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Freud Among the Philosophers

Freud Among the Philosophers: The Psychoanalytic Unconscious and Its Philosophical Critics

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Freud Among the Philosophers
    Book Description:

    Philosophical arguments against Freud's idea of the unconscious, the central concept of psychoanalysis, have existed as long as psychoanalysis itself. In this highly original book, Donald Levy considers the most important and persuasive of these philosophical criticisms, as articulated by four major figures: Ludwig Wittgenstein, William James, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Adolf Grünbaum. When their basic misunderstandings (or lack of awareness) of psychoanalytic ideas are set aside, Levy contends, the criticisms are neutralized.Offering the first comprehensive critical accounts of Wittgenstein's and James's critiques of the concept of the unconscious, the author finds that Wittgenstein's objections are ultimately religious rather than scientific and that James's dismissal of the idea fails to take into account the role resistance plays in defining unconscious mental activity. Levy maintains that MacIntyre's understanding of the unconscious as intrinsically unobservable overlooks crucial features of the technique of free association and that Grünbaum's contention that only extraclinical testing can determine the truth of psychoanalytic interpretations rests on a false dichotomy between intra- and extraclinical evidence. Thus Levy untangles the main confusions that have surrounded psychoanalysis since its inception and provides a clearer view of what it is and what may be gained from it.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14628-8
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    For as long as psychoanalysis has existed, its central concept, that of unconscious mental activity, has been the object of hostile scrutiny by philosophers. Is the idea of unconscious mental activity the intellectual revolution it claims to be or merely pseudo-science, myth-making, ideology? The influence of psychoanalysis in our culture has become so pervasive that the answer to these philosophical questions cannot help but affect the many uses other disciplines have found for psychoanalysis. So philosophical inquiry into the legitimacy of psychoanalytic concepts bears directly upon other disciplines in ways few other contemporary philosophical inquiries do.

    It is fascinating to...

  5. 1 Wittgenstein’s Critique of Psychoanalysis
    (pp. 9-56)

    Wittgenstein’s thoughts on psychoanalysis are mainly found in five places in material so far published: “Wittgenstein’s Lectures in 1930–33,” as reported by G. E. Moore;¹ theBlue Book(dictated 1933–34); “Lectures on Aesthetics” (1938) and “Conversations on Freud” (dating from the same period as Part I ofPhilosophical Investigations), both preserved in Rush Rhees’s notes inLectures and Conversations; and notes written by Wittgenstein collected under the titleCulture and Value, edited by G. H. von Wright and translated by Peter Winch.² The total number of pages in these works actually devoted to psychoanalysis is small, but what...

  6. 2 Is the Psychoanalytic Unconscious a Dispensable Concept?
    (pp. 57-82)

    The best way to focus on the nature of resistance, which was central to Freud’s conception of unconscious mental activity, is to examine arguments for and against the existence of unconscious mental activity in which the element of resistance is lacking. Paradoxically, one of Freud’s favorite arguments in support of unconscious mental activity—that is, the argument from posthypnotic suggestion—is an example of the first. James’s very influential attempted refutation of the idea of unconscious mental activity inThe Principles of Psychologyillustrates the second. After examining these, I conclude this chapter with an account of the idea of...

  7. 3 The Problem of Unverifiability
    (pp. 83-128)

    An important objection to Freud, about which I have said little so far, might be put this way: the unconscious and the transformations of impulse supposed to take place in it, especially repression, are unobservable. By itself, this is not a defect in a theory claiming to be scientific. However, as Ernest Nagel writes, it is a defect if none of the unobservables can be “tied down to fairly definiteand unambiguously specified observable materials, by way of rules of procedure, variously called ‘correspondence rules,’ ‘coordinating definitions,’ and ‘operational definitions.’”¹ Can the unconscious mental processes Freud refers to be tied...

  8. 4 Is Psychoanalysis a Scientific Advance? Grünbaum’s Critique
    (pp. 129-166)

    By far the most important philosophical rejection of the scientific credibility of Freud’s work ever to appear is Adolf Grünbaum’sThe Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. In this work, Grünbaum examines the conception ofcausalityin psychoanalytic explanations; Freud’s claims to have discovered etiologies for the various psychopathologies, as well as causal explanations of dreams, parapraxes, and the effects of psychoanalytic treatment itself, are reviewed, examined, and mainly dismissed. Grünbaum does not claim that the notion of unconscious mental processes is self-contradictory, nor is it his view that psychoanalytic theories are untestable. Rather, Grünbaum maintains that it is the...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 167-172)

    What has been accomplished in this book? First of all, uncovering the confusion common to the best philosophical criticisms of psychoanalysis is in itself illuminating, for there can be no doubt that the systematic avoidance of the subject of resistance and transference phenomena is a major error ininterpretingFreud, who was very clear about the central role of such phenomena for psychoanalysis. It would be absurd to fault James, who wrote before psychoanalysis existed, for this confusion, but that Wittgenstein, MacIntyre, and Grünbaum (along with Popper, E. Nagel, and Cioffi) all fail to recognize the defining role of such...

  10. Appendix: Addendum to Grünbaum
    (pp. 173-178)
  11. References
    (pp. 179-184)
  12. Index
    (pp. 185-189)