(Fwd) The Epistemology of Attachment - Preliminary considerati

Juan C. Garelli (Garelli@ATTACH.EDU.AR)
Thu, 5 Oct 1995 04:39:05 +0000

I thought it timely to forward this message to add to the discussion
on epistemological issues now current in anthro-l.
(As I happen to be the Bowlby listowner, I do not find it unethical to
let you know my own posting.)
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 1995 16:51:04 +0000
Reply-to: "J.C. Garelli" <garelli@attach.edu.ar>
From: Dr Juan Carlos Garelli <garelli@ATTACH.EDU.AR>
Organization: Attachment Research Center
Subject: The Epistemology of Attachment - Preliminary considerations
To: Multiple recipients of list BOWLBY <BOWLBY@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>

Enough evidence has been forwarded to assess Bowlby's epistemological
stance as 'empiric rationalism' (Bowlby, 1969, A & L1, Chapter 1:
Point of View) where he addresses himself to a scientific methodology

1. Prospective approach;

2. Direct observation of children;

3. Separation as a traumatic agent;

4. Ethology,

form the very bases of his theory of attachment.


First and foremost rationalism emphasizes the attitude that seeks to
solve as many problems as possible by a resort to reason; i.e., to
clear thought and experience rather than by an appeal to emotions and
passions. Ultimately, rationalism boils down to an attitude of
readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from

The fact that the rationalist attitude considers the argument rather
than the person is of far-reaching importance. It leads to the view
that we must recognize everybody with whom we communicate as a
potential origin of argument and reasonable information, regardless
of the personal or institutional source. Conversely,
the irrationalist will overlook the argument and enhance the source.

Furthermore, true rationalism is the awareness of one's limitations,
the intellectual modesty of those who know how often they err,
and how much they depend on others to have these mistakes corrected
or even for the little knowledge they may eventually possess.

This must be teazed apart from pseudo-rationalism, which implies
the immodest belief in one's superior intellectual gifts,
the claim to be initiated, to know with certainty and with authority.
An Attachment Theorist and Researcher should stick to the scientific
method as adopted by Bowlby, and expounded by him clearly and
distinctly, setting clear-cut differences between his stance and his
contemporary fellow psychoanalysts.
He states: "...most of the concepts that psychoanalysis have about
early childhood have been arrived at by a PROCESS OF HISTORICAL
RECONSTRUCTION (my emphasis) based on data derived from older
subjects"... "Freud (and) virtually all subsequent analysts have
worked from an end-product backwards"... "Thus, whereas almost all
present day psychoanalytical theory starts with a clinical syndrome
or symptom... and makes hypotheses about events and intrapsychical
representational processes which are thought to have contributed
to its development, the perspective adopted here starts on the
opposite end, e.g., loss of mother-figure in infancy and attempts
thence to trace the psychological and psychopathological processes
that commonly result. It starts with the traumatic experience and
works prospectively" (op. cit. pp 23-25). Exactly in the same way
as any other scientific discipline does.

The preceding paragraphs lead us straightforwardly to what has
become the most important intellectual issue of our time in general
and of Attachment Theory in particular: the conflict between
rationalism and irrationalism. Regrettably, during the last 25
years or so, a grat deal of intellectuals have warned us of a
looming intellectual decadence. Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom,
Susanne Langer, Thornton Wilder, Von Hayek, Sir Karl Popper, William
Golding, Julian Marias, and so many others, have vouched their
concern on human immediate future as regards what can significantly
be labelled the Revolt Against Reason.

This rebellion against common sense, against reasonableness, against
evidence, in support of self-proclaimed "creative minds" which
advance totally unsubstantiated theories has grown up to become a
fin-de siecle fashion, so powerful as to shadow purely determined
logical arguments on the apparent brilliance of perfectly
nonsensical blunders. We watch the ludicrous spectacle of brilliant
interpretations in the face of obvious facts. Reality is simply
overlooked to give way to personal brilliance or "creativity",
to use the word in vogue.

Now this implies a choice of the utmost importance. The choice
between rationalism and irrationalism, which is not simply an
intellectual affair or a matter of taste. It is an ethical decision.
For the question whether we adopt a rational stance as opposed to
irrationalism will deeply affect our whole attitude towards other
members of mankind and towards the problems which concern us most:
the problems of social and emotional life. Rationalism, I believe, is
closely tied to the belief in the unity of mankind. Irrationalism,
which is not bound by any rules of consistency, may blend with any
kind of belief, and especially for its proneness to support a
romantic belief in the existence of an elect body, in the division of
people into leaders and led, into natural enlightened ones versus
humble learners, into intellectual masters and material slaves, into
almighty parents and childish selfishness, into "freeing attachments"
and "stifling attachments", and so on. All the above shows clearly
that an ethical decision is involved in the choice between
irrationalism, in whatever form it is disguised, and rationalism.
J.C. Garelli, M.D., Ph.D.
Department of Early Development
University of Buenos Aires
Juncal 1966, 1116 BA, Argentina
Tel: 54-1 812 5521
Fax: 54-1 812 5432
"To be a good composer you must have the spirit of a gypsy and the
discipline of a soldier". Ludwig van Beethoven.