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  • Commentary on "Psychoanalysis, Science, and Commonsense"
  • R. D. Hinshelwood

Despite a tongue-in-cheek quality to challenge his reader, 70 years ago John Maynard Keynes' point was serious enough:

I venture to say that at the present stage the argument in favour of Freudian theories would be very little weakened if it were admitted that every case published hitherto had been wholly invented by Professor Freud in order to illustrate his ideas and to make them more vivid to the minds of his readers. That is to say, the case for considering them seriously mainly depends at present on the appeal which they make to our own intuitions as containing something new and true about the way in which human psychology works.

(Keynes 1925, quoted in Winslow 1986, 556)

Sebastian Gardner's long but rewarding argument heads in the same direction. He intends to base his case in favor of psychoanalysis on new ground, arguing that psychoanalysis is a sophisticated (and extended) version of the commonsense we use about ourselves and each other everyday.

To a psychoanalyst this is new stuff. We scratch our heads about how scientific we are. We wonder if Grünbaum is right after all. We are familiar with the debate on the scientificity of psychoanalysis. We have heard that, instead, we may be engaged on an hermeneutic exercise, not science at all. We despair of making subjectivity as transparent as (so-called) objective data. Gardner's argument that psychoanalysis stands or falls by whether it sounds right to the common ear is refreshing. Psychoanalysis emerges as neither science nor hermeneutics. As a commonsense psychology, it is conceptually and epistemologically distinct from both.

But, besides these reactions, there is a gathering unease that philosophers may not quite know what I, in fact, do spend my time doing. Rather as scientists were amazed at Popper's abstracted paradigm of what they did, so I think we might be a little cautious about a philosopher's categorical statements about what psychoanalysis is. And maybe, as scientists embraced Kuhn, Lakatos, and others who started, in contrast to Popper, with the question: wnat do scientists actually do in practice?—so it encourages the urge to start with a similar question: What do psychoanalysts actually do? I shall make a few remarks about what psychoanalysts do, but I shall approach through a route that takes up some of Gardner's interesting points.

Gardner's account of commonsense psychology (and its extension, psychoanalysis) makes a distinction between the rational and the irrational. Commonsense psychology operates by giving a rational explanation for people's experiences, [End Page 115] behavior, and mental states. Such explanations are powerful because they strike a common chord in other people. But there are failures; commonsense cannot make sense of slips of the tongue, dreams, etc (i.e., parapraxes). These are then regarded as irrational. Psychoanalysis comes into its own because it can give "commonsenselike" explanations to these seemingly irrational phenomena. To this degree, psychoanalysis extends the bounds of reason by showing that there is a supplementary, non-commonsense "rationality," which can be revealed in such phenomena as slips of the tongue. The crucial point is that in parapraxes, Gardner claims, a thematic connection occurs within the content (including unconscious content). It is not a causal connection—the trade of the scientist. A dream symbol is connected thematically to the fulfilled wish, and is not caused rationally. It seems to me that there is a degree of validity in this representation of psychoanalysis provided we stick to a restricted area of Freud's early theorizing—largely his books on dreams and on parapraxes (Freud 1900 and 1901). It is effective in countering Popper's criticism of psychoanalysis as failing in the criterion of a science (falsifiable causal hypotheses). It is effective, too, in countering Grunbaum's reliance on the single strand test of psycho-analysis—the Tally Argument.

However what if we do not stick to early Freud?

The debate that Gardner is entering is to be an epistemological one: what is a psychoanalytic truth (if anything)? Science grounds its claims on a certain kind of truth function—either an inductive process, or a hypothetico-deductive one, leading to...


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