What makes people behave as they do? Are people ordinarily aware of what they are doing, or are their behaviors the result of hidden, unconscious motives? Are some people naturally good and others basically evil? Or do all people have potential to be either good or evil? Is human conduct largely a product of nature, or is it shaped mostly by environmental influences? Can people freely choose to mold their personality, or are their lives determined by forces beyond their control? Are people best described by their similarities, or is uniqueness the dominant characteristic of humans? What causes some people to develop disordered personalities whereas others seem to grow toward psychological health?
These questions have been asked and debated by philosophers, scholars, and religious thinkers for several thousand years; but most of these discussions were based on personal opinions that were colored by political, economic, religious, and social considerations. Then, near the end of the 19th century, some progress was made in humanity's ability to organize, explain, and predict its own actions. The emergence of psychology as the scientific study of human behavior marked the beginning of a more systematic approach to the study of human personality.
Early personality theorists, such as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung, relied mostly on clinical observations to construct models of human behavior. Although their data were more systematic and reliable than those of earlier observers, these theorists continued to rely on their own individualized way of looking at tilings, and thus they arrived at different conceptions of the nature of humanity.
Later personality theorists tended to use more empirical studies to learn about human behavior. These theorists developed tentative models, tested hypotheses, and then reformulated their models. In other words, they applied the tools of scientific inquiry and scientific theory to the area of human personality. Science, of course, is not divorced from speculation, imagination, and creativity, all of which are needed to formulate theories. Each of the personality theorists discussed in this book has evolved a theory based both on empirical observations and on imaginative speculation. Moreover, each theory is a reflection of the personality of its creator.
Thus, the different theories discussed in these pages are a reflection of the unique cultural background, family experiences, and professional training of their originators. The usefulness of each theory, however, is not evaluated on the personality of its author but on its ability to (1) generate research, (2) offer itself to falsification, (3) integrate existing empirical knowledge, and (4) suggest practical answers to everyday problems. Therefore, we evaluate each of the theories discussed in this book on the basis of these four criteria as well as on (5) its internal consistency and (6) its simplicity. In addition, some personality theories have fertilized other fields, such as sociology, education, psychotherapy, advertising, management, mythology, counseling, art, literature, and religion.
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