Permanency of change or permanency and change?
Historical remarks on the problematic aspects of a philosophy of change.
A psychologist's view.


Abstract of the lecture of

Ernst PLAUM
University of Eichstätt (Germany)

Abstract of the lecture at the 10th Scientific Convention of the
Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications (GTA)
Vienna/Austria, March 1997

The term "genesis" used here is very generally conceptualized. It refers to the old philisophical tradition which used this term in opposition to unchangeable "being", with the meaning of an enduring "substance". This differentiation is presented in connection with the scientific theories of Kurt HÜBNER, who recognizes "sets of systems" in each historical epoch which present themselves to a certain degree as self-evident and barely questioned suppositions of thought. The author observes a one-sided esteem of genesis and, accordingly, of change, which belongs to our times. This makes itself apparent in the current fluency of process thinking which has already become part of common knowledge. In each epoch it is tabu to call into question the conceptions which have been judged natural or self-evident, and whoever breaks this tabu must count on societal sanctions.

In order to estimate the appointed place of worth which is assigned to change in our times, one would best proceed from the epoch in which genesis was less valued as was unchangeable being. With the aid of this contrast, one can both gain a greater understanding of the foregone conclusions of the present, while also more effectively calling them in question. In our search for greater understanding, we must go back to the Middle Ages in order to find an epoch which we can present in opposition to the current epoch. At that time, unchangeable being was held in greater estimation than transformation or genesis. This esteem was accompanied by a similar valuation of the whole and of the universal point of view, (as opposed to individual, or special). This means that the Middle Ages were identifyable by a unity composed of holistic perspective, general aspects and, the necessarily connected unchangable being.

Near the end of this epoch, there occurs a disintigration of the above mentioned unity; as a result of this development, the opposing poles to the points of view -- the whole, the universal, and being -- win in prominence. Developments lead to a partitioning of the spheres of life and the individual receives greater respect. What is especially important here is the shift of the attributed emphasis from being to genesis. Very many causative conditions come together to make this transformation from the Middle Ages to Modern Times. This development did not always run at a continual rate and it has continued up into the 20th century. Today we stand at the (preliminary?) beginning of the end of this process, which does not only have positive sides.

One decidedly negative side is present in the fact that the idea of genesis is making itself independent as a dynamic of its own, which leads to a process thinking devoid of content. Because of that, change is viewed as positive merely because it is change. It can happen then that fashions are uncritically adopted without the question even being raised of whether the new fashion is foolish or sensible, good or bad. In order to critically judge something new in light of its inherent worth, one would need a system of evaluation which was itself not subject to permanently renewing transformation; if one gives transformation such a place of privilege before all others, viewing it as the meta value in general, no binding criteria for norms defined from their content can be established.

One can recognize that in general this is the case today; for example, there is a line of argument which consists of merely holding up one's own position, while informing the opposition that his concept is antiquated. Similarly, it is very often the tactic of advertisement for the proponent of a thing merely to point out its new characteristics; the suggestion is, of course, that whoever follows his recommendations is "with the times". Without a doubt, the experience of time as a linear progression plays a decisive role -- in contrast to the archaic experience of time as cyclical. This new point of view was decisively supported by Christianity; although, on the other hand, a close connection exists between the progressive secularization and the over-valuation of process thinking.

In this context one spoke frankly of an "unchaining of time" which had impressive consequences on everyday life and the "feeling of life". Should one make genesis an absolute or observe unchanging "being" finally as unreal, the final consequence is to become derailed from every ideological "Hold" (as meant by JASPERS). Although shrinking the perspective of time to the "here and now" is an imaginable escape from nihilism and scepticism, it is certainly not without its own problems, because a restriction of the "life space" (LEWIN) is therein connected.

By presenting a balanced view of "being" and "genesis", Gestalt- and holistic-theoretical directions have attempted to address the trend which would make process thinking an absolute. This occurred through the emphasis not only on a dynamic of development, but also on constants and enduring structures. With that, some scientist -- such as, for example, STERN or KRUEGER -- have consciously proceeded from antiquated directions of thought which could be called "metaphysical" and have chosen not to stand from the beginning in opposition to discarded notions of substance. On the other hand, the current discussion about the concepts "structure", "substance" and, finally, metaphysics has been brought back to life. Shall the "set of systems" of our times, with its high esteem of genesis, lead us to a change which then reveals the paradox of the unquestioned basic assumption of genesis -- and which, as a result, leads to a transformation which helps us to better recognize again the value of the constant?


This is a provisional abstract of the lecture. The final and complete version has been published in German in GTA's journal GESTALT THEORY : Ernst Plaum: Permanenz des Wandels oder Permanenz und Wandel? Geistesgeschichtliche Anmerkungen zur Problematik einer "Werdens-Philosophie" aus psychologischer Sicht. Gestalt Theory, 19, 1997, pp. 149-164

Back to conference program 1997 in English.
Zum Tagungsprogramm in Deutsch.


Click here for a list of on-line abstracts of lectures at the Scientific Conventions of the GTA since 1997

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