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Cavell, M. (1996). A Response To Joel Whitebook. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44:1301-1304.

(1996). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:1301-1304

A Response To Joel Whitebook Related Papers

Marcia Cavell

I am sorry that Joel Whitebook took my book, The Psychoanalytic Mind: from Freud to Philosophy, as a confrontation between psychoanalysis and philosophy. This was the opposite of my intention. Philosophy and psychoanalysis share some central themes, in particular the nature of mind, the meaning of meaning, the explanation of action, including irrational action, and my hope was, by elucidating these themes, to build some bridges between the two disciplines. Since I deliberately restricted myself to those psychoanalytic problems on which philosophy may shed some light, I in no way meant my book to give a comprehensive account of psychoanalysis. For example I do not much discuss dreams, nor does my book have much to say about sexuality.

As for my positive claims, they are unfortunately open to just Whitebook's misunderstandings. Their source is the ambiguity of the terms “meaning,” “thought,” “mind,” and “idea.” My arguments explicitly concern only thinking that is conceptual and propositional, thought that has the character sometimes called Intentionality and that presumes on the thinker's part a grasp of the distinction between “the way things are” and “the way things appear.” This is the thinking, the mind, that I claim is necessarily intersubjective in character. Language enters the story of how infants acquire minds in this sense because language is the public medium through which the capacity for propositional thought is forged. If this is true, then infants only gradually become able to think in the sense just defined.

But it is no part of my view that until they can think in this sense, nothing at all is going on in their heads. Infants have feelings, emotions, sensations, purposes; they communicate, perceive, and learn. So the idea that there is “a gray area [of the mental] in which affects, moods and pre-intentional strivings have pride of place” is not a concession that is “forced” from me but a point in which I insist, since propositional thinking by no means exhausts the mental. Nevertheless, the intersubjectivity of propositional thought is not a small thesis; it goes contrary to centuries of philosophical and non-philosophical thinking about the mind, and contrary also to many of Freud's ideas, including important ones, that share the traditional picture.

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