critical psychology history of psychology philosophical psychology philosophy of science Theoretical Psychology

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.

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