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Erikson, E.H. (1976). Psychoanalysis and Ethics—Avowed and Unavowed. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:409-414.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:409-414

Psychoanalysis and Ethics—Avowed and Unavowed

Erik H. Erikson

Robert Wallerstein (this issue) ingeniously opened this symposium by quoting a definition of science and ethics so simple that he could be sure every participant and discussant would 'take off' from it. His reward was that every speaker except the first enlarged on an ethical complexity on some borderline of psychiatric practice.

The definition, you will recall, said that science is descriptive and needs verification while ethics is prescriptive and seeks justification. But as the first speaker, Robert Michels (this issue) pointed out, we represent neither pure science nor pure ethics but a branch of the healing professions. To heal means to restore to wholeness; and we can find our ethical function only by delineating a legitimate and unique area between these two extreme claims—that of being a true science, objectively taught, and that of representing an ideology of healthy conduct.

In addition to the definition quoted, Robert Wallerstein offered an enumeration of concrete issues of professional ethics concerning either the rights of the patient and his family and community, or the corresponding obligations of professionals. But, again, it appeared that the panellists were interested primarily in the general relation of wider ethical concerns and professional practice; and they were not hesitant at all to discuss either sin or evil or the greatest good, and to prescribe values, whether as practitioners, researchers or educators.

Robert Lifton (this issue) was the most explicit in this with his term 'advocacy research'.

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