Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found its Language. Kurt Danziger. vii + 214 pp. Sage Publications, 1997. $23.95.
The book starts promisingly. Kurt Danziger describes an attempt to find common ground with an Indonesian colleague for a collaborative seminar in psychology. Difficulties arose in organizing the seminar's topics because concepts and phenomena in Danziger's Western psychology lacked counterparts in his Eastern colleague's, and vice versa. The seminar never came to pass. Danziger discusses how conceptual categories can vary over time and across cultures, then takes the reader on a tour of the history of psychology, mainly concentrating on the evolution of psychological terminology and concepts during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. He treats the sources of various psychological terms—intelligence, motivation, learning, attitude—but by stopping at mid-century, he leaves implicit their connections to psychology's contemporary language. The book is therefore much more likely to be of interest to the psychology historian than to the general reader.
Over the past 20 years, both psychology and linguistics have addressed in novel ways the fundamental role of metaphor. In Metaphors We Live By (Chicago, 1980), linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson show how extensions of the language of the concrete allow us to talk about the abstract. In Johnson's The Body in the Mind and in Lakoff's Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (both Chicago, 1987), they extend their accounts to the sources of metaphors based on the body, and they counter the incorrect assumption that mental categories are based on shared properties of their members, a fallacy that Lakoff's title illustrates (a grouping from an Australian aboriginal language). The point is relevant to Danziger's own categories and those of his Indonesian colleague.
Behavioral accounts of language and categorization in psychology have converged on similar conclusions. For example, B. F. Skinner has used the etymologies of nouns to reveal that they are metaphorical extensions of behavior verbs (consider the origins of "comprehension" in the Latin prehendere, "to grasp"), and William Vaughan Jr. has shown that even a pigeon can be taught arbitrary categories in which the members do not contain shared properties.
An etymology of psychological terms could be useful. For example, what can we say about why the term "will" (as in "having the political will") persists in everyday discourse but has disappeared from technical psychological usage, whereas other terms like "mind" have evolved in both verbal communities? Unfortunately, in his treatments of psychological terms, Danziger talks about new conceptual categories through language usage but has little to say about the mechanisms that lead to such changes or about the status of the changes that have taken place in psychology.
Although the title tantalizes, this book is not about the vocabulary of mind and never says what the appropriate language for psychology is or ought to be. The author fails to recognize that his own treatment of language is itself constrained by a mid-20th century psychological vocabulary. We could try elsewhere for accounts of how psychology found its language, but maybe it would be safer to conclude that it is still looking.—A. Charles Catania, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland Baltimore County
Check out our most recent podcast: How You Can Better Communicate Your Science - science author and journalist Dennis Meredith discusses some of the ways he’s found to help scientists become more effective communicators.
Click the Title to view all of our Pizza Lunch Podcasts!
A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.
An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns,
and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.
News of book reviews published in
and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
To sign up for automatic emails of the
Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an
online profile, then sign up in the
My AmSci area.