Arthur Bentley’s 1935 Discourse Analysis of Psychology Theories

In 1935 Arthur Bentley made a brilliant discourse analysis (an early version) to distinguish between psychologists’ two uses of language: one connected to a physical world, called ‘body-language’ or ‘physical language’; and one he called ‘mind-language’.  These theories are supposedly the psychologists’ special phenomena of inquiry into mental, psychical, psychological or behavioral events.

What Bentley was trying to do was to act like a theoretical taxonomist and to examine what psychologists say in their theories and determine the moments at which they slip from one of the languages into the other.  They usually switch languages at key points, he found, trying to save their inconsistent and failing theories.  To rescue one bit of weak theorizing they fall into the other language.

Bentley then used four key issues, or sectors as he called them, to debunk almost all psychological theories, and this would include most of our contemporary psychological theories, especially the very common explanations made with reference to parts of the brain (a body-language).   The issues were the following:

Table 2. Bentley’s four “sectors’ which can help identify where problems lie with psychological theories which waver between mind-language and body-language.

  • Immateriality: how the theory accounts for the lack of substance with all ‘mind-language’ constructs
  • Apprehensionality: how the theory accounts for objects being ‘apprehended’; how perception and thinking fit in the system
  • Isolationality: how the theory accounts for some sort of isolation of the mind or person or subject from the rest of the world, including the body
  • Environmental:  how the theory accounts for (if at all) the environment in relation to the organism and what it does

Only J. R. Kantor’s work passed all the tests and was consistent in all four sectors within its own theorizing.

Current cognitive psychology still has problems with most of these issues, as do the multitude of brain “explanations” of behavior.

Note also that current behavior analysis also has major problems with Apprehensionality (is discrimination perception?) and Isolationality (what does ‘private event’ actually mean beyond being an abstract term to rescue an argument?)



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