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Eagle, M. (1973). Validation of Motivational Formulations: Acknowledgment as a Criterion. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 2(1):265-275.

(1973). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 2(1):265-275

6 Issues in the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis

Validation of Motivational Formulations: Acknowledgment as a Criterion

Morris Eagle, Ph.D.

This paper deals with certain conceptual problems inhering in motivational formulations and explanations. It is particularly concerned with problems of validation (or falsification) of motivational formulations and attributions and the nature of the terms and concepts employed in such formulations.

Questions such as “Why did he do that?,” “Why did he experience that?” and “Why did he show such and such a symptom?,” and answers in terms of motives, purposes, and wants play an important role both in ordinary discourse and in psychoanalytic explanations. How does one validate or falsify such motivational accounts and attributions? This is a particularly important question for psychoanalytic theory and psychoanalytically influenced “dynamic” psychologies, for without some reliable and systematic means of validation, it is difficult to see on what formal basis motivational accounts in psychoanalytic theory can be distinguished from ordinary discourse—that is, can claim scientific status. Certainly the claim cannot rest on the distinction that psychoanalytic explanations are concerned with unconscious motivation, whereas ordinary discourse deals with conscious motives. In either case, one is still left with the question of how the motivational explanation is validated or falsified.

Recently, a number of philosophers and psychoanalysts have attempted to deal with the problem of the nature of motivational accounts in psychoanalytic formulations and the criteria employed in evaluating these accounts (e.g., Sherwood, 1969; Home, 1966; Farrell, 1964; Mischel, 1963, 1966). Different criteria have been suggested by the different authors. In this paper I will describe and evaluate critically the proposal offered by Mischel.

In some recent papers, Mischel (1963, 1966) has proposed that for explanations in terms of an agent's intentions and motives the agent's own acknowledgment or avowal of the motive attributed to him is an essential criterion for establishing the validity of the explanation.

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