Review of Personality: In Nature, Society and Culture by Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry Murray
Personality: In Nature, Society and Culture. Edited by CLYDE KLUCKHOHN and HENRY A. MURRAY. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1948. xiv, 561, x, pp. $6.00 (Text edition, $4.50).
This is primarily a source book on personality. Aside from the first two chapters in which Drs. Kluckhohn and Murray strive to present a theoretical analysis, the volume consists of thirty-eight articles chosen from an extensive body of literature. Material available in book form was excluded in the choice. The articles, selected from the writings of eminent scholars, are designed to illustrate the range and variety of published work in the field of personality. They are arranged under seven headings: Constitutional Determinants; Interrelations Between Constitutional and Group-Membership Determinants; Group-Membership Determinants; Role Determinants; Situational Determinants; Interrelations Between the Determinants; and Some Applications to Modern Problems. The articles, even though of varying merit, are collectively of unquestionable importance. In assembling them in a single volume Drs. Kluckhohn and Murray have rendered an appreciable service to students of personality.
No attempt will be made in this review to comment on these thirty-eight articles. They treat with such a variety of matters as to preclude any adequate appraisal within the limits of this review. Instead, the two chapters contributed by the editors—"Outline of a Conception of Personality" and "Personality Formation: the Determinants"—will be considered. In these Drs. Kluckhohn and Murray outline a theoretical conception of the nature, function, and formation of personality. In the judgment of this reviewer their conception is hopelessly confused, inadequate, and improperly conceived. Intrinsically, their conception does not merit consideration. However, the eminence and established repute of Drs. Kluckhohn and Murray do not allow for its cavalier dismissal. Further, since their views are typical of current trends in thought among social psychologists some value may be yielded by their critical consideration.
Starting from the recognition that personality is organized and dynamic, the authors lodge personality in cortical processes, which alone can provide such organization and dynamic functions. Thus they declare, "personality is the organization of all the integrative (regnant) processes in the brain" (p. 9). The task of the student is to ascertain the given regnant process responsible for observed behavior: if we wish to comprehend the dynamics of behavior, we must attempt to conceive of a characteristic, or variable, of the regnant configuration which will account for every significant characteristic of observed behavior" (p. 11). The regnant processes function in an area between the afferent (sensory) nervous system and the efferent (motor) nervous system. Operating
( 564) presumably through the afferent nervous system are the four chief types of determinants of personality: constitutional determinants, group-membership determinants, role determinants, and situational determinants. These four classes of determinants mold the personality into whatever form it takes. Their operation forms a deposit of crystallized integrative process which the authors regard as constituting personality structure. The regnant processes of the brain which constitute personality are regarded by the authors as having a series of functions which represent what personality does. These functions are identified as:
to allow for the periodic regeneration of energies by sleep; to exercise its processes; to express its feelings and valuations; to reduce successive need-tensions; to design serial programs for the attainment of distant goals; to reduce conflicts between needs by following schedules which result in an harmonious way of life; to rid itself of uneducable tensions by restricting the number and lowering the levels of goals to be attained; and, finally, to reduce conflicts between personal dispositions and the dictates of the superego by successive compromise formations, the trend of which is towards a whole-hearted emotional identification with both the conserving and creative forces of society (p. 32).
The above recapitulation is an abbreviated yet faithful account of the salient features of the authors' conception of personality. This reviewer believes the conception to be markedly confused, weird, unworkable and constituting a sorry hostage to eclecticism. Within the limits of this review attention will be directed to a few of the features of the authors' treatment which support this charge.
First, there is noticeable inability on the part of the authors to adhere to their stated definition of personality. The shifting in meaning is not trivial but shows basic confusion. This can readily be seen by any interested reader if he will substitute the formal definition, "the organization of all the integrative (regnant) processes in the brain" for the word, "personality" wherever the authors employ this word as part of their own treatment (for example, on pages 17, 18, 21, 26, 27, 28 and 32). Such application shows by its absurd results that the authors depart widely from their stated conception of personality. It shows, also, that the authors are unable to fix upon the central object with which they purport to deal. One scarcely needs to point out that if a central concept jumps about in its connotation it is unsatisfactory for analytical thinking and for scientific research.
Second, if we accept the authors' repeated declaration that personality consists of the organization of the integrative processes in the brain, we are confronted with an area of concern of questionable accessibility, and we are provided with no guides whatsoever as to how to study this area. The field of regnant process, as treated by the authors, is the area intervening between sensory experience and motor activity. To lodge personality in this area is to place it in a terra incognita or no-man's land. Such an area is clearly not open to direct observation by the individual having the regnant processes (how can one observe what is post-sensory and pre-motor?) although the authors advance a mystic view of regnant processes miraculously revealing themselves to themselves, thereby constituting introspection! However, even the authors recognize that regnant processes are to be gotten at primarily through inference from observation of overt behavior rather than through direct observation. Yet they say nothing as to how such inference is to be made, controlled, or checked for validity. They give no criteria by means of which one can identify or distinguish a regnant process. Logically, thus, inference of regnant process becomes helter-skelter and anarchic. This is scarcely conducive to the formation of reliable knowledge of personality. Added to the absence of guideposts for identifying regnant processes is the absence of any declarations, suggestions, or cues as to how to study regnant process in process. Presumably, a regnant process in process handles the stuff of given sensory experience and directs it to yield given motor activity. The reviewer can find in the authors' treatment no example of such a process in process nor any hints on how to study such a process in process. The authors' lengthy discussion of the functions of personality—an arbitrary list with no rationale—throws no light on the functioning of regnant processes. The foregoing considerations suggest that the conceptions of personality advanced by the authors, if taken seriously, is essentially weird and unusable.
Third, one may note the curious puzzle set by the authors in their view that the organization of regnant processes (which presumably are to reign) are determined by the constitution of the individual, by his group membership, by his roles, and by his situations. Logically, under this view the regnant processes which are to integrate sensory experiences are in turn governed in this task by the sensory experiences yielded by constitution, group membership, role, and situation. Seemingly the patterning of sensory experience determines the integrating process
( 565) which is to integrate such sensory experiences! The reviewer is unable to find in the authors' treatment any solution to the puzzle as to what rules, determines, or integrates what.
The above mentioned difficulties are a few of the instances of confusion, logical weakness, and weird view that a discerning student will find in the authors' treatment. The difficulties, in the opinion of the reviewer, are less a reflection on the caliber of thought of the authors, who are distinguished students of demonstrated ability, than they are a reflection on current modes of thought in social psychology. For it may be contended (and I suspect correctly so) that the authors' conception of personality as organization of regnant processes in the brain is merely a theoretical window-dressing made in the interests of eclecticism, and not to be taken too seriously. But this raises precisely the point that needs consideration. Contemporary social psychology—as in the field of personality study—has become an immensely dispersed enterprise, moving almost feverishly along the most variant lines. The separate studies and schemes of interpretation constituting this vast enterprise are undeniably predicated on different images of human beings and are to a surprising degree characterized by logical contradiction in basic premises. Yet in the face of this condition the theorists, with rare exception, become spurious eclectics. They seek to develop a synthetic or ordered scheme by piecing together in a specious manner divergent schemes, interpretations, and research findings which actually are based on inconsistent images of human beings and on premises which are logically contradictory. The proper task which would seem to confront the theorist is that of exposing the different and distorted images of human beings, and the logical contradictions in premise, which are implicit in current work, so that the groundwork might be laid for more realistic and, consequently, fruitful study. The shallow eclecticism which is fashionable in social psychology eschews this task. In sanctioning and shielding the deficiencies in the separate studies and schemes, it serves no beneficial purpose and is, indeed, detrimental to the development of sound social psychological theory.
To this reviewer it is regrettable that a distinguished anthropologist and a distinguished psychologist should abet such an unfortunate trend in contemporary social psychology.
University of Chicago