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Carella, M.J. (1974). Psychoanalysis and the Mind-Body Problem. Psychoanal. Rev., 61(1):53-61.

(1974). Psychoanalytic Review, 61(1):53-61

Psychoanalysis and the Mind-Body Problem

Michael Jerome Carella, Ph.D.

Philosophers have attacked Freud's concept of the unconscious on the grounds that it violates Ockham's razor, is in principle unverifiable, or fails to generate predictions about behavior. Another, more persistent criticism is that the concept is logically incoherent because it implies a mind-body dualism. According to this claim, Freud's concept of the “unconscious” contains at least implicitly the assumption that not only are mind and body two different kinds of entities or substances but that mental states are connected to physical events. Mind-body dualism, in turn, is said to imply that mental states and physical events are isomorphic with one another (psychophysical parallelism) or that they are causally reciprocal (interactionism). But since psychophysical parallelism and interactionism are logically inconsistent, the hypothesis of unconscious mental states on which they are based, so the argument goes, must be incoherent.

My aim is to illustrate why this particular line of attack merely obfuscates larger, more important issues. I propose to discuss the various contexts in which Freud used the term “unconscious” and show that, whatever its defects, Freud's concept provides one way of eliminating from psychology the classical notion of mind-body dualism.*


Freud used the term “unconscious” to designate a descriptive quality, a dynamic force; and a topographical system of mental entities.

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