their pituitary luteinising hormone. On a more theoretical plane concepts such as pain, fear and frustration can be advanced as causes of aggression.

Sigmund Freud put forward frustration as a major cause of aggression, his frustration/aggression hypothesis was worked out in detail by Dollard and others just prior to the war. Much of Freud’s work on aggression can be found in his book ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’ which consists of a pot pouri of views akin to the doctrine of ‘original sin’, including concepts of thanatos (drive to death) and the anti-human view of man as Homo homini lupus.

It is agreed that frustration can enhance aggression in man and though real or imaginary it can take many forms. It is dubious as to whether we can account for all aggression in terms solely relating to frustration, Again, the situation is fraught with problems of definition. There are certainly circumstances in which frustration does not accompany or cause aggression. It has been noted that pain stimuli may also produce aggression. In mice shock induced aggression is decreased by castration as well as aggression being influenced by previous social experience. Fear too is a potent stimulus. The defensive fighting of a cornered animal can be regarded as due to aggression augmented by fear, or by having its escape frustrated, or even the stimulus of an unfamiliar situation.

On occasions aggression may be directed at an individual other than the one which elicited it. Experimental and other research findings have shown that aggression may be reinforced by a number of elements, either internal or external to the animal or both. Hence we can see that aggression may have diverse causes and any one episode may depend upon multiple factors – but we can formulate the next general principles as being involved in causation proximity; aspects of internal state; frustration; pain; fear. These factors can also be seen to operate in man but require a much broader analysis and interpretation. Violence as such is much less common in nature than is supposed and it is wrong to assume that aggressive behaviour always leads to violence, though it often may. A variety of mechanisms have evolved to reduce the outcome of violence and include threat and submission postures plus territorial, hierarchical, and social systems. They all reduce violence and limit combat to an exchange of signals at a distance.

Sigmund Freud, Konrad Lorenz, and Robert Ardrey, all regarded aggression as arising from forces internal to the organism and is therefore endogenous, spontaneous, and inevitable. Thus we have the arguments of vulgar determinism. We have therefore to consider first whether aggression is always imposed by the external situation or whether organisms go and seek fights. They use the term spontaneous to mean a change in the output of a system without a corresponding change in input. Even if aggression is sometimes spontaneous it does not mean it must be inevitably so.

Such emphasis on inevitability is stressed by Lorenz, Ardrey and others when they illustrate their concept by the construction of an ‘energy’ model of motivation. As Hinde has pointed out, the controls of behaviour are infinitely more complex than any scheme that involves a unitary and centralised driving force. This is because the various aspects of a type of behaviour vary, with considerable independence, from one to another. This implies therefore that the concept that the different kinds of behaviour are all controlled in the same way is not true.

Lorenz developed his ideas by focussing on certain characteristics of aggressive behaviour that were compatible with his model. He then suppose that aggressive behaviour was virtually inevitable in the way that his model would predict. Not only was such reliance upon models inherently problematical (as game theory illustrates) but there is no value in finding facts to fit a theory when it is better to fit one’s theory to the facts.

Isolation has been demonstrated as one of the best ways of enhancing aggression in various species. Isolation induced aggression is related to a gain in weight as well as stimuli deprivation and changes in endocrine activity  and changes in endocrine activity. Changes in endocrine activity would affect aggressive behaviour directly with more general affects on response and activity. This can be visualised in the view of Lorenz and others who claim that aggression is the consequence of building up aggressive energy and that this is subsequently discharged in action.

This theory is in keeping with the doctrine of catharsis. This doctrine is taken to mean an outlet of emotion afforded by drama, a purgation. This is also a popular psychiatric concept with the psychological model of the ‘coiled spring’. Again, the terms employed indicate the derivation in mechanical analysis. Recent views expressed by Berkowitz lends little support to these ideas. Although a display of anger may bring some reduction of tension.

Similar arguments are put forward about man with regard to individuals who seek fights on occasions. But some people are never involved in violence – hence we have to find out the bases for such differences. It is thus meaningless to search for the ultimate cause of aggression in either the genetic constitution of an organism or in the environment in which they develop. The characteristics of an individual result from an interaction continuously in process between the organism and its environment (as well as preceding stages of development). This is therefore part of the nature-nurture controversy of the heredity versus plasticity arguments as they are called.

These elements are readily discernible in Lewontin’s concepts of game theory application. Genes produce their effects only by virtue of the environment. Whether this is described as intra or extra organismic, the environment affects behaviour only be existing susceptibility of the organism. It may be admitted with wide agreement that consistent traits of individual differences in terms of measures of aggression can be basically genetic. From this we can safely deduce that changes in aggressive behaviour may be due to changes in sensory ability, motor activity, or locomotor activity. In some individual organisms aggression may be primarily genetic but in man the hereditary basis is probably less important that environmental stimuli.

Data obtained from experiments involving the rearing of animals in isolation shows that aggression may be affected by upbringing conditions.  The effects of rearing are complex – and aggressiveness of animals may especially be affected by social status during development. This is reinforced by the observations made by Washburn and de Vore when comparing captive and wild baboons.

Experience during fighting episodes may also have a marked effect on fighting behaviour, especially where the conflict takes place with respect to an object. Subsequent aggression may be influenced markedly by the success or non-success in obtaining that object. Also the effects of the punishment on fighting in animals is complex. The probability of animals behaving in an aggressive manner in certain circumstances may be affected by their experience in the recent and remote past. It can also be seen that the performance of aggressive behaviour may itself be reinforcing – as it develops it has an acquired reinforcing value. Experience from birth onwards therefore may affect the subsequent propensity to aggression in both animals and humankind.

Such an example, albeit a weak one, can be instanced by the increasing bravado of a successful fighter until he or it meets its match. It becomes important therefore to appreciate the ways in which an individual’s potential to aggressive behaviour is affected by developmental experiences – in man this is clearly an aspect of cultural evolution.

With regard to group aggression in man we find a situation with few parallels  in animals. This not only indicates that selection for aggression is an individual adaptation but that group aggression is the result of rearing conditions of the group members. Reared in conditions conducive to the development of aggressive propensities. Such factors involved in man are poverty, and deprivation of affection. Potentialities that are maintained in a chronic state of stress that are derived from real or imaginary repression may erupt because of immediate precipitating factors. The occasion becomes the incident which symbolises the more general frustrations or real underlying cause. Hence aggression may be a form of communication. Communication not only within the group but to those outside it.

Violence may only be an unfortunate sequel to a preceding performance of threat or bombast. War may sometimes exploit individual aggression, though Hinde tactfully points out that the causes be sought in other spheres, other levels of analysis – a recognition of the ways in which theories of aggression have become volatile elements of political or social theory. Aggression as behaviour that is directed towards violence towards others is not thus to be confused with ‘self-assertive’ behaviour.

Previously mentioned was the application of game theory to aggression. Maynard Smith has attempted to analyse the evolution of fighting in terms of game theory. Conventional fighting is found in man as well as animals and is a mistake to think that conventional fighting is confined just to so-called civilised societies. It is reasonable to suppose that the acceptance of conventional restraints depends upon the rationale that it is better to minimise risks in the event of defeat. The explanation that is commonly accepted for the ritual and convention of the conflicts between animals is twofold.

Firstly the individual attacks without preliminary signals will fail to find a mate for the attacker. This is satisfactory to explain the existence of ritualised courtship appeasement displays. It is not satisfactory when it is required to explain the ritualisation of conflicts  over food or territory. Secondly, where there are no conventional restraints many individuals will be injured and thus will militate against the survival of the species. The conflict arises when it seems that group selection favouring conventional behaviour has individual selection operating against it. Relevant to the evolution of fighting is kinship selection. This is because individuals share many genes in common with relatives and thus increasing the survival of those relatives and genes in common. Kin selection thus reduces the severity of conflicts.

Selection also depends upon how others behave, survival depending upon competition and collaboration with other members of the species. The optimal phenotype depends on the rest of the species – usually the case with behavioural collaboration. These behavioural patterns involve communication between different individuals. This means that optimal behaviour depends on how others behave. Obviously courtship evolution implies joint evolution and joint adaptation of responses and signals. In a typical conflict situation two individuals would compete for the same resource, whether mate, territory, nest or objects.

Another conflict situation involves the choice of sex ratio of offspring. Each member desires to maximise its descendants. Hence if the rest of the population were producing males then a female producing individual will maximise the number of offspring in the form of grandchildren. Conflict would arise if individuals tried to increase their relative contribution by reducing the contribution of others. The optimal strategy in this situation depends upon the adopted strategy of others.

Game theory is concerned with conflicts and is interested in conflicts between two or more ‘players’. Essential is the existence of a conflict of interests, the tenet being that what is good for one is at least as bad for the other. Before application of the theory it is necessary to have a complete list of strategies available to each competitor. A strategy can best be described as a specification of what a competitor will do. It must also be possible to calculate the outcome of the game for every possible pair of strategies. It is also necessary to ascribe a utility to each player for each outcome – it being this ascription of utilities that becomes a major difficulty in game theory use.

Game theory was applied to evolution by Lewontin, who wanted to determine what genetic mechanisms the chances of survival of a species. His analysis postulated species versus nature. The strategies open to the species were the various genetic mechanisms it might adopt.  Hence we have sexual reproduction versus asexual; polymorphous versus individual physical that is somewhat generalised in its concept – a simplistic model. Hence it can be concluded that, in regards to game theory and aggressive behaviour and fighting, when an evolutionary stable state of population exists individuals will usually fight conventionally but will escalate if opponents escalate (and occasionally escalate with provocation). Individual selection can account for the evolution of behaviour patterns which minimise injury. There is thus no need to involve group selection as an explanation.

When considering the ritualization of conflict we have to ask why animals refrain from injuring their opponents. Difficulty can arise if we fail to differentiate between conventional and ritual fighting. Ritual involves visual displays and singing. The question that arises in terms of ritual conflict is why either side should yield. Why should it, it follows, be selectively disadvantageous to continue them too long in terms of time wasting and escalation? The escalation risk is reduced because natural selection rather optimises than endangers  the outcome of animal conflict.

The argument that humankind is instinctively aggressive and thus has an innate propensity to violence leads to concepts of individual and group hostility. This view, in all essentials, is Hobbesian in sentiment because it poses the situation of ‘all against all’. It is best to be reminded of the old English proverb that says “…let him make use of instinct, who cannot make use of reason.”.

May 1st 2014.


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The Pseudoscience of Freudianism


The Uncertainty of the Poet (1913).  Giorgio de Chirico.

Freudian psychoanalysis is a pseudoscientific interpretation of mental phenomena [Bassin, P et al.  Social Sciences. 4 (10). 1971]. The conceptions of Freud are in essence opposed to scientific analyses in both psychopathology and social life. The result of a long series of modifications Freud’s theories are a characteristic of the bourgeois outlook.

In the process, and over time, Freudianism has been transformed from a clinical hypothesis into an ideological doctrine. Freud believed the underlying cause of neuroses was due to a traumatic emotional experience, a wish or impulse exerting a baneful influence. Freud ascribed a particularly significant role to the aetiology of neurosis to instinctive impulses repressed in early childhood. These repressed impulses are activated and may lead to neurosis with the neurotic outlet for instincts being through sublimation.

Freud later used essentially the same scheme to explain manifestations of social life, including art, religion, culture and the history of peoples, as well as customs and morals. In other words a theory based on vulgar biologism. His explanation of the mechanism of human mental activity came also to underlie his understanding of social development.

In the view of Freud the major cause of mankind’s tragedies, such as social injustice, class exploitation and wars are to be found in the biological basis of human behaviour. As well as in the repression of instinctive impulses, emotions, and desires. On this basis Freud concluded that wars were inevitable and natural because of destructive and aggressive instincts within every living human being.

However, the picture of human nature described by Freud though grim fundamentally invalid. In essence it is a profoundly immoral outlook that claims and legitimises an animal core from which humans cannot escape. Freud’s view is a justification for amorality. Freud’s psychoanalysis posits a theory of man’s helplessness and subordination to primitive instincts. Freudian analysis is a reflection of spiritual bankruptcy, of depravity and barbarity, as well as the wanto violence of contemporary society.

Orthodox Freudianism is thus a grossly biologistic theoretical conception. A re-examination of his basic propositions by Karen Horney, Erich Fromm and Stack Sullivan during the 1940’s to 1960’s led to a re-appraisal and refutation of Freud’s pan-sexualism or his interpretation of eroticism. However these revisionists still retained the kernel of psychoanalysis – or the mystification of the unconscious – in order to restructure Freud’s orthodox system.

Penetration of Freudian notions into science is judged by the extensive psychoanalytical literature. As well as psychoanalytically orientated psychosomatic medicine. The primary reason is because of the acceptance of Freudianism in bourgeois countries. Freudianism incorporates the most characteristic features of bourgeois ideology. It encapsulates that ideology in its approach to consciousness.

These features are (1) its anti-historical stance and its irrationalism;  (2) its treating of social phenomena in a biological  manner; (3) its ignoring of the role of social and historical practice in the formation of human consciousness. These are the epistemological roots of Freudianism.

All of the theories of Freud were influenced profoundly by the idealist philosophies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. All of his constructs rested on a priori fantastic hypotheses, metaphors, and analogies used instead of scientific evidence. The result led to the creation of a multitude of myths.

Freudianism has remained unable to solve the problem of the unconscious. It ignores the fact that human mental processes are biological but that the nature of man is social. In other words man has a biological nature but a social essence.

The social activity of mankind is the dominating factor in the formation of his psyche and individual world outlook. His psychological qualities and abilities are shaped in the family, in the school, and at work. Human activity is systematic and multi-faceted. It is directed towards the  mastery and creative transformation of the sternal world. It is this social and cultural activity that contributes to the development of the individual. This is the real connection with the study of the brain.

Therefore the study of the dynamics of consciousness, or the analysis of unconscious forms of mental activity, are not enough on their own to reveal the laws governing human behaviour.  A general theory of consciousness is required. A theory that acknowledges the reality of unconscious processes. A theory that reveals the specific forms of psychic activity.

A psychic activity that is outside the sphere of awareness but are still necessary mechanisms underlying purposeful human behaviour. This non-conscious brain activity plays an especially important role in man’s cognitive activity. Non-conscious activity appears in consciousness in the form of clear, ready-made and logically consistent images.

Sometimes these images assume the form of sudden insight or intuition. Hence the nourishment of mystical attitudes, religion and irrationalism, including its more philosophical manifestations.

Psychoanalysis reduces the contradictory relationships between consciousness and the unconscious – it reduces it to just one dynamic tendency, to a functional antagonism, in other words the theory of repression. It also reduces the contradiction to the notion of symbolism. The symbolism of dreams, slips of the tongue, and the ‘language of the body’. This for Freudianism is the primary means by which the unconscious can overcome the various taboos that consciousness imposes on it. See the ‘neo-symbolism’ of Desmond Morris.

What is the reactionary appeal of Freudianism?  It is seen in its portrayal of the unconscious as primary. Of the unconscious as ‘standing above’ consciousness and its notion that instincts dominate over reason. It is this notion that opens the way to an apology for social pessimism and the cult of violence. The theme then becomes enshrined in the myth of man’s innate aggressiveness.

In psychoanalytical theory the ‘functional unit’ of the unconscious is the ‘repressed experience’. The initial speciousness of Freud’s theory is the notion of an emotional experience that exists somehow without a subject. This is the Freudian device that offers a mechanical solution to complex psychological problems.


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The Obscurantism of Phenomenology

(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Philosopher (1630-32).  J. de Ribera.

Currently the obscurantist interpretations of phenomenology are being applied within the fields of anthropology and archaeology to the detriment of those fields of study.

[See: Cultural Materialism. Harris, M . (1969). Random House.].

Obscurantists deny the applicability of scientific research to the study of social and cultural phenomena. One such trend is phenomenology. Phenomenology is a neo-Kantian philosophy founded and propounded by Edmund Husserl.He proposed that ordinary natural science cannot be applied to social and cultural life. This is because social acts supposedly involve a property not present in other sectors of the universe, namely – the property of meaning.

According to Husserl meaning can only be understood subjectively. Accordingly in order to understand social acts one must understand what they mean as a subjective “lived experience”. The phenomenology of Husserl lays the foundation for cognitivist obscurantists strategies. Such strategies appear in ethnomethodology and as symbolic interactionism.

The primary mission of such neo-Kantian philosophy is to find out, in a Franz Boasian sense, how natives think. Therefore considerations that are etic and emic. Emic is where the native informant is the ultimate judge and etic where the observers are the ultimate judges. Phenomenologists deny that etic behaviour streams are worth studying.

Obviously phenomenology is in conflict with cultural materialism. It follows that phenomenological idealism, which deals only with emic phenomena, denies the existence of causes. Phenomenology thus confines all social and cultural events to motivations and immediate experiences and a consensus that is communal.

Phenomenology leads eventually to the denial of all existence of sociocultural systems and the universal components – e.g., infrastructure, structure, and superstructure. Therefore processes and phenomena, such as class, powers, capitalism, and socialism, have no existence.

Therefore – processes such as evolution, adaptation, and exploitation are also unreal. It follows that, for phenomenologists, the only social reality worth talking about is the everyday lived experience in which individuals encounter one another and interact.

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Critique of Post-modernism.

Post-modernists challenge the disciplines of anthropology and reject all causal points of view. Post-modernists claim that the aim of ethnography should be the study and interpretation of the ’emics’ of different cultures. In other words this outlook should include their world views, symbols, values, religions, philosophies, and systems of meaning.

Post-modernism is characterised by a rejection of the distinction between the observed and the observer. A distinction made thus between ‘etics’ and ’emics’, between science and non-science. Post-modernism has developed as a movement, as a view of society that attempts to provide a theoretical basis for thought that is politically correct. 

Post-modernism therefore questions the validity of modern science and the notions of objective knowledge. In so doing it discards history, rejects humanist concepts, and proceeds to resist any claims to truth. With regard to political science it calls into question the authority of hierarchical and bureaucratic decision making organisations or structures.

In the field of anthropology post-modernism inspires the protection of localised and primitive cultures from so-called First World attempts to reorganise them. Post-modernism has thus spawned a new generation of social movements from New Age sensitivities to Third World fundamentalism. The by-word of post-modernism is ‘deconstructionism’. This nihilistic theory denies there is any objective definition of reality. Post-modernism argues that all textual literary works are replete with self-contradictions that have no inherent meaning. Post-modernism concludes that no piece of writing is intrinsically more valuable that any other.

POMO or post-modernism consists of a movement and view of society that provides the theoretical basis for much of thinking that is termed politically correct. Post-modernists believe that knowledge is shaped by culture and therefore anthropology and anthropologists cannot be objective in their research. This represents a form of extreme relativism and anti-evolutionist philosophy.

Deconstructionism is a recent manifestation of post-modernism that attempts to focus upon the hidden intentions and unexpressed biases of the author of an ethnographic or anthropological thesis. Therefore a substitute for what a culture is really like. Deconstructionists aver that anthropology cannot be objective in its research. They claim anthropologists can only write about how their own culture influences their perspective on the people they are studying.

Deconstructionist reject entirely scientific truth as a goal in ethnology and ethnography. The result of post-modernist outlooks provides fragmentary, nihilistic, and contradictory ideas about the human condition. The aim of post-modernist deconstruction is not the achievement or pursuit of scientific truth about culture. Its aim and goal is to compose interpretations about the so-called ‘other’ – the other culture, that are elegant and convincing. In other words post-modernism is another form of obscurantism.


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