A concluding comment to Ian McPhail regarding integrative pluralism

Tony Ward

It is hard to know how to reply to Ian McPhail’s latest riposte to my commentary on theory construction.  To set the scene. First, I have a degree in philosophy and yes have read Feyerabend, Popper, Hanson, Lakatos etc. and the rest of the crew! My Masters thesis was on the metaphysics and epistemology of psychology so this material is familiar to me. I keep up with much of the relevant literature and am currently writing on some aspects on method in psychology. I prefer not to defer to the authority of the greats in argument; it is logically irrelevant, and incorrect.

A second point is that there is still confusion in his paper about what I am saying.  For example, Ian McPhail seems to think that endorsing integrative pluralism would mean making the following mistake.

………20 dynamic risk factors that are empirically supported and are ripe for theoretical development. If we want to assume that any one of these risk factors could be explained by molecular, neurobiological, psychoanalytic, genetic, epi-genetic, sociological, social genomic, experiential, existential, constructivist, social cognitive, cultural, historical, anthropological, and evolutionary approaches, then we might be faced with an integrative theory that is tasked with discussing 50-200+ mini-theories. And I’ll be bold enough to say: that would be one hell of a bloated theory!

First, I am not even sure that dynamic risk factors actually exist, aside from a methodological context. So, this will not be a problem. Second, and its pretty clear from the paper and related ones I have written, I am expecting considerable conceptual work at the phenomena and causal levels before theories are constructed so I doubt the so-called psychologically meaningful causes will be there in big numbers or even in their original nature. Third, thanks for the tutorial on what counts as a good theory; it is all a matter of translating into doing practice work. If this is the case, it’s perhaps not so hard to understand how such an explanatory impoverished concept as a dynamic risk factor, with its dubious causal status, could be such a dominating presence in the forensic and correctional fields. Finally, research of all stripes is dynamic and fillable. That is its nature. I have no problems at all with this. If Ian McPhail chooses to publish his work in scientific or academic journals then I have more to say that he may find of interest on these issues. I look forward to seeing his developing perspective on matters theoretical.


Suggested citation:
Ward, T. (2014, August 7). A concluding comment to Ian McPhail regarding integrative pluralism [Weblog post]. Retrieved from

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