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Eagle, M. (1973). Sherwood on the Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 2(1):331-337.

(1973). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 2(1):331-337

7 Discussion of Michael Sherwood's “The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis”

Sherwood on the Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis

Morris Eagle, Ph.D.

In The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis, Michael Sherwood (1969), a psychiatrist with a background in the philosophy of science, makes a valiant effort to confront the problem of establishing standards and criteria by which psychoanalytic explanations (or, as he calls them, “narratives”) can be evaluated. Sherwood discusses other matters, such as the legitimacy of the distinction between reasons and causes and the qeustion whether psychoanalytic explanations are necessarily based on empirical generalizations. But the issue to which I shall mainly address myself is that of standards and criteria for psychoanalytic explanations. For, to quote Sherwood's final statement in the book, “We must be able to agree on … what is to count as a good explanation. If we cannot do this, we must forsake any claim to a scientific status and rest content in the solitude of our incontestable, because incommunicable, musings” (p. 260).

The book is an important one, I believe, because it raises certain critical issues that need to be faced by anyone interested in the status of psychoanalytic explanations. I agree with one of Sherwood's main conclusions—namely, that if psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic explanations are to have any legitimate claim to scientific status, they cannot at the same time claim to be a “private domain” with private rules of procedure, but rather must be evaluated by the same criteria that are applied to all scientific explanations. In fact, my main criticism of the book is that Sherwood tends to introduce implicitly a “separate domain” view into some of his characterizations of psychoanalytic explanations and “narratives” and into his discussion of the criteria to be employed in evaluating such narratives.

Sherwood proposes three criteria for evaluating psychoanalytic (and other) explanations. One, the criterion of appropriateness, is essentially concerned with whether the explanation is placed in the proper frame of reference, whether it addresses itself to the specific questions raised, and whether it is formulated at the proper level of complexity.

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