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Ornstein, P.H. Chattah, L. (1983). Metapsychology: Its Cultural and Scientific Roots. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 31:689-698.

(1983). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 31:689-698

Metapsychology: Its Cultural and Scientific Roots

Paul H. Ornstein, M.D. and Leon Chattah, M.D.

IN HIS INTRODUCTORY REMARKS, Paul Ornstein stated that this panel was organized in respone to the unabating controversy regarding the nature, usage, and definitions of metapsychology and its role in present-day psychoanalytic theory and practice. Concerns about metapsychology have ranged from ideas that such abstract, experience-distant, mechanistic, physicalistic, and biologistic formulations are irrelevant for the psychoanalytic enterprise, to ideas that psychoanalysis appropriately contains low- and high-level abstractions and that an updated, albeit essentially Freudian metapsychology is necessary to psychoanalytic practice. Clinicians have experienced a progressively widening gap between metapsychology and their practice. Many practitioners, having questioned the usefulness of metapsychology, have come to regard it as discardable esoteric speculations. The fact is, however, that psychoanalytic practice is thoroughly imbricated with the prevailing metapsychology. The close relation between method, data, and theory in psychoanalysis, which determines the very manner in which we listen to our patients, does not allow an easy divorce of theory from practice.

In a recently published paper, "Metapsychology and Psychoanalytic Theory," Charles Brenner reviewed the entire controversy and proposed that metapsychology was simply the term for the prevailing psychoanalytic theory of each particular period in the evolution of Freud's ideas. In so doing, Brenner bypassed the issue that some of the most abstract and experience-distant formulations were based on outdated scientific ideas and an outdated view of man as a machine.

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