The Bounded Self-Determination of Character

Our embeddedness in two worlds of causation, the physical and the teleological, is a key problem in psychotherapy. To understand ourselves and our fellows we have to grasp and comprehend both aspects of our contradictory nature.

We are up to a point determined by our physical nature. We are up to a point determined by the the imprints and models we have from our cultural environment and personal history. So far nature and nurture. But we are also up to a point self-determining by our creative responses. To neglect our self-determining and creative side means to see ourselves as predetermined and in lock-step with physical causation. That is to say to entirely miss our human nature. Psychotherapists gravitate toward this position whenever they succumb to reductionist temptations. Such a temptation was Freud’s adoption of instinct-determination, which contradicted and poisoned his more promising psychogenetic approach. [Rudolf Aller’s book The Successful Error is recommended as a clear exposition of Freud’s temptation to appear scientific.]

To neglect our physical and cultural determination means to overestimate our creative aspect and leave the real world entirely. There would appear then to be no limits or bounds to human possibility.

To operate with both feet on the ground we have to see our world as that of bounded self-determination. To see both sides operating within the individual is a difficult but essential undertaking. We have to be able to discern both aspects in the character, if we are to have any prospect of a healing intervention.

About Harry Dowling

Born 1946 in Liverpool
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