Questions on Theory
Below is a suggestion from Steve Slavik, M.A.: It is apparent, from a “neutral” description of common sense, that Adler’s conception of common sense follows his private logic. He states “We may define common sense as all those forms of expression and as the content of all behavior which we find beneficial to the community” (Adler, 1956, p. 149). Although certainly not without its perspective, we might compare this with the conception of common sense offered by Alfred Schutz, a contemporary of Adler: The social world into which man is born and within which he has to find his bearings is experienced by him as a tight knit web of social relationships, of systems of signs and symbols with their particular meaning structure, of institutionalized forms of social organization, of systems of status and prestige, etc. The meaning of all these elements of the social world in all its diversity and stratification, as well as the pattern of its texture itself, is by those living within it just taken for granted . . . [and] are socially accepted as the good ways and the right ways for coming to terms with things and fellow-men. (1964, p. 230) We offer this comparison only to emphasize that Adler’s idea of common sense is an expression of his private logic. And if so, we wonder on what grounds we might persuade another to accept Adler’s private vision of the betterment of life and mankind in place of one’s own. Certainly as therapists we often do persuade others, at least in our own private versions of his private vision. In practice, individuals often come to see that cooperation has its merits and will help one out of the dilemmas that his or her own private vision engenders (Slavik & Croake, 2012). In sum, in practice, we often can help modify the methods that an individual uses to express his or her private logic. Yet, in theory, Adler’s thinking does not seem to offer a ground for this practice. His thinking is entirely practical, offering a model and methods to promote the practice of therapy. If we are to believe him, everyone has a private logic and there is no theoretical ground to elevate any particular one as “better” than another. We cannot appeal to the level of social interest expressed since this concept is part of Adler’s own private logic. Unless we accept the ideal of social interest on some other theoretical grounds, external to Adler’s own thinking, we do not seem to have a basis for Adler’s practice recommendations. I am looking for a way out of this dilemma. Any help out there?
Steve, I don’t know if I can be as eloquent as the perspective that you raised, but I offer a few thoughts in response to your observations/question. Within each culture and even sub-culture, there is a common sense that is an agreed upon way of seeing the world and a certain sense of what is right and wrong. There are values that are almost certainly universal, for example, that killing is wrong. Yet, even this act can be morally justified, for example, when there is no other choice to save one’s life or the life of another that is close. When we all agree to stop on red lights, we agree to a certain way of living with rules that we can all abide by to avoid complete chaos. In this way, there is a standard way of living that assumes the common good surpasses individual need. Someone can function within his or her private logic that disregards the common sense that within a society we agree is right. The common sense would suggest that this person is a rebel or a deviant or at least own needs outweigh the common good. The standard of common sense will vary from culture to culture and even within sub-cultures. People within gangs likely have a common sense understanding among members and justify actions in support of it. Your reference to Alfred Schutz reinforces the point I am making, in my opinion. There may be one ideal as a guiding point, that human beings are wired to belong and contribute in socially useful ways if given the choice. If discouraged or somehow rejected from the norms within a given society, then they will find socially useless ways to belong. They will join with others, where possible, and find a common sense view as a misguided guiding post. Who can say that this common sense is wrong? The majority of people that hold an agreed upon set of values will then offer an evaluation that the minority view is deviant or flawed. I believe that social interest is by our very nature an inherent value. When nurtured and encouraged, individuals are more likely to positively align with this core value. Yet, it must always be culturally specific and an ultimate definition lies in our definition of the predominant culture and the ways that individuals ultimately belong.
Steve, if I understand your perspective, you noted that Adler's sense of social interest is his private logic and thus not a universal common sense that we all develop. I added the point that we all desire to belong and within a group, we develop a common sense that leads us to feel more aligned and a part of that group. When we feel we can contribute usefully and are part of the broader community, our common sense is in line with generally accepted standards which move closer to social interest and the common good. Where we feel discouraged and not a part of the broader community, then we develop misguided notions of our place and our common sense is more narrow into a sub-set of society and less aligned with the broader community's view of common good. Is this clearer?
Jay, thanks for the reply. What I am trying to get at is a way to justify theoretically the preeminence of Adler's vision of life without assuming that it is true. Why should we adopt Adler's vision when it is just one among the many that are available? How can we theoretically bolster it without assuming its truth? I'm not sure that an appeal to "belonging" will do it, since that is part of Dreikur's version of Adler's vision, and assumes the matter. However, if there were empitrical evidence regarding what you say about belonging, that would be interesting. Can you cite it for me? thanks, steve
Eva Dreikurs Ferguson wrote a Journal of Individual Psychology article showing empirical evidence on the need to belong. Gere and MacDonald published an update of the empirical case on a need to belong. JIP, vol. 66, no. 1, Spring 2010. While this is still an open question, I believe there is evidence here
Jay, thanks again for the reference. I've read the Gere and MacDonald paper with pleasure. I have some misgivings about its relevance to Adlerian thinking, however. My biggest qualm (but not the only one) is that the authors do not recogize and indicate that in studies with adults, all responses to experimental manipulations will be life-style-mediated, and, indeed, that the "need for belonging" itself will be life-style-mediated. But if we disregard this, and assume there is a universal need for belonging, what does this tell us about the issue I want to approach? We can say that in Adler's private vision of people, he made a good guess. There is a need to belong--or at least there are consequences to having a secure sense of belonging and other consequences for a lack of one, at least as shown in studies with adults. (I'm not sure that that the presense of "consequences" in either case is the same as a "need," BTW.) But this "fact" clearly does not bring along with it the remainder of the conceptual apparatus of Individual Psychology, such as life-style convictions, apperception, and social interest. More importantly, it does not bring along with it a theoretical ground for all the practical interventions of Adlerian psychotherapy, for which I am looking. I'm beginning to think that there is no general theory in Individual Psychology. In fact, if Adler is right, we have nothing but practical reasons to justify his thinking about practice--"it works". No theoretical reasons can justify selecting his point of view over that of others. Maybe what he offers is just a practice and discourse regarding practice. He offers a theory of practice to support the practice and his theory of personality is subordinate to the practice. thanks. I will keep thinking.
Let's consider this from a different perspective. If Adler's theory is "true", then there is no possibility of true cooperation between people. He says that we are all so embedded/invested in our own point of view that no amount of good will bewteen us can ever help us create a common (inderline that) goal. We may be willing to help another to achieve his or her goals, but we are always working to attain our own end. Just like in learning, we choose who we help, how we help, and for what ends we help to suit our goal. This is not true cooperation, where we have a common goal. In fact, it's impossible to have a common goal. And research is not really possible, since that demands a common goal. But if we do not assume that Adler's thinking is true, then at least the possibility of common goals exists. And then we could actually investigate whether Adler's thinking is accurate.
That seems to be the point of social interest. The purpose of developing social interest, and its function, is to turn the focus from oneself to another. As social interest develops, the ability to cooperate or come closer to true cooperation improves because focus becomes more about achieving another's goals rather than solely one's own. Actions become more useful because they become increasingly aligned with the greater good. What do you think?
That seems to be the point of social interest. The purpose of developing social interest, and its function, is to turn the focus from oneself to another. As social interest develops, the ability to cooperate or come closer to true cooperation improves because focus becomes more about achieving another's goals rather than solely one's own. Actions become more useful because they become increasingly aligned with the greater good. What do you think? Yes, thanks for the reply. I think that what you say is the best answer that Adlerian thinking can give to the question. I would be inclined to put it this way, that, in the example of a marriage, that actions become more selfless as the partners become more aligned with one another's goals and hopes. But in fact Adler seems to think that one can give up one's goal to align with the other. But I am quibbling, here. This still does not satisfy my original question of why should we priviledge Alder's private logic. I am still thinking about this.
Outside of our own private logic, there is no basis to privilege Adler's theory above another because no theory can be understood except through our own private logic. The only reason that we would choose Adler's instead of another is if it made sense in the context of our private logic to do so. To answer your question, in my opinion, Adler's theory does not hold any inherent value above another theory except that one chooses to believe it does.
Wow! exactly the conclusion I come to. In fact, I have been sitting here on the west coast of Canada this sunny afternoon, coming to this identical conclusion, and then I found a solution, based on some readings I found this morning. I have started writing up my ideas in a paper. It may take me a week or more to get a decent rough draft of the paper ready, but when I have it I would be glad to send you a copy. It will be too long to post here. This offer goes for anyone who reads this and might like to see it. I'm steve slavik, firstname.lastname@example.org