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  • Psychoanalysis, the Good Life, and Human Development
  • Edward Harcourt (bio)

I am grateful to Steven Groarke for his thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I think there are some real disagreements between us, but also some misunderstandings, so if I can clear up even the latter, that will be something.

In my paper, I focused on the 'dual roles claim,' the claim that some concepts central to at least certain versions of psychoanalysis classify people in respect both of their degree of mental health and of their degree of psychological maturity. I argued that no concept can be expected to play both roles, and that the real point of these particular psychoanalytic concepts is first and foremost to do neither, but rather to draw ethical distinctions. Groarke in his reply is concerned with that claim of mine, but perhaps more concerned with a corollary of it, which I stated but did not argue for, namely that psychoanalysis is, in part, continuous with moral philosophy. The fact that I did not argue for that second claim, or indeed set it out very fully, may perhaps explain why it sometimes feels as if we are talking at cross purposes.

For the better part of his reply, it looks as if Groarke is opposed to both claims. Toward the end, however, things look otherwise. As long as what I call 'psychoanalysis' is what Groarke calls something else—perhaps 'developmental psychology,' perhaps 'Freudian revisionism'—he can, he says, agree with everything I say, because it is consistent with what he calls 'psychoanalysis.' Indeed, if this switching of labels is granted, my arguments not only do not touch anything he wants to defend, but can be recruited to his own cause of rescuing psychoanalysis from distinct and mistaken views to which it is all too easily assimilated. So it looks as if all that divides us may be, after all, a verbal question—how properly to use the word 'psychoanalysis.' Is that really all there is to it?

In the paper I self-consciously used the word 'psychoanalysis' very broadly, as a lazy abbreviation for 'psychoanalysis and, more broadly, psychodynamic psychotherapy in the Freudian tradition' (Harcourt, 2018, p. 137). With the term used that way, there are bound to be theoretical disagreements within what's properly called psychoanalysis. Indeed that remains true even if we do not use 'psychoanalysis' as a lazy abbreviation for anything: the history of psychoanalysis, even quite narrowly defined, has been full of disagreements. It does not follow that 'psychoanalysis' can mean anything one wants it to mean. But it does follow, I think, that the proper use of the word 'psychoanalysis' is anchored not to a single theory or set of theses, but to—among other things—a shared ancestry (e.g., in Freud's work), to a set of institutions, and to a set of therapeutic practices, whose relations to theory may themselves be quite loose. That is not Groarke's view. On Groarke's view, some of the theories netted by the word 'psychoanalysis' as I use it are bad theories, and as [End Page 143] he uses the word, only the best theory—whatever it is, and, of course, Groarke has his own views about that—deserves the label. That is not just a verbal disagreement, because the question whether the proper use of 'psychoanalysis' is anchored to a theory or to something else is itself a theoretical question. But it is not a theoretical question I even attempted to address in my paper, so it would be disappointing if the issue between Groarke and myself turned out to be only that one.

In search of a more satisfying locus of disagreement, then, let's consider the claim that psychoanalysis is, in part, continuous with moral philosophy. In Groarke's (as I understand it) Lacanian view, psychoanalysis has got nothing to do with moral philosophy. He regrets that I do not mention Lacan—which, by the way, I do in a different paper which does argue for the claim, although there is no reason Groarke should have known that (Harcourt, 2013, p. 14). Groarke only hints at what it is in Lacan that, in his view, makes the...


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