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Grünbaum, A. (1990). "Meaning" Connections and Causal Connections in the Human Sciences: The Poverty of Hermeneutic Philosophy. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 38:559-577.

(1990). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 38:559-577

"Meaning" Connections and Causal Connections in the Human Sciences: The Poverty of Hermeneutic Philosophy

Adolf Grünbaum


In much of psychoanalytic theory and therapy, Freud repeatedly inferred a causal connection between thematically kindred events by relying on the kinship between their thematic contents.

This paper strongly endorses his search for causal explanations. But it argues in detail that (1) his causal inferences from thematic connections rest on an important fallacy, which undermines major etiologic conclusions in psychoanalysis; (2) a related, weighty inferential error is damaging to the Freudian theory of transference, when it infers the pathogenic role of an early childhood scenario from the thematic reenactment (recapitulation) of that scenario in the adult patient's interactions with the analyst, and with other people.

Both arguments draw on subject matter in psychoanalysis, physics, evolutionary biology, common-sense psychology, history, and medicine to arrive at a fundamental caveat for all of the sciences: Even when the thematic kinship (or so-called "meaning connection") between events is indeed of very high degree, this fact itself does not license the inference of a causal linkage between these events. A corollary of this result is that we must reject the accusation of Karl Jaspers and the hermeneutic philosophers that Freud's own conception of the psychoanalytic enterprise suffered from a "scientistic self-misunderstanding."

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