Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious

Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious

Jacques Bouveresse
Translated by Carol Cosman
With a Foreword by Vincent Descombes
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious
    Book Description:

    Did Freud present a scientific hypothesis about the unconscious, as he always maintained and as many of his disciples keep repeating? This question has long prompted debates concerning the legitimacy and usefulness of psychoanalysis, and it is of utmost importance to Lacanian analysts, whose main project has been to stress Freud's scientific grounding. Here Jacques Bouveresse, a noted authority on Ludwig Wittgenstein, contributes to the debate by turning to this Austrian-born philosopher and contemporary of Freud for a candid assessment of the early issues surrounding psychoanalysis. Wittgenstein, who himself had delivered a devastating critique of traditional philosophy, sympathetically pondered Freud's claim to have produced a scientific theory in proposing a new model of the human psyche. What Wittgenstein recognized--and what Bouveresse so eloquently stresses for today's reader--is that psychoanalysis does not aim to produce a change limited to the intellect but rather seeks to provoke an authentic change of human attitudes. The beauty behind the theory of the unconscious for Wittgenstein is that it breaks away from scientific, causal explanations to offer new forms of thinking and speaking, or rather, a new mythology.

    Offering a critical view of all the texts in which Wittgenstein mentions Freud, Bouveresse immerses us in the intellectual climate of Vienna in the early part of the twentieth century. Although we come to see why Wittgenstein did not view psychoanalysis as a science proper, we are nonetheless made to feel the philosopher's sense of wonder and respect for the cultural task Freud took on as he found new ways meaningfully to discuss human concerns. Intertwined in this story of Wittgenstein's grappling with the theory of the unconscious is the story of how he came to question the authority of science and of philosophy itself. While aiming primarily at the clarification of Wittgenstein's opinion of Freud, Bouveresse's book can be read as a challenge to the French psychoanalytic school of Lacan and as a provocative commentary on cultural authority.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2159-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    In its original version, Jacques Bouveresse’s essay on Wittgenstein and psychoanalysis bears both a title and a subtitle, each of them unusually explicit:Philosophy, Mythology, and Pseudo-Science: Wittgenstein Reads Freud. The subtitle,Wittgenstein Reads Freud, defines the book’s subject—namely, Wittgenstein’s judgments on Freud and, more generally, his attitude toward the man and his enterprise. The title,Philosophy, Mythology, and Pseudo-Science, announces the ultimate thrust of the entire discussion by introducing three intellectual categories: a new idea can come from eitherphilosophy,mythology, orscience. We can see that among these three registers, which share responsibility for intellectual invention, science...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. CHAPTER I Wittgenstein: Disciple of Freud?
    (pp. 3-21)

    It would be futile to search the work of Wittgenstein for a thorough discussion or systematic critique of psychoanalysis. Freud’s theory is not the focus of any carefully argued statement, and the materials available to us on this subject are rather contained in conversations reported by Rush Rhees and in what are often brief, allusive remarks scattered throughout Wittgenstein’s published writings and manuscripts. Psychoanalysis most often serves as an illustration in the context of much broader philosophical discussions concerning questions such as the distinction between reasons and causes, “aesthetic” explanation and causal explanation, the nature of symbolism in general, of...

  6. CHAPTER II The Problem of the Reality of the Unconscious
    (pp. 22-41)

    Freud has often been credited, if not with an actual “discovery” of the unconscious (which he had the wisdom not to claim entirely for himself), at least with the introduction of a revolutionary idea of its nature and function. It is less frequently noticed, however, that his vision of consciousness remained utterly traditional and bound to the idea of consciousness as the internal perception of “objects” of a certain type—the paradigm of clear and immediate perception. Ernest Tugendhat, among others, has rightly insisted on this fact, which is not inconsequential;¹ and indeed Freud’s conception of the nature of consciousness...

  7. CHAPTER III The “Generalizing Impulse,” or the Philosopher in Spite of Himself
    (pp. 42-68)

    InAn Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud uses the following comparison to justify his conviction that the methods of psychoanalysis are ultimately comparable to those currently employed in the natural sciences, in particular physics:

    We have adopted the hypothesis of a psychical apparatus extended in space, appropriately constructed, developed by the exigencies of life, which gives rise to the phenomena of consciousness only at one particular point and under certain conditions. This hypothesis has put us in a position to establish psychology upon foundations similar to those of any other science, such as physics. In our science the problem is the...

  8. CHAPTER IV Reasons and Causes
    (pp. 69-82)

    Moore reports Wittgenstein as saying that the initial confusion ofcauseandreasonhad led to the disciples of Freud making an “abominable mess” (“Wittgenstein’s Lectures in 1930–33,” p. 316). InThe Blue Book, Wittgenstein explains his point on the difference Freud is accused of neglecting:

    The proposition that your action has such and such a cause, is a hypothesis. The hypothesis is well-founded if one has had a number of experiences which, roughly speaking, agree in showing that your action is the regular sequel of certain conditions which we then call causes of the action. In order to...

  9. CHAPTER V The Mechanics of the Mind
    (pp. 83-96)

    Freud’s colossal prejudices, in Wittgenstein’s view, all stem from three underlying assumptions of Freudian theory which he implicitly or explicitly contests. The first of these is psychic determinism, which Freud himself regularly presented as a constitutive preconception that could not be questioned. As Sulloway writes: “Freud’s entire life’s work in science was characterized by an abiding faith in the notion that all vital phenomena, including psychical ones, are rigidly and lawfully determined by the principle of cause and effect” (Freud, Biologist of the Mind, p. 94). In thePsychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud explains what distinguishes his basic convictions from...

  10. CHAPTER VI The “Principle of Insufficient Reason” and the Right to Nonsense
    (pp. 97-108)

    Ludwig boltzmann, who considered Darwinian theory a decisive triumph of the “mechanical” in the field of the biological sciences, and who was a declared partisan and enthusiast of determinism in general and of mental determinism in particular, wrote that:

    In nature and in art . . . the mechanical reigns all-powerful, and it reigns in the same way in political and social life. . . .Bismarckpenetrated the soul of his political adversaries as clearly as the machine technician penetrates the gears of his machine, and knew how to get them to do what he wanted as precisely as...

  11. CHAPTER VII The “Message” of the Dream
    (pp. 109-121)

    Freud justifies the interest psychoanalysis holds for the sciences of language by invoking a considerably broadened concept of what constitutes a language:

    For in what follows “speech” must be understood not merely to mean the expression of thought in words but to include the speech of gesture and every other method, such, for instance, as writing, by which mental activity can be expressed. That being so, it may be pointed out that the interpretations made by psycho-analysis are first and foremost translations from an alien method of expression into one which is familiar to us. When we interpret a dream...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 122-126)

    Relations between Wittgenstein and Freud can indeed be treated, following Assoun (cf.Freud et Wittgenstein, pp. 13–14), as the confrontation between two types of rationality. The crucial difference, in my view, seems to be that Freud defends a kind of classical scientific rationalism, while Wittgenstein clearly belongs to quite another order of thought. Freud’s position in this regard is rather comparable to that of the Vienna Circle, as its members certainly recognized. Moreover, we can see that Freud’s attitude toward philosophy, if not, like theirs, the attitude of someone who would criticize it from within in order to reinvigorate...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 127-132)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 133-138)
  15. Index
    (pp. 139-143)