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April 22, 2018


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

I’ve always thought an ability to profoundly appreciate the “cultural” (including social and political) dimensions of human psychology (as both constraining and enabling) in dialectical conjunction with the unique psychological or character traits of the individual human being has been, at least in some quarters, one of the intrinsic virtues of Freudian (and post-Freudian, etc.) psychoanalytic psychology, as well other forms of psychology and psychotherapy (humanistic, existential, etc.) that are some distance from what today is classified as “academic,” “scientific,” “empirical,” or “experimental” psychology, in other words, that sort of discipline routinely taught in our colleges and universities (while one learns about Freudian psychology outside of psychology departments) and which is rather too close to its crude behaviorist and positivist antecedents.* While this is anecdotal evidence, I’ve had conversations with academic psychology instructors who are utterly dismissive of Freudian psychology, informing me (with that authoritative manner common to such communication) that psychology is, thankfully, far more robustly “scientific” and thus “experimental” these days and Freud (and his ideas) are more or less a curious relic of the past, having long been superseded, much like the cases of Aristotelian physics, phlogiston theory, and the Copernican system, indeed, Freudian psychology is perhaps best characterized as a “pseudoscience.” I think it is instead a peculiar “science and philosophy of human subjectivity,” a truly human or humane science that freely borrows from several fields of inquiry, but has no special relationship to either the natural or social sciences or the humanities for that matter. The best analysts are not unlike at least some types of philosopher (and in some instances are in fact both, like Jonathan Lear and Marcia Cavell), and some philosophers provide us with our best analyses of the virtues of psychoanalysis (while not being afraid to point out its shortcomings, historically or otherwise): in addition to Cavell and Lear, John Wisdom, Linda A.W. Brakel, Sebastian Gardner, Ilham Dilman, Herbert Fingarette, Amélie Rorty, Richard Wollheim, Donald Levy, John Deigh, Jerome Neu, John Cottingham, James Hopkins, Jennifer Radden (among others).

The following sample of titles attest, I think, to the capacity for psychoanalytic psychotherapy to patiently and profoundly inquire into and accord wide berth to the interdependent and complex causal roles and pathways (precisely what is understood as ‘causation’ here is an important topic we can’t discuss but suffice to say it does not entail or imply any sort of ‘determinism’) that constitute human (including moral) psychology in the individual person and in groups of various kinds:

• Alford, C. Fred. Melanie Klein & Critical Social Theory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
• Benjamin, Jessica. The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.
• Burston, Daniel. The Legacy of Erich Fromm. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.
• Chodorow, Nancy J. The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
• Danto, Elizabeth Ann. Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
• Dilman, Ilham. Raskolnikov’s Rebirth: Psychology and the Understanding of Good and Evil. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2000.
• Dilman, Ilham. Freud: Insight and Change. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1988.
• Friedman, Lawrence J. (assisted by Anke M. Schreiber). The Lives of Erich Fromm: Love’s Prophet. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
• Hinshelwood, R.D. What Happens in Groups: Psychoanalysis, the Individual, and the Community. London: Free Association Books, 1987.
• Jacoby, Russell. The Repression of Psychoanalysis: Otto Fenichel and the Political Freudians. New York: Basic Books, 1983.
• Kakar, Sudhir. The Inner World: A Psycho-Analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 1981.
• Lear, Jonathan. Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
• Lear, Jonathan. Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
• Lear, Jonathan. Wisdom Won from Illness: Essays in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
• Rorty, Amélie Oksenberg. Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1988.
• Wallwork, Ernest. Psychoanalysis and Ethics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.
• Wolfenstein, Eugene Victor. The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution. London: Free Association Books, 1989.
• Wolfenstein, Eugene Victor. Psychoanalytic-Marxism: Groundwork. London: Free Association Books/New York: Guilford Press, 1993.
• Wollheim, Richard. The Thread of Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

* Hence Jon Elster’s comment (although Elster has little favorable to say about the Freudian corpus and what organically grew from it):

“… [W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights [and, I would add, psychoanalytic psychology] 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)

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I inadvertently left out a title from the above list which I ardently believe warrants mention: Michael Rustin’s The Good Society and the Inner World: Psychoanalysis, Politics and Culture (Verso, 1991).

Deep State Special Legal Counsel

You will forward that to the White House? AKA critical and nuanced thinking.

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