Academic Psychology

Geoffrey Hawthorn

  • Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology by Henri Tajfel
    Cambridge, 369 pp, £25.00, April 1981, ISBN 0 521 22839 5

It is said that when the electors to a vacant chair of psychology met recently in a small but by no means undistinguished university, a university with some past distinction in psychology itself, their first inclination was to agree that the subject had ceased to exist and that the chair should not be filled. The philosopher argued that mental events just were indeterminate. A cumulative and convergent science of the mental was absurd. The biologist argued that physiological reductions were unfounded. Such misunderstanding and misuse of biology should be stopped. The sociologist argued that extracting the social from the individual, and often extracting the human too, pre-empted all realism. What was the point of artificial precision? This was, of course, a game that could have been played with any of the human sciences. It is a game, often unsporting in its moves and vicious in its outcomes, that is played with them all the time. In this case, there was a draw and the chair was filled.

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