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  • Evidence, Inference and Causal Explanation in Psychoanalysis
  • Michael Lacewing (bio)

In my paper, 'The science of psychoanalysis,' I make two assumptions. First, I assume that a 'hermeneutic science' is not a contradiction in terms (p. 96). Second, I assume that explanations of why someone behaved as they did in terms of motives are a form of causal explanation (p. 101), and therefore that inferring what someone's motives are from their behavior is a form of causal inference. In his commentary, Gipps objects to both of these assumptions, and this gives me the opportunity to clarify them. Following the focus of Gipps's commentary, I shall concentrate primarily on the issue of science, and discuss causation only in relation to this.

Herein, I am not concerned to defend a detailed positive theory of what, exactly, we are talking about when we are talking about 'mental states.' I want to establish the minimum necessary for my assumptions to be true, and a good range of views is compatible with what I have to say here, although most will make additional commitments. I am more concerned to reject the monolithic conception of 'science' and the resultant sharp division between science and commonsense psychology that characterizes Gipps's response, a conception which has bedeviled debates in the philosophy of psychiatry since its inception and in the philosophy of mind since the 1950s.

To begin, let me clarify the ideas of evidence and inference to the best explanation in common-sense psychology and the psychodynamic model of mind. I did not say, and did not mean to imply that we always infer someone's mental state from their behavior. First, I concerned myself only with motives. Second, Gipps is certainly right that we can often simply, directly, and immediately recognize a mental state in behavior. Hence, there are occasions on which I can see that Andrew is happy (emotion), that Barbara wants her cup (motive), and that Claude is opening the bottle intentionally (action). These are exercises of acquired perceptual skills (most likely acquired very early on and with a firm genetic basis), skills that, in the right circumstances, enable these facts about Andrew, Barbara, and Claude to form part of how the situation perceptually appears to me. To describe knowledge gained through their exercise as 'inferential' is misleading at least. What we recognize, even if we cannot articulate it as such, is a specific pattern in the person's behavior in the situation, a pattern constructed out of a complex combination of facial expression, bodily posture, subtleties of movement (e.g., that typically distinguish intentional from unintentional movements), all within a particular setting within which joint attention is typically available. Hence, I recognize the pattern [End Page 119] of behavior that characterizes desire in Barbara's strained frown, her outstretched arm that is not merely straight but reaching, specifically toward a cup, upon which her gaze is also focused, and that I can also see. This kind of case is analogous to Gipps's case of the cloud. This, Barbara learns, is what we call 'wanting,' in this case, 'wanting your cup.'

But now take the example of revenge. Unless revenge is an instant response, there is no pattern of occurrent behavior that manifests revenge in the way that Beatrice's behavior manifests desire, that is, that makes the motive of revenge apparent in the same way. The behavior is undoubtedly an expression of revenge, but the pattern here is diachronic not synchronic, and far more complex. I cannot simply see that someone is taking revenge in the same way I can see a cloud or see that Beatrice wants her cup. Suppose Edna takes revenge on David. I can see that Edna is acting intentionally and from anger. But to know that Edna is taking revenge, I must also know, at least, that (Edna believes that) David previously harmed Edna. I must also know that this previous harm remains of concern to Edna, and more besides. To say that Edna is taking revenge is to place her behavior in a wider pattern, only part of which is currently occurring.

To understand behavior by placing it in a complex diachronic pattern typically...


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pp. 119-122
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