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Witenberg, E.G. (1975). Caveat Emptor et Vendor on Theory-Building in Psychoanalysis. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 3(2):129-130.

(1975). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 3(2):129-130

Caveat Emptor et Vendor on Theory-Building in Psychoanalysis Related Papers

Earl G. Witenberg

An interesting phenomenon on the psychoanalytic scene is the use, by some theoreticians, of data derived from both natural and clinical observations. It is obvious that data derived from direct observation of the “normal” are derived in a different context and are based on assumptions different from those derived in a therapeutic endeavor. Yet some graft these new observations onto old theories as if there were a unified whole. It is as if they were saying, by analogy, that one can cross a peach with a plum and not get a nectarine, a remarkably different fruit.

For a number of decades it has become persuasive that what we designate scientific method and theory constantly changes. Cognitive models used to consider data—i.e. basic assumptions—are altered. The older models may have outlived their usefulness. That is not to say that the data derived from them are necessarily erroneous (although they may be).

Shifts in modes of thought enable new questions to be asked, and new answers to be derived. The incorporation of the novel derived from new frames of reference into the older frame of reference, in some way makes it look as if there has been only a minor addition to an intact system. Something more violent usually is done both theoretically and clinically, in spite of the disclaimers often made. The most graphic historical example of this is what the ego psychologists have done to the libido theory. My position is that ego psychology has made numerous noteworthy contributions to the field as has the libido theory. To try to incorporate them into one whole does injustice to both of them. Most recently our attention has been drawn to the work of' Kohut and Kernberg on narcissism. There are significant differences between the two, of course.

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