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Sass, L.A. (1996). Wittgenstein Reads Freud: the Myth of the Unconscious. : By Jacques Bouveresse. Translated by Carol Cosman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1995. Pp. xx + 143.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 77:1265-1269.

(1996). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 77:1265-1269

Wittgenstein Reads Freud: the Myth of the Unconscious. : By Jacques Bouveresse. Translated by Carol Cosman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1995. Pp. xx + 143.

Review by:
Louis A. Sass

Ludwig Wittgenstein's rare ability to see both sides of an issue is particularly evident in his complex reaction to Freud and psychoanalysis. Wittgenstein (1889-1951) once said that, at a period when he considered psychology a ‘waste of time’, reading something by Freud had made him reconsider: ‘Here at last is a psychologist who has something to say’ (Drury, 1984p. 136). For the rest of his life he deemed Freud an exceptionally important mind and, in the 1940s, would even speak of himself as a ‘disciple’ and ‘follower’ of Freud (Bouveresse, p. 3). This however did not prevent Wittgenstein from sharply criticising Freud's way of thinking, as well as the harmful cultural effects that he thought psychoanalysis was likely to have. Indeed—with disciples like these, who needs enemies? one may ask upon reading Wittgenstein's relentless dissections of the pseudo-scientific pretensions, rhetorical disingenuousness and overall ‘fishy thinking’ that he saw as plaguing much psychoanalytic writing (p. xix).

In a book recently translated from the French, Wittgenstein Reads Freud: the Myth of the Unconscious, the philosopher Jacques Bouveresse has gathered together virtually all of Wittgenstein's remarks on Freud and psychoanalysis, and placed them in the context of more recent philosophical treatments of these topics. It is a work of considerable significance: the first comprehensive overview of what our century's most brilliant philosopher (or anti-philosopher) thought of the ideas of its most influential psychologist. Although Wittgenstein's comments on Freud are casual and unsystematised, and at times rather unbalanced, they do suggest a more sophisticated alternative to many current positions on psychoanalysis, pointing beyond the polemics of those with the tendency either to canonise or to condemn.

Bouveresse's own views are solid enough but fairly unremarkable; and he is a generally reliable guide to the existing literature. He has, however, a somewhat anti-psychoanalytic bias, due, at least in part, to an animus against French Freudianism (Lacan in particular) that he makes little attempt to conceal.

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