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Rustin, M. (1987). Psychoanalysis, philosophical realism, and the new sociology of science. Free Associations, 1(9):102-136.

(1987). Free Associations, 1(9):102-136

Psychoanalysis, philosophical realism, and the new sociology of science

Michael Rustin

In this paper I propose to consider three influential accounts of psychoanalysis as a form of knowledge. These are the empiricist critique, the hermeneutic defence, and the alternative ‘realist’ account of psychoanalysis that can be constructed using the resources of recent philosophical and sociological studies of science. This is not intended to be simply an apologia for psychoanalysis as a prototypically deep-structured or emancipatory form of knowledge. One of the positive lessons to be drawn from recent work in the sociology of science is that it is more productive to describe what scientists of different sorts actually do than to legislate philosophically about what they ought to do. In this spirit, I will try to characterize the practices of one network of psychoanalysts and analytic therapists (work mainly connected to the Tavistock Clinic in London) describing both their painstaking efforts to ground their knowledge in reality, and the difficulties which they unavoidably encounter, considering the nature of their object of study.


One might imagine that the demarcation criteria established in the empiricist tradition of the philosophy of science were devised with the specific intent of excluding psychoanalysis and Marxism from the domain of legitimate human sciences.

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