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Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128139851, 9780128139868

Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept

1st Edition

Essential Attributes of Persons and Behavior

Author: Wynn Schwartz
Paperback ISBN: 9780128139851
eBook ISBN: 9780128139868
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 21st May 2019
Page Count: 281
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Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept maps the common ground of behavioral science. The absence of a shared foundation has given us fragmentation, a siloed state of psychological theory and practice. And the science? The integrity of choice, accountability, reason, and intention are necessary commitments at the cornerstone of civilization and any person-centered psychotherapy, but when taught along with a “scientific” requirement for reductionism and determinism, reside in contradictory intellectual universes. Peter Ossorio developed the Person Concept to remedy these problems. This book is an introduction to his work and the community of scientists, scholars, and practitioners of Descriptive Psychology.

Ossorio offered these maxims that capture the discipline’s spirit:
1. The world makes sense, and so do people. They make sense to begin with.
2. It’s one world. Everything fits together. Everything is related to everything else.
3. Things are what they are and not something else instead.
4. Don’t count on the world being simpler than it has to be.

The Person Concept is a single, coherent concept of interdependent component concepts: Individual Persons; Behavior as Intentional Action; Language and Verbal Behavior; Community and Culture; and World and Reality.

Descriptive Psychology uses preempirical, theory-neutral formulations and methods, to make explicit the implicit structure of the behavioral sciences. The goal is a framework with a place for what is already known with room for what is yet to be found.

Key Features

  • Provides a way to compare theories, coordinate empirical findings, and negotiate competent disagreement
  • Offers guidance for effective case formulation and integration of therapies
  • Explores the dilemmas of personhood and the complexities of human and nonhuman action, investigating "what is a person, and how can we be sure?"
  • Follows the implications of Hedonics, Prudence, Ethics, and Aesthetics as intrinsic perspectives and reasons for action
  • Applies these concepts to personality and social dynamics, consciousness, relationship change, emotional behavior, deliberation, and judgment
  • Provides a guide to establishing and restoring empathy--especially when it's difficult


Academics and graduate students across the behavioral and social sciences; behavioral and mental health clinicians looking for a framework for coordinating various theories and practices

Table of Contents

1. What is Descriptive Psychology and The Person Concept?
2. Individual Persons, Personhood, and the Problem of Definition
3. Behavior as Intentional Action
4. The Judgment Diagram, Some Categories of Cognizance, and the Unconscious
5. Relationships, the Relationship Formula, and Emotional Competence
6. Verbal Behavior, Language, and Linguistic Self-Regulation
7. Community and Culture
8. Reality and the Worlds
9. Empathy in Practice: A Demonstration of Some Person Concepts

Afterword and Summary: Satisfaction and the Construction of Worlds or, At the End of the Day, How Does It Feel?
Appendix One: Ossorio's Status Dynamic Maxims, Behavioral Logic, and Reminders for Proper Description (Place, 1998)
Appendix Two: A Glossary of Descriptive Psychology Concepts Compiled by Clarke Stone


No. of pages:
© Academic Press 2019
21st May 2019
Academic Press
Paperback ISBN:
eBook ISBN:

About the Author

Wynn Schwartz

Wynn Schwartz received his undergraduate degree from Duke University, his doctorate from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and trained as a research psychoanalyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. He is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and a professor at William James College. He has taught at Wellesley College, the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Psychoanalysis, and the Harvard Extension School. Dr. Schwartz is on the Editorial Board of The American Journal of Psychotherapy and maintains a psychotherapy and supervision practice in Boston where he works with individuals and couples.

Affiliations and Expertise

Lecturer, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA United States


"Schwartz’s Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept makes me want to sing and dance for joy.  A student of Ossorio’s has developed the presentational skills to communicate the power and beauty of The Person Concept in all its complexity and rigor. He writes as only a good teacher can with metaphors, case examples, and appreciation of the historical and philosophical antecedents of this wonderfully complex set of conceptual distinctions. Schwartz writes well because he uses the fitting story or example to make the concepts come alive.
If one studies the system, it can change one’s life. It changed mine. As a well-trained experimental social psychologist, I arrived at the University of Colorado in 1961and shared an office with Ossorio. We would debate issues, and I came to see that he had something genuinely revolutionary to offer. My thinking about persons was no longer trapped in a causal-deterministic framework that did not do justice to persons and their behavior. I now had concepts that allowed a systematic analysis of personal agency and human freedom of choice. Enjoy this wonderful book!" -- Keith Davis. Ph.D., Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina

"A colleague of mine, when the subject of Descriptive Psychology ("DP") came up at a recent conference, informed me that a fellow attendee quipped that it was "psychology's best kept secret". Created by Peter Ossorio, and applied by him to topics as far ranging as artificial intelligence software for NASA, the nature of emotion, and the practice of psychotherapy, DP has somehow managed to escape the significant notice within psychology that this most innovative and ingenious approach deserves. Hopefully, Dr. Schwartz's book will serve to change this situation. Written by one of DP's foremost exponents, Descriptive Psychology and the Person Concept sets forth the key concepts of DP in an accessible and reader-friendly fashion. Along the way, Dr. Schwartz clarifies these concepts by providing numerous interesting applications (e.g., to topics of empathy, emotional competence, and theory of mind) that illustrate DP's many uses in an engaging way. I highly recommend this book to any person interested in exploring new, powerful, and different ideas in the fields of psychological science, psychopathology, and/or psychotherapy." --Raymond M. Bergner, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychology, Illinois State University, author of: Pathological self-criticism: Assessment and treatment. (Springer Publishing).

Ratings and Reviews