Overview to the special edition

Vol VI, No. 1, 2006 Comments (0)

James McMahon Ph.D.
Albert Ellis Institute, New York, USA

There are many ways to think of philosophy such as love of knowledge, learning how arguments hold together, whether propositions are morally sound, and that philosophy can be grounded in either mathematics or language. While Whitehead once quipped that all Western philosophy was nothing more than a footnote to that which already had been addressed by Plato, there do seem to be some new ways of constructing and evaluating arguments.

For example, the Vienna Circle (Carnap and others, including Wittgenstein peripherally) advanced what was called Positivism on the Continent and Analytic Philosophy in Great Britain by Lord Russell, Ayer, and others. The Americans called the same methodology, ultimately derived from language and arguments within language by Kant, Logical Empiricism. The later Wittgenstein and the American who studied with Carnap and who urged him to come to Harvard, WVO Quine, reduced synthetic and most analytic arguments in Logical Empiricism to Pragmatism. Richard Rorty was trained in the philosophy of Pragmatism (Peirce, James, and Dewey). He has lately labeled himself as a literary critic rather than philosopher and he has attacked concepts such as truth, absolutes, and moral certainty as attempts to keep a conversation going about subject matter that is arbitrary. For example, truth for Rorty is something that happens to a sentence.

The American literary critic Harold Bloom once described innovators as powerful poets because they took language and revealed to the rest of us new ways of mixing words and concepts. Thus Einstein was a powerful poet in mathematics and physics, while Stravinsky was a powerful poet in reflection of changes in culture through music. This editor has maintained that Albert Ellis was a powerful poet because he took the words of his clients, his own observations, and the philosophies of the Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicurians and even the hedonic calculus of John Stuart Mill to forge a metaphor that represented how people really do behave (or think-feel). While he was a graduate student at Columbia University Teachers College, Ellis doubted most test mathematical data to be little more than arbitrary metrics that had little to do with life but that had a lot to do with proving points, verifying hypotheses, and forcing information into formulae. Fifty-five years later, psychologists Alan E. Kazdin (American Psychologist, January, 2006, pp 42-49) and others (e.g. Blanton and Jaccard in the same journal issue as Kazdin) have come to the same conclusion.
This editor has also commented elsewhere that Ellis’s famous metaphor of the ABC and later ABCDE could be reduced to language, and especially pragmatic language. Ellis most likely would not disagree with that ten year ago argument since he has often called upon General Semantics as bequeathed to us by Korzybski (and as refined by Robert More as well as Susan Presby-Kodish) to deal with issues such as generalization, elimination of self as predicate, and precision in language. Arthur Still, in other articles about Ellis’s philosophy has written about the origin of his ideas as found in philosophy as well as mutualism as found in Pragmatism in REBT (i.e., the role of unconditional other acceptance).

Lastly, new ways to ground REBT are being explored. David, Miclea, Opre (2004) and others at BBU in Cluj-Napoca have labored over the cognitive psychology metaphor to argue with rigorous precision that REBT can be grounded there. McMahon (2005) recently presented a lecture during a training session to argue equally strongly that REBT could be grounded not only in the cognitive psychology metaphor but more broadly in cognitive neuropsychology.

The articles selected for this Special Issue run from Still on rationality and irrationality to applications to amalgamations. Still has brilliantly pointed out some cause for concern with the terms rational and irrational, while Roberts has argued that Ellis’s use of the term self is arbitrary and ad hoc. McMahon has pointed out that arbitrary for one person could well be a tribute to Ellis’s diversity. While Roberts’ article was originally published in 1987, nothing has come along that captures this mainstay of REBT (the self) with any clearer arguments.

Concerning current philosophy in Romania, Sorin Borza’s article is res ipsa, while McMahon and Johnson have written about one aspect of REBT as a powerful lever in construction of family philosophy on the one hand and the philosophy of REBT in Judeo-Christian belief on the other. The article showing the amalgamation of REBT with the work of Victor Frankl was originally recommended to this writer by John Viterito who pointed it out to me and for which I am grateful. It reads quite well in my view. Szentagotai and Kallay’s article presents the way rational-emotive and cognitive behavioral therapy has sometimes been “distorted” by inappropriate ‘tests’ of some of its hypotheses. In the closing remarks, Daniel David, the editor of the Journal, rounds up the central theme of this special issue, by underscoring the relationship between philosophy and rational emotive and cognitive-behavioral therapies.

In the future, this editor will endeavor to construct an article differentiating RE from CBT while pointing out how they are quite similar. For this overview, it would seem safe to say that REBT is a top down philosophy of psychotherapy since it begins with self as unconditionally accepted and then proceeds to behavior. Conversely, CBT begins with observation and so is empirical. CBT is designed to treat symptoms and perhaps personality pathology. From this writer’s point of view, CBT gets to self—if it gets to self—by inference rather than as an ontological given.

Someone once commented to me that Ellis derived his theory from reading such philosophers as Epictetus and Kant. Given the beginnings of REBT in the treatment room as put together by Ellis and a patient who was consulting him, it seems that most philosophical justifications for REBT by Ellis were post hoc that treatment room happenstance. To get out of the chicken-egg dilemma, it would seem that REBT can be grounded in several philosophies without it becoming nihilistic. This Special Issue touches the tip of that iceberg.


  • David, D., Miclea, M., & Opre, A. (2004). The Information-Processing Approach to the Human Mind: Basics and Beyond, Journal of Clinical Psychology. 60(4), 353-368.
  • McMahon, J. (2005). REBT in the Context of cognitive neuropsychology. Paper presented at the “Babes-Bolyai” University, Cluj-Napoca.

Pages: 1-4

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