Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mathieu Arminjon - Is Psychoanalysis a Folk Psychology?

From Frontiers in Psychoanalysis and Neuropsychoanalysis, Mathieu Arminjon looks at Fruedian psychoanalysis from an epistemological and naturalist point of view, considering it an extension of folk psychology.

Here is a definition of folk psychology from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The concept of folk psychology has played a significant role in philosophy of mind and cognitive science over the last half century. However, even a cursory examination of the literature reveals that there are at least three distinct senses in which the term “folk psychology” is used. (1) Sometimes “folk psychology” is used to refer to a particular set of cognitive capacities which include—but are not exhausted by—the capacities to predict and explain behavior. (2) The term “folk psychology” is also used to refer to a theory of behavior represented in the brain. According to many philosophers and cognitive scientists, the set of cognitive capacities identified above are underpinned by folk psychology in this second sense. (3) The final sense of “folk psychology” is closely associated with the work of David Lewis. On this view, folk psychology is a psychological theory constituted by the platitudes about the mind ordinary people are inclined to endorse.
Certainly, traditional Freudian psychoanalysis is easily seen as a folk psychology, but the contemporary practice of psychoanalytic therapy, as informed by relational theory and intersubjective systems theory, is far from folk psychology.

Is psychoanalysis a folk psychology?

Mathieu Arminjon1,2
(1) Département Universitaire de Psychiatrie, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Genève, Genève, Switzerland (2) Agalma Foundation, Genève, Switzerland
Even as the neuro-psychoanalytic field has matured, from a naturalist point of view, the epistemological status of Freudian interpretations still remains problematic at a naturalist point of view. As a result of the resurgence of hermeneutics, the claim has been made that psychoanalysis is an extension of folk psychology. For these “extensionists,” asking psychoanalysis to prove its interpretations would be as absurd as demanding the proofs of the scientific accuracy of folk psychology. I propose to show how Dennett’s theory of the intentional stance allows us to defend an extensionist position while sparing us certain hermeneutic difficulties. In conclusion, I will consider how Shevrin et al. (1996) experiments could turn extensionist conceptual considerations into experimentally testable issues.

Full Citation: 
Arminjon, M. (2013). Is psychoanalysis a folk psychology? Frontiers in Psychology. 4:135. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00135


In spite of the recent data that neuropsychoanalysis has brought forward in favor of some aspects of the Freudian theory (Arminjon, 2011), the status of interpretations in psychoanalysis, their accuracy and scientific vindication, remains problematic. Grünbaum’s (1984, 1986) critique of Freud’s tally argument, calling for extra-clinical proofs, still governs the shape of the debate. Nonetheless, a few decades ago we began to witness a renewed interest in commonsense or folk psychology. Several theorists in the field saw it as a means to pursue the hermeneutics defense of the autonomous scientific status of psychoanalysis. In a broad outline, the rationale consists of claiming that no one would deny the accuracy of our daily folk psychological explanations of our own and others’ mental states. We spontaneously attribute reasons to them to causally explain their behaviors and mental states. In the same vein, psychoanalysis could be nothing more than an extension of folk psychology. In which case, asking to prove how accurate psychoanalytic interpretation would be as absurd as asking people to give proofs of the scientific reliability of folk psychology.

My aim here consists in specifying to what extent we can conceptually say that psychoanalysis is an extension of folk psychology. To reach that goal, I will try to uncover the way in which the hermeneutic reading of psychoanalysis put the debate in terms of a defense of the distinction between causes and reasons in an effort to free psychoanalysis from the burden of having to prove itself. After having considered Grünbaum’s main arguments against this position, and especially against the hermeneutic reading that would be acausal, I will show how extensionism referred to folk psychology in order to return Grünbaum’s rationale against his own arguments. I will defend the claim that both Grünbaum’s and the extensionists’ positions are misleading. I will do so by referring to Dennett’s intentional stance, since it provides a theory of interpretation that allows determining in what extent folk psychology can be scientifically used. From a naturalist1point of view, I will generally defend the idea that the intentional stance thus can be said to be a causal-hermeneutics. On this basis, I will lastly expose how the seminal experiments performed byShevrin et al. (1996) may allow turning these conceptual considerations into a testable issue.

The Hermeneuticized Freud

In the twentieth century, hermeneutics2 emancipated itself from its exclusive location in the field of biblical exegesis and became the designation for the general study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Dilthey posited hermeneutics as the salient epistemic boundary that divided the method of the natural science explainingphenomena in terms of blind natural causes and the Humanities, which give us an understanding of human actions by reconstituting their inner reasons throughout an empathic process. The latter would determine the scientifically acceptable way it would be possible to experiment in the fields of history, sociology, or psychology. 
In line with the hermeneutics tradition, modern hermeneuts (Jasper, Ricoeur, Habermas…) considered psychoanalysis, contra experimental psychology, as the interpretative science par excellence. To Ricoeur (1970), for instance, There is no observational fact in psychoanalysis, only interpretations! If experimental psychology gives the causes of actions, thus misses their intentional or motivational dimension, psychoanalysis gives a “deep” understanding of their reasons. The causes and reasons distinction would firstly vindicate psychoanalysis as an autonomous science. Secondly, it would justify Ricoeur’s claim that attempting to ground psychoanalysis on a natural science basis is a priori useless, not to say an epistemological nonsense! As a matter of fact, the hermeneutical tradition is tied with the idea that the interpretation of a text, an action, a thought, etc., depends on the encounter between an interpreter and a text, a historical event or an action. Interpretation is not the literal reconstruction of a genuine intention, but the attempt to make an intention comprehensible at the light of the interpreter’s historical and idiosyncratic expectancies. In other words, an interpretation is a never-ending negotiation process intervening between the interpreter and the interpretans’ situated perspectives, as a “fusion of their horizons,” as Gadamer (1997) would put it. In a sense, hermeneutics is in line with the Quine (1960) inscrutability of the interpretation’s referent. No deep or hidden meaning would constitute an objective fact that would foreclose on any further conflict of interpretation. Thus several interpretations, even contradictory ones, might relevantly and practically account for the same texts, actions, etc. 
The French psychoanalyst Viderman (1970) applied the hermeneutical program and the indeterminacy of the interpretation at its heart to the difficulties inherent to Freudian interpretations. Indeed, most of the Freudian interpretations are not only determined by the “psychic material” provided by patients, but also by Freud’s modification of the patients’ narrative, by which Viderman meant the inversions or inventions of meanings that Freud introduced. If this is so, why then would Freud claim that he was only reconstructing objective causes of symptoms? To Viderman, Freud’s position would have been more warranted if he had claimed that psychoanalysis was simply about constructing healing fictions or narratives. If nothing really counts as an objective fact of interpretation, then the final analyst’s interpretation “does not have reconstructed a historical scene, but builds a hypothetical scene, perfectly consistent, where historical elements constitute magnetizing points that yield cohesion to the posterior fantasy” (Viderman, 1970, my translation). In other words, interpretations rightness would not be indexed on its accuracy, i.e., its capacity to enlighten mental objective referents, yet on its curative efficacy.
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