What Is It To Be Human?

From: Armistead, N. (1974) Reconstructing Social Psychology. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, pp.53-71.
Chapter 3 What Is It To Be Human?

John Shotter

Whereas other animals cannot alter themselves except by changing their species, man can transform himself by transforming the world and can structure himself by constructing structures; and these structures are his own, for they are not eternally predestined either from within or from without (Jean Piaget, Structuralism, pp. 118-19).

Modem philosophy, it is said, begins with Descartes (1596-1650); it is largely from his proposals that modem science emerged – and with it all the problems we face in psychology today. Promising deep and effective knowledge of the natural world, Descartes’s philosophy held out the great hope that: …knowing the force and the actions of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all other bodies that surround us. ..we should be able to utilize them for all the uses to which they are suited and thus render ourselves masters and possessors of nature.

Instead of victims, we may become masters of our fates. Prior to Descartes, everything in the cosmos was characterized by greater or lesser degrees of value, of perfection according to a hierarchical scheme with matter at its foot and God at its summit. By excluding values and reducing everything tangible to matter in motion according to mathematically expressible laws, Descartes destroyed the older notions of the cosmos. God is no longer present in the world, nor for that matter is man, in the sense of having any obvious place assigned there for his own self. As a mind, quite separate from the world as matter, the role of man himself can only be that of dominating his surroundings and becoming master and possessor of the natural world, utilizing it for all the uses to which it is suited. And that world itself, containing as it does only matter in lawful and orderly motion, becomes, as we shall see, both a timeless and lifeless place.

If we are ever to study ourselves without emasculating ourselves in the process -without destroying our own ability to transform ourselves – it is Descartes’s account of our being in the world (his ontology) and the accounts of how we came to know its nature (his epistemology) that we must replace.

And it is no use experimental psychologists denigrating this attempt as ‘armchair psychology’, thinking that clear statements describing alternative modes of being can be discovered by doing experiments. As they should know only too well, experiments have nothing to do with discover- [end 53] ing statements; experiments are only meant to put the logically derived consequences of clear statements to the test. Such statements have to do with the frameworks of thought (see the reference to Berger and Luckman, 1967, on p. 63) within which scientific statements are formulated, and there is no straightforward way in which empirical facts could be said either to verify or falsify such frameworks. They lay down the ground-rules which scientists use in identifying what needs explaining and what would count as an intelligible explanation. Facts could not, for instance, falsify the laws of mechanics in any direct manner because the facts being what they are is itself something to be explained in terms of these laws (Hanson, 1958).

Lacking a clear and adequate statement of the nature of our own being in the world, modern psychology has floundered on, doing, wherever it has been effective, untold violence to our image of ourselves as self- determining beings, as beings able to be responsible for our own actions rather than being caused to behave by influences outside ourselves.

Here, then, I am trying to help in the reconstruction of social psychology by attempting to formulate a much richer conception of the nature of our being in the world than that deriving from Descartes. I have not attempted to layout a whole blueprint for a new science, but Harre’s blueprint (see p. 240) is not incompatible with my proposals; the interrelated issues I discuss may be taken as preliminaries to such a blueprint. There are four central issues:

That what seems to anchor me as a person in reality is the sense of responsibility that I can have for my own actions:
That treating time realistically as the medium through which people develop leads to the idea of an indeterministic contingent world in which, to a degree, what happens is up to us;
That men construct for themselves a human world from out of the natural world, and, in using it to express new forms of humanity, transform themselves;
That the source of responsibility for people’s actions may not always be located in individuals: sometimes it is shared between them. Thus at first parents share with their babies responsibility for what their babies do, only later do babies become responsible for themselves. Shared responsibilities can become located solely in the individual, thus increasing his powers of self-determination.
It is only in an indeterminate world that men can have the power to determine themselves, to construct laws and choose to act in accordance with [end 54] them – and remember, it is not the man wafted this way and that at the caprice of circumstance who shows order and principle in his behaviour, but the man who keeps a principle or plan firmly in mind, and refuses to be distracted by events.

The classical world and its investigation

I would like to introduce the idea of an indeterministic growing world by way of contrast with the classical picture of the world which psychology has inherited in large part from Descartes. The publication in 1637 of Descartes’s Discours de la methode (the full title of which in translation is ‘Discourse on the method of properly con- ducting one’s reason and of seeking the truth in the sciences ‘) engendered the great belief that it was possible to translate methodically all that is unknown into the realm of indisputable common knowledge. The method was to start from clear and distinct ideas and to proceed by way of those ‘long chains of reasonings, quite simple and easy, which geometers are accustomed to using to teach their most difficult demonstrations ‘. Via the unity of mathematics -remember Descartes had shown how in co-ordinate geometry, geometry could be translated into algebra – such a method promised a unified view of the cosmos. For the nature of the world is such that with this method, Descartes said, ‘there can be nothing so distant that one does not reach it eventually, or so hidden that one cannot discover it’. It is a world in which all that there is of it already exists.

When we speak of ‘the method of the natural sciences’, we can trace part of it back to the Discours; it was to this emphasis on mathematically expressible laws that Newton added the experimental method. In a letter to the secretary of the Royal Society of 1672 he wrote:

The best and safest method of philosophizing seems to be, first, to inquire diligently into the properties of things and to establish those properties by experiments, and to proceed later to hypotheses for the explanation of things themselves. For hypotheses ought only to be applied in the explanation of the properties of things, and not made use of in determining them.
But actually, it was only possible for him to assert this given the way in which Descartes had idealized the subject matter of Natural Philosophy – hypotheses did enter into the determination of ‘things’ for Descartes had written:
I resolved. ..to speak only of what would happen in a new world, if God were to create, somewhere in imaginary space, enough matter to compose it, and if he were to agitate diversely and confusedly the different parts of this matter, so that [end 55] he created a chaos as disordered as the poets could ever imagine. and afterwards did no more than to lend his usual preserving action to nature, and let her act according to his established laws (my italics).
Thus scientists must study the abstract stuff, matter, which is to be known. in terms of its measurable properties, spatial extent and motion, and whose behaviour is investigated to yield God’s established laws. All ‘things’ in the world, except, Descartes thought, men’s rational souls, could be brought into the confines of such an investigation, for they could all be treated as identical in terms of the motion of matter moving according to mathematical laws.
Thus it was primarily from Descartes’s metaphysics, his entirely speculative picture of the fundamental nature of the world that the modern natural sciences emerged. And as ‘scientific’ thought grew to be the ideal for all thought, it became imperative to bring within its confines what Descartes had left out: men’s rational soul- for there was no other realm in which it could exist, except in the world of matter in motion. Men’s actions must be reduced to the motions of their matter.

This then is the Cartesian world. It is a world which must be investigated for the laws regulating the motions of its elementary parts. It is an all-already-existing world in which the only changes are changes of rearrangement. Nothing in it passes into existence and out of it again; it is a world of being, not becoming. If we are unable to predict our future in it at the moment, that is not because it is in principle impossible – quite the contrary: it is because we are still too ignorant; we have not yet amassed enough knowledge; yet more research is needed. In such a world, as Laplace (1886) realized:

An intellect which at a given instant knew all the forces acting in nature, and the position of all things of which the world consists – supposing the said intellect were vast enough to subject these data to analysis -would embrace in the same formula the motions of the greatest bodies in the universe and those of the slightest atoms; nothing would be uncertain for it, and the future, like the past, would be present to its eyes. It is a world in which the future is merely hidden like distant regions of space (for time is spatialized); and it seems possible, ultimately, to know everything!

Such hopes and beliefs as these still motivate, I feel, much of what is called scientific psychology today. It is surely possible, isn’t it, to discover completely how man works ? [end 56]

Our fundamental sense of our own responsibility

While such a view as that above may capture all our significant experiences of what we call the ‘external world’ (Russell, 1914), the world which yields to our manipulations, it utterly fails to capture our experience of our own functioning in such a world. Because of this and also its frankly speculative character, I would like to suggest an alternative basis for our investigations in psychology: a basis in the sense ofresponsibility which we all havefor our own actions.

We all distinguish, and indeed if we are to be accounted reasonable human beings we all must be able to distinguish, between that for which we as individual personalities are responsible and that which merely happens, irrespective of our agency. This distinction is fundamental not only in everyday life but also in science, where it is absolutely fundamental: it is only because we can sense, when acting in accord with theories of what the world might be like, whether the results of our actions accords with or depart from the expectations engendered by the theories, that we can ever put such theories to empirical test. No more fundamental basis for deciding the truth of empirical matters exists, nor will another ever be found – in the organizational complexity of matter, say, as some such as Sutherland (1970) suggest – for how could it ever be established as a true basis? It would still rest upon the basis of our ability to recognize the consequences of our own actions. Our sense of responsibility is, then, at the very basis of science itself; lacking any sense of their own functioning scientists would be unable to do experiments.

The distinction I have been making above is the distinction between actions and events, doings and happenings which has been explored extensively of late in the philosophy of human action (for example, Winch, 1958; Peters, 1958; Hampshire, 1959; Taylor, 1966; R. Bernstein, 1972). My aim in making this distinction and in exploring all that follows from it is to establish that there can be a distinct sphere of thought and investigation called (social) psychology – inherently social in character – which, because it has its own goals (and its own methods for achieving them), is irreducible to any other science. Its main theoretical goal is to make the experience of being a human self among other similar selves intelligible, to understand the idea of what it is to be human. In practice its goal will be to develop and expand the human self, to seek ways of expanding the sphere of genuine human action, to increase what people as individual personalities can do for themselves at the expense of what they just find happening to them whether they wish it or not. [end 57]

Responsible action

If, when we are acting alone, we want others to say that we are acting not just intelligently, or even intelligibly, but responsibly, then we must make our actions intelligible to ourselves as we perform them in other people’s terms, and understand how they relate to other people’s needs and interests. In other words, if we are to be accepted by our fellows as reasonable people we are expected to show not just awareness (i.e. consciousness) of our circumstances, but self-awareness (i.e. self-consciousness); that is, we are expected not just to act in a manner appropriate to our circumstances but also to act in a manner appropriate to interests other than our own immediate and idiosyncratic ones. Responsible actions are related not to individual but to shared interests. We thus arrive at what may seem to some a paradox: as an individual personality, I can only be truly responsible for my own actions to the extent that I know how to respond to them as others do – the criterion George Mead proposed for such conduct:

Such is the difference between intelligent conduct on the part of animals and what we call a reflective individual. We say the animal does not think. He does not put himself in a position for which he is responsible; he does not put himself in the place of the other person and say in effect, ‘He will act in such a way and I will act in this way’ (1934, p.73).

The paradox is resolved by realizing the inherently social nature of all man’s self-conscious activity (activity in which he knows what he is doing, even if the action is as trivial as him moving his arm). I can only be a self in relation to others.

Now in explaining our actions to others, we have, ideally, to give our reasons, tell of our aims or intentions, say what we expect to result and why .In practice, however, our intentions are often as obscure to ourselves as to others – and this is where empirical investigation can prove effective (for example, Cicourel, 1973; Garfinkel, 1967; Schutz, 1972). Unlike actions, events just happen, they are no one’s responsibility; and they are not, of course, to be explained by seeking their reasons. To explain them, we must seek collectively their causal. principles, the laws of nature which, seem to govern the structure of their appearances – the traditional task of the natural sciences. So we must be clear when investigating psychological phenomena whether it is reasons (or something having the logical structure of a reason) or causal principles that we seek; the two belong, as we shall see, to two distinct spheres of thought and investigation.

To sum up so far then: while classical science demands that we study everything as if, ultimately, it could be considered as elements of matter in [end 58] motion according to natural (or to Descartes’s absent God’s established) laws, people seem able to act according to beliefs or interests, to mere conceptions of laws or rules, thus exempting themselves from this demand. But in acting thus, according to what others can recognize as rules or laws, people must make their own actions intelligible to themselves as they perform them in terms of their relations to other people -they can monitor their actions (Harre and Secord, 1972). But even more than this, and this is what makes psychology as the study of selves possible, men are aware that they are aware of what they are doing; they are capable of monitoring their own self-monitoring, and of criticizing the account they give of themselves. It is this sphere of responsible or accountable action, what selves can do, that is my central concern in this essay.

Now in attempting to act responsibly, people may fail; they may act rightly or wrongly, appropriately or inappropriately, legitimately or illegitimately. So besides being essentially a developmental social science in dealing with affairs of this sort – acting responsibly in relation to shared rules or criteria – psychology becomes a moral science. And its goal ? To the extent that, as we shall see, human nature is essentially incomplete, it can only be concerned with discovering our next possible stages of development; it must be, as Bruner (1972) has termed it, a ‘policy’ science. Thus at its heart we shall not find, as in the natural sciences, calculation to do with the one true view, but forms of negotiation to do with possible alternatives to the current view.

In its guise as a moral science, psychology cannot, however, be made autonomous; it has to function in a state of exchange with psychology in its other guise as a natural science. For while there are some things we as individual personalities clearly do do, there are others which just as clearly we do not do. These distinctly different kinds of activity belong to two different but clearly related spheres of study. Below I shall distinguish between the man-made and the natural, between what individual personalities with their personal powers can do (using the term powers in Harre’s (1970) sense which is related to the idea of a field of possibilities), and what natural agents with their natural powers do. In making such a distinction I shall take the cultural world as that for which man is re- sponsible, and the natural world as that which is responsible for men, thus locating in the natural world at large an agency with the power, like men, to make things happen in and of itself (as does, for instance, Whitehead, 1929), a characteristic Descartes’ deathly world certainly did not possess.

The distinction between nature and culture should not be taken as indicative of an objective characteristic of the world: it is after all man- made; it is a matter of how we intend it (and that is open to negotiation [end 59] and re-negotiation). Artificial though it may be, it is nonetheless in its intentional sense a distinction of crucial importance for it will prescribe the form of our subject matter and the manner of our conduct in its in- vestigation; it will prescribe in our investigation our goals and the manner of their achievement. The distinction leads to two different kinds of regulative maxims, as Kant termed them, rules for regulating one’s conduct.

But we must do more than simply distinguish these maxims and their spheres of application; we must also appreciate the nature of their interplay and its sphere of application -the sphere within which man extracts his culture from nature. It is this interplay between the spheres distinguished below which is important.

The natural and the man-made in man

The distinction between the natural and the cultural world has also recently been drawn by Popper (1972). The natural world, the world of people’s psychological states, and those parts of the natural world which are products of the human mind -such as works of art, ethical values, social institutions, libraries, scientific problems and scientific theories -he calls worlds I, 2 and 3 respectively, in the order, he thinks, of their emergence into existence. It is the all-but-complete autonomy of world 3 which interests him. It is partially autonomous because, once we have produced it, it becomes an object outside ourselves, and as such is then open to investigation and inter-subjective criticism; and quite often we may discover in it unintended consequences, thus increasing our powers in unexpected ways. It is the introduction of world 3 into his philosophy that Popper thinks of as revolutionary .And he suggests that:

One day we will have to revolutionize psychology by looking at the human mind as an organ for interacting with the objects of the third world; for understanding them, contributing to them, participating in them; and for bringing them to bear on the first world (Popper, 1972, p.156).

Now, within the cultural perspective, we would view men as individual personalities, responsible for their actions to their fellows, and monitoring or interpreting their own and one another’s actions in relation to shared aims and interests, whose forms are in themselves humanly constructed – and it is worth remarking in this context that no other beings construct their own goals in such a way. It is being responsible for their own actions in this way that gives the structure of their behaviours a man-made aspect, and makes it possible for them to be interpreted for their meaning, for their relevence to shared aims and interests – it is also this ‘constructed’, aspect of their behaviour which, spuriously, makes it seem amenable to [end 60] mechanistic explanation. An action can have its meaning in terms of the part it plays in furthering a culture’s aims or in modifying its interests.

Alternatively, within the natural perspective, in contrast to man as a child of culture, we must view him as a child of nature, just as much a part of the natural order as the trees and the stars. Here we must view him as like an animal, living with his fellows as animals, aware of his circumstances in the sense of responding to them, but not self-consciously aware of them in the sense that ‘he’ can be said to be responsible for his responses to them; he acts as he must only in relation to his own bodily states. As men themselves are not responsible for their actions in this sphere, the structure of their behaviour does not have a man-made aspect to it. It has a distinctly different structure to it, one which does not render it amenable to ready explanation mechanistically at all. And what it is for a man to bring a set of circumstances under his own self-control is, I shall maintain, to impose upon the natural order of his behaviour in these circumstances, one way or another, a man-made structure.

In the man-made and the natural we have two distinct but related spheres of study needing two distinct but related modes of thought and methods of investigation. But this distinction is not in any sense new or original. It was proposed long ago by Giambattista Vico in his Scienza Nuova of 1744. Contrary to Descartes, he thought men could not fully understand nature, for, ‘Is it not true’, he said, ‘that we can only know what we make ? Then only God can understand nature, because it is his creation. Man, on the other hand, can understand civilization, because he has made it’ (quoted in Magill, 1963, p. 478). While man makes culture, nature makes man; and, as we shall see, as there is an essential contingency always in the action of an agency, it is only in those spheres where man can reduce nature by his manipulations to the form of a machine, thus depriving it of its agency, that he gain any degree of control over it at all.

As this distinction between the man-made and the natural is so funda- mental it is worthwhile at this point going a little more deeply into the structures of the two different kinds of system: even the most complex of man-made systems, machines for instance, are constructed piece-by-piece from objective parts; that is, from parts which retain their character unchanged irrespective of whether they are parts of the system or not. (And just as men may construct mechanisms for use in the affairs of their external world, so it is not inconceivable that they may construct mechanisms within themselves for use in the regulation of their personal affairs – see Shotter (1974) for a discussion of how mothers may help their infants in the execution of this task.) But whole men as natural systems are certainly not constructed piece-by-piece; on the contrary, they grow. They trans- [end 61] form themselves from simple individuals into richly structured ones in such a way that their ‘parts’ at anyone moment in time owe not just their character but their very existence both to one another, and to their relations with the ‘parts’ of the system at some earlier point in time – their history is just as important as their logic in their growth, and because of this it is impossible to picture natural systems in spatial diagrams. As Capek (1961, p.162) remarks, ‘any spatial symbol contemplated at a given moment is complete, i.e., all its parts are given at once, simultaneously, in contrast with the temporal reality which is by its own nature incomplete and whose “parts” -if we are justified in using such a thoroughly inadequate term – are by definition successive, i.e., nonsimultaneous.’ There is always more to come of natural systems because as well as existing in space they realize themselves through time; true, if they contain reversible processes (see Piaget, 1971, 1972), it may be more of the same; but then again, if they contain irreversible processes – which they must if they are to be in any sense growing systems – then they may manifest genuine novelty.

Now it is clearly tempting, lacking any clear ‘picture’ of natural systems, to assimilate them to ones which we can picture, to assume in fact that they manifest the same ‘constructional’ properties as familiar man-made systems – we then know what we are all talking about. This is exactly the strategy of the classical analytic method in science. Sutherland (1970, p. 98), for instance, in discussing the question’ Is the brain a physical system?’ equates natural (physical) and man-made (mechanistic) systems in saying that their main characteristic is that ‘. ..the principles used in explaining the behaviour of the whole system can be inferred from a knowledge of the laws governing the component parts of the system together with a knowledge of how these parts are organized’ .And it is thus that he attempts to argue for the relevancy of computer studies to psychological issues: only if we can in fact make machines like man can we be said, truly, to understand him. But the two systems, the natural and the man-made, can only be equated if the natural systems do not contain ‘structure-dependent’ parts (Chomsky, 1968, 1972) and are in fact made up of objective parts: a feature which natural systems in their entirety clearly do not possess -as pointed out above, they are growing systems with successive as well as simultaneous parts. While such systems must contain some objective parts, and even something like mechanisms as they grow older, their ‘parts’ in general at some moment in time must only be perceptually distinguishable but not in any genuine sense physically separable – that is, if the system is to remain alive. For separation would destroy just that precise set of mutual influences by which a living system’s ‘parts’ [end 62] determine one another’s functioning (and those in touch with its environment have their response determined) in relation to the whole. The analytic method, while appropriate to understanding man-made systems, destroys natural ones irretrievably. Sutherland’s approach is appropriate for the world ofman-made products, the products of man’s productive processes, but not in accounting for the productive processes themselves.

In discussing the man-made world I have chosen to concentrate attention on the machine rather than upon rules and maxims, upon institutions and the socially constructed world in general, as one of my purposes is to attack mechanistic psychology and to show that there can be an objective alternative to it. I would not want it to be thought that in discussing machines I meant only physically constructed entities; In mean socially constructed ones too. But as Mumford (1967) argues, there is often not much of a distinction, for machines can be constructed from men, the megamachines constituting much of modern society being a case in point. Berger and Luckman (1967, p.p. 77-8) state the character of world 3 very well:

An institutional world is experienced as an objective reality. It has a history that antedates the individual’s birth and is not accessible to his biographical recollec- tion. It was there before he was born, and it will be there after his death. …Since institutions exist as external reality, the individual cannot understand them by introspection. He must’ go out’ and learn about them, just as he must learn about nature. …The paradox that man is capable of producing a world that he then experiences as something other than a human product will concern us later on. At the moment, it is important to emphasize that the relationship between man, the producer, and the social world, his product, is and remains a dialectical one. … The product acts back on the producer.

And, they continue, it is ‘only with the transmission of the social world to a new generation [that] the fundamental social dialectic appears in its totality’; for each new generation of man is a social product (Shotter, 1974).

The reality of time and the contingency of action

The intention in classical thought, from the Greeks till now, has always been to seek the eternal and timeless. Little thought has been given to the idea of a growing world, or growing systems, or irreversible changes and the occurrence of genuine novelty. Indeed, within Descartes’ world running on pre-established principles, genuine novelty would be unthinkable: it would seem to come out of nowhere, to be unprincipled and thus uncaused. In such a world, only regularities, only reversible changes qualify for a rational (i.e. logical) explanation. But as a growing system, I myself [end 63] live in space and through time. At this moment, I myself am manifesting a particular spatial configuration here; then, I was manifesting another state of being there; next, I may or may not be here, I may or may be not be there, it all depends. Through time I can, if I try, realize different possible states of my being in space -and recognizing and recollecting them all to- gether as mine is what gives me my own special sense of personal unity (a unity which can, of course, be lost by some deeply disturbed people). Pos- sessing many possible modes of being, I can project myself in living from one to another -although sometimes I find myself being projected by agencies other than my own. Thus my life can have a directed quality to it, directed by myself or by others. My actions, in being directed from a past towards a future, can express an intention. I ~’illnOt, however, intend a novel action. Although I may find myself expressing an intention in a truly novel way, novelty is something which I simply find happening to me; it is not something I can do. But having it once happen to me, I may, under certain conditions (see Dreyfus, 1965, and Shotter, 1970, 1974, for brief discussion on the determination of intentions), make it, as something which now is not of course novel, happen again. And this is the nature of Piaget’s concern in studying the growth oflogico-mathematical knowledge, the nature of the child’s increasing ability through a sequence of irreversible changes (stages) and novel actions to develop more and more extensive and co-ordinated schemes of reversible actions (operations).

Now as within the classical deterministic scheme of things a present state of affairs necessitates one and only one future state, the future has, thus, the same sort of unknown character to it as distant regions of space: it is simply hidden from human knowledge. If we were all not so ignorant, we could know all our future as Laplace once promised. Thus in this scheme of things, time loses its unique reality and becomes like a fourth dimension of space, and in a sense past and future coexist with the present. But the reality of time implies the reality of irreversible processes and the emer- gence of novelty, which is incompatible with the pre-existence of the future. In a world existing through real time, the only status the future can have is that of ambiguity, of real possibility. It is contingent not necessary; not be- cause of our ignorance but because of a genuine ambiguity in events not yet realized. Such a world, to contrast it with the deterministic world of classical thought, may be called indeterministic. And for genuine human action to exist, this must be the character of the world in which we live: for in acting we do something; we make something take on a form other than that which it would have had if we had not acted; thus we determine the world. For this to be possible the world must be capable of being given a form which it did not already possess, that is, the world must be essentially [end 64] indeterminate. Except that his’ sea of possibilities’ metaphor again spatializes time, William James (1956, pp. 150-51) has produced one of the best characterizations of indeterminism of which I know. ‘Indeterminism’, he said:

..admits that possibilities may be in excess of actualities, and that things not yet revealed to our knowledge may in themselves really be ambiguous. Of two alterna- tive futures which we conceive, both may now be really possible; and the one becomes impossible only at the very moment when the other excludes it by becom- ing real itself. Indeterminism thus denies the world to be one unbending unit of fact. It says there is a certain ultimate pluralism in it; and, so saying, it corro- borates our unsophisticated view of things. To that view, actualities seem to float in a sea of possibilities from out of which they are chosen; and, somewhere, indeterminism says, such possibilities exist, and forma part of truth.
Usually we do seem able to intervene in ongoing processes and to make something happen in one way rather than another, as if both possibilities had been intrinsically available in the process. In a growing world, although each present event is not necessitated by its own past, it is undoubtedly caused; it is made to happen by an act of selection or choice. What had been an uncertain future is specifically realized now, by the exclusion of other possibilities. Thus to do anything in such a world is to do this and not that. This does not mean that action in such a world is preceded by choice, that some mysterious mental act of choosing precedes all our actual choosing. While reflection may precede action, it is only a theoretical, a possible choosing, as is clear from the fact that the’ action’ so chosen need not be performed. Actual choosing is intrinsic to the performance of human actions whether preceded by reflection or not.
Now by insisting upon the reality of time, upon a growing world full of real possibility, we have implied a distinctly different image of man from the classical image of him as an isolated contemplative. Instead of thinking before he acts, our man in general must act before he thinks in order later to think before he acts – if this is not to be dangerous, there must be’ safe , areas in which he can play (Shotter, 1973). This is, of course, the image of man embodied in Piaget’s slogan, ‘thought is internalized action’, but what Piaget needs to add to this is that in order to be intelligible the structure of such thought and action must be socially negotiated (Harre and Secord, 1972; Berger and Luckman, 1967).

Although this view – that action is primary and thought derived from it – is now becoming common, it is not usually realized what such a view implies. In speaking, for instance, we can and usually do speak grammatically without it first being necessary for us to think about how to do it. Reflecting upon possible grammatical continuations while speaking requires a [end 65] high level of skill and usually leads to hesitancy (cf. B. L. Bernstein’s (1972) ‘elaborated code’); it is the exception rather than the rule. Rather than speaking as if one were a computer operating according to a pre-formed programme, one can structure one’s speech by monitoring it for its meaning in relation to one’s intention in the course of its production – and there are many ways of doing this (Shotter, 1973, 1974). In general we speak with feeling not with thought, and it is only as our intentions issue in performance that we are able to tell whether we are successfully executing them or not. While I usually (but not always) know what I intend, I am in no better position than anyone else for observing my own performances. They must be judged as they occur, both in space and time – it being the temporal sequencing of spatial possibilities that reveals a person’s choice and thus manifests his intention. Lashley (1951) has been one of the few behaviourist psychologists to see in the temporal sequencing of behaviour any major problem.

Time, then, is the essential psychological medium; it is through time that we express ourselves. In the classical scheme, in which time has been spatialized, this possibility has been lost. There, if contingency was allowed to exist at all it would seem to destroy the possibility of necessity (but this is not necessarily so: see Piaget’s (1971, 1972) discussions of this point). Treating time realistically suggests that our thoughts and feelings need not remain private, but that it is possible for us to show our thoughts, feelings, moods, beliefs, intentions, etc., in our actions, in our temporal trajectory through sets of contingencies. However, in our attempts to make sense of such expressions, in deciding into which public or trans-subjective category they should be assigned in order to specify them, we must refer not only to objective, to spatial criteria, but also to temporal ones. Such temporal criteria, however, would be essentially contingent; that is, they would be essentially incomplete, and determining them (i.e. making them complete) one way or another is itself a matter of choice. Thus, if they are to be made ‘logically adequate’ then negotiation with others is necessarily involved. Space prevents a full discussion of this most important issue here, but discussion of it can be found in Berger and Luckman (1967), Harre and Secord (1972) and Shotter (1974). Suffice it here to say this: to structure our perceptions of a person we must specify a set of both spatial and temporal categories, and place him in relation to them. In categorizing him spatially we can determine his objective structure and locate it, outside ourselves, in space; in categorizing him temporally we can determine his subjective structure (his mental state) …but where in space should we locate it ? This is what has always puzzled us about mental states: because there is nowhere precisely in space to locate them, neither in the observer [end 66] nor the observed, they seem to float ethereally somewhere in between, and lacking any substantiality seem to have no real existence. In the classical world of matter in motion, they have no matter. But in an indeterministic world moving through real time, they have their location in a person’s history, and it is that which is amenable to specification. It is via the structuring of our history that we can determine our future; but if we are concerned to act always responsibly, in a way intelligible to our fellows, how we do in fact structure it is not a matter entirely up to us -it must be negotiated with others.

We have now begun to move into deep waters. The discussion above will suffice if it conveys some of the unique properties of time, and shows that it may be quite incorrect to think of it as simply a fourth dimension of space. While the past is what has been determined (and determined by man in some degree), the future has not yet been so, and thus must be considered not as a single, fourth dimension, but multi-dimensional. It is the future, not this or that hidden region of space, which holds promise of rich possibilities.

By discussing time in this way, I have attempted to indicate that the fact that people are ‘growing systems’ is all of a piece with the fact that they can learn, express their intentions, pay attention, communicate, pursue goals, create novelty, and so on. In other words, I hope that by realizing in broad outline how it is that we live through time, it will be possible to see that the mental categories which we have called ‘fictions’ in the past are truly real. And that psychology can be seen as the science which, by operating in an indeterministic world in which both logic and history can function to determine our future, helps us make clear in detail the possibilities from which we may choose our next step.

What is it to be human?

What is it then, in the new psychology, to be human ? It is to be a growing system which can, in interaction with other growing systems, increasingly localize within itself the power of responsible action. But a conception of man such as this is not so new. In 1487, the Renaissance humanist Pico a della Mirandola (1965, p.5) characterized man as one of God’s works of , indeterminate form ” to whom God said:

Thou, like ajudge appointed for being honourable, art the moulder and maker of thyself; thou mayest sculpt thyself into whatever shape thou dost prefer. Thou canst grow downward into the lower natures which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power out of thy soul and judgement to be reborn into the higher forms which are divine. [end 67]
The goal of a new psychology would be to increase people’s personal powers of responsible action; to increase not people’s mastery over other people but their mastery over their own possible ways of life. It would have nothing to do with how we as ‘mechanisms’ work, for as growing systems we are not in fact mechanisms even though we may produce them. Its goal can be just as scientific a goal as the goal of the natural sciences, for I take it that what distinguishes those aspects of our lives which we designate as ‘scientific’ and mark off from the rest of what we do is that in them we attempt to discover general principles via which we can transform ourselves from being victims to being masters of our fates. As time, and thus contingency and choice are central to the new psychology, it will make as much as discover the principles via which we can increase our personal powers of responsible action, and the task will be essentially a prospective one, for our powers will remain essentially incomplete. The scientific process will itself involve a negotiated form of interaction with the subjects under study. Vygotsky (1962) discusses one such form of interaction as instruction. Via instruction, spontaneous actions are raised into the realm of the deliberate. But as Vygotsky (1962, p. 90) says, ‘in order to subject a function to intellectual and volitional control, we must first possess it’. This point is most important, for it suggests that man can win, so to speak, his personal powers from nature; that what at first he only does spontaneously in response to a particular circumstance, he can, via another person’s agency, come to do later, as he pleases, irrespective of his circumstances. The participation of another person in this process is crucial. By attending closely to another’s spontaneous acts and selecting from them, he constructs an ideal self which he can hold out to the other as a challenge to be attained; he can help the other to come to do deliberately what he did at first only spontaneously.
Each to each a looking-glass
Reflects the other thatdothpass (Cooley,1902)
Via instruction individuals can become responsible themselves for actions which initially arose only in the context of their interaction with others – such forms of instruction are explored more fully in Shotter (1974).
In the past, man has invented for himself many forms of expression, forms of language, writing, mathematics, forms of art, forms of war, forms of family and community organization; in short, he has invented for himself forms of life. And there is no reason to suppose that the process by which we transformed ourselves from cave-dwellers in the past is now at an end. [end 68] Cultural progress is surely still possible, and a science called psychology can surely assist in making the future transformations of man more res- ponsible ones, so that we can all in the future enhance one another’s growth. In the task ahead, the dignity, the self-respect, the confidence to believe that by acting freely we can out of our soul and judgement be re- born into higher forms is essential. Beyond freedom and dignity (Skinner. 1972) is the human termite colony – if, indeed, man’s nature could really cease to be a growing one as Skinner’s vision would demand.

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