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International Forum of Psychoanalysis

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Epistemology and Psychoanalysis: A Fruitful

Published online: 06 Nov 2010.

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Psychoanalysis, 10:2, 97-101, DOI: 10.1080/08037060120845

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Int Forum Psychoanal 10:(97101), 2001

Editorial: Epistemology and Psychoanalysis: A Fruitful Relationship

This issue presents some of the works that were to many of the epistemologistss questions.
read in the X International Forum of Psycho- Furthermore, we believe it is the affective states
analysis that took place in Madrid from the 5th to that should give an account of a natural scienti c
the 9th of May 1998, while others were written causality whereas language, in its discursive
speci cally for this issue. The works in this expression, will nd in hermeneutics the basis for
selection are quite diverse, as was the spirit of its understanding.* In the purest Freudian tradition,
the Forum. One of the themes at the forum was representation and feeling will continue to be
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Epistemology and Psychoanalysis,; one of the united in the psychoanalytic project.

presenters was Adolf Grunbaum, who has been As we understand it, the eld of classic
central in this debate for many years. epistemology comes from the idea that the mind
The questioning of psychoanalysis by episte- is capable of creating representations that re ect
mologists has contributed as much to the strength- exactly what is out there; knowledge is possible as
ening of psychoanalytic theory as to, at the level of long as the mind creates exact representations of
individual practice, the introduction of a stronger the exterior world. This belief is what underlies the
scienti c commitment as well as therapeutic thought of the founders of classic epistemology,
success. Likewise, psychoanalytic thought has namely, Locke, Descartes and Kant. However, this
contributed to the questioning and enrichment of basic idea, at the center of the epistemological
the epistemological eld, and the theory of knowl- scheme, is no longer accepted by many authors
edge, by introducing the subject of knowledge as who believe that we must abandon the notion of
well as the object of knowledge. At present, an knowledge as regards exact representation, which
epistemological scheme is imposed not as a way is possible thanks to special intelligible mental
to certify our success in the discovery of the truth processes thanks to a general theory of representa-
but as a creation of canons of rationality (9). tion. (9)1
In any case, psychoanalysis continues to occupy The solution does not, however, consist of
a singular place, tributary of the two great turning ones back on the problem and choosing
epistemological models: the strict natural science to disregard it. The example that R. Rorty (9)
model governed by causality and the hermeneutic presents seems a bit hasty. That St. Thomas
model where the problem of meaning is central. Aquinas af rmation about the possibility of
Undoubtedly, other epistemological approaches showing the existence of God by means of natural
exist like those that are established, for example, reason is not analogous to the situation that classic
in the work of Edgar Morin on complex thought, epistemology nds itself in. To continue to demand
but these, nevertheless, do not impede the herme- proof of veri ability in the eld of science is still a
neutic and natural science epistemologies from priority, even if we must note, the authority and
being the base from which psychoanalysis is exclusivity of the classic epistemological scheme
questioned. The originality of the psychoanalytic was lost long ago.
enterprise presents both dimensions, which, in our Charles Taylors book, Philosophical Argu-
opinion, are articulated in the emotional experi- ments (10), starts with a chapter titled The
ence, which is what gives meaning and complexity Overcoming of Epistemology where we are
to psychoanalytic theory and practice. reminded of how epistemology is improving.
It is with regard to a theory of emotions and The improvement of epistemology is based on
feelings that psychoanalysis will be able to respond the improvement of its foundational scheme, as it
is detailed in the work of Richard Rorty. From

*Emotional Causality and Hermeneutics of Discourse. Work in

progress by the author. Translated by the author from the Spanish edition.
98 Editorial Int Forum Psychoanal 10, 2001

the point of view of this scheme, the positive analysis is being cut from educational pro-
sciences needed a rigorous discipline that would grammes, its theoretical model is questioned but,
be able to control the letters of credence of all the what new model is there to substitute it? The
claims of truth. In this way, an alleged science answer from psychiatry its biochemical advances
will only be valid if its ndings pass this test on has not been able to substitute it and the growing
the contrary the claim will have no rm basis. interest for psychotherapeuti c methods is no
Only epistemology can clarify what makes a guarantee for the recognition of psychoanalytic
claim of knowledge valid and to what degree of theory.
nal validity they can aspire to rest (10)2 . But Nagel, in the 1950s, published his work Meth-
such a foundational scheme was based on or was odological Problems of Psychoanalytic Theory in
possible from a much more general conception which, from his dialogue with H. Hartmann, he
than can be de ned as the correct representation questioned the scienti c foundations of psycho-
of an independent reality. In its original form, it analysis on the basis of the analysis of two groups
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saw knowledge as the internal image of an of problems. The rst was related to the logical
external reality. (10) structure and empirical content of psychoanalytic
As psychoanalysts, it is dif cult to accept a theory, especially meta-psychology and the sec-
mental model that reproduces reality. With psy- ond, the general nature of the tests used to support
choanalysis, the creative and interpreting role of the theory. The long and fruitful debate over these
the psyche was made clear and a new reality, the questions is now history, having ended with a
psychic reality, emerged. The Freudian discovery verdict that questioned but did not condemn
of this psychic reality an exclusive eld of psychoanalysis. with respect to the Freudian
psychoanalytic activity was organised into a theory itself, as a body of doctrine for which
theory that had to give an account of an endless empirical acceptance can reasonably be claimed, I
number of discoveries and applications in a can only echo the Scottish verdict: not proven.
practice which until then had been unknown. (12)
Today, nevertheless, it is no longer possible as Nagel demands of psychoanalysis (as Grunbaum
Freud would have done to deal with any type of does later) that some theoretical notions should be
questioning of psychoanalytic theory by labelling linked to observable materials properly determined
it resistance to psychoanalysis. and speci ed without ambiguity. To summarize,
In the mid-eighties in the United States, and later a theory should not be formulated in such a way
in the rest of the psychoanalytic community, an that it can always be interpreted and manipulated
ever-recurring debate took place regarding the to explain real facts, be they what they may,
scienti c-ness of psychoanalysis. At that time the irrespective of whether the controlled observation
debate was, and today continues to be, backed by shows a certain state of things or their opposite to
Grunbaum. The same debate took place in the happen. (12)
fties with Ernest Nagel, in the sixties with H. J. Another of Nagels criticisms, later picked up by
Eysenck, and in the seventies with Karl Popper. Popper, is that psychoanalytic theory is of such a
Those were other times, psychoanalysis was an nature that facts never refute it. Nagel uses the
of cially recognized, powerful discourse and the example of Freuds dream theory in which he saw
group of professionals was growing. Nowadays, that there were ideational contents that could not
epistemological criticisms of psychoanalysis en- have been acquired either in infancy or in adult-
counter a discipline in question with no institu- hood for example, the primal fantasies. Freud
tional respect or public presence. The number of thought we should consider them as part of the
professionals who seek a psychoanalytic education archaic inheritance of a child at birth. Never-
has clearly diminished in all the institutions. In any theless, and already when Freud was still alive,
case, we might show the same surprise that biological science rejected the idea that personality
Marshall Edelson showed in 1984 (5). Psycho- traits are genetically determined. Why asks
Nagel does this fact not constitute a rejection
of the arguments premise?
As for Popper, he sought to x the criteria of
Translated by the author from the Spanish edition. demarcation between science and non-science with
Int Forum Psychoanal 10, 2001 Editorial 99
the concept of falsi cation. From an insuf cient For example, the rst theory remains subsumed in
knowledge of psychoanalytic theory he con- the second and many phenomena continue to be
demned it as an un-falsi able theory, and there- explained with reference to the rst and second
fore, not scienti c. Curiously it was Grunbaum framework.
himself who demonstrated the inconsistency of As regards the theory of anxiety, in the rst
Poppers argument. Freud changed psychoanalytic model repression produced anxiety whereas in the
theory as new facts revealed its inconsistencies. second model it is exactly the opposite, anxiety is
Upon considering the development of Freudian the cause of the repressive mechanism. Even so,
thought, it is shown that, in general, the repeated the rst model continues to be enforced to explain
modi cations of his theories were by any reckon- for example, psychosomatic situations. Morris N.
ing motivated by evidence and not by idiosyncratic Eagle (14) goes through the different anxiety
or whimsical motives. Why, ask Popper and his theories in psychoanalysis very well. He does not
disciples, did they not stop to carry out a true highlight the antagonism between them and con-
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exegesis of Freud? (Grunbaum) centrates solely on the poor clinical basis that they
This criticism cannot be made of Grunbaum for present.
he has studied and continues doing work not only Real trauma as an etiologic factor continues to
on Freud but also on what has been called be present, as much in the work of Ferenczi as in
contemporary psychoanalysis. Grunbaum argues Freuds own work. In Wolf Man we see an
that although the new psychoanalytic theories etiologic amalgam between real traumatic factors
(such as the theory of object relations or psychol- and fantasies far from observable reality. Freud
ogy of the self) may contribute distinct concep- never abandoned the reality of trauma although he
tions, they, nevertheless, have not, as regards their did as an exclusive factor.
basis, resolved the Freudian methodological or We admit that psychoanalytic theory does not
epistemological problems. Speaking about the fully comply with the criterion of falsi ability. The
basis of psychoanalysis is not so easy for some complexity of the eld of study does not allow for
authors and, as a result, for example, Van any reductionism. The hermeneutic and the causal
Spruiell (13) they do not seem to distinguish points of view of psychoanalysis are not mutually
very well between de ning what is psychoanalysis exclusive, and theoretical progression has to be
and asking themselves about its basic concepts. persued according to both these lines. The exclu-
I would like to refer brie y to the argument that sion of either dimension will not permit a better
Grunbaum makes against Popper on the impossi- clari cation but rather an impoverishment of
bility of refuting falsifying in Poppers terminol- psychoanalysis.
ogy psychoanalytic theory. Psychoanalysts The hermeneutic approach does not depend on
appreciated that it was an epistemologist like empirical evidence which is why the problems of
Grunbaum who demonstrated the inconsistency classical epistemology are not actualized. Psycho-
in Poppers argumentation. Popper had had the last analysis does not move exclusively in a causal
word on too many things for too long. Grunbaum universe but nor does it move in a universe without
shows that psychoanalytic theory, even within meanings. For example: an event is traumatic when
Freuds own work, changed as facts were being it cannot be elaborated, that is when it cannot enter
discovered that could not be explained by the into the eld of signi cance. This can happen
theory in use. Freuds second theory enabled a because of ignorance (being unaware); because of
theory of the self that his rst theory could not meaning (a misunderstanding) but in any case the
encompass. Similarly, the anxiety theory was event (fact or fantasy) will act as a causal factor.
changed as new problems could not be resolved, That is to say that cause and signi cance, in psy-
not to mention the most fundamental change that choanalysis, are dif cult to differentiate, making
Freud made when he went from the etiologic some authors Carlo Strenger think that
theory based on real trauma to the theory of fantasy hermeneutics ( eld of meaning) and classic
and desire. This means that psychoanalysis did science ( eld of causality) belong together and
comply with one criteria of demarcation between that there is no reason to differentiate them as is
science and non-science. In Freuds work, how- done in the philosophy of science. The problem is
ever, theories changed but they did not disappear. with this is: how do you not differentiate them
100 Editorial Int Forum Psychoanal 10, 2001

without falling into a basically simplifying eclectic of energy seems more and more inadequate, but no
position. other model powerful enough to cover all the
The hermeneutic model in psychoanalysis accepted facts that belong to psychoanalysis, or the
emerged as a rm theoretical body starting in the paradoxical nature of those facts, has appeared.3
1960s and 1970s at the hands of authors like The aim of hermeneutics is, therefore, to show that
Habermas and Ricoeur in the eld of philosophy psychoanalysis clearly differs from the natural
and Roy Schafer or George Klein in the eld of sciences, and it is precisely here that Grunbaums
psychoanalysis. The hermeneutic approach to critique emerges. His detailed analysis and con-
psychoanalysis addresses subjective experiences. sequent refutation of the hermeneutic arguments
It does not focus on behavior and, therefore does not allow Grunbaum to re ect on psychoanalytic
recognize single causes for single effects. That is to theory as it immerses in the eld of science.
say, a meaning is not the product of a cause but Grunbaum, therefore, de nes his position as
rather the creation of a subject. (7) In any case the opposed to those who think that psychoanalysis is
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hermeneutic model accepts the division that not a science like hermeneutic theory or those who,
Wilhelm Dilthey introduced between sciences of following Popper, think that it does not comply
nature and sciences of the spirit, each with their with the criteria of falsi cation. Grunbaum ques-
object of knowledge and their own methodology. tions psychoanalysis from this accepted psycho-
The hermeneutic conception of psychoanalysis analytic position from where he asks for scienti c
renounces certain ideas of psychoanalytic theory acceptance. We could say that he continues and
such as Freudian meta-psychology with its mech- examines E. Nagels line of thinking.
anistic conception of driving forces, impulses, etc. Some of the most important topics that Grun-
Hermeneutic methods cannot illuminate causal baum considers could be summarized in the
relationships between childhood events and neu- following points. They are developed extensively
rotic symptoms. From the hermeneutic perspective in his two principle works, The Foundations of
psychoanalysis deals with meanings. It is a Psychoanalysis and Validations in the Clinical
systematic elaboration of story lines ordered along Theory of Psychoanalysis:
narrative story lines of psychosexual development.
(4) 1. Psychoanalytic theory has not managed to
In this way hermeneutics does not deny that establish a basis of proof (scienti cally
there are theoretical disciplines and models that veri able) or to do more than show its
explain human behavior from other elds: bio- notable heuristic value.
chemical, psychological, social, etc. What herme- 2. The most solid line of argument that psycho-
neutics says is that, as regards verbal relationship analysis nds in its claims of science-ness is
between two people and under set conditions, given in what Grunbaum calls Tally argu-
psychoanalysis should comply with the investiga- ment.
tion that appears in that eld. As can be seen, this 3. The argument of coincidence is supported by
model brings psychoanalysis back to the eld of two conditions:
humanities and takes it out of the eld of natural a). Only psychoanalytic treatment provides
sciences. This does not mean, however, that there correct insights and
are no forms of validation that prove the psycho- b). Those insights are necessary to cure
analytic propositions. Ricoeur, in his famous neuroses.
article, The Problem of Proof in the Psycho- 4. Another central theme in Grunbaums re ec-
analytic Writings of Freud (8), considers that the tions is the contamination of the clinical data
claim of truth resides in the articulation of the by suggestibility in the treatment.
theory, the interpretation, the therapy and the story 5. Lastly, and precisely due to the contamina-
of the patient. This means that the criterion of tion of the clinical situation, Grunbaum
coherence is what determines, in the nal analysis, demands extra-clinical validations.
psychoanalytic validation.
Ricoeur notices the insuf ciency of the herme-
neutic method, which leaves the subject of energy
unanswered. The theoretic model of distribution 3
Translated by the author from the Spanish edition.
Int Forum Psychoanal 10, 2001 Editorial 101
As can be seen, all these topics, except the however, can psychoanalytic theory expect, be-
argument of coincidence, are known criticisms. cause of its singularity, to be left outside of the
Even so, especially because Grunbaum has read problems of scienti c knowledge.
psychoanalytic theory in depth, he contributes
quite original critical elements. The idea that Romulo Aguillaume
clinical data and therapeutic procedures can only Centro Psicoanal tico de Madrid
be realized from within a psychoanalytic setting
has been criticized by all epistemologists. Grun-
baum asks for an extra-clinical validation. References
Is this procedure compatible with psychoanaly- 1. Grunbaum, A. The foundation s of psychoanalysis . Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1984.
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possible. This is how, for example, Thomas and tional Univ. Press, 1993.
Kachele (11) respond. If the psychoanalytic 3. Is the concept of psychic reality a theoretica l advance ? Int.
Univ. Press, 1997.
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outside the therapeutic situation, one can only put Press, 1991.
5. Edelson, Marshall. Psychoanalysis : A theory in crisis. Univ. of
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psicoanal ticos de Freud. Psicoan (Buenos Aires) 5/6 (1983):
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Translated by the author from the Spanish edition.