“You will never find the limits of the soul, though you travel every road, so deep is its ground.” –Heraclitus
Welcome to the Web Pages of Michael R. Jackson
This website explores a variety of themes related to psychology, psychotherapy, social issues, and human knowledge. The perspective from which these interrelated themes are considered here is that of critical humanism.
What is critical humanism?
Critical humanism has been conceptualized in a number of different ways, but most of these conceptions involve two ideas: First, that our engagement with the world should be guided by fundamental human needs and values (humanism); and second, that our understanding of these needs and values must be accompanied by an uncompromising willingness to question our own assumptions (the critical standpoint). It will be useful to clarify each of these two ideas.
Humanism, in what sense?
Humanism implies a commitment to humanity, or more correctly to what might be called a common humanity shared with other human beings across times and place. Some theorists have challenged the idea of a shared humanity as a fiction that deflects attention from the injustices suffered disproportionately by specific groups, particularly minorities. But humanist writers have replied that far from neglecting such injustices, humanism supplies precisely the tools that are often needed to combat them – tools like the concepts of “universal human rights” and “crimes against humanity.” Other theorists have accused humanists of anthropocentrism – that is, attempting to elevate human beings to a position that subordinates other living species into a status of exploitation. But a properly critical humanism argues that ideas like “humanity” are best understood not as concrete categories but rather in their relations to other ideas, so that, from this perspective, the nature and fate of humanity are understood to be deeply intertwined with those of other species living on the planet. In general, therefore, the term “humanism” has been interrogated from many perspectives in the writings of critical humanists, and this process of interrogation is a fruitful one that should be expected to continue.
Critical . . . of what?
The phrase “properly critical” in the previous paragraph is worth elaborating further. The critical standpoint means, above all, reexamining fundamental terms and ideas that we ourselves may not have fully understood and that may have contributed to subtle misunderstandings about the world. Critical humanists have focused, particularly, on three kinds of ideas that often involve such misunderstandings. These include: (1) common ideas that contribute to subtly erroneous “taken-for-granted” knowledge about ordinary human actions and experiences; an example of this would be the misunderstandings described above about the meaning of the term “human”; (2) ideas about human interactions that overlook or conceal some of the ways in which social and institutional power are exerted, often unknowingly, by those with greater privilege over those with less; and (3) ideas about the nature of knowledge-construction – especially in fields like psychology, where conventions from the natural sciences are, at times, uncritically applied in incommensurate contexts to address psychological questions in fallacious and dehumanizing ways. The pages of this website will, at various times, critique all three of these types of misunderstanding and how they occur in some commonly accepted theories and practices in the field of psychology.
The structure of this website
The two largest sections of this website – “Psychological Knowledge” and “Psychological Issues” – each contain a number of pages addressing some of the problems alluded to above.
The first section, “Psychological Knowledge,” takes the perspective of critical humanism to survey some of the ways in which psychologists think about how we can understand human beings. Each page in this section contains a short commentary, or “note,” on a different aspect of knowledge-gathering in psychology and the problems and complications that it may involve. These notes have been ordered in a way that presents a larger argument, but they can also be read a free-standing comments.
The second section, “Psychological Issues,” presents longer and more detailed analyses of some specific controversial issues in psychology. These were originally written as supplements for students in psychology courses who wanted more ethical and human perspectives on the field of psychology than the textbooks were able to supply.
The sections entitled “Reviews” and “References” contain, respectively reviews of some publications relevant to the field of psychology, and references to works cited on the other pages of this site. Finally, the “About” section contains some biographical information about me, acknowledgements and credits, and a portal through which I can be contacted.
I hope you find this website useful!