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Esman, A.H. (2002). Discussion of Brenner: Reflections on Psychoanalysis—Psychoanalysis and Science: Other Criteria. J. Clin. Psychoanal., 11(1):77-78.

(2002). Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis, 11(1):77-78

Discussion of Brenner: Reflections on Psychoanalysis—Psychoanalysis and Science: Other Criteria

Aaron H. Esman, M.D.

The question of the “scientific” status of psychoanalysis continues, after 100 years, to nag at us. The Editors of this Journal “start with the premise, in agreement with Brenner and many others, that psychoanalysis is a branch of natural science” (letter, March 20, 1999). Some light on this issue may be cast by Isaiah Berlin in his paper, “Does Political Theory Still Exist” (1962), where he offers the following observations about the defining criteria for a science:

[W] here the concepts are firm, clear and generally accepted, and the methods of reasoning, arriving at conclusions, etc. are agreed by men (at least the majority of those who have anything to do with these matters), there and only there is it possible to construct a science, formal or empirical. Wherever this is not the case—where the concepts are vague or too much in dispute, and methods of argument and the minimum qualifications that constitute an expert are not generally agreed, where we find frequent recriminations about what can or what cannot claim to be a law, an established hypothesis, an undisputed truth, and so on—we are at best in the realm of quasi-science.… One of the rough and ready tests for finding out which region we are in, is whether a set of rules, accepted by the great majority of experts in the subject, and capable of being incorporated in a textbook, can be applied in the field in question. To the degree to which such rules are applicable, a discipline approaches the coveted condition of an accepted science [p. 145].

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