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Rubinstein, B.B. (1973). On The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 2(1):338-358.

(1973). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 2(1):338-358

On The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis

Benjamin B. Rubinstein, M.D.


Certain serious reservations notwithstanding, in the opinion of this reviewer The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis by Michael Sherwood (1969) is a remarkable book. It literally has no rivals. The science that most philosophers of science are concerned with is physics. Some have considered chemistry or even biology. At various times the attention of a few philosophers of science has been attracted by psychology. Often the practitioners of a science have also contributed to its philosophy. But whoever thought seriously about psychoanalysis from a philosophical point of view? A number of philosophers have approached the subject, somewhat cautiously perhaps, but not without initial respect or at least curiosity. But they found it too confusing, shot through with too many inconsistencies and contradictions, to give it much further attention; or they simply relinquished the attempt without explanation. Foremost among these philosophers are Carnap (1956), Hempel (1965), and Nagel (1959). But Wittgenstein too felt uneasy about psychoanalysis (1967, pp. 41, 52), as did Murdoch (1964, p. 364) and Scriven (1962a). According to Malcolm (1958), Wittgenstein in a letter acknowledged Freud's “extraordinary scientific achievement” (p. 45) but nonetheless regarded his work as “full of fishy thinking” (p. 44).

It is at this point that Sherwood enters the story. One might almost say that he does so with a trick. He simply ignores Freud's most questionable formulations, such as those involving the concepts of psychic energy, ego, id, and superego, thus successfully circumventing at least some of the difficulties that presumably bogged down the above-mentioned philosophers. Indirectly he says as much himself (p. 76). This is not a criticism. Sherwood is not trying to duck the issue.

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