Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious

Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious

by Jacques Bouveresse
     
 

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Did Freud present a scientific hypothesis about the unconscious, as he always maintained and as many of his disciples keep repeating? This question has long prompted debates concerning the legitimacy and usefulness of psychoanalysis, and it is of utmost importance to Lacanian analysts, whose main project has been to stress Freud's scientific grounding. Here Jacques

Overview

Did Freud present a scientific hypothesis about the unconscious, as he always maintained and as many of his disciples keep repeating? This question has long prompted debates concerning the legitimacy and usefulness of psychoanalysis, and it is of utmost importance to Lacanian analysts, whose main project has been to stress Freud's scientific grounding. Here Jacques Bouveresse, a noted authority on Ludwig Wittgenstein, contributes to the debate by turning to this Austrian-born philosopher and contemporary of Freud for a candid assessment of the early issues surrounding psychoanalysis. Wittgenstein, who himself had delivered a devastating critique of traditional philosophy, sympathetically pondered Freud's claim to have produced a scientific theory in proposing a new model of the human psyche. What Wittgenstein recognized-and what Bouveresse so eloquently stresses for today's reader-is that psychoanalysis does not aim to produce a change limited to the intellect but rather seeks to provoke an authentic change of human attitudes. The beauty behind the theory of the unconscious for Wittgenstein is that it breaks away from scientific, causal explanations to offer new forms of thinking and speaking, or rather, a new mythology. Offering a critical view of all the texts in which Wittgenstein mentions Freud, Bouveresse immerses us in the intellectual climate of Vienna in the early part of the twentieth century. Although we come to see why Wittgenstein did not view psychoanalysis as a science proper, we are nonetheless made to feel the philosopher's sense of wonder and respect for the cultural task Freud took on as he found new ways meaningfully to discuss human concerns. Intertwined in this story of Wittgenstein's grappling with the theory of the unconscious is the story of how he came to question the authority of science and of philosophy itself. While aiming primarily at the clarification of Wittgenstein's opinion of Freud, Bouveresse's book can be read as a challenge to the French psychoanalytic school of Lacan and as a provocative commentary on cultural authority.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Wittgenstein saw psychoanalysis as a myth masquerading as science, acquiring dangerous persuasive powers from the confusion. Bouveresse, a much-published professor at the Collge de France, notes that Wittgenstein did not object to myths or for that matter to persuasive discourse; he thought that philosophy by its nature is persuasive. But for him psychoanalysis confused the categories, which is precisely where the dangers lie; it could not be a science because not all mental events have causes, much less the "necessary meanings" that Freudians assign them. Bouveresse admits that Wittgenstein was not consistent (he once said that Freud could claim "extraordinary scientific achievements"). But Wittgenstein generally feared schemes that drew people into preordained mindsets and was deeply suspicious of attempts to build science itself into a mind-controlling ideology. Bouveresse's book, unfortunately, manages only in the last chapter to confront the questions of morality and persuasion that concerned Wittgenstein. But it does expose the major issues, and the translation is clear. For general readers with a taste for scholarly infighting and niggles.-Leslie Armour & Suzie Johnston, Univ. of Ottawa
Boston Book Review
Wittgenstein is a severe critic of Freud's scientific claims, but he is not in the company of those who disparage his achievement. His remarks about Freud are scattered through his writing. Bouveresse has artfully brought them together to reveal a coherently ambivalent view of Freud.
— Eugene Goodheart
San Francisco Chronicle
The grand Baroque architecture of Freud's thought still stands after Wittgenstein's, and Bouveresse's, peppering critique, but it no longer looks habitable.
— Kenneth Baker
Nature
In drawing together most of the remarks made by Wittgenstein on Freud, many of the relevant passages from Freud's work, and a good deal of quotation from the secondary literature on the subject, Bouveresse has performed a valuable service for Wittgenstein scholars.
— Ray Monk
Psychoanalytic Books
This small book is a treasure for those of us who want to understand and better articulate our own ambivalent attitudes toward Freud.
The London Financial Times
Bouveresse's perceptive and illuminating study of Wittgenstein on Freud ... is very welcome not just as an immensely readable account of two of the century's most important thinkers, but because it throws light also on the intellectual debate in France, where there has been a lively quarrel between psychoanalysis and philosophy.
— A. C. Grayling
Boston Book Review - Eugene Goodheart
Wittgenstein is a severe critic of Freud's scientific claims, but he is not in the company of those who disparage his achievement. His remarks about Freud are scattered through his writing. Bouveresse has artfully brought them together to reveal a coherently ambivalent view of Freud.
San Francisco Chronicle - Kenneth Baker
The grand Baroque architecture of Freud's thought still stands after Wittgenstein's, and Bouveresse's, peppering critique, but it no longer looks habitable.
The London Financial Times - A.C. Grayling
Bouveresse's perceptive and illuminating study of Wittgenstein on Freud ... is very welcome not just as an immensely readable account of two of the century's most important thinkers, but because it throws light also on the intellectual debate in France, where there has been a lively quarrel between psychoanalysis and philosophy.
Nature - Ray Monk
In drawing together most of the remarks made by Wittgenstein on Freud, many of the relevant passages from Freud's work, and a good deal of quotation from the secondary literature on the subject, Bouveresse has performed a valuable service for Wittgenstein scholars.
The London Financial Times - A. C. Grayling
Bouveresse's perceptive and illuminating study of Wittgenstein on Freud ... is very welcome not just as an immensely readable account of two of the century's most important thinkers, but because it throws light also on the intellectual debate in France, where there has been a lively quarrel between psychoanalysis and philosophy.
From the Publisher
"Wittgenstein is a severe critic of Freud's scientific claims, but he is not in the company of those who disparage his achievement. His remarks about Freud are scattered through his writing. Bouveresse has artfully brought them together to reveal a coherently ambivalent view of Freud."—Eugene Goodheart, Boston Book Review

"The grand Baroque architecture of Freud's thought still stands after Wittgenstein's, and Bouveresse's, peppering critique, but it no longer looks habitable."—Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

"Bouveresse's perceptive and illuminating study of Wittgenstein on Freud ... is very welcome not just as an immensely readable account of two of the century's most important thinkers, but because it throws light also on the intellectual debate in France, where there has been a lively quarrel between psychoanalysis and philosophy."—A. C. Grayling, The London Financial Times

"In drawing together most of the remarks made by Wittgenstein on Freud, many of the relevant passages from Freud's work, and a good deal of quotation from the secondary literature on the subject, Bouveresse has performed a valuable service for Wittgenstein scholars."—Ray Monk,Nature

"This small book is a treasure for those of us who want to understand and better articulate our own ambivalent attitudes toward Freud."Psychoanalytic Books

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691034256
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
05/15/1995
Series:
New French Thought Series
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.61(h) x 0.67(d)

What People are saying about this

Frederick Crews
'It will take a long time,' said Wittgenstein, 'before we lose our subservience' to Freudian psychoanalysis. By casting the philosopher's scattered reflections into the form of a sustained and powerful critique, Jacques Bouveresse brings that day considerably nearer.

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