Psychoanalysis Research Paper

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By psychoanalysis is generally understood, in the first instance, the psychological theory and corresponding clinical practice developed by Sigmund Freud in the first four decades of the twentieth century, and in most usage the term refers also to at least some of the developments that proceed directly from Freud, such as Jungian, Kleinian, and Lacanian theory, though the proper boundaries of psychoanalysis are hard to mark and subject to dispute. This research paper will, after a brief sketch of Freud’s development, survey the principal theoretical issues raised by psychoanalytic theory, the main developments in psychoanalysis after Freud, and the relation of psychoanalysis to other fields of human enquiry.



1. Freud’s Life And Writings

Freud was born of a Jewish family in Freiberg (now in the Czech republic) in 1856. He qualified as a physician at the University of Vienna, becoming early involved in neurological research under the tutelage of the physiologist Ernst Brucke, a positivist and Darwinian. After three years of medical practice at the General Hospital in Vienna, Freud received an appointment as lecturer in neuropathology. A period spent at the Salpetriere in Paris exposed Freud to the French neurologist Jean Charcot’s use of hypnotherapy to treat mental disorder. In 1886 Freud set up in private practice in Vienna, applying Charcot’s methods, and in 1893 he published with the Viennese physician Josef Breuer Studien uber Hysterie [Studies on Hysteria], an account of the use of hypnosis to effect the cathartic recall of forgotten traumatic experience, underpinned by a schematic theory of mental dissociation. This led Freud to attempt to formulate a general theory of mental functioning in strict neurological terms, his ‘Project for a scientific psychology’ of 1895, which he abandoned without completing. Thereafter, Freud concentrated on the analysis of clinical material provided by his patients and undertook a self-analysis. The explorations of these years led to the publication in 1900 of Die Traumdeutung [The Interpretation of Dreams], Freud’s first full statement of psychoanalytic ideas. Here Freud defended the substitution of free association for hypnosis as a clinical method. Over the following decade Freud published Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens [The Psychopathology of Everyday Life] (1904) and Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie [Three Contributions to the Theory of Sexuality] (1905), and began to acquire a following, leading to the founding in 1910 of the International Psychoanalytic Association. The spread of psychoanalysis in Europe and the United States was accompanied by internal disagreement and the formation of alternative schools, most notably those of Alfred Adler and Carl Jung. Freud’s later writings focused on theoretical questions and the application of psychoanalysis to cultural issues. Forced by the Anschluß to flee Austria, Freud died in London in 1939. (Jones 1953–7 and Gay 1988 are classic intellectual biographies of Freud. Decker 1977 analyses Freud’s intellectual historical context.)

2. Fundamental Conceptual Issues In Psychoanalytic Theory

Though subject to fierce criticism from many quarters, Freud’s theories achieved over the course of the twentieth century a massive degree of influence in all of the humanities and human sciences, and contemporary publication suggests that their power to stimulate is by no means exhausted. The theoretical dissemination of psychoanalytic ideas far exceeds the prevalence of psychoanalysis as a clinical practice: though institutes of psychoanalysis are established and thrive in most Western countries, psychoanalytic therapy has been consistently repudiated by the medical establishment and accorded no recognized place in psychiatric treatment. The greater clinical influence of psychoanalysis has been achieved through dilution, its transformation into less demanding and theoretically committed forms of treatment: psychotherapy in its myriad contemporary forms, though it most often represents itself as wholly distinct from psychoanalysis, is barely conceivable without its historical relation to Freud.

Both the influence exerted by psychoanalysis and the chronic controversy surrounding it are closely connected to the highly ambiguous, indeterminate status of psychoanalytic theory, reflected in the host of epistemological, methodological, and conceptual problems which it sets. Freud presented his theories, which he revised constantly, in terms that display very clearly the importance for his development of diverse strands in nineteenth-century thought, including philosophy and a number of the natural sciences (Darwinian biology, sexology, evolutionary anthropology, brain anatomy, associationist psychology; see Sulloway 1979 and Kitcher 1992). Furthermore, the range of phenomena that Freud regarded psychoanalysis as subsuming grew continuously, from specific forms of individual pathology (hysteria, neurosis) and abnormal psychological explananda (dreams, parapraxes) to mental functioning in general, and thence to morality, religion, art, and the social order. These factors—the continual development and interdisciplinary scope of Freud’s theories, and the heterogeneity of the theoretical sources on which Freud drew—help to account for the paradoxical appearance that psychoanalysis gives of being at once an attempt to extend naturalistic, mechanistic, and reductionist modes of explanation to the human sphere, and a hermeneutical enterprise fundamentally more akin to literary criticism and philosophical reflection than to biology.

The conceptual indeterminacy of psychoanalytic theory may be analyzed under three headings.

2.1 The Structure Of Psychoanalytic Theory

Though Freud appealed increasingly to the application of psychoanalytic ideas to social and cultural phenomena as a source of corroboration, and some post-Freudian developments have sought to shift the emphasis in this direction, psychoanalytic theory is primarily a theory of individual mental functioning. There is, therefore, a basic distinction to be drawn between the trans-individual applications of psychoanalysis and the psychoanalytic theory of the individual mind, which has logical priority in all contexts of psychoanalytic explanation.

The psychoanalytic theory of the individual mind may be divided for analytical purposes into three levels: the clinical level at which interpretations of individuals are formulated and case histories composed; low-level hypotheses concerning particular kinds of psychological configuration, such as Freud’s theories of psychosomatic hysterical disorders, obsessional neurosis, psychosis, mourning and melancholia, disturbances of memory, sexual orientation, formation of male and female identity, and character types; and the highest, unifying level of psychoanalytic theory, called by Freud ‘metapsychology,’ consisting of abstract, semiphilosophical assumptions about the nature and general form of the mind.

At the center of the metapsychology is Freud’s concept of the dynamic unconscious. The notion of the unconscious had an important place in nineteenth century thought (Ellenberger 1970, Whyte 1979), versions of the concept being discoverable in philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Eduard von Hartmann, and in the nascent empirical psychology of Friedrich Herbart, Gustav Fechner, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Wilhelm Wundt. Occurrences of the concept of the unconscious in nineteenth-century writings tended, however, to be either theoretically undeveloped (as in Schopenhauer), or to play a merely ancillary role in metaphysical speculation (as in Hartmann), or to be qualified by uncertainty regarding the reference and explanatory value of the concept (as in the empirical psychologists).

Freud may be said to have given the concept a fully scientific character, insofar as he both brought the philosophical conception of the unconscious into close relation with problems of psychological explanation and gave the concept a theoretical and empirical determinacy which it lacked previously. Freud conceived the unconscious as an instinctually grounded source of motivation which is directly responsible for the ubiquity of conflict in normal mental life and substantially independent from cognition in its mode of operation. The nature of unconscious mental activity is explicated through Freud’s theories of wish-fulfillment, of primary (as opposed to secondary) process thinking, and of the pleasure (as opposed to the reality) principle, these theories being closely associated with a developmental story. Though Freud asserted the autonomy of psychological characterizations of the unconscious from neurological speculation in The Interpretation of Dreams, and always claimed that the unconscious is composed of ‘ideas’ rather than somatic states, i.e., that it has an intentional character, at all periods of his development Freud regarded ‘economic’ descriptions of mental life—descriptions in terms of quantities of neural energy—as also essential to the metapsychology. Psychoanalytic theory thus incorporates suggestions of both dualism and physicalist reductionism.

Within this framework, the metapsychology under- went continual modification, the most important development being Freud’s move from an account that ties the existence of the dynamic unconscious directly to repression—the first topographical model of Ucs., Pcs., and Cs., articulated in Freud’s meta- psychological papers of 1915—to the structural model of ego, id, and superego presented in Das Ich and das Es [The Ego and the Id ] (1923), according to which the unconscious is aboriginal, and distributed across the major portion of the ego as well as the id. Whereas the first model implies that unconscious mentality is created only through aberrations in conscious mental life, which remains the core of subjectivity, the second model implies that consciousness requires a special ‘making conscious’ of mental states and that human subjectivity by its nature extends beyond conscious- ness. The structural model may thus be argued to impact in a quasi-philosophical manner on the traditional and commonsensical conception of the self or person. (For scholarly expositions of Freud’s metapsychological concepts, see Laplanche and Pontalis 1967.)

Though Freud’s own writings stress the interdependence of the three levels, there is some vacillation in Freud between regarding the metapsychology as the crowning and defining achievement of psychoanalysis, and reducing it to a mere superstructure that might be radically overhauled and is replaceable, in principle if not in practice, by neurological science. Questions may thus be raised concerning the relations of the three levels, and in this context various possibilities present themselves. Psychoanalysis may be identified with either a theoretical edifice offering a general, philosophically significant model of the mind; or a cluster of lower-level theories aiming at the formulation of psychological laws in specific subdomains of psychology; or an accumulated body of case studies of individuals serving primarily to specify a therapeutic technique. These options—in numerous variations and combinations—have been defended and explored by theorists in close connection with different views of the epistemological foundations of psychoanalysis.

2.2 Epistemological And Methodological Issues

Because of the physicalist–reductionist strain in psychoanalysis, and the positivistic character of the conception of knowledge appealed to by Freud in his claims for the scientificity of psychoanalysis, there has been a natural (and, in the English-speaking world, dominant) tendency to consider the question of the empirical warrant for psychoanalytic theory in the context of scientific methodology. This mode of approach to psychoanalysis is associated with a negative estimate of the objectivity and cognitive value of psychoanalysis.

Two major writings in this sphere are Karl Popper (1963, Chap. 1) and Adolf Grunbaum (1984). Popper conducted an enormously influential attack on psychoanalysis in the course of defending falsifiability as the key to scientific method. According to Popper, psychoanalysis does not open itself to refutation, and so fails to satisfy the condition of falsifiability which, in his account, provides the necessary and sufficient condition for determining the scientific standing and candidacy for rational acceptability of a theory. In view of its immunity to counterevidence, Popper holds, psychoanalysis must be classified (alongside Marxism) as a ‘pseudo-science.’ Grunbaum, operating with a different conception of scientific method, maintains in opposition to Popper that psychoanalysis does meet the conditions for evaluation as a scientific theory, but proceeds to offer a detailed critique of what he takes to be Freud’s inductive reasoning. Freudian theory reposes, Grunbaum argues, on the claims that only psychoanalysis can give correct insight into the cause of neurosis, and that such insight is causally necessary for a durable cure. Grunbaum then emphasizes the empirical weakness of psychoanalysis’ claim to causal efficacy, and presses the frequently voiced objection that the therapeutic effects of psychoanalysis may be due—for all that Freud is able to demonstrate to the contrary—to suggestion. Grunbaum argues further that, even if the clinical data could be taken at face value, the inferences that Freud draws are unwarranted.

Different conceptions of science carry different implications for the epistemological status of psychoanalysis, and a sufficiently anti-rationalistic conception of science, such as Paul Feyerabend’s, may succeed in eliminating the epistemological discrepancy between psychoanalysis and the natural sciences; but this strategy carries obvious costs. It is generally agreed that, without repudiating altogether the concept of a distinctive scientific method in the manner of Feyerabend, the prospect of defending the epistemological credentials of psychoanalysis in the terms supplied by the philosophy of natural science is poor. Attempts to test psychoanalytic hypotheses experimentally in controlled, extraclinical contexts have been inconclusive (see Eysenck and Wilson 1973). The comparison with cognitive science, which has successfully claimed for itself empirical support, may appear to aggravate the epistemological situation of psychoanalysis. (For discussion of psychoanalysis’ scientificity, see Hook 1964 and Edelson 1984.)

An alternative approach to the epistemological issue is to abandon the assumption that psychoanalysis must be shown to conform to the model of explanation of the natural sciences in order for it to be held to have cognitive value. This involves breaking with Freud’s own understanding of psychoanalysis, but it may draw support from the fact that Freud also on numerous occasions emphasizes the alignment of psychoanalysis with, and its dependence on, commonsense principles of reasoning: the everyday assumptions about the mind that are embedded in commonsense (‘folk’) psychology.

A diversity of approaches falls under this heading, but they share agreement that the right way to understand psychoanalysis is to regard it as reworking the routes of psychological understanding laid down in our ordinary, everyday grasp of ourselves, and validated independently from scientific methodology.

Some philosophers, encouraged by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings on the philosophy of psychology and remarks on Freud (Wittgenstein 1978), explored the notion that psychoanalytic explanation trades off the concept of a reason rather than that of a cause, and tried to suggest that psychoanalytic interpretation is directly continuous with the practice of explaining agents’ actions by citing their reasons. Though psychoanalysis is thereby freed from the burden of having to appeal to strict causal laws, the epistemological grounds of which prove so problematic, an evident difficulty faces this approach, arising from the tension between the assumption of the agent’s rationality which is presupposed by the very application of the concept of a reason, and the nonrational or irrational character of the mental connections postulated in psychoanalytic explanation. The resulting concept of ‘neurotic rationality’ employed by some philosophers reflects this discomfort.

However, more satisfactory solutions along these lines can be developed by making the relation of psychoanalysis to commonsense psychology less direct. One such approach regards psychoanalysis as a theoretical extension of commonsense psychology. It is argued that the familiar schema of practical reason explanation, formalized in the practical syllogism, is in psychoanalytic explanation fundamentally modified by the substitution of the concepts of wish and fantasy for those of belief and desire, and by the replacement of a direct, intrapsychic relation between desire and mental representation for the syllogistic relation between practical reasoning and action. The basis for assigning content and explanatory role to wishes and fantasies—thematic linkages, relations of meaning— remains, however, the same. Melanie Klein’s development of Freud’s theories, which attributes enormous importance to the role of fantasy in mental life, is standardly appealed to by proponents of this approach. In this view, the overarching epistemological ground for psychoanalysis lies in its capacity to offer a unified explanation for phenomena—dream, psychopathology, mental conflict, sexuality, and so on—that commonsense psychology is unable or poorly equipped to explain, while exploiting the same interpretative methodology as commonsense psychology and complementing commonsense psychological explanations. (See Wollheim 1974, 1991, Wollheim and Hopkins 1982, Hopkins 1992, Neu 1991, Cavell 1993, Levine 1999.)

An alternative epistemological route from commonsense psychology to psychoanalysis is to proceed by way of philosophical theory: given an independently elaborated philosophical theory of psychoanalytically relevant aspects of human subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and representation, it becomes possible to interpret psychoanalysis in the terms provided by this theory and thereby extend to psychoanalysis whatever cognitive authority the theory possesses. Proponents of this approach typically draw on different philosophical traditions from the commonsense-extension theorists, whose philosophical allegiances characteristically reflect a mixture of empiricism and Wittgenstein. (The two approaches are, however, not necessarily incompatible.)

Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Lacan provide two clear examples of this mode of approach. Habermas’ (1968, Chaps. 10–11) hermeneutic account asserts a complete separation of psychoanalysis from the natural sciences, this association being attributed to a naturalistic and scientistic misconception of psychoanalysis on Freud’s part, and seeks instead to integrate psychoanalysis with communication theory and to set it in the context of a nontraditional conception of rationality and cognitive interest. The unconscious and its symbolism are understood by Habermas in terms of specific forms of distortion of communication and interruptions to self-communication; psychoanalytic interpretation and treatment are understood correspondingly as directed to retrieving elements that have suffered exclusion from the field of public communication, and to engendering a form of self-reflection that will undo self-alienation and thereby emancipate. (Ricœur 1965 offers an alternative hermeneutic approach.)

Lacan’s reading of Freud (see Evans 1996) evinces a similar methodological structure: a general theory of subjectivity and representation, in Lacan’s case deriving from multiple sources including Ferdinand de Saussure and G. W. F. Hegel, is employed to elucidate psychoanalytic concepts. The concept of the unconscious is explicated by Lacan in terms of paradoxes arising necessarily from the attempt to represent the self and its objects, and constraints put on interpersonal desire by its symbolic mediation, while Freud’s theories of the nature of unconscious mental processing are recast in terms borrowed from structural linguistics.

2.3 Further Theoretical Issues

An issue that has plagued psychoanalysis since its inception concerns the conceptual possibility of mental phenomena being unconscious. Nineteenthcentury philosophy of psychology raises frequently the question whether the posit of unconscious mental phenomena is warranted or even intelligible, Franz Brentano for example devoting to it a chapter of his Psychologie om empirischen Standpunkte [Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint] (1874). Freud’s own response was to emphasize the dogmatism of those who reject the notion of unconscious mental phenomena in advance of considering what explanatory gains may be made by employing it, these being of course, in Freud’s view, decisively favorable. It is fair to say that beyond this point little progress has been made with the problem, which to that extent remains without a satisfactory solution. This does not, however, constitute a serious embarrassment for psychoanalysis, since the identity of mental phenomena with consciousness maintained by opponents of psychoanalysis is as hard to supply with a philosophical proof as the concept of unconscious mental phenomena is hard to make intuitively acceptable. The issue has in any case been largely overtaken, or at any rate moved down the contemporary philosophical agenda, by the confident positing of unconscious mental processing witnessed by Noam Chomsky and cognitive psychology.

In its place a new question has emerged concerning what it may mean to speak of mental content which is prelinguistic, unconceptualized, or nonpropositional. Psychoanalytic theory, most markedly in its Kleinian development but also in Freud, appears to require the existence of such content, in view of what it claims about the mental life of infants and primary process thinking. The opposition here is between those who wish to take such talk at face value, as referring to mental states with no less reality than the beliefs and desires attributed in commonsense psychology, and those who regard it as violating a priori conditions on the possession of mental states, and are consequently obliged to either reject or offer nonrealistic readings of psychoanalytic accounts of the infant’s mind and primary process (Cavell 1993). The prominence of this issue in contemporary discussion of psychoanalysis reflects the continuing shift in twentieth-century philosophy, also evidenced in Habermas’s and Lacan’s reconstructions of psychoanalysis, away from Car tesianism towards a consideration of mental states in terms of their conditions of attribution and thus in relation to language.

A further set of questions regarding the nature of psychoanalysis is raised by the recent ascent of cognitive science. Freud’s unpublished Project allows itself to be recast in contemporary, computational terms, and it has been argued that the same sort of reconstruction should be applied to Freud’s properly psychoanalytic theories. This would open up the possibility of integrating psychoanalytic theory with the models and hypotheses of present-day cognitive psychology, and further theoretical integration with evolutionary psychology may also be envisaged.

This raises the conceptual question whether psychoanalysis is essentially a subpersonal psychological theory, or whether it is as much a theory of the fully personal level as commonsense psychology. The former is necessary if there is to be direct theoretical integration of psychoanalysis with cognitive psychology; if psychoanalysis is a personal-level psychology, then its relation to cognitive psychology will prove as problematic as that of commonsense psychology. Examination of Freud’s writings shows that the question is hard to answer. On the one hand, a move in the direction of subpersonality would appear to be implied in the explanatory shift away from consciousness, and to be required if psychoanalysis is to succeed in offering explanations where commonsense psychology gives out. On the other hand, to regard unconscious motivation and content as on a par with involuntary bodily processes, and as no more intrinsically tied to the self or subjectivity than a neural event, would appear to reflect a deep misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of psychoanalytic explanation. Plausibly, psychoanalysis needs to be read as containing both personal and subpersonal elements, but to say this is, of course, still to leave the matter unclear.

Questions of possible theoretical integration aside, cognitive psychology poses an epistemological challenge to psychoanalysis. If cognitive psychology should prove capable of explaining the same set of explananda as psychoanalysis, and if its explanations are not isomorphic with those of psychoanalysis, then psychoanalytic theory would lose its claim to explanatory value: Freudian theory would simply have been supplanted, and the commonsense-extension theorist’s defense of psychoanalysis would collapse. In such circumstances the only prospect of legitimating psychoanalytic theory would lie in allying the theory with some anti-naturalistic philosophical outlook. Critics of psychoanalysis who share Popper’s misgivings about psychoanalysis’ scientificity, and those who believe that Freud remained too close to commonsense psychology and failed to carry through a sufficiently strict program of scientific naturalism in psychology, regard this denouement as the most likely.

As this section has shown, discussion of psychoanalysis is inseparable from a multitude of broad philosophical issues: it cannot be maintained that psychoanalysis is unproblematically grounded on experience, nor that there is any one self-evidently correct reading of the conceptual structure of psychoanalytic theory. No other major psychological theory finds itself in the same position. Consequently, even if it is agreed that psychoanalysis should be removed from the context of the philosophy of science, no determinate account of the nature or epistemology of psychoanalytic theory can be arrived at without importing general philosophical commitments. The inevitable result is that the estimation of psychoanalytic theory is embroiled with a number of fundamental philosophical antinomies, above all the conflict between scientific naturalism and anti- naturalism in philosophy and the human sciences.

3. Post-Freudian Developments In Psychoanalytic Theory

The vast range of developments of Freud’s ideas may be roughly distinguished into those that attempt an explicit synthesis of psychoanalysis with some other body of theory in the human sciences and those that seek to remain within the terms of Freud’s specifically psychological program, aiming either to carry forward Freud’s own theories, or to formulate rival, nonFreudian forms of psychoanalysis.

The former will be surveyed in the next section. Post-Freudian developments of the latter kind (see Eagle 1984, Frosh 1987) have in some cases been driven by purely theoretical considerations, reflecting particular views of the relation of the clinical to the theoretical components in psychoanalysis, of the relation of psychoanalytic theory to the natural sciences, and of the epistemology of psychoanalysis. Instances include the attempts of American theorists such as Merton Gill, Karl Pribram, Emmanuel Peterfreund, David Rapaport, and B. B. Rubinstein to reconstruct Freud’s metapsychology in the terms of the natural sciences or to discard it altogether; and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the endeavors of Jean-Paul Sartre and Ludwig Binswanger to re-express what they take to be Freud’s central insights in a philosophical idiom wholly purified of naturalistic elements, ‘existential psychoanalysis.’

The more fruitful and influential post-Freudian developments in psychoanalytic theory, however, have taken place in close association with clinical work, and thus engage with Freud’s empirically significant, low-level hypotheses, as much as with his metapsychology. The earliest instances are provided by Freud’s dissenting contemporaries (see Brown 1961). Jung’s ‘analytical psychology’ disputes Freud’s view of the importance of sexuality, and more fundamentally asserts the direct and determining participation in psychic life of unconscious mental contents with a wholly impersonal content and origin, psychological ‘archetypes’ composing a ‘collective unconscious’ (see Nagy 1991). Again, Adler’s monistic interpretation of human behavior in terms of responses to feelings of inferiority, and Otto Rank’s theory of the trauma of birth as the source of mental disorder compete directly with Freud’s view of the determinants of mental life.

Only Jung succeeded in founding a school of psychoanalysis that is fully independent of Freud; the ideas of Adler, Rank, and other early figures in the psychoanalytic movement, such as Sandor Ferenczi, were instead either discarded or incorporated into later developments in Freudian theory. The most presently active traditions in psychoanalytic thought are those of Lacan, Klein, and the school of ego psychology which descends from Anna Freud. These schools are geographically anchored in, respectively, France, Britain, and the United States.

As indicated above, the tendency in Lacan’s reading of Freud is to raise psychoanalysis to the level of a philosophical discourse, an approach which— encouraged also by the work of Jacques Derrida—has been endorsed by many French philosophers (see, e.g., Henry 1985) and literary theorists who have made use of Lacanian ideas. While some elements in Lacan, such as his claim that the unconscious is structured like a language, may be regarded as reconstructive, other parts of Lacanian theory, such as his account of the infant as acquiring its ego through imaginary identification with a mirror image, offer novel extensions to Freudian theory. Other theses of Lacan’s, such as his conception of psychoanalytic treatment as directed towards the acceptance of a fluid self-identity rather than firmly integrated ego, and his view of human discontent as deriving from the metaphysics of subjectivity rather than the hedonic costs of renouncing instinctual gratification, seem indisputably revisionary.

The Kleinian development of Freud, referred to also as the British school of object-relations, rests on an innovation in clinical practice. The psychoanalysis of children undertaken by Klein greatly expanded the body of data available to psychoanalytic theory. On the basis of the new evidence concerning the mental life of very young children afforded by her employment of the play technique, Klein hypothesized that relations to external objects are standardly—in childhood and throughout adult life—facilitated and mediated by representations of objects in fantasy. On that basis Klein developed a synchronic and diachronic model of the mind as incorporating a fantasized ‘inner world’ composed of ‘internal figures’ and exhibiting certain key structures (called by Klein the ‘depressive’ and ‘paranoid–schizoid positions’) and patterns of activity (splitting, projective identification) determining crucial aspects of the subject’s relation to objects in reality (see Segal 1989, Hinshelwood 1990). Some aspects of Kleinian theory remain highly controversial—particularly Klein’s affirmation of Freud’s concept of the death instinct, and the richness of the mental life that her account attributes to the child in its first few months of life—but it has been vigorously extended in the post-Kleinian work of Wilfred Bion, Donald Winnicott, Hannah Segal, and others, especially with reference to psychosis (an area largely neglected by Freud) and symbolism (see Anderson 1992).

Ego psychology developed out of work by Anna Freud, whose Das Ich und die Abwehrmechanismen [The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence] (1936) sought to shift the emphasis of psychoanalytic interpretation away from the contents of the id toward the modes of operation employed by the ego in its task of mediating the relations of drives to external reality on the grounds that only in this way can the specificity of an individual’s psychology be grasped and addressed therapeutically. (Anna Freud and her followers clashed with Kleinian members in the course of schismatic ‘Controversial Discussions’ held at the London Institute for Psycho-Analysis in the 1940s.) This theoretical reorientation became more pronounced in the work of Heinz Hartmann in the United States, who produced a systematic account of the ego as comprising a sphere of autonomy and as serving the function of adaptation. Later developments stemming from Hartmann include Margaret Mahler’s work on the infant–mother relation and Heinz Kohut’s ‘self-psychology.’

The diversity of post-Freudian schools is frequently cited as an argument against the cognitive value of psychoanalysis. Whether this implies a lack of convergence of the kind that may properly be taken to impugn the objectivity of a theory is, however, a moot point. Plausibly, the diversity of psychoanalytic theory derives in large part from their adjustment to different therapeutic techniques—entailing different explanatory foci—and at least some of the disagreement that appears to remain may be attributed to differences of formulation rather than of substance (implicit versions of Kleinian ideas, for example, can be detected readily in Lacan and ego psychology). The degree to which different psychoanalytic theories are intertranslatable, and to which consilience may be discovered among the clinical interpretations of differently schooled analysts, has, however, yet to be determined.

4. The Relation Of Psychoanalytic Theory To Other Human Sciences

Wherever the human sciences conceive their object in intentional or semantic terms— that is, in all but the most austerely reductionist contexts—the possibility of establishing a continuity with psychoanalytic theory exists and has been explored to some degree; in most of the social sciences, a variety of interfaces with psychoanalysis have been formulated. Freud’s own writings on culture, religion, and social theory—Totem und Tabu [Totem and Taboo] (1913), Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse [Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego] (1921), Die Zukunft einer Illusion [The Future of an Illusion] (1927), Das Unbehagen in der Kultur [Ci ilization and its Discontents] (1930), Der Mann Moses und die monostheistische Religion [Moses and Monotheism] (1939)—provide models for the transindividual application of psychoanalysis but have not been adopted in mainstream social and cultural thinking (similarly Jung, whose exploration of cultural anthropology was more intensive than Freud’s); probably the element in Freud to have most influenced these spheres has been, closer to the psychology of the individual, his theory of moral development (Deigh 1996).

The most extensive applications and developments of psychoanalytic ideas beyond the psychology of the individual have taken place in contexts where psycho-analysis has promised to fill an explanatory lacuna in some other body of theory and vice versa; here the possibility of a genuine synthesis is created.

Marxism found itself in just such a situation, and elicited highly original developments in the critical theory of the Frankfurt school. A basic consonance of Marxism (regarding its theory of ideology, alienation, and the social superstructure) with psychoanalysis is established by their shared concern with the analysis of forces conditioning and limiting rationality and freedom. The theoretical need of Marxism for psycho-analysis derives from the absence from classical Marxist theory of any account of the subjective process whereby ideology is instantiated and rendered effective at the level of the individual. The corresponding need of psychoanalysis consists in its failure to take account of or make conceptual provision for the culturally variable mediation of human desire and the permeation of sociohistorical conditions to unconscious mental functioning (Freud’s insensitivity to the role of cultural variables was asserted early on by psychoanalytic theorists such as Karen Horney).

In this light, the social holism of Marx and the methodological individualism of Freud could be regarded as complementary rather than opposed, and capable of yielding in conjunction a form of social psychology which would unify the instinctual and cultural, and individual and social, dimensions of human existence. Theories that sought such a unification—specifically, a comprehensive theory of capitalism and of features of modernity such as mass culture and fascism—were advanced by Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, T. W. Adorno, and others (see Held 1980, Chap. 4). Habermas’s reading of Freud also belongs to this tradition.

The project of critical theory has been partially recapitulated in the intense preoccupation of feminist theory with psychoanalysis over recent decades (Mitchell 1975 and Chodorow 1978 are early, seminal works). Here the theoretical alliance has been more ambivalent, however. On the one hand psychoanalysis has seemed to offer feminist theorists a unique and necessary theoretical route to a deep understanding of women’s subjectivity; no other psychological theory appears to carry a similar promise of allowing a unified understanding of sexuality, gender, and power relations. On the other hand, psychoanalysis has appeared to be antithetical to the purposes of feminism, on account of its reflections of Freud’s own patriarchiality and conservatism, and the putative biological determinism and essentialism of Freudian theory, whereby existing social relations and identities are universalized. Resolutions to this dilemma have typically taken the form of a partial historicization of Freudian theory (sometimes appealing to the work of Michel Foucault) and an exploration of post-Freudian (especially Lacanian) theory, aimed at constructing a form of psychoanalysis adequately oriented towards the cognitive–emancipatory interests of women.


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