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Pollack, A. (1996). The Rhetorical Voice Of Psychoanalysis: Displacement Of Evidence By Theory. By Donald P. Spence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994, 228 pp., $32.00.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44:976-981.

(1996). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:976-981

The Rhetorical Voice Of Psychoanalysis: Displacement Of Evidence By Theory. By Donald P. Spence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1994, 228 pp., $32.00.

Review by:
Alan Pollack

Donald Spence's latest book is a blistering condemnation of psychoanalytic discourse. Much of it is valid and compelling, but much is unfair. If one filters out the rhetorical voice of Donald Spence, the basic message is straightforward: to become a true science, psychoanalysis must develop a public database and a tradition of empirical investigation. It must formulate operational hypotheses, testable on data freely available to all, and subject its methods and findings to the adversarial process of critique and replication. Short of this, the wisdom of psychoanalysis cannot be converted into objectively validated knowledge, its truths cannot be reliably extracted from its theories.

Many previous writers have offered similar advice. Analysts, beginning with Freud, have often expressed optimism that provisional propositions will be refined steadily by clinical data. In Spence's view, however, the traditions of psychoanalysis actively subvert the emergence of a truly scientific attitude and the establishment of reliable theory. Our theories, he claims, are hopelessly muddled by subjectivity, and our reasoning fallacious, self-serving, and reverential.

Spence applies two major intellectual tools for his dissection of analytic discourse. The first is a distinction drawn from the philosophy of science, between Galilean and Aristotelian science. Galilean science is characterized as empiricist, modern, inductive, and democratic. Aristotelian science is contrastingly described as conceptualist, medieval, occult, and elitist.

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