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Philosophy, Science, and Psychoanalysis

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The perennial interest in psychoanalysis shows no signs of abating and the longevity of psychoanalytic theory is seen in the varied extensions and elaborations of Freudian thinking in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive theory. Nevertheless, the scientific standing of psychoanalysis has long been questioned and developments in the fields of the philosophy of science and psychology require a fresh assessment of the scientific standing of psychoanalysis. While there are a range of views on the topic of whether psychoanalysis is in fact scientific, any satisfactory approach to understanding mind and behaviour requires an approach that is at once both philosophic and scientific. Accordingly, to even approach the question regarding the scientific nature of psychoanalysis, a foundation comprising a sophisticated conceptual and philosophical framework is required. This volume represents the junction where philosophy, science, and psychoanalysis meet and presents arguments critical and supportive of the scientific standing of psychoanalysis, including debates between Adolf Grunbaum, Edward Erwin, Linda. A. W. Brakel and Vesa Talvitie, as well as fresh approaches from Anna Ursula Dreher, Agnes Petocz, Thomas Wallgren, and Simon Boag. While mainstream psychology is largely dismissive of psychoanalysis, the themes covered within this volume have important implications for science as a whole, including the nature of scientific explanation, philosophy of science, as well as the psychology of science.

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Chapter One - Critique of Psychoanalysis

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Adolf Grünbaum

I. Introduction

The most basic ideas of psychoanalytic theory were initially enunciated in Josef Breuer's and Sigmund Freud's “Preliminary Communication” of 1893, which introduced their Studies on Hysteria. But the first published use of the word “psychoanalysis” occurred in Freud's 1896 French paper on “Heredity and the aetiology of the neuroses” (1896a, p. 151). Therein Freud designated Breuer's method of clinical investigation as “a new method of psycho-analysis.” Breuer used hypnosis to revive and articulate a patient's unhappy memory of a supposedly repressed traumatic experience. The repression of that painful experience had occasioned the first appearance of a particular hysterical symptom, such as a phobic aversion to drinking water. Thus, Freud's mentor also induced the release of the suppressed emotional distress originally felt from the trauma. Thereby Breuer's method provided a catharsis for the patient.

 

Chapter Two - Psychoanalysis and Philosophy of Science: Basic Evidence

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Edward Erwin

Albert Einstein repeatedly congratulated Sigmund Freud for the latter's “brilliant achievement” without ever endorsing the truth of any of Freud's theories. After receiving one more such letter from Einstein, sent to honour Freud's eightieth birthday, Freud exclaimed: “But I have often asked myself what indeed there is to admire about them (his theories) if they are not true—i.e., if they do not contain a high degree of truth” (Grubrich-Simitis, 1995, p. 121).

There was a time not long ago when many philosophers of science would have disagreed with Freud's comment. Many thought of scientific theories as shorthand for observation statements or as predictive devices useful for generating research but having no capacity to explain anything. Views of this sort have been refuted and are rejected by most contemporary philosophers of science—even anti-realists, such as Bas van Fraassen (1980). Theories, at least in the social sciences, consist of one proposition or more. If true, they may explain quite a lot. If Freud is right, his theories explain to some degree the content of dreams, the etiology of neuroses, and how psychoanalysis works. But they explain only if true (see below the section on inference to the best explanation). So, before we admire their explanatory value, we need to ascertain if they are true, or, as Freud says, whether they contain a high degree of truth.

 

Chapter Three - Critique of Grünbaum's “Critique of Psychoanalysis”

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Linda A. W. Brakel

Before reviewing some of Professor Adolf Grünbaum's claims in detail, there are two overarching problems with his account I would like to set forth:

Now for specifics:

Assuming that all reading this critical analysis of Grünbaum's “Critique of psychoanalysis” will have read Grünbaum's chapter in this volume, I will proceed to discuss the details of the sections on which I will comment according to his organisational plan. (Note that all Grünbaum references are to the work within this volume.) Let me begin, then, with:

Grünbaum's section II: logical relations of the “dynamic” and “cognitive” unconscious

Although it is the case that many clinical psychoanalysts as well as many cognitive psychologists want a clear separation between “the dynamic unconscious” and the “cognitive or adaptive unconscious,” wanting does not make it so. Psychoanalysts object to seemingly relevant subliminal research findings on the basis that the so-called “real” dynamic, repressed conflictual unconscious is not being tapped (Boesky, personal communication, 1997). Academic psychologists either struggle to differentiate their views on the unconscious from the now academically toxic “Freudian unconscious” (e.g., Wilson's 2002 “adaptive unconscious”), or ignore the clear Freudian analogue to their accounts. (See for instance, Wegner, 2002; and especially Kahneman, 2011, in which Freud is not referenced at all!)

 

Chapter Four - From Scientific Explanations to Micropsychology: What should Psychoanalytic Theories be Like?

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Vesa Talvitie

Currently nobody is able to single out the curative factors of psychotherapy, and the theories of all branches of psychotherapy are probably more or less misled. The state of the art is far from gratifying. We must nevertheless continue to study the “talking cure” in the context of science and humanities—individuals, governments and insurance companies still need criteria for choosing between different branches of therapies. It is reasonable to favour the branches whose effectiveness and background theories are studied in the scope of the academic community. It is of minor importance to dispute, for example, whether in psychoanalytic and cognitive therapies one is more scientific than the another—the crucial thing is to maintain the distinction between schools of therapy that take seriously the viewpoints of science and humanities and those that do not.

I study, below, psychoanalytic explanations in this spirit. True, nobody can pick out the curative factors of psychotherapy, and it is also true that the background theories of psychotherapy schools are very, very far from complete. To this extent we should not take those theories per se too seriously. However, it is appropriate and important to study whether it is at least in principle possible that disorders and curative factors of psychotherapy could be explained in the manner each school currently describes.

 

Chapter Five - Psychoanalysis and Philosophy of Science: Reply to Brakel and Talvitie

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Edward Erwin

In this volume, Linda Brakel (Chapters Three, and Six) and Vesa Talvitie (Chapter Four) raise some important issues concerning psychoanalysis and philosophy of science. Brakel criticises arguments of the philosopher of science Adolf Grünbaum, whose work is generally thought to provide the most powerful critique of Freud's theories (Levy, 1996; Robinson, 1993). Although there have been many replies to Grünbaum, hers is among the most detailed available. Talvitie writes about a range of topics, including the concept of causation appropriate for discussing psychoanalysis, philosophy of science critiques of psychoanalysis, and its metaphysical status.

Brakel's critique

Brakel finds two overarching problems with Grünbaum's account: the first is that he takes psychoanalytic clinical theory to be the core of psychoanalysis, thus raising many problems that can be avoided by taking her theory of mind (Brakel, 2009) to be the core theory. The second problem is that he relies on Freud's statements to determine all versions of psychoanalysis, not allowing for more recent modifications. The result is that many of his arguments have a straw man opponent, vitiating the overall importance of his critique.

 

Chapter Six - Two Fundamental Problems for Philosophical Psychoanalysis

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Linda A. W. Brakel

Introduction

This chapter consists of two parts, quite different from one another except in one important respect. They each address a foundational challenge to psychoanalysis—not so much psychoanalysis as a mode of treatment, but to psychoanalysis as a research method and as a general theory of mind.1 Describing the second part of this chapter first, I will mount what I call “An argument for the very possibility of meaningful a-rational mentation”. The problem, as is evident from this title, is that there are those who claim that only the rational (and conscious) can be representational, meaningful, and contentful.2 If this were to be true, no systematic psychological understanding of non-rational mentation, including both a-rational and irrational instances, would be possible—even at the level of consciousness, much less when such mentation is unconscious. A satisfactory account of symptoms, then—including phobias, other anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive compulsive behaviours, as well as the milder problems such as slips of the tongue and physical parapraxes (mistakes in action)—would have to rely on some mixture of neurochemical imbalance, neuroanatomical regulation problem and/or some accidental occurrence at either the physiological or psychological level. But these issues are for the second part of the chapter. So, I will now briefly introduce the first part of this chapter, which concerns a very different, but no less essential, matter.

 

Chapter Seven - The Scientific Status of Psychoanalysis Revisited

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Agnes Petocz

Introduction: three ways in which the question of the scientific status of psychoanalysis has been “done to death”

Almost everyone agrees that the question of the scientific status of psychoanalysis has been “done to death”. It seems to me that this is indeed so in at least three interrelated senses: the open house, the doomsday cult, and the Cleopatra.

First, the open house sense. Impugning the scientific status of psychoanalysis appears to be open to anyone, regardless of background, qualifications, level of expertise, or familiarity with the primary sources. Accordingly, psychoanalysis boasts an enormously wide range of critics across the whole spectrum, from relatively heavyweight philosophers of mind and science such as Erwin (1980, 1988, 1993, 1996), Grünbaum (1979, 1984, 1993a, 2008), Popper (1963, 1986) and Wittgenstein (1932–1933, 1953), through serious scientific psychologists such as Eysenck (1985, 1986), Macmillan (1991) and Sulloway (1979, 1995), all the way down to standard textbook authors (e.g., Leahey, 2013) and a host of semi-popular writers from other disciplines (e.g., Crews, 1986, 1993, 1996; Hobson, 1988).

 

Chapter Eight - Freud and Wittgenstein in the Cuckoo's Nest

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Thomas Wallgren

Thanks to the recent breakthroughs in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology the temple of modernity that we call science is now more complete and glorious than ever. In this temple Freud and Wittgenstein may look alien; like residents sans-papier. The impression one sometimes gets is that the very difficulty of throwing out these strangers in our midst from contemporary academic debate is seen as inexplicable and irritating.

The overarching idea that drives this essay is that fruitful debate about what there is still to learn from Freud and Wittgenstein is only possible if our knowledge system is first rationalised and democratised.1 I will give some substance to this grand proposal. In the first part I present some diagnostic remarks on the scientistic mood and metaphysical prejudice of our times. I then present a review of similarities and differences between Freud and Wittgenstein (Part II). The abstract ideas presented in the first part are illustrated and explicated in Part III of the essay in which I discuss some details in the debate between Brakel and Grünbaum, in this volume, about the scientific status of psychoanalytic theory. There is a concluding remark (Part IV).

 

Chapter Nine - Psychoanalytic Research with or without the Psyche? Some Remarks on the Intricacies of Clinical Research

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Anna Ursula Dreher

Preliminary note

Beginning with Freud, psychoanalysis set out over 100 years ago to scientifically fathom a difficult research subject: the human psyche—a project that is far from finished. Some of the analytic ideas did not find everyone's approval, like the importance of libido and aggression, or the relevance of unconscious processes. Beyond the contents that were felt to be irritating, the scientific project of psychoanalysis has been criticised time and again. Above all it was pointed out that science does not have the appropriate means at all to investigate the psyche as psychoanalysis understands it: the possibilities of science would only suffice to examine human behaviour or the brain, but not the inner life of humans. In this paper the thesis is put forward that such a limited view can only be reached if one has a narrow understanding of science. If one is to acknowledge that there is not “the” science, but several competing, partly complementary views about what science is, then one would easily find ways and means to accept the psyche as a subject of scientific research and to explore it. In this paper a number of themes are taken up that are being controversially discussed in the field of subject, methods and aims of science, as well as in the field of fundamental and applied research. I am aware that these are themes that may be far from clinical practice, sometimes even far from research practice, but decisions concerning these issues can have immense consequences on how clinical research in psychoanalysis is practised.

 

Chapter Ten - Repression, Defence, and the Psychology of Science

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Simon Boag

During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Admiral Horatio Nelson, blind in one eye, is said to have been given a signal by Sir Hyde Parker to withdraw in the face of overwhelming Danish forces. In turn, Nelson is said to have ignored the signal, claiming: “I only have one eye; I have a right to be blind sometimes; I really do not see the signal” (in Gardiner, 1997, p. 181). This incident is said to have given rise to the saying “turning a blind eye” (or knowingly ignoring unpleasant facts). A teacher, for instance, might pretend not to notice a student cheating during an exam, or a parent might feign ignorance of a child's drug usage. In such cases, and as in Nelson's example above, the person turning a blind eye is, in fact, cognisant of the situation being ignored. Nevertheless, the individual would prefer not to know and minimises facing the disconcerting situation.

Freud similarly refers to a “blindness of the seeing eye”, but, unlike the cases above, such blindness involves an apparent paradox with respect to both knowing and not knowing some fact simultaneously. The first reference to this is found in the Studies in Hysteria (Breuer & Freud, 1895d) in the case of Miss Lucy R, who had come to Freud suffering from a variety of complications including olfactory hallucinations (a smell of burnt pudding). Freud's analysis traced the symptoms back to an event where “opposing affects had been in conflict with each other” and the smell had been contemporaneous (Freud in Breuer & Freud, 1895d, p. 115). Miss Lucy R had decided to leave the children she had been caring for as a nanny and return to her mother, but she also loved her employer and desired to become a replacement mother of the children. This desire had been repressed and the smell subsequently became a “symbol” of the event.

 

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