Institutional economics and psychoanalysis: how can they collaborate for a better understanding of individual-society dynamics? Arturo hermann* may 2005


PART III: THE DEBATE AROUND SOME KEY PSYCHOANALYTIC CONCEPTS



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PART III: THE DEBATE AROUND SOME KEY PSYCHOANALYTIC CONCEPTS
7. PSYCHOANALYSIS AND ITS CRITICS
As seen in this outline, psychoanalysis is a highly complex discipline attempting, as it does, to explain psychological processes through an integrated approach. Due to this circumstance, psychoanalysis does not move along a smooth pathway. In fact, it is currently coping with two fairly related sets of problems:
i) The divergences among psychoanalysts regarding some aspects of Freudian theory.

ii) Criticism of psychoanalytic approach coming from both psychology and other disciplines.


With regard to the first point, we have seen that the main divergences in psychoanalysis do not affect the overall validity of the psychoanalytic discipline, but are part of the normal dialectic of every discipline that wishes to be truly scientific. Indeed, psychoanalysis, being above all a method of inquiry, is dynamic in character and, consequently, its hypotheses are only approximations — which, in their turn, require further verification — of some of the extremely complex processes occurring in the human mind.

With respect to the second point, a thorough analysis would require a lengthy discussion, so we limit ourselves to a short outline.

Much criticism, differing in content and extent, has been levelled at psychoanalysis32. The leit-motiv of the great majority of such attacks refers to the scientific status of psychoanalysis. According to these critics, psychoanalysis has no valid scientific status because its hypotheses cannot undergo the same tests of validation as those applied to the "truly scientific fields".

For instance, how can the existence of the unconscious or of the Oedipus complex be demonstrated?

In the opinion of some authors, these concepts are fantasies without any scientific validity. Of course, the problem of providing scientific validity to psychoanalytic theories is a very serious one. As we well know, the unconscious — by its very nature — cannot be seen, heard, or touched, so we can only “prove” its existence by analysing our feelings in their interaction with those of others. For the unconscious is a dynamic concept (Fine, 1979) — elaborated from a great number of observations mainly related to psychoanalytic experience — which can help explain and synthesize some aspects of the structure of mental processes.

However, the methodological approach underlying this criticism does not seem convincing. In fact, by carrying such criticism to its logical consequences, we would find that all the feelings involved in human relations should be considered groundless.

For instance, in a romantic relationship, a person could not dare say to his or her partner “I love you”, because the logical answer would be “how can you prove it?”; and, certainly, there are neither mathematical theorems nor laboratory experiments for proving such a statement.

On the same grounds, no one could formulate any reasoned opinion regarding personal feelings and attributes.

The same applies to the sciences dealing with human achievements, like arts and literature. For instance, no one could say with any claim of objectivity “what a beautiful poem this is” because there is no way to prove this statement by means of a “truly scientific methodology”.

Furthermore, even the so-called pure sciences would be badly affected by this reasoning. Indeed, as shown by many institutionalist, pragmatist and psychoanalytic contributions, much of what we call "pure science" is interpreted through the experiences, feelings and perceptions of those dealing with it.

In this sense, we believe that psychoanalysis — as well as social sciences, philosophy and literature — is no less scientific than "pure sciences", the only difference being that it deals with issues that require a different scientific approach and which cannot be simplified to fit a classical laboratory experiment. In this regard, we do not agree with those who consider psychoanalysis, especially in the practical work of psychoanalysts, as an "intuitive art" well distinguished from science. Certainly, psychoanalysts work with the inner nature and conflicts of the individual, and their main goal is to help the person overcome such conflicts and, thus, bring out his or her true personality; and this task is achieved by applying a scientific method that is tested and revised as psychoanalytic experiences progress. In this process, the "inner artistic intuition" of the psychoanalyst in understanding his or her patient’s problems constitutes a paramount factor, which, however, is not separate from scientific investigation, but, rather, is reinforced and refined by the parallel increase of his or her scientific knowledge and experience. Furthermore, the significant connections existing between art and science should not be overlooked.

The above discussion highlights the fact that psychoanalysis faces many of the typical problems of the social sciences. Of course, this is not to say that all criticism is groundless and that, as a consequence, psychoanalysis represents the world of soundness, perfection and truth.

In particular, we believe well founded the claim that psychoanalysis, in its main developments, has not sufficiently considered the contributions of other disciplines for a deeper understanding of the complex interaction between the individual and society.



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