Idiographicnomothetic Laws

The term idiographic (from the Greek word meaning "separate" or "distinct" relates to the unique and individualistic approach in science and is usually contrasted with the term nomo-thetic (from the Greek word meaning "general," "universal," or "abstract"), which refers to general scientific laws of nature. In simple terms, idiographic refers to the specific case, and nomothetic refers to the general perspective (cf., the idiodynamics doctrine - states that an individual attends to the environmental factors considered to be relevant to behavior, where the person selects out stimuli and organizes responses and, thus, demonstrates that one is in charge of one's own life even at the habit level). In the psychological literature, the synonymous terms idiographic laws, idio-graphic theory, ideographic approach, idio-graphic psychology, and idiographic science are used, as well as the counterpart terms no-mothetic laws, nomothetic theory, nomothetic approach, nomothetic psychology, and nomothetic science. In terms of research strategy, psychologists may choose to take an idio-graphic or a nomothetic approach concerning the descriptions, explanations, and interpretations of their subject matter. The idiographic-nomothetic distinction is due originally to the German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915) who distinguished studying phenomena from a nomothetic versus an idio-graphic standpoint where the former concentrates on general laws or theories such as demonstrated by the empirical natural sciences, and the latter approach stresses the uniqueness and particularities of the individual case. This distinction has been used recently (Meissner, 1971) to describe Freud's method of psychoanalysis as a scientific hybrid tied into the two combined poles of nomothetic, which uses rules, laws, mathematics, physics, and energy, and idiographic, which represents ideas by various unique symbols and metaphors for understanding psychological phenomena. An examination of the history of the terms idiographic and nomothetic shows a conflict between these two models of science where the origins of the debate are traceable to the 18th and 19th centuries in academic disciplines including anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, religion, and geography. Today, there seems to be a renewal of interest in the idiographic-nomothetic debate where the basic assumptions concerning the philosophy of science, the goals and purposes of the sciences, and the nature of scientific inquiry are questioned. In the discipline of psychology, the question is asked whether psychology should be a cause-effect (lawful) science that seeks general relational statements (laws) of behavior, or whether it should be a personalis-tic/interpretive science capable of describing single cases. In the area of personality psychology, the American psychologist Gordon Allport (1897-1967) acknowledged that there is a fundamental difference between the intuitive and scientific views concerning the explanation of human behavior where the terms idiographic and nomothetic are invoked to emphasize and describe such a dichotomy. Allport attempted to combine and reconcile the two viewpoints where nomothetic characteristics may be measured by objective personality tests given to many people, and the idiographic approach may employ the individual case study method such as analyzing a person's diary or imaginative writings. The search for uniformity in patterns of human behavior is at the bottom of both the idio-graphic and nomothetic approaches, and such uniformities may be discovered and formulated ultimately in a diversity of ways (e.g., correlational, mathematical, structural, descriptive, analytical), and the unyielding adherence to only one theoretical approach or method may be unwise. See also PERSON-ALISTIC/NATURALISTIC THEORIES OF HISTORY; PERSONALITY THEORIES. REFERENCES

Dilthey, W. (1894). Ideas concerning a descriptive and analytic psychology. In R. Zaner & K. Heiges (Eds.), De scriptive psychology and historical understanding. The Hague: Nijhoff. Windelband, W. (1921). An introduction to philosophy. London: Unwin. Allport, G. (1929). The study of personality by the intuitive method. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 24, 14-27.

Meissner, W. (1971). Freud's methodology.

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19, 265-309. Lamiell, J. T. (1998). "Nomothetic" and "idiographic": Contrasting Windel-band's understanding with contemporary usage. Theory and Psychology, 8, 23-38.

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