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Leon Pomeroy Ph.D.

To Be or Not to Be

The Self Continued: “No Man is an Island”


Some three-hundred years ago William Shakespeare gave us Hamlet. Under stress, Hamlet utters the now famous line “to be or not to be?” I offer a part of this soliloquy by way of introducing my continued discussion of The Self:

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

To live or die, and maybe dream;

But, there’s the problem!

In the sleep of death what dreams will come.

This gives pause.

The dread of that undiscovered world after death,

From which no traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us bear our existence; any existence,

Rather than go to a world unknown to us.

And so our conscience makes cowards of us all in our journey of being and becoming.


What does science have to say about the self? Not much! Clinical psychology is a philosophical discipline in search of science, and what’s needed is a scientific recognition of values in a world of facts. My profession needs two systems of science: 1. Old natural science of facts. 2. New axiological science of values. This is easier said than done. The ancients dreamed about it. They wanted to understand the moral laws within much as they had begun discovering the natural laws of heaven and earth. The dream proved beyond their reach until American philosopher Robert S. Hartman, inspired by British philosopher G. E. Moore, discovered an operational definition of “good.” This caught my attention in 1973 while an Intern at the Ellis Institute in Manhattan, and then again in 1979 when I decided to examine it using the best tests and measures of my profession. It also caught the attention of those who nominated Hartman for the Nobel Prize before he died in 1973.

My research, between 1979 and 2005, as time and funding from my private practice allowed, succeeded in validating Hartman’s theory of value, and these data transformed Hartman’s theory into a science of values. Since morals are normative values, the publication of The New Science of Axiological Psychology in 2005 also resulted in the science of morals on which to build tomorrow's moral education today!

In some respects, my relationship to Robert Hartman is not unlike the relationship that existed between T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in the 19th century. I’m no Huxley, but I believe that Hartman’s contributions to psychology are just as important as Darwin’s contributions were to biology. Huxley vigorously defended Darwin’s theory of evolution, and he became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.” I would have no objections to being called “Hartman’s Bulldog.”

No Man is an Island

No discussion of the singularity of the individual-self of identity and personhood (i.e., the idiothetic self) is complete without considering the implications of John Donne’s (1572-1631) poetic observation that “No man is an island entire of itself…; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The individual-self of identity and personhood, be it tribal or modern, exists in a social context involving significant others and the mysterious nomothetic-self or collective-self emerging as an expression of many selves. It is sometimes called zeitgeist, spirit-of-the-times, climate-of-opinion or weltanschauung.

In the past this social context was some sort of sovereign, tribal organization. The oral traditions, rituals, beliefs, symbols, art, and myth created a nomothetic or collective-self that influenced idiothetic or individual selves. It benefited the tribe in positive ways, including a defense against enemies, some of which were European colonial powers. During World War II both Germans and Americans experienced the eruption of highly defined and focused mass-minds giving rise to nomothetic or collective selves.

In this installment of our tour of self-horizons, I will consider the self from the perspective of a practicing clinical psychologist and scientist (i.e., axiologist) specializing in the study of values (i.e., axiology). This approach focuses on three underlying cognitive dimensions dedicated to values and valuations called Feeler, Doer and Thinker dimensions of value. They constitute the sub-selves, or building blocks, of the self of identity and personhood on the path of being and becoming.

Each of these dimensions of self is shaped and defined by four variables having to do with degrees of sensitivity, balance, priority and plasticity. These parameters vary over time, and in different situations. It is the sensitivity (i.e., empathy) of the Feeler-Self, communicating with the resources of the Doer and Thinker selves, that controls the construction of the idiothetic self of identity and personhood…but there is more to the story, as John Donne would have us believe.


First, background: Humankind has lived with one system of science arising out of the European Renaissance and the Age of Reason, which also gave birth to the American Experiment of governance. Natural science reached for values over the years, but never touched them. This left values to philosophy and the world’s religions. What followed is the asymmetric evolution of natural science, without moral science checks and balance. This resulted in a growing divide between science and religion as well as science and the humanities, as reflected in the writings of C. P. Snow. This accident of history gave mortals medicine, creature comforts, and the moral hazards of genetic engineering and weapons of mass destruction. Contemplating these awesome weapons, a well-respected General once observed that mortals, and spirit-of-the-times, are “moral pygmies.” Evidence supporting this harsh estimate of civilization and its discontents is found in the fact that human beings are more capable of organizing evil than good in the world.


One remedy for what ails civilization and its discontents is the culture-free, religiously-neutral, science-based, moral education of youth while learning their ABCs and 123s. This effort would also produce clues to knowledge of the self. Focusing on the science of values and valuations makes sense because we don’t see with our eyes, we see with values. We are prisoners of those values. At the risk of corrective-emphasis becoming over-emphasis, I’ll add that we don’t have values we are our values. As for the royal road to a better world and knowledge of the self, I suspect it will be paved with a scientific understanding of values and morals; which I have always regarded as the “holy grail” of psychology…even as psychology has remained largely silent on the subject. (Academic studies by Allport, Rokeach and Kohlberg are exceptions, but have little clinical relevance for me).

I regard my unproductive years in search of a deeper clinical understanding of values as my “professional wilderness years.” They ended abruptly with my discovery of philosopher Robert S. Hartman’s theory of value and his amazing test of the General Capacity to Value. The test is The Hartman Value Profile (HVP). It provides useful “psychological information” without “psychological testing” because values are the foundation of everything psychological. Why measure “surface behavior” when you can measure the “origins of behavior” found in how a person organizes values and valuations, giving rise to self, belief systems, thought-styles, emotions, motivations, and all behavior. The brain plays a role, but the mind is the master puppeteer pulling the strings of the puppet brain even though the brain has a few strings of its own!

The idiothetic, individual self is five dimensional: 1. Feeler-sub-Self, 2. Doer-sub-Self, 3. Thinker-sub-Self, 4. Mirror Neurons, and 5. nomothetic Collective-Self. We would choke on the proliferation of values if they were not organized in some way. Nature and nurture do this for us and Hartman’s theory correctly predicted how values are organized around three cognitive dimensions dedicated to structural values and functional valuations.

The dynamism of co-play and counter-play among the Feeler (F), Doer (D), and Thinker (T) dimensions of Self contribute to the construction of Self. They vary as to sensitivity, balance, priority and plasticity in giving rise to the Self, belief systems, ideologies, emotions, motivations. They are involved with the maintenance of the sense of the adequate, competent, familiar self (i.e.,steady-state psychostasis, analogous to biological homeostasis), without which existential anxiety, even panic, ensues; depending on one's defenses! The Feeler-sub-Self is the nucleus of the developing self of identity and personhood (i.e., the idiothetic self) which is influenced by the collective-self of the mass mind, resulting from the coming together of many living selves, and deceased legacy selves...conveyed by history and civilization.

I hope to give axiological meaning to the expression "no man is an island," by introducing the concept of the mass-mind influencing individual minds at the level of Feeler, Doer and Thinker sub-selves. From this interaction arises consciousness, degrees of free-will, (i.e., given free-will and earned free-will), and the capacity to contemplate the ambiguities of "to be or not to be," and "no man is an island." Do you suppose "man's best friend," or even the "cat," can do this?

The nomothetic self of the mass-mind (i.e., spirit-of-the-times) represents an emerging, average world-view (of the collective, mass-miand) capable of influencing the development and destiny of individual, idiothetic selves like you and me. (...suggesting the metaphor of individual selves “swimming” in a “sea of oher selves”). The term “idiothetic” refers to the uniqueness and individuality of the individual-self. The term “nomothetic” refers to the collective-self born of the spirit-of-the-times or zeitgeist. The following discussion is an attempt to explain what I mean, and provide an axiological interpretation of "no man is an island."


Between 1920 and 1945 the Nazi slogan was “One People, One Nation, One Leader.” This propaganda gave birth to a climate-of-opinion or mass-mind and collective-self few managed to escape. This nomothetic self, influencing idiothetic selves, was propaganda-induced and designed to advance Hitler’s war.


Shibley Telhami, writing in the August 18, 2013 edition of The Washington Post, comments on the dark cloud hovering over Egypt. It is one that involves a large scale identity crisis. Progressive Egyptians are struggling to integrate their secular-self and religious-self. Conservative Egyptians are happy with their religious-self and its harmonious relation with the collective religious-self. Since Egyptians don’t identify with the nation-state, the only common ground between progressives and conservatives is religion which each group approaches differently. Reflecting the tension that exists is the fact that 87% of progressives support sharia law if adjusted to reflect modern times; while 83% of conservatives want no accommodation with modernity.

Summarizing: The progressive idiothetic self,composed of secular and relious identities, is the source of cognirtive dissonance and existential tension.Progressives must deal with this and the tensions of having to relate to conservatives and a conservatie zeitgeist. Conservatives are threatened by the “alien progressives" among them because the conservative idiothetic self is a purely religious-self in harmony with the collective, nomothetic religious self of the masses. The picture is grim and this is always the case whenever religion is involved in the existential struggle of the self of identity and personhood. It can be argued that it has fallen to the military to protect them from themselves, keep the peace, and buy the time needed for Egyptians to “mature” (i.e., come to terms with identity and modernity issues) enough to negotiate a form of representative governance with checks and balances.


The context of the individualistic American-self is that of a pluralistic society of many ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. This diversity has tended to suppress the formation of a well-defined, collective, nomotheic-self capable of influencing the individual idiothetic self. The era of World War II is an exception: in response to the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor there erupted spontaneously a mass-mind with a nomothetic self for all the right reasons. It rivaled in focus and definition the World War II German experience when Nazi propaganda forged a mass-mind with a strong nomothetic self for all the wrong reasons.

The existence of these mass-minds (i.e., macro-minds) was strong but brief. Less defined mass-minds (i.e., micro-minds) come and go, such as those associated with the Freedom Marches, Stock Market swings, financial bubbles, Great Recession, and isolated cases of mass hysteria responding to delusional threats. The Middle European experience of Germany has left it with an elevated base-line, cultural pseudo-paranoia which can morph into a zeitgeist capable of giving birth to a relatively unified mass-mind and collective-self. The historic isolation of North America has left this population with a lower threshold of cultural pseudo-paranoia; but this is changing with terrorism and the echo chamber of cyberspace and social networking. In today’s world the people of all nations are beginning to experience what the “Middle Europeans” of Germany have experienced throughout their geopolitical history. This trend promises to increase the probability of collective-selves influencing individual selves in all nations of the world.

This trend may also produce a counter-force among “new humans” in the 21st century, taking the form of “citizen of the world” or “the internationalist.” This is something the French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) would approve of judging from his many discussions with Frederick the Great at Potsdam. Voltaire saw himself as the first “citizen-of-the-world.” In the present context, this trend might blunt the rise of cultural pseudo-paranoia around the world and defuse the rise of mass-minds bent on organizing evil instead of good in the world.


There is more to the self involving bioaxiology, psychoaxiology, and transcendental (i.e., spiritual) considerations, which I leave for another day. Meanwhile, no one knows where interacting individual and collective selves will take us in the 21st we sail in our leaky boats on what promises to be rough seas! The transient, well-defined, German and American mass-minds (i.e., collective, nomothetic-selves) of World War II came together for the wrong and right reasons and this ought to put the “moral pigmies” among us on notice concerning the potential moral hazards and mortal dangers associated with interacting idiothetic and nomothetic a world without formal moral education. Influences of the mass-mind are recorded in the pages of history and include the beahvior of the "hooded order" of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), mass hysteria resulting in the lynching of innocents in the deep South following the American Civil War, the Salem Witch Trials in New England, the behavior of the stock market, the Great Depression of 1929, and the Great Recession of 2008.

The asymmetric evolution of natural science, without the restraint of moral science and moral eduction, plus the ideological vulnerability and fragility of the human mind (amplified by the echo chamber of television channels and networking in cyberspace), remains an undefined psychosocial risk in need of study and monitoring. There will always be charismatic demigods, efficient at organizing evil, who will try to take advantage of hysteria induced mass-minds with their collective identities and selves. We are living in a unique historical period of globalization and rapid communication. The lesson of history (historiography) isn't enough! The moral education of the young when learning their ABCs and 123s is also needed. This will help put an end to talk about individual and collective "moral pigmies," and the risk they pose.

© Dr. Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D.

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About the Author

Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D., taught at George Mason University and authored The New Science of Axiological Psychology.