Had the social construction of psychological science been different in the 1950's and 1960's there would have been no need for a separate discipline of Descriptive Psychology. However, in fact there was such a need and in fact Descriptive Psychology was evolved. The present essay is in part a summary recounting of how it came about and in part an account of the general character and systematic development of Descriptive Psychology. Although there were significant precursors dating back to 1961, Descriptive Psychology took·on essentially its present form in 1964-1965. A six-month period at that time saw the initial formulations of the concepts of Person and Behavior (Persons) and of the system of reality concepts (Outline of Behavior Description; see also "What Actually Happens") and also the introduction of a number of essential concepts and. distinctions such as "significance", "social practice", "theory of" vs. "theory about", "part description" and "partial description", and subject matter vs. locus of study, as well as the introduction of paradigms, schemas, and fot:mulas for representation and the Pragmatic Paradigm for research. Substantively, there were very few direct historical influences on the Descriptive formulations. Anscombe's book, Intention, is the most obviously important of these, since three of the parameters of the Descriptive concept of intentional action reflect her neo-Aristotelian formulation; further, her example of the man standing outside the farmhouse later suggested a technical implementation for the concept of "significance". Wisdom's work on metaphysics provided a springboard (but no help) for a systematization of the basic reality concepts (i.e., object, process, event, state of affairs, relationship). The derived concept of the real world (Ossorio, 1971/1978) reflects the stimulus of Wittgenstein's evocative opening lines in the Tractatus Logicophilosophicus ("The world is everything that is the case. The world divides into facts, not things."), though it draws nothing from his own technical development of that idea. Strawson's (1957) notion that a person is an individual for whom both psychlogical and material object predicates are essentially and irreducibly applicable is part of the background for (1) a behavior fomula with both psychological and (by the usual standards) materialistic elements and (2) a fo1:mulation of persons in which bodily characteristics such as hair color, genetic makeup, etc. are one class of person characteristics. Automata theory provided the model for a completel7 formal definition of Persons, independent of material embodiment. The work of analytic philosophers at the time provided some models of conceptual formulation at a working level. Finally, the formal systems of Carnap, together with his maxim that questions of meaning precede questions of truth, were part of the intellectual history of Descriptive Psychology. However, by far the most important precondition for Descriptive Psychology was a deep and pervasive dissatisfaction with the then current psychological theories and psychological 'science', and with the philosophical views for which they stood proxy. There was much to be dissatisfied with then, as there still is now. Subjectively, points of dissatisfaction form a fluid and endless parade. It is a matter of essence and entirety and not merely fine points or particular issues. However, a sample of more or less discrete areas of dissatisfaction is presented below as "A budget of problema". The point of these is not to draw up a full bill of particulars or to prove a case (even these brief sketches run the risk of tedium), but rather to indicate the kinds of issues which might be involved and to suggest the degree of commitment to a viable alternative which a concern for such issues might engender.

Date Created

Spring 1983


Linguistic Research Institute


50 pages; 10.48 x 7.89 inches

Document Type

Technical Report