Thursday, November 13, 2008

Directed Reading: Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology

A New York Times piece by Patricia Cohen, "Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department," summarizes a recent study in The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association:

"Psychoanalysis and its ideas about the unconscious mind have spread to every nook and cranny of the culture from Salinger to 'South Park,' from Fellini to foreign policy. Yet if you want to learn about psychoanalysis at the nation's top universities, one of the last places to look may be the psychology department. A new report by the American Psychoanalytic Association has found that while psychoanalysis--or what purports to be psychoanalysis--is alive and well in literature, film, history and just about every other subject in the humanities, psychology departments and textbooks treat it as 'dessicated and dead,' a historical artifact instead of 'an ongoing movement and a living, evolving process.'"

One reason that looms large in accounting for this state of affairs is the extent to which academic psychology in this country conceives itself as a "scientific" enterprise. And inasmuch as this putative psychological science is linked to the arts and science of (mental) health care, it fancies itself grounded in "empirical rigor and testing," beholden, that is, to what falls under the robust rubric of "evidence-based medicine" (EBM). This conception strives to place psychology on par with other natural sciences and further explains the recent infatuation with neuroscience and the extravagant claims made on behalf of evolutionary psychology. An ancillary reason involves sceptical disenchantment with the so-called folk theory of mind from not a few quarters in the philosophy of mind (e.g., eliminative materialism). This is not to insinuate that this folk theory is immune to philosophical revision or extension, but only that any plausible psychological model has compelling reasons for assuming some of the key premises that animate that model. Nor is this to imply that psychology can or should ignore science, rather, it may be the case that psychology, insofar as it deals with (a narrative sense of) "the self" and with the nature of mental life, may be better construed as a "science of subjectivity," wherein science is best understood in an analogical or metaphorical sense, rather than simply or solely as an objectivist and naturalistic endeavor. Freudian psychology in general and psychoanalysis in particular resist the post-positivist (hence scientistic) "penchant for quantities" and the "fetish for measurement" that infect the natural and social sciences, symptomatic evidence for which is seen in the overweening preference for game theory, cost-benefit calculations, and Bayesian probability estimates (its paradigm of statistical inference serving as the epitome of empirical argument). In other words, and in the end, Freudian psychology shares with Pragmatism what Hilary Putnam calls the "revolt against formalism:" “This revolt against formalism is not a denial of the utility of formal models in certain contexts; but it manifests itself in a sustained critique of the idea that formal models, in particular, systems of symbolic logic, rule books of inductive logic, formalizations of scientific theories, etc.—describe a condition to which rational thought can or should aspire." To paraphrase and quote again from Putnam, our conceptions of rationality cast a net far wider than all that can be scientized, logicized, mathematized, in short, formalized: “The horror of what cannot be methodized is nothing but method fetishism."

In the culture wars, "Freud bashing" remains commonplace and today one finds few articulate defenders of this or that aspect of Freudian psychology from within psychology proper. A handful of philosophers have engaged in sympathetic and sophisticated critiques of the Freudian oeuvre, among them: Ilham Dilman, Richard Wollheim, Donald Levy, Jonathan Lear, Sebastian Gardner, John Cottingham, Marcia Cavell, J. David Velleman, and Ernest Wallwork. Their work is essential to assessing what is living and dead in Freudian psychology. And toward that end, I've assembled this particular installment in the Directed Reading series: "Freudian and Post-Freudian Psychology: A Selected Bibliography of Secondary Literature." The following snippets are intended to entice you, dear reader, into a sustained study (and thereby appreciation) of Freudian and Post-Freudian psychology:

"[Freud] never came to grips with the full force of the idea of a science of subjectivity. Neither have we."

"It is philosophers who have the task of exploring what matters to us most--What is freedom? What is it genuinely for us to be happy? What is worth valuing and why?--but it is psychoanalysis that teaches us how we regularly get in the way of our own freedom, systematically make ourselves unhappy and use values for covert and malign purposes. Philosophy cannot live up to its task unless it takes these psychoanalytic challenges seriously."

"The psychoanalytic situation is structured to offer an existential Sabbath: a benign environment that does not produce too much anxiety...."

"Freudian method has a Socratic quality to it: through a particular type of 'cross-examination,' the patient's own beliefs about his past and his emotional life are elicited, and eventually 'refuted'--in the sense that he is shown to have an inadequate conscious understanding of who he is, what has happened to him and how he feels about it."

"Psychoanalysis tends to move simultaneously in two directions. On the one hand, it tries to discover a hidden irrationality in the thought, speech and action which presents itself as rational. On the other hand, it tries to find rationality hidden within the irrational. There among the flotsam of dreams, physical symptoms, slips of the tongue, psychoanalysis discovers that mind is active."

"In the analytic situation there tends to be an inverse correlation between remembering and repeating. In the analytic situation, 'the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it.' So, for instance, the analysand does not remember that he used to be defiant towards his parents, but he acts defiantly now toward the analyst."

"Thus it might seem that by emphasizing the centrality of sexuality in our lives, Freud is saying that we are little more than animals with pretensions. But this is to misread Freud. It seems more accurate to see Freud as subverting the category of rational animal altogether. For if we had to place our sexuality anywhere, it would be on the 'animal' side of the divide, but Freud shows us that it is precisely in our sexuality that we radically separate ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that there is nothing about human life that we hold less in common with animals than our sexuality. We can imagine a bird happening to make a nest out of a lady's shoe; we cannot imagine her getting excited about it. The shoe-as-nest holds onto a biological function; the shoe as fetish leaves that behind."

"No doubt marvelous treatments await us, and some of them will impact psychoanalytic treatment in unpredictable ways. Still, the idea that drugs might--if not now, soon!--take the place of psychoanalysis is comparable to thinking that drugs may one day replace the task each of us faces of becoming the kind of person we should each like to be."
---Jonathan Lear

"The question, as always, is not about Freud's character, or whether psychoanalyis is a science or not, but whether psychoanalysis, the theorization of the long-term listening that is the analytic relationship, tells us anything interesting, important and real about mental pain and about ourselves."

"To those who regard the world of human feeling as inherently unreliable, who distrust the novel and poetry as a source of human knowledge, the claims of psychoanalysis will always be unsatisfactory."

"In Europe, the cultural appeal of psychoanalysis took it far beyond narrow medical circles. In Britain, France, Germany and Austria many of the most distinguished early practitioners were lay analysts drawn to psychoanalysis from the disciplines of literature, philosophy, law, pedagogy and natural science because of their interest in what was being discovered about the human psyche in the analytic hour. [....] [In the United States], psychoanalysis developed almost exclusively as an extension of medical practice by doctors trained in psychology and neurology."
---Joseph Schwartz

"We would be placing ourselves at a disadvantage if we were to look at twenty-first century realties through nineteenth-century lenses. Likewise, if we were to treat Marx's and Freud's texts as a canon and confuse social analysis with scriptural exegesis, then we really would be condemning ourselves to irrelevancy. It does not follow, however, that Marxism and psychoanalysis are the private property of antiquarians and hagiographers. [....] For each of them...there is a distinction to be drawn between the world as it appears and the world as it really is. Appearances, moreover, conceal realities. In each instance the analytical task it so pierce the veil of appearance and bring the concealed reality into view."

"In theory and practice Freud offers us only amelioration of and consolation for the pain of being human--only the chance to be ordinarily unhappy."

"[A]nxiety has perhaps the strongest claim to paradigmatic status. It signals threatened physcial pain or threats to preservation. It is present in any situation where pleasure is found and the attainment of pleasure is uncertain. More generally, any anxiety attaches to any situation involving a significant level of uncertainty. It is part of all emotional conflict, whether intrapsychic or interpsychic."
---Eugene Victor Wolfenstein

"...[P]sychoanalysis and ethics are concerned with many of the same phenomena, such as egoism, determinism, psychological and ethical hedonism, moral conscientiousness, and self-deception."

"[Psychoanalysis] offers us an inclusive vision, model, or paradigm of human nature. One advantage of this model is that it acknowledges the importance of the mind's connections both with the body (as do neurophysiology and biology) and with specific social mileus (as do the social sciences). As Freud first pointed out, a person's behavior is influenced not only by his or her psycho-sexual development tracked through its various vicissitudes by psychoanalysis, but also by the various chemical-hormonal happenings occurring within his or her body. Behavior is also influenced significantly by the social institutions within which the individual develops from early childhood to adulthood and to which he remains vulnerable at every stage of life. Psychoanalysis's portrait of human nature thus encourages interdisciplinary bridge building among the several disciplines concerned with the study of human nature and behavior, including several of the humanities that deal with unconscious meanings, like literary criticism and aesthetics, at the same time that it challenges most traditional views of human nature with its findings regarding unavowed impulses and processes, the persistence of infantile patterns in adult life, and unacknowledged defensive strategies."

"...Freud expressed great caution with respect to his entire metapsychological enterprise. He repeatedly described the metapsychology as 'tentative,' 'speculative,' and 'hypothetical,' and even went so far as to call it a 'phantasy,' a 'myth,' a product of wish fulfillement on the part of its creator."

"The parts of Freud's writings that suggest some level of causal determination in fact coexist with his explicit view that one of the chief goals of psychoanalysis is to increase the patient's 'freedom' (Freiheit). 'autonomy' (Selbstandigkeit), and 'initiative' (Initiative). Thus the aim of psychoanalysis is to 'free' (befrein) the patient from intrapsychic 'chains' (die Fesseln), which normally increases the patient's 'self-control' (Selbstbeherrschung) and gives 'the patient's ego freedom to decide one way or the other' between conflicting motives. For Freud, it is the mark of a relatively healthy ego to be able to deliberate and exercise self-control and willpower in choosing and pursuing goals."

"Freud's claim that the developed ego is guided by qualitative hedonism helps to bring out just how in his late writings 'the programme of the pleasure principle' is compatible with non-egoistic, and hence, moral behavior. This compatibility is largely a consequence of the fact that happiness as Freud uses the term for the goal of life is a different kind of end then the quantitative one of maximizing a single kind of agreeable feeling. 'Happiness' in life is an 'inclusive end' rather than a single 'dominant end.' That is to say, the activities through which it is sought are not means in an instrumental or neutral sense, but parts of a whole. To pursue happiness as an inclusive goal through such activities as artistic creativity, intellectual work, sensuality, love, and aesthetic appreciation is to enjoy each of these activities as contributing something qualitatively unique to a life plan. Insofar as these activities are means, it is in the sense of being constitutive of the comprehensive end of happiness in life as a whole. It is only through such activities that genuine happiness in the sense of 'positive fulfillment' is possible. [....] Freud does not construe narrowly, then, the happiness at which the ego aims as always involving a self-interested goal. To the contrary, persons are observed to find pleasure in a whole range of activities, including fulfilling the needs of others, and even in moral conscientiousness. For there is 'satisfaction' to be obtained in acting benevolently in accordance with one's 'ego ideal' and 'a feeling of triumph when something in the ego coincides with the ego ideal.'"

"With aim inhibition and sublimation, Freud seeks to explain the redirection or transformation of direct sexual aims, which 'are at bottom self-interested,' into aims of a 'higher' order. In aim inhibition external or internal obstacles block an instinct's direct mode of satisfaction in such a way that the instinctual drive is diverted and reoriented toward a quest for attenuated satisfaction from activities or relations that approximate, to a greater or lesser extent, the original sexual aim. Sublimation (Sublimierung) involves an ever more far-reaching alteration of the original (sexual) aim, in that the original goal is completely extinguished and then supplanted with a new, nonsexual aim that is valued socially."

"The hermeneutic defense of psychoanalysis, which overlaps to some extent with philosophy of science defenses of single-subject research, is principally concerned with defending the clinical enterprise as an in-depth interpretive process that centers on the richly symbolic narratives that human beings employ to communicate the complex meanings and motivations that account for their behavior."
---Ernest Wallwork

"It is important to keep in mind...that the analyst's speculation about the patient's early mental 'representations' relies almost entirely on his post-verbal phantasies and behavior. This is not to say that the adult's phantasy of castration, for example, is radically discontinuous with things that went on with him as a pre-verbal child. Long before we have reason to credit them with a network of concepts, children are acquiring fears, habits, styles of interpersonal relationg, that are part of a causal history of their later thought. But we would want to try to spell out the continuity in terms appropriate to what that child might have been doing, experiencing, and learning at the time."

"I think it is true that Freudian interpretation depends generally on the everyday reason-explanation model--sometimes called 'folk psychology'--which it then expands in various ways, and that precisely this is one of its strengths."
---Marcia Cavell


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