The Freud Wars: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis

The Freud Wars: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis

The Freud Wars: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis

The Freud Wars: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis


The Freud Wars offers a comprehensive introduction to the crucial question of the justification of psychoanalysis.

Part I examines three powerful critiques of psychoanalysis in the context of a recent controversy about its nature and legitimacy: is it a bankrupt science, an innovative science, or not a science at all but a system of interpretation? The discussion makes sense of the entrenched disagreement about the validity of psychoanalysis, and demonstrates how the disagreement is rooted in the theoretical ambiguity of the central concept of psychoanalysis, the unconscious. This ambiguity is then presented as the pathway to a new way of understanding psychoanalysis, based on a mode of thinking that precedes division into mental and physical. The reader is drawn into a lively and thought-provoking analysis of the central issues:

• what would it mean for psychoanalysis to count as a science?
• is psychoanalysis a form of hermeneutics?
• how can mental and physical explanations coincide?

Part II contains the source material for Part I: the influential critiques of psychoanalysis by Adolf Grünbaum, Thomas Nagel and Jürgen Habermas.

No specialised knowledge is assumed, and the book is clear and accessible while still conveying the complexity and richness of the subject. It provides a fascinating introduction to philosophical thinking on psychoanalysis for students and practitioners of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and philosophy.


My earlier book, An Introduction to Object Relations (1997), ends with a question. What does it mean to hold to the principles of Object Relations? What ideas are we signing up to when we endorse or participate in object-relational psychotherapy or counselling, or see ourselves and others as the deeply relational creatures that Object Relations describes? Like other branches of psychoanalysis, Object Relations embraces a series of paradoxes: between the individual and the group as the basic human unit, and between the physical concept of instinct and the mental construct of relationship as our fundamental motivation. The book left me pondering these conundrums.

The premises of Object Relations led to the premises of psychoanalysis itself. After too many wrong turnings and blind alleys, the focus of this book emerged: how can psychoanalytic thinking be justified? There can hardly be a more central question for psychotherapists, counsellors and others who make use of the idea of unconscious motivation in their work. Without a solid sense of what underwrites this fundamental concept, we can bring no more than a surface accountability to our practice; and with different approaches proceeding on different philosophical foundations, the field as a whole is confined to piecemeal and fragmented development.

For philosophers, psychoanalysis represents a particular challenge. Its focal concept, the ‘unconscious’, constitutes a radical critique to traditional perspectives on the mind while eluding any definitive classification. Psychoanalysis stands at the crossroads between the different philosophical programmes to which it has been annexed, allowing their basic principles to be examined together rather than in isolation from each other. The disputed ground of psychoanalysis allows an unusual insight into the junctions and intersections of the divergent philosophical approaches on which psychoanalysis divides, as well as into the grounds of psychoanalysis itself.

Thus the foundation and legitimation of psychoanalytic thinking are far from resolved; but this is more than a professional or academic concern. It speaks to all of us who assume as private individuals that understanding ourselves and others means going deeper than ordinary consciousness can show. In grappling with the implications of this belief we come to know our own minds better. Encountering . . .

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