Psychologist

 

Psychologist

 

Here is an extra oddity: I was originally trained as a psychologist not a philosopher. And I don’t mean a philosophical psychologist but an experimental psychologist. I used to be a scientist. I got my B.A. in psychology from Manchester University in 1971 (first class) and went on to do an M.A. in psychology under Professor John Cohen. I studied very little philosophy in my undergraduate years, except some philosophy of science and phenomenology. Only when I went to Oxford as a postgraduate did I study any analytical philosophy or history of philosophy. I might easily have stayed a psychologist  (it isn’t that I was no good at psychology). This makes it all the more surprising that I ended up where I did (see “Best Philosopher Ever”).[1] The whole thing seems like a complete fantasy, just wildly improbable. I can’t explain it. Since I retired the scientist in me has been asserting himself, presumably because I am no longer surrounded by philosophers and can give free rein to my natural inclinations. Of course, I believe that philosophy is a science in its own right (see “The Science of Philosophy”), but here I mean that the ordinary empirical scientist in me has been active. If it weren’t for that rash and risky decision in 1971 to try to become a philosopher, I would presumably have been a scientific psychologist—and what would that possible world have looked like? How strange life is!

[1] Psychologists don’t generally make good philosophers… Actually I originally applied to university to study economics and switched to psychology at the last minute. In close possible worlds I am an economist!

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4 replies
  1. Dimitris
    Dimitris says:

    Mr. McGinn I am a great admirer of your books. I’d be very interested to know your views, on Roger Scruton’s theory of Cognitive Dualism. He affirms that whatever matters to us, as human beings, whatever we feel makes our life meaningful and fulfilling: such concepts as grace, harmony, politeness, innocence, a feeling of homecoming, or the fact that we register some music as dramatic, soaring, graceful or charged with purpose, cannot be accommodated by a scientific description of what the world contains. I think Thomas Nagel somewhere says that, if we were provided with a complete and thorough description of whatever can be measured in the universe, we’d never be able to derive from that voluminous set of data the fact that an ‘I’ existed. I am puzzled that each one of our perspectives on the world, somehow would fail to show up in the universe’s ‘complete works’. Shouldn’t this limitation of Science be more insisted upon in public discourse, to prevent a reductive-scientistic worldview from prevailing with people less well instructed in philosophy ? If I recall correctly, Scruton’s avowed mission as a philosopher, was to ‘rescue the Lebenswelt’ from all those reductive accounts making inroads in our outlook. Do you sympathise with that cause ?

    Thank you in advance,

    Dimitrios

    Reply
    • Colin McGinn
      Colin McGinn says:

      This kind of theory is very common in the philosophical literature. I would prefer to drop the word “cognitive” because the view is ontological not merely cognitive (“property dualism”). I also prefer pluralism to dualism because we also need to find room for non-psychological facts (ethical, mathematical, etc.) And I don’t think the issue is science versus non-science, since there are scientific disciplines (including philosophy) that are not the same as physics and chemistry.

      Reply
  2. paul reinicke
    paul reinicke says:

    What is your overall assessment of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? I see some who completely dismiss it. Some who attach way too much relevance to it. Where approximately do you stand? And thanks, in advance.

    Reply
  3. Colin McGinn
    Colin McGinn says:

    I don’t know much about it. All such tests suffer from problems of reliability and validity, but they can have some utility.

    Reply

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