Freud, the Reluctant Philosopher

Freud, the Reluctant Philosopher

Freud, the Reluctant Philosopher

Freud, the Reluctant Philosopher

Synopsis

Freud began university intending to study both medicine and philosophy. But he was ambivalent about philosophy, regarding it as metaphysical, too limited to the conscious mind, and ignorant of empirical knowledge. Yet his private correspondence and his writings on culture and history reveal that he never forsook his original philosophical ambitions. Indeed, while Freud remained firmly committed to positivist ideals, his thought was permeated with other aspects of German philosophy. Placed in dialogue with his intellectual contemporaries, Freud appears as a reluctant philosopher who failed to recognize his own metaphysical commitments, thereby crippling the defense of his theory and misrepresenting his true achievement. Recasting Freud as an inspired humanist and reconceiving psychoanalysis as a form of moral inquiry, Alfred Tauber argues that Freudianism still offers a rich approach to self-inquiry, one that reaffirms the enduring task of philosophy and many of the abiding ethical values of Western civilization.

Excerpt

We shall one day recognize in Freud’s life-work the cornerstone
for the building of a new anthropology and therewith of a new
structure, to which many stones are being brought up today, which
shall be the future dwelling of a wiser and freer humanity. This
physicianly psychologist will, I make no doubt at all, be honoured
as the path-finder towards a humanism of the future, which we
dimly divine and which will have experienced much that the earlier
humanism knew not of. It will be a humanism … bolder, freer,
blither, productive of a riper art than any possible in our neurotic,
fear-ridden, hate ridden-world… The analytic revelation is a
revolutionary force.

—Thomas Mann (1947, 427)

THIS BOOK, PERHAPS INEVITABLY, began as a fantasy: If Sigmund Freud had remained faithful to both domains in which he had studied as a university student (philosophy and medicine [Bernfeld 1951]), how would he then have argued the case for psychoanalysis? More specifically, instead of steadfastly holding to a narrow scientific orientation, how would he have responded to philosophers who might have posed questions that probed the conceptual infrastructure of his theory? Since philosophy was in a particularly rich ferment during the fin de siècle and into the first decades of the twentieth century, ample opportunity for debate against a rich variety of positions suggests robust and enlightening arguments. His disputants, given the opportunity (and inclination), would have undoubtedly offered biting criticism of his philosophical assumptions and, perhaps more generously, encouragement for his larger mission. Those dialogues would have initially drawn in neo-Kantians, Nietzscheans, historicists, phenomenologists, materialists, and hermeneutists, and later Heideggerians, existentialists, Wittgensteinians, and logical positivists. And if Freud had seriously engaged William James (who was ill during their brief encounter in 1909) or John Dewey, then pragmatism would have been thrown into the mix. Each tribe would have challenged Freud’s . . .

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