Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Silence of Socrates

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Silence of Socrates

Article excerpt

This paper emphasizes the humanistic and phenomenologic approach to the mind (soul, self) and contrasts it to the "era of the brain" that is so idealized by psychiatry today. It describes the debate between those who expect science to explain everything sooner or later and those who believe there are certain essential aspects of the world, such as the qualia of consciousness, that cannot be reduced to material factors. Plato's dialogue Timaeus is taken as the historically first example of this debate. The connection between it and what has been labeled "neuroism" in contemporary psychiatry is established and the relevance of this debate to the practice of psychoanalysis and dynamic psychiatry is discussed. Finally the wider consequences of the scientistic or materialistic approach to the world as forecast already by Nietzsche are indicated.


In this paper I hope to call attention to an approach to the mind-brain problem that differs from the standard "era of the brain" approach that predominates in psychiatry today. In order to do this it is necessary to understand conflicting views of what constitutes "knowledge." The materialistic view is indigenous to our commercial civilization and is in philosophy referred to as the Naturwissenschaften, the natural sciences. In this view there is optimism that by understanding neurophysiology the problem of consciousness will eventually be solved, just as those holding this view believe that applying our knowledge of astronomy and the physical sciences will eventually explain the occurrence of the "big bang," the origin of the universe.

On the other hand, the Platonic view claims there are some forms of knowledge that are "transcendental" and eternal. This includes the essence of the self and also the idealized "Forms," which can be thought of as having a separate existence (Plato) or an indigenous existence (Aristotle). Knowledge of such matters occurs not through science but through directly experiencing the phenomena that are presented in the Geistesswissenschaften-the human sciences-containing psychodynamic psychology, philosophy, literature, poetry, art, music, philology, sociology, comparative religions, and other disciplines. All these latter disciplines are in danger of rapidly deteriorating in the modern world characterized by so-called global capitalism, the extreme development of the materialistic view which some tout as representing "the end of history." Unfortunately this view leads to a more and more narrow understanding of human mentation and motivation, something psychoanalysts and other mental health professionals should be concerned about. I hope to convince the reader that an unfortunate trend is at hand which needs to be resisted by all interested in a full understanding of what it means to be human. I will first turn briefly to some modern efforts to challenge the scientific materialistic world picture that dominates us today. These are found mostly in the work of so-called continental philosophers, located on the European continent, especially in Germany and France.


The famous 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger wanted to make a whole new start, to counter what he called the forgetfulness of Being in the age of technology. But he felt only a god could save us. His pupil Hans-Georg Gadamer, on the other hand, appealed to the value of conversation, practical reason, and judgment. Perhaps these different concerns were functions of their personalities. Heidegger was reclusive, introverted, narcissistic, countrified, and preoccupied with Being, a vague and difficult concept. As such he became one of the greatest philosophers of our time, in spite of his nasty moral failings. Gadamer was a shrewd politician, managing to escape the taint of Nazism and yet cooperating with the Nazis, and ending up loaded with honors. He was much more tactful and gregarious and kind to visitors, as I can personally attest (1). …

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