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(1956). The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954: On the Scientific Status of Psychoanalysis. Jerome Richfield.. Psychoanal Q., 25:290-292.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954: On the Scientific Status of Psychoanalysis. Jerome Richfield.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:290-292

The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954: On the Scientific Status of Psychoanalysis. Jerome Richfield.

Richfield suggests that 'the questions and statements ordinarily involved in discussions of the relationship between psychoanalysis and science are arbitrary,

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confused, and inadequate. I hope to show that the problem of the scientific status needs restatement.' The author's hope is fulfilled and the restatement is admirable. The 'eulogistic function or emotive significance of the term science' must be recognized. 'It seems to be assumed that to question the scientific status of an activity is equivalent to asking whether that activity is desirable, reliable, and valid.' The scientific opponents of psychoanalysis have differed so fundamentally in their critiques that their particular objections seem to cancel out one another. Thus psychoanalysis has been attacked because it is deterministic and because it does not restrict itself to the orthodox determinism of neurophysiology and biochemistry. One writer accepts only two accounts of psychosomatic sequences because these alone reveal the attention to mechanism he requires in any scientific theory. Another holds that mechanistic explanations 'are a Victorian remnant which recent events in physics have shown to be impossible or undesirable'. The author believes that this bewildering array of diverse criteria results from questions about 'the scientific status' of any study because science, quite as much as psychoanalysis, is a term of varying applicability. 'Questions about the nature of science are not scientific questions.' They 'involve a technical philosophic analysis in terms of some combination of sociological, semantic, ethical, logical, epistemological, and historical facts and values'. With regard to the charge that psychoanalysis is mystical, the author shows that the argument depends on the preconception that knowledge is either perceptual or inferential, with mysticism relegated to some emotional type of experience outside the realm of 'genuine science'. After refuting this argument on logical grounds, Richfield proceeds to the key issue. 'The question is whether testable hypotheses are obtainable from the characteristic activities of the psychoanalyst, and not whether the psychoanalyst, like the mystic, assigns a cognitive function to various emotional states.'

Next he discusses the familiar argument against the concept of reaction-formation, that it violates 'a fundamental canon of scientific method to the effect that statements must be expressed in a manner that allows for the possibility of disproof… That opposite traits reveal the same underlying condition' is unacceptable according to this canon. 'Despite the apparent plausibility of this important criticism, it can readily be shown that the objection involved does not apply. The characteristic psychoanalytic hypotheses that concern us here are highly elliptical statements concealing much theoretical complexity. We should not understand the psychoanalyst to be asserting simply that the concept of an anal character implies stinginess in one case and extravagance in another. What is intended is the statement that an anal character, together with certain variables, implies stinginess in one case, while an anal character with different variables in another instance implies extravagance. The patient who hoards and the patient who reacts with extravagant behavior to his primary impulse to hoard are not "stingy" in the same sense. This is very often obscured by the psychoanalytic statement that the extravagant patient is "really" stingy.'

The term instinct may have been an unfortunate choice, 'but this does not falsify any psychoanalytic correlations or invalidate the principle of the homeostatic model used in psychodynamic explanation… How much conformity is necessary before psychoanalysis should be awarded its scientific credentials?' As

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to the possible criterion of experimental verifiability, Richfield notes that it is 'a characteristic of varied importance in most of the generally accepted special sciences'. He then delineates the unique conditions in analysis which, 'while allowing experimentation, preclude the imposition of experiment as a criterion of scientific respectability… The psychoanalyst should apply certain methodological norms and techniques of research when these are compatible with the nature of the facts upon which his work depends. He should not conform to certain procedures simply because they are characteristic of a highly regarded physics or are in some questionable way associated with a vague and arbitrary abstraction like the general notion of "science"… The term scientific method is at present clearest and most useful when it is taken as a historical expression, designating the class of different procedures that men in search of systematic factual knowledge have found best suited to the realization of their goal. Any further specification would be groundless and productive of nothing except endless dispute.'

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Article Citation

(1956). The Scientific Monthly. LXXIX, 1954. Psychoanal. Q., 25:290-292

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