The invention of uncertainty in american psychology: Intellectual Conflict and Rhetorical Resolution, 1890-1930

Anne C. Rose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

A sharp and personal polemical style characterized psychology as a new human science in American universities at the turn of the 20th century. When the experimental pursuit of truth about the mind produced quarreling rather than clarity, psychologists experienced a crisis of confidence. One solution was rhetorical: the use of a disclaimer that all current knowledge was rudimentary and a call for further research to end contention. The wording established a public tone of modesty and fostered collegiality. Scientific disagreements and underlying personal tensions remained, but conventional phrases promising future resolution of disputes contributed to a language of good manners and thereby facilitated debate. Nonetheless, the verbal formula of deferred hopes also made uncertainty seem normative. Confessions of tentativeness helped lay a historical foundation for routine investigation in psychology, but emphasis on incompleteness as an explanation of discord also made experimentation seem perpetual and truth elusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-382
Number of pages27
JournalHistory of Psychology
Volume14
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Psychology(all)

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