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Spence, D.P. (1992). Motivation and Explanation: An Essay on Freud's Philosophy of Science, by Nigel Mackay. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1989, x + 254 pp., $27.50.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 9(2):251-256.
    

(1992). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 9(2):251-256

Motivation and Explanation: An Essay on Freud's Philosophy of Science, by Nigel Mackay. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1989, x + 254 pp., $27.50.

Review by:
Donald P. Spence, Ph.D.

The book under review is not only an essay on Freud's philosophy of science (as the subtitle has it) but more particularly, a determined attack on the “separate-domain” thesis. This thesis asserts that psychoanalysis belongs to “a domain of explanation separate from explanations of nonhuman phenomena” (p. 179). In refuting this claim, Mackay argues that psychoanalysis falls clearly within the domain of normal science and, by implication, deserves all the rights and privileges of other established disciplines. We hear the echo of Freud when he wrote that “I have always felt it as a gross injustice that people have refused to treat psycho-analysis like any other science” (1925p. 58).

Mackay tells us that early in his career, he went to hear a lecture by Roy Schafer on the split between the clinical data and metapsychological theory and came away “convinced [that] his thesis was wrong” (p. 1). He found that Schafer's lecture “concentrated my mind wonderfully” and, as a consequence, conceived the idea for the present book. We can hear the allusion to Samuel Johnson's well-known description of what happens to the prisoner when he knows that he will be hanged within the fortnight.

If the separate-domain thesis turns out to be true, does that represent the death (by hanging) of psychoanalysis? Many of the participants in this debate behave as if this were the likely outcome. Beginning with Blight's rhetorical question in 1981, “Must psychoanalysis retreat to hermeneutics?” (Blight, 1981), and coming down to the present time, the argument between those who see psychoanalysis as a natural science and those who see it as something else has become increasingly polarized, shrill, and combative, and the dimensions of a shared middle ground have grown steadily smaller.

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