Liam Hudson first came to my notice in 1968 when I turned from Agriculture to Sociology and my supervisor, the late Keith Barley, gave me a copy of Contrary Imaginations as a farewell gift. The book is a study of the psychological characteristics of English high school students and their choice between science and the humanities. It has many attractive features including fascinating case studies and provocative speculations on the predisposing factors for creativity and productivity in the life of the mind.
He continued that line of work in more depth and reported the results in his second book Frames of Mind. One reviewer described this work as "intellectual foreplay", preliminary efforts that might portent significant achievements in the future. That reviewer would have found Hudson's next book to be rather disappointing (a premature ejaculation?). Undoubtedly Hudson is breathing heavily in The Cult of the Fact and it might fairly be described as a huffing and puffing book. Hudson's mission in this book was to blow down the massive edifice of Hard Psychological Science with its protective ramparts of objectivity, methodological rigor and statistical propriety. This endeavor has patricidal overtones because he was trained in the tough, no nonsense schools of Oxford philosophy and experimental psychology.
The Cult of the Fact appeared in 1972, the same year as Popper's book Objective Knowledge with several papers written during the 1960s on the theory of "three worlds" -- the three separate but interlinked realms of material bodies, subjective minds and the objective contents of thought. Hudson wanted a study of psychology that paid attention to the contents of minds and Popper provided the worldview that made allowance for the contents of minds in both the subjective and the objective senses. For more on this, see my papers on objective knowledge and literary criticism..
The Cult of the Fact rates as a white dwarf, a volume that is so densely packed that it has something more to offer even after repeated readings. It can be recommended for a number of reasons:
An inside view of Oxford philosophy at the peak of its season.
A must for people aspiring to catch a unicorn.
A confrontation with the shortcomings of behaviourist psychology.
A disturbing account of the indoctrination of students, in the name of science.
Some of this material is so good that it defies paraphrase and I am delighted to have permission from the author to reproduce some lengthy passages from the book, which is currently out of print.
Hudson's account of the way that institutions and teachers weave their somewhat sinister spell over the younger generation anticipated a paper by Mark Notturno who approached his quarry from the direction of the history and philosophy of science to reach a similar conclusion.
Psychologists of different schools proceed from such opposing perspectives and use methods and techniques that are so different that it often seems impossible for them to communicate with one another. In my view this results less from an essential incommensurability of paradigms than from an almost smug unwillingness on the part of normal researchers to investigate the conceptual foundations of competing schools. Kuhn's description of science is sometimes appealed to as a justification for [this] ignorance. Today, education in psychology usually begins with an induction into one of the competing psychological theories. More important, the demands for success set upon research workers in any one of these schools function, with rare exception, as a practical discouragement towards investigating opposing views. Mark Notturno in 'The Popper/Kuhn debate: truth and two faces of relativism' in Psychological Medicine, 1984.
Hudson showed the need for a better understanding of the institutional pressures acting on scientists, and for more imaginative and critical thinking about the way young researchers are forced to follow fashionable lines of work if they want to remain within the bounds of academic respectability. His critical points were well made but there remained a serious deficiency because he desperately wanted to find or establish a new perspective which will legitimate the kind of work that he thinks should be going on in psychology. These thoughts are developed in the chapter Towards a New Root Metaphor in The Cult of the Fact.
My argument has been that as a cultural entity, psychology has had the misfortune to cut itself off both from its neighbours, and also, to an alarming extent, from the raw material out of which its own fabric should properly be built.
If we are to regain our pristine vigour, a major change is in store, not at the periphery, nor in detail, but at our corporate nub - a change in our conception of what we are about. And such a change must hinge on the emergence of a new model with which we can epitomize ourselves; a new root metaphor from which our more day-to-day activities will flow.
This very easily translates into language of the theory of metaphysical research programs, the theory developed by Popper to explore the influence of unstated and hence uncriticised assumptions about the nature of research and way that it should be done.
Hudson's formulated a number of principles, including the Law of Selective Attention to Data, to summarise his thinking as he worked his way out of the mould of 'hard science' towards a new vision.
That psychology is relevant inasmuch as it illuminates men's ideologies. It is relevant, in other words, to the extent that it examines the nature and tests the validity of the assumptions that we use in making sense of the world about us.
That the greater the ideological relevance of research, the greater the likelihood that the research worker doing it will pay selective attention to the evidence he collects.
That the greater the research worker's ideological involvement with his task, the more he will tend to adopt an extreme posture, as very hard or very soft; and the more strenuously will be appeal to external authority - if hard, to the authority of Science; if soft, to humane virtues like Democracy and Individuality.
That ideological commitment in research increases at times of political stress in society at large. And research not merely reflects that stress; it contributes to it.
That a psychology which is both relevant and dispassionate becomes possible only when the psychologist and his preoccupations are included as part of what psychology seeks to explain.
That the psychologist should envisage his work as a process wherein one person becomes acquainted with others.
He warned that the pursuit of any really new conception of psychology would be met with fierce resistance in the profession. To the extent the venture was successful it would result in a substantial redistribution of effort.
Activities now seen as significant will appear trivial, and vice versa. As a discipline, psychology will take as its core activities now treated as offshoots: social, educational, developmental, semantic and transactional research. Traditional concerns, such as learning theory based on rats and monkeys, and the more primitive aspects of human perception, will find their natural homes in departments of physiology, zoology and animal behaviour.
One of the things that has created huge problems for this kind of re-thinking is the deeply rooted distrust of highfalutin' theory and especially metaphysics in the mainstream of science and in the dominant schools of the philosophy of science, as noted by J A C Brown in Freud and the Post-Freudians. This contempt for metaphysics can be found in Hume's advice to "commit it to the flames" and it has come down to us in the line of thought that is often called British empiricism even though its strongest expression appeared in the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. Alfred Ayer brought logical positivism back to England and he launched it in the English-speaking world with his book Language Truth and Logic. This made no impression before WWII but it caught a wave of iconoclasm among the naïve host of new students who flooded the universities after the war. The movement began to spread beyond Europe in the late 1930s as the members of the Vienna Circle, many of them Jewish, fled for their lives. In the United States the movement, led by Carnap and Hempel, was called logical empiricism.
Manning Clarke, the Australian historian, recorded the flavour of encountering the crusading spirit of the positivists, round about 1940.
The first time I sat down in the 'caf' at Melbourne University I asked politely 'Would you please pass the salt?' My neighbour, a gifted woman, looked at me with the eye of the saved for the damned and said. 'I don't know what you mean.' I decided to listen to what was going on. In the ensuing weeks I picked up a new vocabulary. I often heard the word 'tautology': that, I gathered, was a sin against the Holy Ghost. I heard the phrase 'non sequitur'. I was often asked: 'Is that a verifiable proposition?'
In a similar vein Priestley wrote in Literature and Western Man:
The dismissal of metaphysics as mere fancy, ethics as a waste of words, left a vacuum, not to be filled by philosophy reduced to a narrow edge and its ally, science. It may be objected that logical positivism is highly technical and difficult, not for the general public. But any doctrine - and especially one that is new, original, and as irreverent and ruthlessly intolerant as any undergraduate would wish it to be - cannot be brilliantly expounded to some of the brightest young men in twenty or thirty universities without having some effect both inside and outside those universities. A certain atmosphere was created...that seemed to narrow and chill the mind.
This brings us back to Hudson's concerns, which he stated as follows
One of the most irritatingly persistent of the legacies that Ayer brought to England from Vienna in the 1930s is the assumption that all forms of inquiry are either an expression of prejudice, or scientific, and hence value-free.
This perverse view arose from the basic doctrine of positivism, namely the "verification principle" that was supposed to be used to distinguish between meaningful and meaningless talk. According to the positivists meaningful statements are matters of fact that can be verified by observations. Statements that cannot be verified are strictly meaningless. There are two problems with this doctrine; first, it turned out many scientific propositions, such as universal laws in the form "all ravens are black" cannot be strictly verified (we can never observe all the ravens in the universe) and so are strictly meaningless according to the verification principle.
Secondly, a whole array of important principles, topics, theories and discourses were thrown into the rubbish bin of "meaningless nonsense". In this bin we find ethical, moral and political principles, that is, the principles that determine the way we live our lives and attempt to organise our social and political arrangements. We also find the principles of method or (in more learned language) "methodology" the spoken and unspoken maxims of procedure and protocol in scholarship and research. And we also find, at a deeper level, the metaphors, themes and presuppositions which dictate the questions that we ask about our subject matter and what sort of theories and explanations are acceptable as possible answers to those questions.
Clearly, civilised life and progressive research are unlikely to prosper if all the above matters are ruled out of court as "meaningless". Most people did not adopt the tenets of positivism and the positivists themselves had to find some way around their own doctrines. However, anyone who tried to obtain sustenance from what was supposed to be the latest in rigorous philosophical thinking, could only be confused and frustrated, in precise ratio to their efforts to make sense out of the doctrines of the positivists.
The question has often been asked: what can philosophers hope to contribute to the life of science? The answer seems to be that philosophers have little to offer during happy times in science when things are going well. However there are times when progress is blocked by problems at a higher (or deeper) strategic level and attention needs to be paid to the unstated assumptions and metaphors that guide the formulation of problems and determine the kind of solutions that are sought. For example in medicine the immune reaction by the body to foreign matter was supposed to involve a mechanism of instruction from the invaders to the immune system to produce the appropriate antibodies. Macfarlane Burnet followed a hint from Jerne to demonstrate that the mechanism at work is one of selection among a range of responses generated initially by the immune system. A similar shift of focus, from a mechanism of instruction acting on an essentially passive or reactive organism, to one of selection among trials generated by the organism, has important implications in epistemology and evolutionary theory and also in psychology, as intimated by Hebb in his path-breaking book The Organization of Behavior.
Unfortunately the dogmatic rejection of metaphysics in the positivist philosophy of science has helped to blind scientists to deep structural themes. Consequently the process of critical re-thinking at the strategic level is inhibited in the scientific community. A rich tradition of thought exists to assist in this task, though little of it is cited in the literature of positivism or by the "postmodernists" who have occupied the vacuum created by the long hegemony of positivism and logical empiricism. Among the theorists and concepts available are Lovejoy and Holton on 'unit ideas' and 'themes', also Collingwood and Popper on 'metaphysical presuppositions' and 'metaphysical research programmes'. And Liam Hudson has made a signal contribution to this literature in The Cult of the Fact and the program that he pursued in the latter part of his career.