The Limits Of Language As The Limits Of Psychological Explanation

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Theory And Psychology


Extending early work on the limits of hypothesis testing, I propose that psychological explanations for behavior draw their intelligibility from tautology. A reliance on tautology is born of the impossibility for ostensively defining the explanans (e.g., the state of mind presumably giving rise to action). Thus, one makes psychological sense by explaining a given behavior in terms of a “miniaturized” form of itself. Further, because each definition of a mental term relies on another mental term for its meaning, we enter a condition of unbridled diffusion of definition. We may thus account for psychological explanations far removed from simple or transparent tautology. Through extended definitional sequences, we find that any given behavior can be explained by virtually any randomly drawn motive or trait. This includes otherwise counter-intuitive or paradoxical explanations. These developments bear importantly on the grounding assumptions for psychological research, mental and diagnostic testing, and psychotherapy.


discursive psychology, hypothesis testing, psychological discourse, psychological explanation

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