Jeff Sugarman on Psychologism

In his Chapter, An Historical Turn in Theoretical & Philosophical Psychology, Jeff Sugarman (2019) begins by distinguishing three different approach to historiography (borrowing from Nikolas Rose). Among the three approaches, he introduces and adopts ‘critical history’. One of the aims of critical history is to explicate styles of reasoning that are operating in the background of scientific activities. Styles of reasoning (Alistair C. Crombie; Ian Hacking) provide conditions of possibility for research questions, methods, and they determine the types of answers we would find satisfactory.

Sugarman then applies critical history to examine a style of reasoning that is currently dominant in psychological sciences–psychologism. He fleshes out the problems and biases of psychologism by surveying psychological research on attitudes, distinguishing psychologistic from non-psychologistic approaches to attitude. Finding alternative ways of thinking about attitude, he argues, is facilitated by a historical review of how the concept of attitude changed throughout time (Danziger). We also read how the meaning of attitude changed by practical research decisions (psychometrics) in psychology, including how it was dissociated from people’s actions. We read, moreover, about how the ‘looping effect’ changed how we, as ordinary people, think about our attitude in a way that is shaped by psychologism.

In my overview of Sugarman’s chapter, I stay close to the chapter content and I just add a couple of examples that I find illuminating about psychologism and what Sugarman calls ‘possessive individualism.’ Toward the end of the video, I also speculated about the connection between Sugarman’s discussion of attitude and the topic of activism.

I am going to add Thomas Teo’s edited book, Re-envisioning theoretical psychology, to my Videos page. Hope you find this series helpful and enjoyable. I certainly do. Comments would be welcome.


Sugarman, J. (2019). An historical turn for theoretical and philosophical psychology. In T. Teo (Ed.), Re-envisioning theoretical psychology: Diverging ideas and practices (pp. 25-48). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

3 Lessons in 3 Short Films

A few days ago, I sat down and recorded the following 3 videos. My original plan was to have an in-person activity with students at Cheong Kun Lun College (CKLC), in which we watch and discuss these short animations. But because of the current COVID-19 crisis, meeting in person wasn’t possible. Since I was already experimenting with YouTube, I decided to use the channel for the discussions of these short films, too.

I am going to archive the videos here (and their corresponding source material). The sound quality is a bit poor, but the words are understandable.

The first video is about the logic of loyalty. To keep the discussion simple, I didn’t make any reference to Jens Mammen or Josiah Royce, but they were both on my mind.

The first video refers to the short animation called Tea Time:

In reference to ‘Tea Time’, I could have added that the voice coming from the TV, should be seen as a source of control (an ideology that is the engine of capitalist form of life), and how this voice tempted not only the old lady (at the beginning of the story) but also the robot (at the end of the story). These temptations and promises are similar to those we face in advertisements: “You can have a more fun vacation, more exhilarating adventures, a better life, more attractive partners, etc. etc.”, all for the purpose of driving us into further consumption, undermining our loyalties.

The second video was about the idea that choice comes first, in many situations, where we confront a conflict between two attitudes.

And the second video referred to an animation called ‘The Present’:

Finally, in Part 3, I discussed the idea of love of fate (amor fati)…

… with reference to the beautiful animation, The Passenger:

If you think these discussions are fun and/or entertaining, I could make more of them. In other news, I have also finished the video series on ‘The Second Cognitive Revolution.’ That is the first of the book-discussion series that finally came to a close. More to come soon.