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Freud and the Interpreters

In response to:

'Freud's Megalomania' from the December 21, 2000 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of Israel Rosenfield’s novel Freud’s Megalomania [NYR, November 2, 2000], Daniel Mendelsohn reports approvingly that “since the early 1970s, when Paul Ricoeur and Jürgen Habermas advanced the ‘hermeneutic’ vision of Freud’s work, it has provided supporters of Freudianism with an increasingly popular way of preserving Freud’s cultural centrality while granting the validity of the complaints about the inadequacy of his ‘scientific’ method. Interpretation, after all—whether of texts or of neuroses—isn’t quantifiable. It isn’t a hard science.”

Mendelsohn then steers your readers to an anthology edited by Frederick Crews, Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend (Penguin, 1999), for a purported criticism of this hermeneutic conception of psychoanalysis. But, as Crews points out in his editorial preface, the essays by his eighteen contributors are intended “to expose his [Freud’s] system of psychological propositions to the same kind of scrutiny one would apply to any other aspiring science.” Thus, there the reader will look in vain for a critical evaluation of the rival hermeneutic take on Freud’s enterprise.

I have given an in-depth, systematic, and cumulative critique of the major hermeneutical reconstructions of psychoanalytic theory and therapy by a number of its leading exponents in a series of my writings from 1984 until 1999, starting with my The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique (University of California Press, 1984), pp. 1–94.*

Adolf Grünbaum
Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    * For the further elaborations and applications to some of Freud's case histories, see Adolf Grünbaum, "Meaning Connections and Causal Connections in the Human Sciences: The Poverty of Hermeneutic Philosophy," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 38, No. 3 (1990), pp. 559–577; Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis: A Study in the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (International Universities Press, 1993), Chapters 1 and 4, pp. 1–47 and 109–166; and, most recently, "The Hermeneutic versus the Scientific Conception of Psychoanalysis: An Unsuccessful Effort to Chart a Via Media for the Human Sciences," in The White Book of Einstein Meets Magritte, edited by D. Aerts et al. (Kluwer, 1999), pp. 219–239.