Review of Principles of Psychology by J.R. Kantor

Edward S. Robinson

PRINCIPLES OF PSYCHOLOGY. By J. R. Kantor, Professor of Psychology, University of Indiana. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1924. Pp. xix+473.

This is the first of a large, two-volume work which aims at an exhaustive survey of the psychologist's intellectual domain. There are two possible procedures for an undertaking of this order. The ambitious interpreter may plunge into the living, functioning science and evaluate its concepts and its programs in the settings and under the requirements which have given them birth. Or he may remain aloof from the intricate and embarrassing enterprises of psychological investigators and seek to set in order the wider generalizations and post-rationalizations of his science. Professor Kantor has in the main followed the latter procedure. As a result-and it is the result rather than the process of examination that he gives us-he has stated in elaborate detail a systematic viewpoint for psychology which seems to him to square with life at large and with certain implied philosophic necessities.

In the present volume we find a statement of what the author believes the primary data of psychology should be. This is followed by a

( 432) careful and enlightening discussion of personality and its development. Then there are treatments from Professor Kantor's special standpoint of a number of the psychological categories among which are attention, perception, implicit action, association, knowing, feeling, and habits. In the second volume, according to the publisher's announcement, we shall have discussions of other categories and also a treatment of abnormal behavior.

Dr. Kantor speaks of his general standpoint as "organismic psychology." This name seems to be chosen because of the writer's high resolution to abstain from unwarranted abstractions which dissect the organism unto death. It seems to be chosen also because of the centrality in the Kantorian system of the notion of adaptation and adjustment.

Because of the importance of adaptation in Kantor's viewpoint, we may classify this branch of psychology as a type of functionalism. Of course the conception of adaptation may be a dominant feature of radically different psychological viewpoints. In one case adaptation may be accepted as the most fundamental fact for psychology, and left undefined. Thereafter it may be used as an explanatory principle. This is the functionalism of Kantor, though it must be admitted that he does not use that term. "Is it not a fact," he says in his discussion of reflexes, "that the specific pathways involved in any reaction are involved because certain muscles or glands need to function?"(p. 143). And in another place: "The general integration of behavior we might say is due to the necessity to adapt to many related objects in a given time" (p. 322). From such a view the existence of a need becomes the explanation of its satisfaction. There is another possibility for functional psychology. Adaptation may be taken to be the dominant problem of psychology rather than the dominant principle. An explanation for failure or success in achieving purposes then becomes sought for in facts describable in non-purposive terms. While few writers, if any, have maintained with complete consistency the program demanded by this second type of functionalism, there has been a strong leaning in this direction. The attempt of experimental psychologists to find some explanation for the fixation of successful responses other than in terms of their success is only one of many evidences of this. But, so far as the reviewer can make out, Kantor feels no necessity for entering into this second type of functionalism. For him adaptation is central fact and central explanatory principle. In analyzing beyond the adaptive act the psychologist, according to Kantor, divides his real unit of study. And the organization of the adaptive act is, itself, a function of the fact that the act is adaptive.

Professor Kantor's descriptions of psychological phenomena are consistently in terms of stimulus and reaction. But he can in no sense

( 434) be accused of having developed a "muscle-twitch" psychology. Neither can he be accused of having left out of his psychology many facts because they fail to fit his descriptive devices. He conceives of the psychological reaction as including much more than mere bodily movement, and he conceives most varieties of what are sometimes called mental activities as falling within this broad category of reaction. Where a conventional psychological category has been understood in a number of ways Kantor accepts the interpretation which best stands translation into the terminology of stimulus and reaction, but this can hardly be called scientific ruthlessness. It is quite in accord with the general spirit of the times even as exemplified by psychologists of a relatively contented sort. A fair appreciation of the procedure employed by Kantor may be had from a consideration of a few of his definitions. Attention, according to his statement, is action which increases or actualizes the stimulational function of some objects or conditions to which the individual is exposed. (This is not quite Kantor's language.) "Perception is the traditional name given to the psychological activities in which explicit stimuli functions operate. Otherwise stated, perceptual activities are those in which the person reacts to explicit stimuli" (p. 250). The translation into terms of stimulus and response is especially clear in the definition of feeling reactions. "In effective behavior then, the response or the action to the stimulus is not performed upon the stimulus but upon the acting person himself. In other words, the peculiar fact about feeling responses is that instead of the person producing some effect upon the stimulus object, the person himself is affected" (p. 346). But Kantor carries his stimulus-response program far beyond definitions. He has translated psychological phenomena into these terms not only consistently, but also exhaustively. Certainly no other writer has written as elaborate a psychology in the language of stimulus and response. Because of a certain remoteness from psychology as a living and going concern, the value of many of Kantor's classifications and distinctions must remain for some time in question. Nevertheless the whole system is full of keen, if informal, observation, and remarkably free from speculation. Indeed it is considerably freer from speculation than many a system of psychology based upon observations of a less informal type.

Before leaving off this characterizing of Kantor's system it would, perhaps, be only just to let the author of the system himself sum up its nature. "Organismic psychology," he tells us, "is based upon the premises that we must never admit anything into our scientific thinking but that which can be actually observed. Nor must we assume for our convenience that the part is the whole. The value of this viewpoint lies in the fact that only actually occurring phenomena are observed, and as

( 435) complete a description of the facts as possible is made the basis for interpretations. Basing our investigations upon this platform, we consider the subject-matter of psychology to be the concrete reactions which an organism makes to its stimuli surroundings. Naturally all the varieties of surroundings are considered; so that organismic psychology considers as part of its subject-matter not only the simple behavior to natural stimuli, but also the complex adaptations to social and human institutions. For the organismic hypothesis there exists no mind-body problem, for these terms are considered as metaphysical abstractions and do not represent any real fact. The organism is a complex psychological machine and not a union of discrete elements or stuffs. Moreover the cause of the organism's reactions are not brain or mental conditions, but the needs of the organism as dictated by the surrounding objects and events .... " (p. 30). This is a truly courageous program, but one which is not carried very far into practice. If it were, Kantor's work would hardly merit the consideration which it actually does merit. If Kantor really kept close to the fullness of actual life, he might achieve a literary or artistic result, but he would hardly produce a psychology. His work, when once it gets under way, is, however, full of abstractions as a scientific work needs must be. His abstractions differ from the more customary ones of psychology, but they are quite as abstract.

It is encouraging to study such a serious attempt at systemization of the facts, methods, and problems of psychology as that of Professor Kantor. No one who is deeply interested in the trend of theoretical psychology can afford to pass by this exhaustive and sophisticated treatise without reading it for himself. Nevertheless, one should guard against assuming this work to be the one logical outcome of the functional and objective movement which has been so prominent in psychological thought in this country. Among the many issues raised by Kantor there are alternatives to his own views which he seldom mentions, and these alternatives are often to be found only in the more detailed writings of the psychological investigator.



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