Manifesto for a Cubist Psychology

Why do we expect a singular answer to any single question?

I would have thought that there are many ways of answering most things that give rise to questions. In psychology, there are rarely, if ever, singular agreed-to answers for any single psychology-related question. I’m proposing a Cubist Psychology.

What would a Cubist Psychology be like?

Cubist Psychologists would move around their subject matter much as Cubist painters moved around an object that they were painting. They would paint it from many different points of view in the same composition.

People are compositions. Psychology is usually thought of as the study of people. In order to understand how it is to be a person, we need to move around the idea of a person and look at persons from many different points of view. Within psychology as a discipline, there are many kinds of psychologist each of whom approaches – in their own way – how it is to be a person. There are social, developmental and cognitive points of view, among many others that could be listed.

A Cubist Psychology treats these points of view as a set and on their own merits without attempting to collapse them into any singular point of view or answer to the question where none such is possible. We can treat a person as an individual and also as a member of a group of persons at the same time. We can treat a person as being in a developmental process as well as a product of such a process. We can treat persons as historical beings located in the time and place in which they live. And we can treat a person in many other ways, including many other ways in psychology as well as many other ways not dreamt of in any psychology. Psychology is itself a manifold of different disciplines for which no one singular kind of discipline could ever be said to answer all the questions on how it is to be a person. When we treat something that exists for us, we cannot literally refer to it by representing it. An artwork is never a copy of something that exists; rather, it is something to be seen as existing in its own right. The bounded framing that an artist shapes is conceptual as much as it is physical. After all, where does an object begin or end? Why are some features highlighted or omitted or transformed in some way; the artwork – as with the idea of a person – is always a composition, always being put together. And this includes the variety of puttings together made by the viewer, the critic or the historian.

Once we take a Cubist view, there are always many alternative compositions of any subject matter.

A Cubist composition rendered by taking a Cubist Psychology standpoint is of value in its own right, and not simply because it refers to something represented by some as the only reality. We need to examine our everyday conceptions of how it is to be a person as carefully as we examine the assumed reality of people. There is no such subject matter of persons independent of our conceptions.

It is by treating subject matter the way that artists and their artworks have done that we can show the variety of ways that we treat subject matter, such as how it is to be a person. By acting this way, it may be possible to reveal the way a singular vision is but one of many treatments realised in practice. Perhaps we need a kind of warning: other treatments of subject matter are available!

In next month’s piece, I’ll try to set out an example of how a Cubist Psychology of persons would play out in practice. I’ll deal with a possible paradox: How is it that a person can be at the same time both a unique entity acting in the world and also a bundle or collection of parts?

Your comments on this and any other posting are very welcome,



Post – blog – Script

I’ve addressed the issues raised in this posting (among others) in my book ‘Acts of Consciousness’ see publisher’s link below this post. For a preview of Guy’s book, use the following link to the publisher – Cambridge University Press:

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