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Adolf Grünbaum, University of Pittsburgh

(Presented as an invited paper for the Philosophy of Psychology session at the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, August 10, 1998.
Forthcoming in the Proceedings of the 20th World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, 1998.
To appear also in the journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
To be published as well in the Proceedings of the International Conference "Freud at the Threshold of the 21st Century," held in Jerusalem, Israel, December 1999.)


III. Critique of Cavell and Nagel

I now turn to Marcia Cavell's and Thomas Nagel's epistemological assimilation of psychoanalytic explanations of irrationality to the practical syllogism, qua purported "Extensions of Desire-cum-Belief Explanations of Actions." In her book, The Psychoanalytic Mind (1993, pp. 79-80), Cavell contests my thesis (Grünbaum 1984, 1993) that Freud failed to provided cogent evidence for his cardinal hypothesis that repression is causally necessary for neurosis, and that undoing it is therapeutic. Along with such other philosophers as Donald Davidson and Thomas Nagel (1994a, 1994b), she claims that my epistemological challenge is met by realizing that "the causal connection between repression and symptoms is fundamentally the same–though more complex and less obvious–as that between desire and action, and action and belief " (1993, p. 80). In short, Cavell asserts that psychoanalytic causal explanations of neurotic symptoms, in Freud's broad sense of including slips and manifest dream content, are extensions of commonsense folk psychology, because they too conform to the pattern of the practical syllogism (hereafter "PS").

That pattern features a desire-cum-belief set, which is held to cause an action. Thus, Cavell speaks of an action as "fully intentional" and of the PS as "the reason-explanation model" (1993, p. 179). Yet later she allows that "No one model will fit all the cases of repression, any more than it will self-deception," explaining that she has focused on the large species of cases that pertain to psychoanalytic treatment and do conform to the PS model (1993, p. 186). As we know, the psychoanalysis of patients draws on each of the three major branches of Freud's cornerstone theory of repression: psychopathology, dreaming, and slips.

Now, as a basis for contesting my epistemological challenge, Cavell enlists the alleged PS-pattern of Freud's repression-etiologies. Speaking of the putative applicability of that explanatory pattern, she maintains: "If this were so, then no inductive evidence of some special kind would be needed to establish a causal connection in any special case" (1993, p. 80). But she does not tell us at this point how this schema is to validate the universal generalizations that are the hallmark of the three pillars of Freud's theory of repression. Presumably, she intends the kind of induction by enumeration on which Thomas Nagel (1994b, p. 56) relied, when, in his retort to me, he invoked the intuitive credibility of singular psychoanalytic causal attributions:

intuitive plausibility . . . necessarily applies in the first instance to specific explanations, rather than general principles . . . confirmation goes from the particular to the general; the general theory of repression and psychosexual development has to be supported by its individual instances, rather than the reverse.

Yet in a forceful and cogent counter-argument, Erwin (1996, pp. 13-19, and further pp. 106-107, 26-40, and 122-123) concludes: "Nagel's principle [of confirmation] is generally insufficient to justify singular Freudian causal inferences. The reason is that one or more of the required empirical presuppositions are generally unmet" (1996, p. 18).

Below I shall deny the general assimilability of typical psychoanalytic explanations of neurotic symptoms, dreaming or bungled actions to the PS. But, before I do so, I need to stress that, even if there were such assimilability, these explanations are nipped in the bud epistemically, because Freud's imputations of his hypothesized repressed desires have no cogent independent support (Grünbaum 1984, 1986, 1993). Among other difficulties, the method of "free association," I maintain, is not causally probative.

Moreover, in ordinary applications of the PS to explain many of our actions, such motives as wanting to achieve a good family life, economic security, or a good reputation are independently and multiply attested. But, for example, as I have argued in my writings, Freud's imputation of strongly repressed homosexual desires to paranoiacs (1911, 1915, 1922) is sorely devoid of cogent evidence. For these reasons alone, the characterization of psychoanalytic explanations as "extensions" of reason-explanations of actions à la Thomas Nagel, Marcia Cavell, et al., simply begs the epistemological question.

So much for a preparatory caveat.

Ironically, Richard Wollheim, Nagel's and Cavell's stoutly pro-Freudian confrere, explicitly rejects the purely enumerative inductive stance championed by Nagel, and presumably also by Cavell, without mention of these authors. Wollheim (1993, Chap. VI) presents his rival account of psychoanalytic confirmation in a chapter entitled "Desire, Belief, and Professor Grünbaum's Freud." Departing from Nagel's supposedly intuitive confirmation of individual psychoanalytic explanations as credible extensions of commonsense understanding, Wollheim (1993, pp. 104-110) deems clinical testing in the psychoanalytic treatment sessions fitting in cases such as the pathogenesis of the Rat Man's obsessions.

Yet, Wollheim unwittingly concedes one of my principal epistemological animadversions against Freudian theory (Grünbaum 1984, p. 278) when he declares (1993, p. 109):

In the first place, if psychoanalytic hypotheses are to be clinically tested, then we must assume, at least for the duration of the test, certain more general psychological principles for which the hope must be that eventually tests will be devised, presumably of an extra-clinical kind, that will establish them. These principles will include such things as symptom formation, the mechanisms of defence, primary process or concrete thinking, regression under anxiety, types of character-structure such as the narcissistic or the paranoid-schizoid, and the stages of libidinal organization. How credible we find these principles will decide for us how rational it is to assume them in advance of well-designed, extra-clinical tests [italics added].

Erwin (1996, pp. 134-135) aptly explains that this Wollheim passage boomerangs, and is ammunition for my view:

This concession on Wollheim's part creates a puzzle. Let us assume that he is right: clinical confirmation of particular psychoanalytic hypotheses requires that we assume the truth of other parts of Freudian theory, but these in turn have no empirical support (indeed, there is only a hope that the means for testing them will eventually be devised). If Wollheim is right, we have an alternative argument for Grünbaum's (1984) conclusion that the support provided by the clinical evidence is, at best, remarkably weak.

Relatedly, in his systematization of psychoanalytic explanations, Wollheim (1993, pp. 95- 102) pulls the rug from under Nagel, Cavell, and others who, as we recall, reason as follows: Psychoanalytic explanations invoking repression typically conform to the folk-psychological PS, and therefore can dispense with "inductive evidence of some special kind" (Cavell 1993, p. 80). As her basis for just this inference, Cavell (1993, p. 180) had averred that Freud's "last revisionary work on repression and related matters–Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926 [1925])–builds squarely on a reason-explanation model."

To the contrary, Wollheim is concerned to emphasize that there are three variants of explanations of human conduct–even including some, though not all, slips–for which "It becomes progressively less plausible to see the behavior at issue as the outcome of a practical syllogism, and correspondingly less and less convincing to think of it as an action" (Wollheim 1993, p. 96). Regrettably, Wollheim does not acknowledge that in my 1984 book, I had adduced major violations of the PS by some of Freud's best known explanations: To wit, the explanations furnished by his example of the supposedly paradigmatic aliquis slip, by the early and late versions of his etiology of paranoia, and–following Michael Moore–by Freud's entire theory of dreams. None of these, I argued, conform to the intentional structure of the PS (Grünbaum 1984, pp. 77, 76-77, and 82, respectively).

As for Freud's celebrated case of a young man's aliquis slip, it features that man's forgetting this Latin word in a quotation from Virgil's Aenead. I had used just this famous slip to illustrate the breakdown of the PS due to the absence of the requisite belief in a means-end connection (Grünbaum 1984, p. 77):

Thus, take Freud's aforementioned report of the memory-slip of forgetting the Latin word aliquis, which he attributed to the subject's repressed pregnancy fear . . . [concerning his paramour]. This well-known case fails to conform to the practical syllogism. For there is not a shred of evidence that the male subject underwent his memory lapse in the unconscious belief–however foolish–of thereby realizing [fulfilling] his desire (hope) that his paramour is not pregnant. Therefore, . . . [there is] no basis for claiming that the subject unconsciously intended his own mnemonic failure as a means of achieving the much desired freedom from pregnancy, even if his desire itself is deemed to qualify as an "intention." As Morris Eagle (1980, pp. 368-369) has stressed, there is a major gap between a mere wish and a plan to realize it.

Both Cavell and Nagel ignored this passage in my book. Yet the absence of the means-end belief required by the PS undermines Nagel's view (1994a, p. 35) that Freud's explanation of the memory-slip here might be an "intuitively credible extension" of the PS "general structure of explanation" to cover this case.

Turning next to Freud's explanations of dreaming and of manifest dream-contents, I had written (Grünbaum 1984, p. 82):

.quite apart from Freud's own explicit views, Michael Moore (1980, 1983) has perceptively argued in detail that, on Freud's evidence, the dreaming of manifest dream contents simply does not pass muster as an intended action. For it turns out that, despite the linguistic regalia of "intention" in which he clothed his explanations of various dreams, conceptual examination of these explanations reveals that "dreams are not productions [actions] we stage for [unconscious] reasons, but are events caused by wishes" (Moore 1980, p. 538; 1983, p. 64).

Moreover, as Owen Flanagan (1995, p. 5) has noted, Augustine likewise contended that dreams are not intended actions we carry out for reasons; they are experiences that happen to us, even if they are caused by our desires. Hence he denied that he was violating God's command against fornication, when he had a sexual wet dream: Dreams can have sinful content without being committed sins (cf. Augustine 1961, pp. 233-234).

Relatedly, Mele (1997, p. 101) defends "an explanatory model for self-deception that diverges from models for the explanation of intentional conduct." In short, he points out (idem.) that "motivated behavior is not coextensive with intended behavior."

Finally, concerning Freud's etiology of paranoia, which attributes this disorder to repressed homosexuality, I had asked rhetorically (Grünbaum 1984, pp. 76-77):

In the psychoanalytic explanation of a paranoiac's delusional conduct, can the afflicted agent be warrantedly held to have "reasons" for his/her behavior such that he/she unconsciously believes it to be a means of attaining the fulfillment of his/her homosexual longings? Can the paranoiac be warrantedly said to have unconsciously intended his delusional persecutory thoughts and comportment to accomplish his erotic objectives?

Just for argument's sake, postulate the existence of clinical evidence such that the paranoid agent could be held to regard his persecutory thoughts unconsciously as a means of coping with his homosexually engendered anxiety. And suppose further that this belief was unencumbered by the realization that this anxiety-reduction is purchased at the cost of generating other anxieties by the negative responses of those who are victimized by his ill-founded suspicions. Even then, such a putative unconscious belief would hardly be tantamount to the quite different belief that these suspicions conduce to the realization of his homosexual goals.

The upshot of my argument in this passage (1984, p. 77) was that there is just no empirical evidence for the existence of the latter belief in the achievement of erotic fulfillment, which is required by the PS in this context. Furthermore, in a 1986 review-symposium on my Foundations, I had observed (Grünbaum 1986, p. 269) that on Freud's perennial view of paranoia, the delusional symptoms represent compromise gratifications of two conflicting wishes: The wish for homosexual erotic fulfillment and the anxiety-laden desire to banish this wish from conscious awareness.

But Cavell (1993, p. 80) took issue with my inclusion of the erotic wish in the etiologic scenario, objecting that it is "a misunderstanding" on my part based on an exegetical anachronism. As she would have it (idem):

First, the wish that repression and symptom-formation satisfy on Freud's later [1926] instinctual model is not itself erotic but rather the wish not to acknowledge an erotic wish, or to avoid something that makes one anxious. Second, if repression did display the full intentional structure, the repressed aims would be rational, from their own point of view: If I thought (consciously or unconsciously) that I might be less anxious if I had a certain belief, I would have good reason for acquiring it if I could. I would have a reason for being a believer in x, though I would not have evidence in the light of which it was reasonable to think x true . . . . In that [latter] sense [only], it is irrational.

As to Cavell's charge that I am guilty of a misconstrual of the post-1926 Freud, Erwin has documented by reference to Freud's 1933 clarification (S.E. 1933, 20:94) of his 1926 view that Cavell's own exegesis, not mine, is defective on precisely the etiologic role that the late Freud attributes to the erotic wish. Citing Freud's 1926 paper and, more importantly, his 1933 elaboration, Erwin explains (1996, pp. 108-109):

. . . Freud speaks of repression and the avoidance of anxiety, but he does not disavow his earlier claim that the etiology of psychoneuroses involves erotic desires. Rather, he holds that there is an initial repression and repressions that occur later. The later repressions involve anxiety avoidance ["anxiety is awakened as a signal of an earlier situation of danger"] but the initial repression is in response to libidinal demands [i.e., the tabooed intense wish for homosexual fulfillment] (S.E. 1933, 22:94). When Grünbaum refers to the paranoid's erotic desires (1984, p. 79), he is talking about the desires that according to Freud, are initially repressed, and that later lead through reaction formation and projection to paranoia.

As for Cavell's second complaint of misunderstanding against me, it is ill-founded, being solely a matter of her very odd misreading of my p. 79. The point I made there is clearly introduced on the preceding p. 78, where I wrote: "It would be an error of moment to invoke Freud's likening of repressed mental states to conscious ones in an endeavor to assimilate psychoanalytic explanations to the practical syllogism after all" (italics added).

Thus, replying tellingly to Cavell's second complaint, Erwin (1996, pp. 108-109) explains that her point is irrelevant to Grünbaum's criticism. His point [here Erwin, relying on Cavell's incorrect page reference, again incorrectly lists my p. 79 in lieu of pp. 76-77] is not that the agent's symptom formation would be irrational but that there is no evidence that the agent has the belief that would relate the repressed wish to the symptom. Without such evidence, we lack grounds for assimilating the case to the practical syllogism (italics added).

Paranoiacs are "not usually amenable to analytic [clinical] investigation" (S.E. 1922, 18: 225), if only because they suspiciously resist forming a therapeutic alliance with the analyst. Therefore, it is very unlikely that there could be trustworthy clinical evidence for the theoretical imputation of the requisite beliefs to the paranoiac. Similarly for the other "narcissistic" neuroses.

As we saw, Cavell and Nagel adduced the extended psychological credentials of the pattern of intentional actions as evidential grounds for Freud's causal explanations in his theory of repression. But it now emerges that their attempted assimilation of Freud's etiologic explanations to the structure of intentional actions cannot bear the epistemic and explanatory burden that they have placed on it.

As a corollary of Part III, it emerges that Marcia Cavell, Thomas Nagel, et al., have failed to undermine my epistemological strictures on the explanatory and therapeutic foundations of the psychoanalytic enterprise.

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