Human, Moral, & Political Values for an Emancipatory Psychology

Isaac Prilleltensky


In Press: The Humanistic Psychologist


Emancipation refers to people's abilities to pursue their ends in life without oppressive restrictions. Psychology needs an emancipatory orientation as much as society needs an emancipatory psychology. To develop an emancipatory psychology I propose three sets of complementary human, moral, and political values. Human values inform conceptions of the good life and the good society, whereas moral principles help us resolve conflict among competing values. Political values, in turn, clarify the role of oppression and power structures in the pursuit of emancipation. Following a discussion of these values I examine their application in six scenarios involving psychologists.

Opening Paragraphs

San Salvador, November 16, 1989. U.S.-trained troops of the Salvadoran Army enter the University of Central America and kill 6 Jesuit brothers, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter. Among the dead is Ignacio Martín Baró, Jesuit Priest, academic, psychologist, and proponent of Liberation Psychology. Martín Baró believed psychology could help the poor and the oppressed overcome tyranny and domination (Martín Baró, 1994). He paid for it with his life. My paper pays tribute to his work.

My objective in this paper is to contribute to the development of an emancipatory psychology, a psychology concerned with oppression and liberation. The reason for focusing on emancipation is that it is a prerequisite for the good life and the good society (Albert, Cagan, Chomsky, Hahnel, King, Sargent, & Sklar, 1986; Macedo, 1994). An emancipatory psychology seeks to eliminate oppression, deprivation, exploitation and exclusion. It seeks to remove psychological, social, and political barriers to the fulfilment of basic values such as self-determination, caring and compassion and distributive justice (Martín Baró, 1994; Prilleltensky, in press). Oppression exists because dominant groups advance their own interests at the expense of others with less power. Psychology has much to offer to the elimination of oppression (Prilleltensky & Gonick, 1996).


Obstacles to an Emancipatory Psychology

Values for an Emancipatory Psychology

Values in Action: Contexts of Application


Isaac Prilleltenskyis Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of The Morals and Politics of Psychology: Psychological Discourse and the Status Quo (1994, State University of New York Press), and co-editor of Critical Psychology: An Introduction (1997, Sage). Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Isaac Prilleltensky, Department of Human and Organizational Development, Peabody College, Box 90, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203 USA.


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