Academic Spotlight
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New Held Book Examines Foundations of Psychology

Story posted June 08, 2007

Several years after publishing Stop Smiling Start Kvetching (St. Martin's, 2001), a book that presaged, and punctured, the rampant positive thinking of the self-help movement, Bowdoin Professor of Psychology Barbara Held has released a new book.

book cover

In Psychology's Interpretive Turn: The Search for Truth and Agency in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (American Psychological Association Books, 2007), Held defends the possibility of objective psychological truth against the growing numbers of theoretical psychologists who promote a view of humans as agents who are free to be what they subjectively interpret themselves to be, within the constraints of their cultural/historical contexts.

Held asks the question, "Is objective psychological truth possible?" She argues that any philosophy of psychology that in principle precludes objective psychological knowledge and truth also undermines an agency based on human rationality, including the rational interpretation of reality.

"I spent eight years researching this book," says Held, who in the work identifies a new and growing group of psychologists who reject postmodernism as much as they do objectivist psychology. She terms them "middle-ground theorists."

"I don't happen to think there is a middle ground in this matter," she says. "You either believe objective psychological truth is possible or you don't. I can think I'm a prima ballerina, but thinking doesn't make it so."

Held has published widely in journals and also is author of Back to Reality: A Critique of Postmodern Theory in Psychotherapy (W.W. Norton 1995).

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works, calls Held's newest book, "an incisive and original analysis of two issues-objectivity and agency-that lie at the very foundations of the study of human psychology."

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