HomePersonalDemocratic PeaceDemocide20th C. DemocideMegamurderersLesser MurderersWhy DemocideDimensionsConflictMethodsTheoryPolicyLinks

Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
12: Cognitive Dissonance
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
16: Person-Perception and Distance
17: The Behavioral Occasion
18: Social Behavior
19: Motivational Explanation
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
31: Alternative Perspectives on Freedom of the Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

"A Catastrophe Theory Model Of The Conflict Helix, With Tests"


Chapter 5

The Field Of Power*

By R.J. Rummel

I use the term 'power,' following Locke, in its metaphysical significance which is closely allied to the meaning of such words as 'potentiality,' 'tendency, 'and 'disposition.'
----Andrew Ushenko, Power and Events, 27

The most systematically philosophical, wide-ranging, and profound use of field theory outside the natural sciences is developed in four books published during a span of twenty-one years by the philosopher Andrew Paul Ushenko.1 I cannot hope to communicate here the intellectual daring and freshness of his ideas, nor encompass what is in fact a unified ontology and epistemology.2 At best, I can only summarize some of the most relevant points, and warn the reader that more than the ideas of any other person we have or will consider, Ushenko's cannot be understood well out of the context of his total development, anymore than a tree in a landscape painting can be adequately isolated for description from the painting's total aesthetic effect.

Ushenko's central philosophical concern is with the dispositional properties of objects, with their meaning and nature, and most important with their implications for understanding the mutual relations between person and reality. This concern, expressed in the introduction to his first book,3 has been the motif of ' all his subsequent writing. In his hands "dispositions" become a key concept for unlocking the nature of person and reality. Now, dispositional properties refer to the power or potentiality that a thing has to undergo experience, or to cause specific transformations or effects. Words such as soluble, navigable, trait, magnetic, inflammable, habit, and attitude are dispositional in this sense: they do not refer to what exists, but to what would happen if.4

This seems clear enough, and one might wonder what more can be said. We may feel this way because our perspective is by tradition to emphasize that which a thing can become. We focus on the manifestation of a disposition, and it is the manifestation--the actuality of our world--that most interests us. Thus, the empiricist tradition which erects on a pedestal observation statements of the type x is white. It is Ushenko's contribution to focus instead on potentiality as opposed to actuality, on the power of objects to be a specific manifestation.5

Actuality is complete; it consists of determinate or specific data. Power is a capacity to exert influence or control,6 a tendency toward manifestation which is a no less real and observable actuality.7 We experience power as an imposition or causal compulsion8 and observe it as a mode of indeterminancy and instability.9 Actuality is but a momentary meeting and cancellation of opposed tendencies, a momentary settlement among conflicting powers. And this actuality is but a perspective, a point of view. In essence, "the physical world is a power, or potentiality, to be realized, on the scale of human perception and transaction. . . ."10

Power11 has direction, a bearing, and intensity. It is therefore a vector.12 However, by vector Ushenko does not mean a construct or a mathematical entity; he means an actual tendency that exists in reality .13 An example adopted from Ushenko14 may make this clear. Consider a set of tiles, each a different shade of blue formed by mixing white with blue in increasing proportions, such as 1:5, 1:4, 1:3. Now, arrange these tiles in order from lightest to darkest blue. By our sense of color, these shades should show a clear progression. Psychologically we will note a missing shade as a gap, even if we had never seen the shade before, and we could even fill in what the shade should be. This gap is therefore a power, a tendency to be completed by a specific appearance. It is a psychological pressure toward resolution of the gap, toward balance; and this power has direction and the pressure to completion, a felt magnitude. To understand the directionality, consider that a shade of blue out of order would be spotted immediately and that there is only one shade of blue that can fill the gap.

These vectors are observable, as are the gaps in the blue tiles,15 and basically enable us to distinguish between the self and external reality.16 Experience consists of two kinds of vectors. There are inward vectors, comprising our experience of something bearing upon us, of an external pressure or compulsion to be sensed such as a crying baby, a dripping faucet, or a sudden clap of thunder. The second kind are out-ward vectors , consisting of our resistance to the external vectors and our practical judgment. Outward vectors give us our definitions and feelings of self. They are our manifestation of power to control reality.17 The inward and outward vectors are in dynamic balance and the point of this balance--a point of tension--defines the distinction between person and environment.18

These opposing vectors also enable us to understand the nature of the cognitive meaning and truth of statements or propositions.19 Words or concepts can only be understood in the context of a proposition which itself is an enactment of meaning, a disposition in dynamic tension.20 And this tension is a dynamic balance identical to that between self and the environment. There is in understanding the meaning of a proposition an outward vector consisting of one's expectation imbedded in the descriptive part of a proposition, and the inward vector which defines the verifying expectation concerning the proposition's reference. Both inward and outward vectors are powers; the balance between them defines belief. Doubt is the inequality in the strength of the vectors, where the outward expectation exceeds the inward verification; belief is an equal strength between the two. Then, "a truth claim is dynamically equivalent to a pattern of balanced tension in the field of meanings."21

Ideas of power as potentiality, of vectors in dynamic balance, of tensions between different tendencies, invoke for Ushenko a field orientation. In his first two books, Ushenko used the notion of field simply as an auxiliary concept, such as in referring to a vector field. By the time of his The Field Theory of Meaning, however, he had decided to make the field concept a basic and differentiated part of his philosophy. He first distinguishes between physical fields (such as the magnetic field) and phenomenological fields (such as fields of meaning or perception). The latter is actually a mode of being, a field of tension among manifold tendencies in balance, a field of contextually defined vectors, a field of power.

Among the phenomenological fields, Ushenko defines two types. One is the egocentric field of dynamic duality consisting of the inward and outward vectors in dynamic tension. This field defines our selves, the region of reality under our control as distinct from the environment bearing upon us.22

In contrast to the egocentric field is the aesthetic vector field in which there are only inward vectors representing the aesthetic experience of one who is viewing a work of art. We become absorbed in a work of art, lose ourselves in it, and project no outward vectors of control toward it. The power of the work of art lies in transverse vectors which in dynamic tension form a Gestalt monopolizing our total phenomenological field23 and creating an image dislocated from our egocentric field by the imagination. In contemplating such a work, one is carried away totally in harmonious pleasure. Anyone sensitive to this aesthetic experience in fine music, art, literature, or poetry will know exactly what Ushenko means.

The structure of a work of art depends on the structure of the transverse vectors (which, remember, are powers), that is, on a tension among potential objects. It is like a magnetic field, in the sense that the details of the work (the actual colors and lines of a painting, the actual notes in a symphony, the words of poetry) are organized in a field which gives them contextual quality and structure.24 For example, in a painting, the lines and colors are only a minor aspect of the final work. Most important is how these are put together in consideration of geometric perspective, balance among masses and lights and darks, centers of focus, foreground and background, color harmony and contrast, and the artistic truth to be conveyed. Art is more power than specific details.

There is truth in art, in science, and in philosophy. These truths are all similar in being based on a real or objective tendencies, that is, on powers.25 In order to become public knowledge, however, these powers must be made actual and discernible. Because power and actuality are different states of real being, the change from power to actuality must involve a transformation. The means of transformation is a perspective.26

In reality there is a complex of alternative and entwined powers--tendencies. Which of these powers is to be disentangled from the rest and actualized depends on the perspective brought to bear, for a perspective can present only one aspect at a time, and this is identical to separating and manifesting a specific power. For example, a round table is a complex of powers, that is, of dispositions that may become actual manifestations. It could become a hard, flat surface upon which to write, a circular object if seen directly from above, an ellipse if seen from an angle, a fort for small children playing war, a space-time region or a region of quantum fields for the physicist. Each of these possibilities is a power to become actual; which one is actualized depends on our perspective on the table at a given moment. For Ushenko, there is no reality beyond our perspective. There is only a complex of powers, each one a tendency to be made actual by means of a perspective.27 Truth is thus a perspective transformation of powers and knowledge, a correlation among perspectives. Truth is conditional on the observer.

I have merely touched on some of Ushenko's major ideas. In sum, his field is a dynamic conception of vector powers28 in shifting balance, the line of balance being the manifestations of particular tensions, the world of generating perspectives in science, art, philosophy, and linguistic meaning. 


* Scanned from Chapter 5 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. The Philosophy of Relativity (London: George Allen and Union, 1937); Power and Events: An Essay on Dynamics in Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946); Dynamics of Art (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1953); The Field Theory of Meaning (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1958). The last was published posthumously.

2. For example, Ushenko presents a philosophy of being and reality, and theories of truth, meaning, universals, science, perception, art, and semantics. The originality and breadth of his views defeat easy categorization. At best I feel safe in saying that he lies somewhere within a triangle formed by the philosophies of Kant, Whitehead, and Dewey.

3. The Philosophy of Relativity, op. cit., p. 7.

4. More formally, a disposition word would be translated into the following subjunctive conditional reduction sentence: if A were . . . , then .... Thus, sugar is soluble should be translated as: if sugar were placed in water, it would dissolve. See Power and Events, op. cit., pp. 109-111.

5. As Ushenko shows (Power and Events, op. cit., pp. 136-154), power as potentiality versus actuality as manifestation are distinctions with a long philosophical history. For example, Plato defined being as power; Aristotle considered power as an originative source of change, and actuality as but an intermediate potentiality; Locke believed secondary qualities to be bare power, and power, which he equated with our will, to be the primary constituent of our complex idea of substance; Bergson thought life itself could be identified with multitudinous potentialities; and Whitehead considered the creative process to comprise the aspects of potentiality and actuality.

6. Dynamics of Art, op. cit., p. 6.

7. Power and Events, op. cit., p. 155.

8. Ibid., p. 27.

9. Ibid., p. 115.

10. Dynamics of Art, p. 21. This is also a statement of my own philosophy as represented in this book, The Dynamic Psychological Field.

11. In this Chapter I will use the term power as meaning potentiality which seems most consistent with Ushenko's usage. There is some ambiguity here, for occasionally he seems to differentiate between potentiality as a tendency or disposition and power as the source of transformation from potentiality or actuality. See, for example, Power and Events, op. cit., p. 174. It is this other usage of power as source or spring to actuality that I will later adopt for this book, The Dynamic Psychological Field (Chapter 8).

12. Ibid., p. 86.

13. By contrast, when I use the term latent vector I will mean a conceptual and mathematical entity. It is mathematical in that it has specific mathematical properties and it can be geometrically represented. Ushenko, however, considers his power vector to be entirely conceptual and contextual. For this reason, he is very reluctant to graphically or geometrically picture this vector and places the burden of carrying its meaning almost entirely on his discussion (Dynamics of Art, op. cit., p. 65).

14. Power and Events, op. cit., pp. 85-86.

15. According to Ushenko, to deny the existence of these vectors, as the radical empiricist might, leads directly to solipsism (ibid., p. 86).

16. Ibid., p. 88.

17. Ibid., p. 275.

18. Ibid., p. 275.

19. The Field Theory of Meaning, op. cit.

20. Ibid., p. 57.

21. Ibid., p. 149.

22. The Field Theory of Meaning, op. cit., p. 91.

23. Dynamics of Art, op. cit., pp. 76-82.

24. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

25. Ushenko reaches this conclusion after a careful consideration of truth in science (The Philosophy of Relativity, op. cit.), truth in philosophy (Power and Events, op. cit.), and truth in art (Dynamics of Art, op. cit.). I stress this, for contemporary readers may feel his conclusions to be idiosyncratic, to say the least. However, he cannot be dismissed out of hand and must be confronted seriously by those holding alternative views.

26. Dynamics of Art, op. cit., p. 195.

27. Ibid., p. 196.

28. Noteworthy is Ushenko's avoidance of the concept of force. Nowhere does he discuss the concept and in his philosophic work, Power and Events, he has no index listing for it. Alternative reasons for this may be (1) that he perceives force as a construct used in the physical sciences of which he has no use in phenomenological fields, because he is dealing with real and observable powers, or (2) that he feels the idea of force to be subsumed in his concept of power. The latter is more likely, I believe, especially in consideration of his treatment of the balance of powers defining the self as between compulsion and control.

since 11/26/02

Go to top of document