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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

I've just been made aware of this lively Web site. The links to two pieces of my own are welcome, but I should clarify one point: the reply to Jonathan Lear isn't my lecture Freudian Suspicion and Suspicion of Freud, which remains unpublished, but simply a longer response to Jonathan Lear's New Republic defense of Freud than the magazine wanted to print. I floated it on the Net to be used as anyone saw fit. As for the absent lecture, it shouldn't appear electronically until after it's published, first in the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences and soon thereafter in a Johns Hopkins book of conference proceedings. The lecture had nothing to do with Lear.


Here are some scattered comments:

Norman Holland says he can understand why "people like Frederick Crews or Professor Tallis would perpetuate the canard" that none of Freud's ideas has been confirmed experimentally. Without responding to the ad hominem note, let me just reassert that this matter is thoroughly covered in Edward Erwin's judicious A Final Accounting, now available from MIT Press. Unfortunately, Holland cites research by, and synoptic discussions by, Freudian loyalists looking for corroboration of previously held views. For reasons that ought to be obvious, properly conducted experimentation just doesn't work that way. In a word, what's required isn't just evidence that appears to support the favored notion, but evidence that no extant rival notion covers the same territory more parsimoniously.

The psychoanalytic experimental tradition has never come to terms with the devastating critique by Eysenck and Wilson, The Experimental Study of Freudian Theories, Methuen, 1973. It's eminently worth a look, but its burden is recapitulated by Erwin. (Matt Wells, please take note. You'll find that Fisher and Greenberg do not survive Erwin's critique.)

Two of the contributors above agree that Freud despised occultism. Whoa! Just read Ernest Jones's chapter called "Occultism" in vol. 3 of his biography. You'll see that Jones had to restrain Freud from openly allying psychoanalysis with the occult perspective, which he privately shared. He told Jones of his faith in "clairvoyant visions of episodes at a distance" and "visitations from departed spirits" (3:381); he surmised that telepathy had been our "original, archaic method of communication" (S.E. 22:55); and he repeatedly connected psychoanalysis with telepathy, claiming them to be closely allied in spirit. Most of this was successfully hushed up during his lifetime. But, of course, anyone could pick up a gnostic strain in works like Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism."

The outstanding theme of this thread appears to be scientific standards and whether they apply to so subjective a venture as psychoanalysis. A number of writers point to the humanistic features of the therapeutic dyad, the indeterminate status of feelings, etc., as reasons for letting the Freudian system off the scientific hook. But a simple error is being committed here. Freud didn't just propose a way of dealing with fellow human beings, he launched a good number of lawful propositions about the way the human mind works. Such propositions fall within psychology and are thus exactly--no more, no less--as subject to normal criteria of confirmation or disconfirmation as any other such claims. To appeal to the nature of the therapy as a means of sparing the concepts and hypotheses that make up psychoanalytic theory is just a non sequitur. (However, those of you who take such recourse are in good company; it's the most common means of sequestering Freudianism from the rules of the knowledge game; see Lear's article for a rich example.) I'm afraid that the appeal to subjective therapeutic experience is just a backhanded way of admitting that psychoanalytic "knowledge" derives from a very special set of conditions--one whose epistemic circularity has been thoroughly explored by Grünbaum.

Finally, I agree with those of you who say that Tallis, Grünbaum, Crews, Erwin, and others haven't "buried Freud." (Grünbaum, for one, has no wish to do so. He wants to keep the epistemic issues alive, because he has more to say about them.) Freud will survive because his essentially medieval (spirit-possession) and romantic (little elves make deeper selves) conceptions, combined with his emphasis on sex, his facile symbolic code, and his courageous-looking but essentially egocentric and prurient encouragement to look for low motives in everyone but oneself, still pack an emotional wallop. "People like Professor Tallis and Frederick Crews," to quote Norman Holland again, always hope that a sense of empirical responsibility will prevail over such appeals, but I for one see a new generation of Freudians emerging--encouraged, alas, by fashionable misconceptions about science that are now routinely taught in our universities.

Frederick Crews
1st May, 1996.
[Professor of English Emeritus, UC Berkeley]
636 Vincente Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707-1524
phone (510) 525-2479; fax 524-7653


human-nature.com
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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 | Human Nature | The Human Nature Daily Review | Psychiatry Research Online |

Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

I've just been made aware of this lively Web site. The links to two pieces of my own are welcome, but I should clarify one point: the reply to Jonathan Lear isn't my lecture Freudian Suspicion and Suspicion of Freud, which remains unpublished, but simply a longer response to Jonathan Lear's New Republic defense of Freud than the magazine wanted to print. I floated it on the Net to be used as anyone saw fit. As for the absent lecture, it shouldn't appear electronically until after it's published, first in the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences and soon thereafter in a Johns Hopkins book of conference proceedings. The lecture had nothing to do with Lear.


Here are some scattered comments:

Norman Holland says he can understand why "people like Frederick Crews or Professor Tallis would perpetuate the canard" that none of Freud's ideas has been confirmed experimentally. Without responding to the ad hominem note, let me just reassert that this matter is thoroughly covered in Edward Erwin's judicious A Final Accounting, now available from MIT Press. Unfortunately, Holland cites research by, and synoptic discussions by, Freudian loyalists looking for corroboration of previously held views. For reasons that ought to be obvious, properly conducted experimentation just doesn't work that way. In a word, what's required isn't just evidence that appears to support the favored notion, but evidence that no extant rival notion covers the same territory more parsimoniously.

The psychoanalytic experimental tradition has never come to terms with the devastating critique by Eysenck and Wilson, The Experimental Study of Freudian Theories, Methuen, 1973. It's eminently worth a look, but its burden is recapitulated by Erwin. (Matt Wells, please take note. You'll find that Fisher and Greenberg do not survive Erwin's critique.)

Two of the contributors above agree that Freud despised occultism. Whoa! Just read Ernest Jones's chapter called "Occultism" in vol. 3 of his biography. You'll see that Jones had to restrain Freud from openly allying psychoanalysis with the occult perspective, which he privately shared. He told Jones of his faith in "clairvoyant visions of episodes at a distance" and "visitations from departed spirits" (3:381); he surmised that telepathy had been our "original, archaic method of communication" (S.E. 22:55); and he repeatedly connected psychoanalysis with telepathy, claiming them to be closely allied in spirit. Most of this was successfully hushed up during his lifetime. But, of course, anyone could pick up a gnostic strain in works like Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism."

The outstanding theme of this thread appears to be scientific standards and whether they apply to so subjective a venture as psychoanalysis. A number of writers point to the humanistic features of the therapeutic dyad, the indeterminate status of feelings, etc., as reasons for letting the Freudian system off the scientific hook. But a simple error is being committed here. Freud didn't just propose a way of dealing with fellow human beings, he launched a good number of lawful propositions about the way the human mind works. Such propositions fall within psychology and are thus exactly--no more, no less--as subject to normal criteria of confirmation or disconfirmation as any other such claims. To appeal to the nature of the therapy as a means of sparing the concepts and hypotheses that make up psychoanalytic theory is just a non sequitur. (However, those of you who take such recourse are in good company; it's the most common means of sequestering Freudianism from the rules of the knowledge game; see Lear's article for a rich example.) I'm afraid that the appeal to subjective therapeutic experience is just a backhanded way of admitting that psychoanalytic "knowledge" derives from a very special set of conditions--one whose epistemic circularity has been thoroughly explored by Grünbaum.

Finally, I agree with those of you who say that Tallis, Grünbaum, Crews, Erwin, and others haven't "buried Freud." (Grünbaum, for one, has no wish to do so. He wants to keep the epistemic issues alive, because he has more to say about them.) Freud will survive because his essentially medieval (spirit-possession) and romantic (little elves make deeper selves) conceptions, combined with his emphasis on sex, his facile symbolic code, and his courageous-looking but essentially egocentric and prurient encouragement to look for low motives in everyone but oneself, still pack an emotional wallop. "People like Professor Tallis and Frederick Crews," to quote Norman Holland again, always hope that a sense of empirical responsibility will prevail over such appeals, but I for one see a new generation of Freudians emerging--encouraged, alas, by fashionable misconceptions about science that are now routinely taught in our universities.

Frederick Crews
1st May, 1996.
[Professor of English Emeritus, UC Berkeley]
636 Vincente Ave., Berkeley, CA 94707-1524
phone (510) 525-2479; fax 524-7653


human-nature.com
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.com logo

UK -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | The Human Nature Daily Review | Psychiatry Research Online |