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McIntosh, D. (1979). The Empirical Bearing of Psychoanalytic Theory. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 60:405-431.

(1979). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60:405-431

The Empirical Bearing of Psychoanalytic Theory

Donald McIntosh


Current revisionary trends are pushing psychoanalysis towards an interpretive subjectivism on the one hand and a natural science objectivism on the other. But an examination of the empirical bearing of psychoanalysis reveals the soundness of Freud's view of it as both interpretive and capable of scientific objectivity. Psychoanalytic psychology is a systematic and comprehensive description of all behaviour and mental activity as motivated, and is explanatory in that sense only; hence it is wholly interpretative. The psychology does not conform to the nomological-deductive model of the natural sciences. There are no lawlike statements and no sharp differentiation between the empirical and theoretical levels. The theory is scientific in the sense that its terms and statements all have a clear empirical meaning (but not always an empirical reference) and reliable procedures for testing exist, most importantly via interpretation in the analytic interview. The instinct theory, connecting the psychological and the biological levels, is integral to the rest of the theory, but is incompletely worked out and must be regarded as provisional pending further advances in brain physiology. The structural theory is partly psychological and partly metapsychological, utilizing the functional idea of adaption to treat the structural units in terms of their role in relating the psyche to environmental and somatic conditions. Interpretive psychological explanation is thus supplemented by functional explanation. The structural theory, like the psychology, finds its epistemological fulcrum in the practice of psychoanalysis.

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