Metaphors of Understanding A Critical Introduction

  • Edmund V. Sullivan
Part of the Path in Psychology book series (PATH)


The title of this book is A Critical Psychology: Interpretation of the Personal World. This chapter attempts to develop an outline and elucidation of the parameters of that definition. Part of the definition of something is to indicate what it is not or what it should not be. Thus, there will be some critical discussion of what one might term “mainstream psychology.” I commence this treatment under the assumption that psychological perspectives (e.g., behaviorism, structuralism) are conveniently thought of as metaphors. Ultimately, my intent is to develop a definition of psychology based on a personal metaphor (cf. MacMurray, 1957, 1961). At the level of commonsense language, it seems likely that no psychologist would deny that he or she is attempting to understand people (i.e., persons). However, much of what constitutes psychological theory and research is not couched at the level of ordinary language. In fact, most of the language of psychological theory quickly embraces a formalization of symbols that is oriented away from ordinary language. As we shall point out, formal language is, in part, an attempt to go beyond the vicissitudes of history, which are clearly embedded in our ordinary use of language. In all this, it should be noted that, whatever way we turn, we are embedded in some kind of linguistic system, a “prison house of language” (Jameson, 1972).


Psychological Theory Ordinary Language Critical Interpretation Social Science Discipline Mainstream Psychology 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edmund V. Sullivan
    • 1
  1. 1.Ontario Institute for Studies in EducationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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