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Psychoanalysis, methodological issues in

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-W032-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Philosophers have subjected psychoanalysis to an unusual degree of methodological scrutiny for several interconnected reasons. Even a cursory look at the Freudian corpus reveals a slender base of evidence: eleven ‘case histories’, including those published jointly with Breuer. On the other hand, the theoretical claims have broad scope: all psychopathology can be traced to repressed sexuality. Further, Freud and his followers have disdained the most widely accepted means of establishing theories – experimental confirmation – while allowing themselves to appeal to such apparently dubious sources of support as dream interpretation, literature and everyday life. Together, these factors conjure a picture of a ‘science ’ with a large gap between theory and evidence that has not and cannot be filled by solid data.

The central methodological question about psychoanalysis is whether there is now or ever has been any evidence supporting its truth. Popper rejected psychoanalysis as a science on the grounds that there could be no possible evidence against it which could test its truth. More recently, Grünbaum has objected that there are serious logical difficulties with appealing to cures as evidence of truth. Grünbaum and others have attacked both the theory of dreams and the use of dream interpretation as evidence. Sulloway and Kitcher have argued that several tenets of psychoanalysis were supported by their nineteenth-century scientific context, particularly certain aspects of Darwinian biology, but that those crucial supports have been eroded by later scientific developments. Eysenck and Wilson have examined experimental results that have been offered in support of various claims of psychoanalysis and rejected them as inadequate to establish any specifically psychoanalytic claims. By contrast, Glymour (and others) have explained how even single case histories could provide evidence in favour of psychoanalysis. Other philosophers have argued that psychoanalysis is continuous with ‘common-sense’ psychology and is supported by the continual reaffirmation of the essential correctness of common-sense psychological prediction and explanation.

Citing this article:
Kitcher, Patricia. Psychoanalysis, methodological issues in, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-W032-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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