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Will, D. (1984). The Progeny of Positivism: The Maudsley School and Anti-Psychiatry. Brit. J. Psychother., 1(1):50-67.

(1984). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 1(1):50-67

The Progeny of Positivism: The Maudsley School and Anti-Psychiatry

David Will

In this paper I develop an epistemological critique of both the positivistic psychiatry of the Maudsley School and of the hermeneutic tradition of the Anti-Psychiatric movement. The epistemological framework of this critique is Transcendental Realism whose principles I have outlined and defended in previous papers (Will 1980, 1982). This paper is intended to be the first in a series in which Transcendental Realism will be used to criticise and situate the epistemological weaknesses of certain contemporary schools of thought within psychiatry, clinical psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. The purpose of this work is to clear the ground of a number of fundamental “epistemological obstacles” (Bachelard 1940) which have seriously hindered rational progress in these fields.

The main argument I will advance is that the Maudsley School and the Anti-Psychiatry movement share a philosophical weakness; namely, an uncritical acceptance of positivism as an adequate account of scientific activity in the natural sciences. This has led the Maudsley School to assume that the only scientifically respectable way of furthering psychiatric knowledge, is to apply the methodological principles of positivism. Conversely the Anti-Psychiatric movement has abandoned the field of natural science to positivism, and has then argued that the human sciences, like psychology, are radically distinct from the natural sciences and must be based on a distinct hermeneutic epistemological framework.

I shall argue that despite their manifest differences, both the Maudsley School and the Anti-Psychiatry movement share a number of similarities: both demarcate areas of ‘forbidden knowledge’, both conflate epistemology and ontology and both deny that reasons can be causes. Apparently contradictory, each represents the mirror image of the other, each bearing the stigmata of shared distortions. They exist in what Louis Althusser (1965) has described as the same ‘problematic’.

I shall further argue that the way in which each school confronts the other has not been a creative one.

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