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Spence, D.P. (1983). Ambiguity in Everyday Life. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(2):255-278.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(2):255-278

Ambiguity in Everyday Life

Donald P. Spence

The quest for repeatable structure in the patient's life parallels the nineteenth-century search for reliable patterns in history, a search which has been well described by Isaiah Berlin (1981). Both quests are probably rooted in the same search for certainty and the desire to put all reasoning on a strict logical basis. The appeal seems quite natural. History, as Berlin makes clear, “purports to deal with facts. The most successful method of identifying, discovering and inferring facts is that of the natural sciences. This is the only region of human experience, at any rate in modern times, in which progress has indubitably been made. It is natural to wish to apply methods successful and authoritative in one sphere to another, where there is far less agreement among specialists” (1981p. 104). Berlin goes on to underscore two particular reasons for wanting to make history a natural science: first, our sense of the “inevitable logic” of past events, moving in a river of time; and second, our sense that the order of events is an objective order which follows certain laws and that prolonged study of many orders will give us insight into their general nature.

Yet, despite the high hopes for a scientific history during the nineteenth century, the end result was disappointing.


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