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Meehl, P.E. (1995). Commentaries. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 43:1015-1023.

(1995). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43:1015-1023


Paul E. Meehl

A proper response to this clear, fair, forceful presentation of the three positions would require fifteen thousand rather than fifteen hundred words, so I apologize if the requirement of brevity makes my remarks sound dogmatic. The trialogue participants zero in on the big question—whether psychoanalysis is a science—as well as I can imagine anyone doing it. Nevertheless, it is useful to inquire, Why do we care? We care because science has the best-attested knowledge claims. Even laymen know that disciplines indisputably scientific (e.g., chemistry, physics, genetics) can lay better deserved claims to genuine, well-credentialed, objective knowledge than can other purported “cognitive” enterprises, such as theology, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, ethics, politics, literary criticism, and journalism. Why do we regard the indisputable science so highly? It is because of the “scientific method” (consisting more of guidelines than strict rules, as philosophers of science now know). Its components include a general attitude of skepticism (“prove it”), the use of reliable observational procedures, and powerful modes of data analysis, especially mathematics and statistics. The third component is sometimes unnecessary (although never inappropriate); the first two are not. These characteristics achieve (ultimately) consensus among all competent persons who inquire. Does psychoanalysis have methods of observation and inference with these properties? The answer is clearly no.


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