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Could Psychoanalysis Be a Science?

Fulford, K. W. M. et al (eds) Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry (Oxford: Oxford University Press) (2013), pp. 1103-1127

25 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2012 Last revised: 19 Jun 2013

Michael Lacewing

University of London - Heythrop College

Date Written: September 20, 2011

Abstract

Could psychoanalysis be a science? There are three ways of reading this question, which will structure our discussion:

1. Is psychoanalysis the kind of investigation or activity that could, logically speaking, be ‘scientific’? If we can defend a positive answer here, then it makes sense to ask:

2. Is psychoanalysis, in the form in which it has traditionally been practiced, and continues to be practiced, a science? If there are good reasons to doubt its credentials, then we might ask:

3. Is psychoanalysis able to become a science? This is a question about what is needed for the necessary transformation.

I shall argue that psychoanalysis can be a science (§1), but that the historical debate raised important challenges to its methodology, viz. confirmation bias (§2.1), suggestion (§2.2), and unsupportable causal inference (§2.3). I argue that recent developments (§3.1-2) meet these challenges, and conclude with some reflections on the interdisciplinary nature of psychoanalysis (§3.3).

Keywords: Psychoanalysis, science, suggestion, confirmation bias, clinical data

Suggested Citation

Lacewing, Michael, Could Psychoanalysis Be a Science? (September 20, 2011). Fulford, K. W. M. et al (eds) Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry (Oxford: Oxford University Press) (2013), pp. 1103-1127 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1728717

Michael Lacewing (Contact Author)

University of London - Heythrop College ( email )

Kensington Square
London, W8 5HQ
United Kingdom

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