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Makari, G.J. (1991). German Philosophy, Freud, and the Riddle of the Woman. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 39:183-213.

(1991). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 39:183-213

German Philosophy, Freud, and the Riddle of the Woman

George J. Makari, M.D.


After Kant's critique of empiricism, subjectivist epistemologies cropped up in 19th-century German philosophy. Schopenhauer argued that the true essence of every object was an irrational and sexual will. This underlying will distorted a subject's knowledge of the world. Schopenhauer's notion of this true essence was analogous to his portrayal of women; they too were natural, irrational, and instinctual. Nietzsche postulated a will-to-power that structured and hence distorted a chaotic world. That structureless "real" world Nietzsche symbolized as the essential "truth of a woman," a truth which for Nietzsche was unknowable to the desirous male philosopher. Freud, while maintaining belief in empirical truth, developed a psychology of mis-knowledge which had much in common with Schopenhauer's epistemology. His theory of transference grew from a need to explain how female patients libidinally distorted the reality of their male analysts. Conversely, Freud's later writings on women are hampered by the author's realization of his own precarious and subjective position as man trying to know woman. These countertransferential concerns ultimately made the woman's psychological essence an unknowable riddle for Freud.

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