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  • Commentary on "Psychoanalysis, Science, and Commonsense"
  • David Snelling

The intuitive plausibility of the commonsense psychological understanding of psychoanalysis for which Gardner argues should ensure that it receives a sympathetic reception outside the confined philosophical circles from which it originates, yet one senses that it will be met with a certain resistance. Ideally, this approach should speak for itself once it has been set out, but such is the weight of authority with which the natural scientific attitude speaks that the "scientistic reconstructors" may seem to occupy the position of security, while any view that seeks to uphold a body of theoretically informed knowledge claims—without demanding the privilege of scientific status for itself—stands on shaky ground. Therefore, it is worth looking at what scientistic reconstruction can commit to, beyond a general concern with rigor and objectivity.

As Gardner points out, scientistic critics of psychoanalysis have prior agendas: adherence to a certain conception of science and, usually, a metaphysical view of the kinds of entities and relations that can enter into a scientific explanation. For example, Grünbaum excoriates the "thematic affinity fallacy," the notion that the content of mental states and their manifestations exhibits causal connection among them. His attitude derives from an inflexible application of the Humean principle that causes and their effects must be distinctly conceivable apart from each other. Gardner also notes that scientistic reconstructions of psychoanalysis are compromised by the fact that they conflict rather than converge. We can see this with Grünbaum (1984) and Popper (1963). Indeed, one interpretation of Grünbaum's project is to see it as a battle between his inductivist and Popper's anti-inductivist philosophies of science, fought out on the ground of psychoanalysis.

Without doubt, Grünbaum's (1984) reconstruction is the most richly detailed and comprehensively argued of its kind to date. It takes its point of departure from the earliest period of Freud's work, the "cathartic" period, when Freud aimed at the piecemeal removal of individual symptoms by "abreaction." The theory of the cathartic method requires that the occasioning trauma that brings about a symptom should have two features: it should be suitable in content (to provide a thematic link with the symptom) and it should have adequate traumatic force. These are the "adequacy conditions" for symptom formation, and although they contain reference to thematic affinity, it is a matter of empirical correlation that a trauma meeting these conditions is to [End Page 119] be found at the root of the symptom in every case of successful symptom removal. Thematic affinity, although it exists in these cases, therefore is restricted to being a necessary feature of a cause, but is not a means of establishing the existence of the cause; this latter task is accomplished by the symptom's removal, i.e., by cure. Thus, in the cathartic period, cure is the sole criterion for the validation of the theory, because the theory proposes that the retrieval of a trauma that fits the adequacy conditions is a necessary condition for cure. Each symptom therefore can be regarded, loosely, as a separate disease, curable separately. This is the sort of pattern that fits Grünbaum's model of scientific method, his eliminative inductivism. If Grünbaum is to show, contra Popper, that his model is superior to falsificationism, he must demonstrate that psychoanalysis is falsifiable (which most consider he has done) and therefore a bona fide candidate for scientific status, and that it fails the more stringent demands of eliminative inductivism because of the suggestion charge. Grünbaum is in agreement with Popper that psychoanalysis shows only instances of P which are Q; i.e., it proceeds by inductive enumeration, and this is not enough to make it scientific, as it does not exclude relevant alternative hypotheses such as suggestion. For this, eliminative methods are required (J. S. Mill's so-called "Canon of Difference"). In other words, as well as showing that P's are Q's, we must show cases of not-Q which are not-P. Grünbaum holds that psychoanalysis has been unable to do this since Freud abandoned the cathartic method, circa 1896.

Why did this abandonment take place? Cathartic...


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