What Is Necessarily True in Psychology?

  • Jan Smedslund


The position is taken that psychology is not an empirical science and that generally valid propositions in psychology are explications of common sense and hence necessarily true. A proposition in a given context belongs to common sense if and only if all competent users of the language involved agree that the proposition in the given context is true and that its negation is contradictory or senseless. Studies attempting to test necessarily true propositions are labelled pseudoempirical. The paper presents numerous examples of necessarily true propositions and pseudoempirical studies taken from various fields of psychology.


Subjective Norm Common Sense Subjective Probability Speech Sound Ordinary Language 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abelson, R. P., & Rosenberg, M. J. Symbolic psychologic: A model of attitudinal cognition. Behavioral Science, 1958, 3, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1978, 87, 49–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Apel, K. O. Die Entfaltung der ‘sprachanalytischen’ Philosophie und das Problem der ‘Geisteswissenchaften’. Philosophische Jahrbuch, 1965, 72, 239–289.Google Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 1977, 84, 19–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bandura, A. On distinguishing between logical and empirical verification. A comment on Smedslund. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1978, 19, 97–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bateson, G. G., Jackson, D., Haley, J., & Weakland, J. Toward a theory of schizophrenia, Behavioral Science, 1956, 1, 251–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bentler, P. M., & Speckart, G. Models of attitude-behavior relations. Psychological Review, 1979, 86, 452–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bohm, D. Wholeness and the implicate order. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.Google Scholar
  9. Bradley, R., & Swartz, N. Possible worlds. An introduction to logic and its philosophy. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1979.Google Scholar
  10. Brainerd, C. J. The stage question in cognitive-developmental theory. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1978, 2, 173–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brandtstädter, J. Sprachanalysen und Verhaltenserklärungen in der Psychologie. Trierer Psychologische Berichte, 1980, 7, 3.Google Scholar
  12. Chein, I. The science of behavior and the image of man. New York: Basic Books, 1972.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, L. J. Can human irrationality be experimentally demonstrated? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1981, 3, 317–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dollard, J., Doob, L. W., Miller, N. E., Mowrer, O. H., Sears, R. R., Ford, C. S., Hovland, C. I., & Sollenberger, R. T. Trustration and aggression. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Edwards, W. Decision making. Psychological aspects. In D. L. Sills (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (Vol. 4). New York: Macmillan, 1968, pp. 34–42.Google Scholar
  16. Evans, J. St. B. T. Current issues in the psychology of reasoning. British Journal of Psychology, 1980, 71, 227–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Feffer, M., & Suchotliff, L. Decentering implications of social interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966, 4, 415–422.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Festinger, L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, 1957.Google Scholar
  19. Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. Belief, attitude, intention and behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975.Google Scholar
  20. Flavell, J. H., & Wohlwill, J. F. Formal and functional aspects of cognitive development. In D. Elkind & J. H. Flavell (Eds.), Studies in cognitive development. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.Google Scholar
  21. Gergen, K. J. Social psychology as history. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, 36, 309–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gergen, K. J. Social psychology, science and history. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1976, 2, 373–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heider, F. The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley, 1958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Henle, M. On the relation between logic and thinking. Psychological Review, 1962, 69, 366–378.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Israel, J. The language of dialectics and the dialectics of language. Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1979.Google Scholar
  26. Ittelson, W. H. The Ames demonstrations in perception. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952.Google Scholar
  27. Laucken, U. Naive Verhaltenstheorie. Stuttgart: Klett, 1973.Google Scholar
  28. Martin, E. Transfer of verbal paired associates. Psychological Review, 1965, 72, 327–343.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Meehl, P. E. On the circularity of the law of effect. Psychological Bulletin, 1950, 47, 52–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Miller, D. T. Personal deserving versus justice for others: An exploration of the justice motive. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1977, 13, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Miller, G. A., Heise, G. A., & Lichten, W. The intelligibility of speech as a function of the context of the test materials. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1951, 41, 329–335.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Osgood, C. E. The similarity paradox in human learning. A resolution. Psychological Review, 1949, 56, 132–143.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Osgood, C. E., & Tannenbaum, P. H. The principle of congruity in the prediction of attitude change. Psychological Review, 1955, 62, 42–55.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ossorio, P. G. Never smile at a crocodile. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 1973, 3, 121–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ossorio, P. G., & Davis, K. E. The self, intentionality, and reactions to evaluations of the self. In C. Gordon & K. J. Gergen (Eds.), The self in social interaction. New York: Wiley, 1968.Google Scholar
  36. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. Helplessness and attributional style in depression. Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association, 1981, 18, 1–18, 53–59.Google Scholar
  37. Piaget, J. The origins of intelligence in children. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. The psychology of the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.Google Scholar
  39. Postman, L. The history and present status of the Law of Effect. Psychological Bulletin, 1947, 44, 489–563.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rosenberg, M. J., Hovland, C. I., McGuire, W. J., Abelson, R. P., & Brehm, J. W. Attitude organization and change. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.Google Scholar
  41. Schneider, D. J. Social psychology. London: Addison-Wesley, 1976.Google Scholar
  42. Schuman, A. I. The double bind hypothesis a decade later. Psychological Bulletin, 1967, 68, 409–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Schutz, A. Collected papers. I. The problem of social reality. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1967.Google Scholar
  44. Schutz, A., & Luckmann, T. The structure of the life-world. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1973.Google Scholar
  45. Shotter, J. Critical notice: Are Fincham & Shultz’s findings empirical findings? British Journal of Social Psychology, 1981, 20, 143–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Shotter, J., & Newson, J. An ecological approach to cognitive development. In G. Butterworth & P. Light (Eds.), Social cognition: Studies of the development of understanding. Sussex: Harvester, 1982.Google Scholar
  47. Smedslund, J. Concrete reasoning: A study of intellectual development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 1964, 29, No. 2.Google Scholar
  48. Smedslund, J. Circular relation between understanding and logic. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1970, 11, 217–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smedslund, J. Becoming a psychologist. Theoretical foundations for a humanistic psychology. New York: Halsted Press and Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1972.Google Scholar
  50. Smedslund, J. Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy: A set of common sense theorems. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1978, 19, 1–14. (a)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Smedslund, J. Some psychological theories are not empirical: Reply to Bandura. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1978, 19, 101–102. (b)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smedslund, J. Between the analytic and the arbitrary: A case study of psychological research. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1979, 20, 129–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smedslund, J. Analyzing the primary code: From empiricism to apriorism. In D. Olson (Ed.), The social foundations of language and thought. Essays in honor of J. S. Bruner. New York: Norton, 1980.Google Scholar
  54. Smedslund, J. The logic of psychological treatment. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 1981, 22, 65–77.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Taylor, J. A. A personality scale of manifest anxiety. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1953, 48, 285–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Thorndike, E. L. Human learning. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1931.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tversky, A. Features of similarity. Psychological Review, 1977, 84, 327–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. van der Waerden, B. L. Science awakening. Groningen, Holland: Noordhoff, 1954.Google Scholar
  59. Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J. H., & Jacson, D. D. Pragmatics of human communication. New York: Norton, 1967.Google Scholar
  60. Weakland, H. H. The double bind hypothesis by self-reflexive hindsight. Family Process, 1974, 13, 269–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Smedslund
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyUniversity of OsloBlindem, Oslo 3Norway

Personalised recommendations