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Esman, A.H. (1979). On Evidence and Inference, or the Babel of Tongues. Psychoanal Q., 48:628-630.

(1979). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 48:628-630

On Evidence and Inference, or the Babel of Tongues

Aaron H. Esman, M.D.

Psychoanalytic theoretical literature is in a state of ferment at the present time. Criticism, often of a fundamental nature, has been leveled from within the field at certain long-standing usages and at certain established bodies of doctrine—most notably, at metapsychological concepts that are, it is contended, inadequately derived from the data of observation and even irrelevant to them (cf., Gill and Holzman, 1976). In particular, Klein (1976) has proposed a return to a clinical theory dealing with reportable phenomena such as wish, purpose, and intention, while Schafer (1976) has advocated an even more radical turn to a "new language for psychoanalysis" based on action as a determining principle.

It seems clear that something is, at times, amiss with the language in which psychoanalytic propositions are being formulated, or the manner in which the data are being transformed into theoretical propositions. It is, at the least, likely that such defects, where they exist, will leave the theory and even the data exposed to attack from outside the field, particularly from those of a scholarly or philosophical cast of mind. More significantly, they may, as Glover (1966) pointed out in another connection, seriously impair the growth of psychoanalytic science.

One of the commonly observed flaws in psychoanalytic writing is the confusion between evidence and inference. Consider the following examples, drawn more or less at random from recent papers:

1. "In a child with marked oral endowment, for instance, we would expect more sucking activity; in a child with marked aggressive endowment and externalization needs we would expect more motor activity."

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