The Necessity Of Metaphysicsby James J. Putnam
SOME years ago, at the Weimar Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association, I read a paper on the importance of a knowledge of philosophy and metaphysics for psychoanalysts regarded as students of human life. Perhaps if I had had the experience and ability to contribute the results of some original analytic
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SOME years ago, at the Weimar Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association, I read a paper on the importance of a knowledge of philosophy and metaphysics for psychoanalysts regarded as students of human life. Perhaps if I had had the experience and ability to contribute the results of some original analytic investigation on specific lines, I should not then have ventured into the philosophic field. Perhaps, indeed, if those conditions now obtained I should not be bringing forward similar arguments again, and if any one feels tempted to maintain that philosophic speculation is a camp of refuge for those who, in consequence of temperamental limitations and infantile fixations which ought to be overcome, draw back from the more robust study of emotional repressions on scientific lines, I should admit that the allegation contains an element of truth. But in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that there is some truth also in the statement that the effects—good and bad—of emotional repression make themselves felt, as a partial influence, in all the highest reaches of human endeavor, including art, literature, and religion;—in spite of these partial truths, philosophy and metaphysics are the only means through which the essential nature of many tendencies can be studied of which psychoanalysis describes only the transformations. And this being so it is perhaps reasonable that one paper should be read at an annual meeting such as this, where men assemble whose duty it is to study the human mind in all its aspects.
I presume that just as, and just because men have minds and bodies, an evolutional history in the ordinary sense and a mental history in a sense not commonly considered, so there will always be two, or perhaps three, parties among psychologists and men of science, and each one, in so far as it is limited in its vision, may be considered as abnormal, if one will. I decline, however, to admit that the temperamental peculiarities of one group are more in need either of justification or of rectification through psychoanalysis than those of the others. It is probably true that emotional tension often plays a larger part among persons who love a priori reasoning—the "tender-minded" of Dr. James—than it does in those who work through observation; but on the other hand exclusively empirical attitude has its limitations and its dangers. Philosophy and metaphysics deal more distinctively with essential function—that is with real existence,—while natural science and the genetic psychology (of which psychoanalysis, strictly speaking, is a branch) deal rather with appearances and with structure. Both are in need of investigation. The form which art, religion, and literature assume is determined by men's personal experiences and special cravings. The essential motive of art and religion is, however, the dim recognition by men of their relation to the creative spirit of the universe.
No one can doubt that function logically precedes structure; or if any one does doubt this, he need only observe his own experience and see how in every new acquisition of knowledge or of power there come, first, the thought, the idea, then the effort, next the habit, and finally the modification of cerebral mechanism, in which the effort and the habit become represented in relatively permanent and static form. In fact, the crux of the whole discussion between science and metaphysics turns on, or harks back to the discussion between function and structure; and it is the latter, in the sense in which I mean the word, that has had of late a too large share of our attention.
The enterprise on which we are all of us embarked,—whether we define it as an investigation, pure and simple, into human nature and human motives, or as a therapeutic attempt to relieve invalids of their symptoms,—is a larger one than it is commonly conceived of as being. Each physician and each investigator has, indeed, the right to say that for practical reasons he prefers to confine his attention to some single portion of one or the other of these tasks, be it never so small. But each one should regard himself as virtually under an obligation to recognize the respects in which this chosen task is incomplete. Every physicist is aware that there is some form of energy underlying, or rather expressing itself in, light and heat and gravitation. Physicists do not study this form of energy, not because they do not wish to but simply because they cannot do so by the only methods that they are allowed to use. But, as a reaction of defense, they sometimes assert that no one else can do so either, that this underlying energy cannot be explained. To say this is, however, in my judgment, to misappreciate what an explanation is.
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