A philosophical note on the study of personality
Published: 05-16-2016 Edited: 05-16-2016
- It’s difficult to create a neuropsychological framework of personality, because it tries to blend knowledge from two different philosophies together into one.
Psychology is primarily associated with social phenomena and qualitative experience while neuroscience is primarily associated with non-social phenomena and quantitative experience.
One could define personality primarily on quantitative measurements but end up with a meaningless system lacking usefulness and explanatory power or one could define personality primarily on qualitative reports but end up with a fuzzy system based on anecdotal and subjective statements.
But let’s see if we can navigate through this.
Here is our philosophical assumptions:
- Phenomenal experience. Is the ability to directly experience the world, known to be possessed by living creatures.
- Semantics and meaning. Are derived from phenomenal experience of the world. For example without having met a real dog a person can never understand the meaning of “dog” or the meaning of “gravity”.
- Phenomena. Is a distinct category of phenomenal experience, as an example “redness” is categorically different from “blueness”. In order to define a phenomena linguistically one needs to use words or symbols which have an associated semantic or meaning.
- Time. Is a real phenomena which always exists.
- Science. Is to be able to explain how phenomena change over time, both phenomena in the past and phenomena in the future, regardless of the scale of the phenomena.
- Natural science. Is to explain how not man-made phenomena change over time.
- Social science. Is to be able to explain man-made phenomena change over time.
- Construct. Is something which is useful when a mind is cognising about something.
- Personality. Is a construct that tries to explain individual differences and is hidden from “pure observation”, it is like the construct of “gravity” or “evolution” something that cannot be directly observed but rather can be thought of as a “invisible force” that can be useful when a mind is trying to explain how phenomena change over time.
This leads us to the conclusion that the science of personality is about defining constructs that are cognitively useful to explain how individuals differences change social phenomena over time.
A problem with this definition is that usefulness is a subjective term and can be interpreted differently by different people.
A neuropsychological personality-theory is then a theory where constructs about qualitative individual differences is linked to quantitative biological underpinnings and this is then also useful in explaining how social phenomena change over time.
Important questions for any personality-theory
- How apparent is the phenomena? How much training is required for people to “see” it? Does people in general spontaneously see it?
- How useful is the construct in explaining how a phenomena changes? Does people in general spontaneously regard the constructs as useful?