Instrumentalism and Psychology: Beyond Using and Being Used

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32 Scopus citations


This article explores the pervasive, but insufficiently examined assumption of instrumental rationality in psychology. Instrumental rationality has five characteristics: there is a sharp separation between means and ends; ends are subjective preferences and means are strategies or tools; the effectiveness of means is central; means are dispensable when ineffective; and actors are independent of the means. Psychology's almost exclusive reliance on means-ends explanations of human behavior is called instrumentalism. Instrumentalism encourages perceiving everything as means toward one's ends, adopting an exploitive stance toward persons and the environment, and becoming alienated from others and the world, and it effectively obscures and distorts non-instrumental activity. A constitutentends framework is presented in which ends are inseparable from means and actors identify with or embody means rather than use them in pursuing goals, which confers meaning, coherence, and cumulativeness on the activities. The article concludes that instrumental action is subordinate to constitutive action in optimal human life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)102-124
Number of pages23
JournalTheory & Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Constitutive activity
  • Hermeneutics
  • Ideology
  • Instrumental rationality
  • Praxis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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