Our fifth reading is Chapter 2 “Behaviour and Its Field” of Kurt Koffka’s magnum opus Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935). Chapter 1 provides historical background for gestalt psychology, presenting it as an attempt to reconcile the prima facie tension in the trichotomy of inert nature, life, and mind. After rejecting attempts to prioritize one over the others (e.g. materialism and vitalism), Koffka argues that the three should be understood as offering instead different perspectives, each of which provides a key concept, respectively quantity, order, and meaning, all of which are needed for a coherent psychology. Gestalt psychology is offered as a means for unifying these concepts within a single research program.
Our reading, Chapter 2, then lays out the basic concepts of gestalt psychology and their role in a scientific psychology, including especially the notions of behavioural environment, psychological field, and isomorphism.
My own view is that Koffka’s distinction between the behavioural and geographical environments, and the methodological importance of this distinction in scientific psychology, poses one of the greatest challenges for the Merleau-Ponty perspective, at least insofar as I understand it from our first conference and subsequent readings. Consequently, it will be great to hear group member reactions to this reading and their views on how to position these concepts with respect to related phenomenological notions.
We’ll email the reading to the group and, as usual, if you have any trouble accessing it, please contact one of the organizers.