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Dewey Between the Lines: George Kelly and the Pragmatist Tradition

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In his own somewhat sly and sardonic way, George Kelly always insisted that personal construct theory could not be assimilated into any other kind of psychology. We believe this was not an example of Kelly being difficult or protecting his turf, but that he resisted such efforts at categorization because he formulated personal construct psychology from an entirely different set of assumptions than those which have traditionally guided the construction of psychological theories. We begin by looking at the unusual life path Kelly took in order to enter the field of psychology and what it reveals about the independent turn of mind he brought to creating his own theory of personality. We then examine what we believe is the single most important influence on Kelly's thinking—the tradition of American pragmatism, in general, and the philosophy and psychology of John Dewey, in particular. We argue that Kelly embraced the pragmatic epistemological assumptions that guided Dewey's work, and that he used these assumptions to develop the only pragmatic theory of personality and psychotherapy. It is, in fact, the influence of Dewey and the pragmatists that makes personal construct psychology so different from and, at times, more difficult to understand than other, more traditional, “realist” theories, but it is also this pragmatic orientation that makes Kelly's theory such an important contribution.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Counselor Education, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA 2: Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA

Publication date: April 3, 2015

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