on 4 July 2001
Watzlawick et al.' idea of a Pragmatic Theory of Communication, as advocated in their famous "Pragmatics", is an outstanding contribution that still is not fully recognised in its impact and importance.
The book itself contains a mass of interesting references of which the perhaps most essential leads to the great Gregory Bateson. By using and furthering the development of lots of Bateson's concept, this book established a completely new insight into the principles of interpersonal communication, an insight that since the early days of the "Mental Research Institute" in Palo Alto, California, influences social psychology, therapy of families and other groups, research on behavioural interaction, communicational therapy.
With a unique talent for making use of philosophical ideas of various backgrounds like Kuhn's Philosophy of Science, Morris' Semiotics, Russell's contribution to Logics, or Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Language the authors succeed in presenting their at the time new, but until today still fascinating approach, revealing a revolutionary liberality of taking points of view that can neither be reduced to a behaviouristical or biologistical thinking nor to the omnipresence of psychoanalysis. This book is born in the cybernetic revolution, a child of the times of Norbert Wiener, Gregory Bateson, et al., and it is written in a splendid and crisp style with an immense background of empirical studies, theoretical and bibliographical knowledge, and scientific courage.
I could name many books which are on top of my list, among them Watzlawick's "How Real is 'Real'?", but the "Pragmatics" of Beavin, Jackson and Watzlawick can be regarded as having a good chance to be once assessed as having played the same key role as Newton's "Principles" did or Euclid's "Elements": For the first time there is an attempt to formulate principles which govern our most every-day experience, viz. that of living among others, of interpersonality and interaction within social systems.
Even if some of their notions might have altered or lost their initial relevance, the book remains a starting-point that deserves to be called "paradigmatic". And what I like perhaps most - the authors are not afraid of illustrating their positions with examples from daily life as well as from academic papers, from films or dramas, stories, world-literature or other sources of depicting the manifold ways of human communication.
There was no better book I could have chosen as the central reference for my doctoral dissertation ...