Qualitative Cultural Psychological Methodology and Science

  • Carl Ratner
Part of the Path in Psychology book series (PATH)


The answer to this question depends on one’s definition of science. If science is conceived as recording singular variables that are operationally defined quantities of overt behavior, then qualitative psychological methodology is unscientific. For qualitative methodology deciphers complex psychological quality in networks of extended responses. However, the positivistic conception of science may not be valid. If science follows nonpositivistic canons, then a nonpositivistic qualitative methodology may, in fact, be scientific. To decide this question we must discuss the extent to which positivism represents actual scientific practice. Let us begin by charting the epistemological tenets of positivistic science, which are contrasted to nonscientific epistemological principles.


Natural Science Natural Experiment Ideal Type Cultural Activity Qualitative Methodology 
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  1. 1.
    Developing a logically consistent, unified worldview of all physical phenomena was a compelling, passionate need for Einstein, as it was for Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. Einstein’s primary ambition was, in his words, to fashion as complete as possible a scientific world picture, seeking the greatest possible logical unity in the world picture. Again and again he declared his interest in constructing a unified world conception, “das einheitliche Weltbild, which would find the necessary base of all natural phenomena and at the same time unify the separate, compartmentalized sciences. Darwin sought a similarly coherent explanation for the development of all forms of life (Holton, 1986, pp. 74, 92, chap. 4). Einstein believed so strongly in the logical consistency of scientific theories that he was willing to abandon relativity rather than modify it. Modifying relativity theory would violate its logical integrity. In Einstein’s words, “The great attraction of the theory is its logical consistency. If any deduction from it should prove untenable, it must be given up. A modification of it seems impossible without the destruction of the whole” (cited in Hentschel, 1992, p. 602). Einstein’s belief in the empirical truth of logical consistency also led him to “dogmatically” suspect rival theories and empirical evidence that were incompatible with relativity theory. Of course, he was willing to accept them if they should ultimately be proven correct; however, he strongly doubted this possibility on logical grounds. In virtually all cases, his suspicions were confirmed as rival theories and contradictory evidence were eventually discredited (Holton, 1986, pp. 71, 92 ).Google Scholar
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    The positivistic view of science does not represent Darwin’s methodology, for example. Staddon (1971, p. 690) tells us that: the way in which Darwin sought to prove his theories bears little resemblance to what is often taught as standard scientific method. No crucial experiments, no statistical tests, no quantitative predictions. Instead his method was to establish the probable truth of a proposition by means of converging, independent lines of evidence, some from his own [observations], some from the observations of others…. Thus, his conjecture concerning [the origin of] coral reefs was supported by distributional evidence… [and] by structural evidence. positivism. Carnap similarly insisted that quantum mechanics had not been formulated according to the rigorous standards of modern logic (Toulmin & Leary, 1985, p. 608 ).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Marx and Engels (1872/1962, p. 52) argue that all class societies, however different they may be, share common psychological features.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    See R. D. Laing’s Sanity, Madness, and the Family (1964) for an excellent demonstration of explanation by resemblance. Although Laing is solely concerned with explaining the parental causes of schizophrenia, and he fails to include cultural values and practices in his analysis, his familial explanation of schizophrenia is a model of explanation by resemblance.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl Ratner
    • 1
  1. 1.Humboldt State UniversityArcataUSA

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