Friday, May 03, 2019

Psychology and the Understanding of Good & Evil

Dilman 4
The existence of the experimental method [in psychology] makes us think we have the means of getting rid of the problems which trouble us; but the problem and method pass one another by.—Wittgenstein

The following is from the Preface to Ilham Dilman’s Raskolnikov’s Rebirth: Psychology and the Understanding of Good and Evil (Open Court, 2000). In my estimation, Dilman remains one of the foremost philosophical analysts of psychoanalytic psychology (alongside the likes of Richard Wollheim, Sebastian Gardner, and Jonathan Lear): he is at once incisively critical and deeply appreciative of psychoanalysis, exhibiting the virtues of a philosopher while writing in a style that extends a philosophical temperament and insight well beyond the boundaries of professional philosophy. As I’ve said elsewhere: “Occasionally one comes across a philosopher who, one believes quite strongly, was unduly neglected when alive, and thus virtually forgotten or ignored after his or her death. Ilham Dilman perfectly illustrates such a case.”

For what it’s worth, I am in full agreement with Dilman’s remarks below about “scientific psychology” (which are bit stronger than but in the spirit of kindred comments made by Jon Elster when discussing various approaches to the study of the emotions[1]):

Raskolnikov’s Rebirth is concerned with the contribution psychology, the discipline, can make to an understanding of good and evil and of a person’s relation to morality. It argues that experimental, scientific psychology can make no contribution to such an understanding. In a sense analogous to the one in which we may describe a person as having no soul, such a psychology has no soul. It is blind to the kind of life in which human beings have a soul.

This book contrasts experimental psychology[2] with what it calls a ‘thoughtful’ psychology which gives place to reflection on human life—a life which offers the possibility of autonomy to human beings, a life in which human beings find their individuality. I am interested in psychoanalysis because it has the potential of being a thoughtful psychology. Jung called Freud’s psychology ‘a psychology without a soul.’ This book tries to show how Freud’s perception, which were [at least in the early years] clouded by his scientism and his concentration on psycho-pathology,’ could nevertheless inspire a move towards a more thoughtful psychology. To this end I critically examine the contribution of a few later psychoanalysts [especially thus not only, Melanie Klein and Michael Balint] to an understanding of a person’s relation to good and evil and also to an understanding of religious belief. The book closes with a chapter on Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov because in Crime and Punishment we have a profound appreciation of the relation of a person, a character in the novel, to good and evil, what it means to be alienated from goodness, and of the radical change he undergoes in his mode of being as he is reintegrated with goodness. In such reintegration Raskolnikov finds his soul, the soul he has lost in his alienation from goodness, Dostoevsky describes this as ‘Raskolnikov’s rebirth.’

For psychology, as a discipline, likewise to find its soul it has to turn from experimentation to reflection, from the general to the individual. Dostoevsky, in his novels, shows himself to be such a thoughtful psychologist.”

1. “… [W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology. These emotions include regret, relief, hope, disappointment, shame, guilt, pridefulness, pride, hybris, envy, jealousy, malice, pity, indignation, wrath, hatred, contempt, joy, grief, and romantic love. By contrast, the scientific study of the emotions can teach us a great deal about anger, fear, disgust, parental love, and sexual desire (if we count the last two as emotions). [….] I believe … that prescientific insights into the emotion are not simply superseded by modern psychology in the way that natural philosophy has been superseded by physics. Some men and women in the past have been superb students of human nature, with more wide-ranging personal experience, better powers of observation, and deeper intuitions than almost any psychologist I can think of. This is only what we should expect: There is no reason why one century out of twenty-five should have a privilege in wisdom and understanding. In the case of physics, this argument does not apply.”—Jon Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
2. Dilman grants that “... there are questions that fall within the purview of [academic or scientific] psychology, in a broad sense, that are amenable to experimental study. They concern, as Charles Taylor puts it, ‘the infrastructural conditions for the exercise’ of these capacities which are necessary to human conduct—such as attention, perception, memory, voluntary movements and the functioning of the neurological systems that come into play in the exercise of those capacities. They are concerned with the constraints behind individual behaviour in its variations.”

Relevant Bibliographies


Post a Comment

<< Home