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  • Dialectical Virtue and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis
  • Richard G. T. Gipps (bio)

Philosophical engagements with psychoanalysis have taken several forms. Some have offered a philosophical re-vision of psychoanalytical understandings of human nature. Thus, we have Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), Sartre (1956), and Merleau-Ponty (1993) offering us existential-phenomenological; Ricoeur (1970) hermeneutic; Lacan (2007) structuralist; and Heaton (2014), Elder (1994), and Fingarette (1965) Wittgensteinian, readings of unconscious life and of therapeutic action. Such philosophical elaborations of the most apt reflective and the most fruitful revisionary understanding of dynamic unconsciousness also involve parallel critique of such aspects of psychoanalytical psychology's immanent self-understanding as do not conform with the philosophers' vision of unconscious life. Several of the above authors have, for example, cast doubt on the natural scientific spin or ambition or methods of, in particular, Freudian visions of unconscious meaning and motivation and their investigation, and have suggested alternatives modeled on our understanding of, say, texts or cultures.

Other philosophers—and here I'm thinking of those more closely associated with what have become known as the Freud Wars—have questioned Freud's general form of reasoning and invited doubt regarding the defensibility of core aspects of the psychoanalytic project per se. Some, such as Popper (1959) and Cioffi (1998), have considered him oftentimes self-ratifying and tendentious—offering supposed hypotheses which yet brook no contradiction. Others, such as Grunbaum (1984), have by contrast considered him perfectly refutable both in principle and in practice. In answer to these objections we meet with two main strategies of response. One such, exemplified in this Special Issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology by Lacewing (2018), is to separate out psychoanalysis' more extravagant claims about developmental stages, internal mental structures and pathogenesis from the more defensible claims about psychodynamics, defenses, ongoing symptom formation and phenomenology made especially by those psychoanalysts practicing today rather than those writing 100 years ago. Another, not necessarily incompatible with this, as Lacewing's paper itself demonstrates, is to reopen the question of the aptness to their object—to the dynamic unconscious in particular, or to human behavior and subjective experience more generally—of the normative standards deployed by the critics of psychoanalysis.

My intention in putting together this Special Issue has not primarily been to perpetuate the Freud Wars, important though such debate is to the self-understanding, intellectual integrity, and clinical survival of psychoanalysis. It is rather to exemplify the fruitfulness of philosophical scrutiny [End Page 61] of core notions of contemporary psychoanalysis more generally (a comprehensive compendium of philosophical engagements with philosophy can be found in Gipps and Lacewing [forthcoming].). Thus we also meet here with a philosophically nuanced explication of the concept of projective identification—perhaps the most clinically important concept of post-Kleinian psychoanalysis, indexing as it does subtle yet powerful and vexing moments of unconscious interaction between those in close relationships (including, of course, those in therapeutic relationships)—yet a concept of a phenomenon often appearing, or at least presented as, mystifying and fanciful. Braddock's (2018) aim is to take the less psychoanalytically initiated reader as far as possible toward a rationally reconstructed understanding of what psychoanalysts are doing in deploying the concept through using more tractable concepts such as imagination, idealizing, projection and speech acts. And we also encounter here a careful unpicking by Harcourt (2018) of central issues in the psychoanalytic theory of narcissism—a theory of what may be understood as the core pathology, or perhaps as the form of such pathology, as is pertinently theorized and treated by psychoanalysis—in which unpicking issues to do with a lack of mature differentiation of self and other are offered a primarily moral, rather than developmental or pathological, explication.

I shan't here anticipate the content of the commentators' contributions or authors' responses, but I do want to say something about the form of the discussion. For a key feature of the dialectic between these authors and commentators has to do with just how much the philosopher aiming for reflective purchase on the meaning of psychoanalytical theories and concepts does well to hold them accountable to extra-analytic standards, and how much instead they are better treated as sui...


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