Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest

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The Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest was first published in the Italian review Scientia. It was the first of Freud's texts to be translated into French, and this translation was by M.W. Horn. Scientia's title page contained some information concerning the publication: it was a bimonthly based in Milan, its subtitle being International Review of Scientific Synthesis. It was co-edited in London and Leipzig, and in Paris by Félix Alcan. Among its contributors between 1912 and 1914 were Alfred Adler,Émile Durckheim, Albert Einstein, Henri Piéron, Henri Poincaré, and Bertrand Russell.

"I have just had to do an unwanted job, a kind of introduction to psycho-analysis for Scientia;Ididit, not wishing to refuse in view of the admirable character of that international journal," Freud wrote to Oskar Pfister on March 11, 1913. It was in fact a "propaganda article," in Freud's words to Karl Abraham on September 21, aimed at making a large public more familiar with the advantages and possibilities that psychoanalysis offered to contemporary culture. Presented in German in the review and simultaneously in French in an attached fascicule containing other translations from this resolutely eclectic collection, the first part, Its Interest for Psychology, was thus published in the supplement to volume XIV dated September 1, 1913. The second, Its Interest for the Non-Psychological Sciences, was published in the supplement to the next issue, dated November 1, 1913. For unknown reasons, although World War I no doubt had a large role to play, it remained totally unknown to French psychoanalysts until 1976.

The first part is a summary, such as Freud was good at producing, of the psychoanalytic theory of parapraxes, dreams and their interpretation, and of the hopes of curing psychopathological affections. But the second part is perhaps the most original because in it Freud develops the spirit of "conquest" (he used the expression in a letter to Jung in 1909) with regard to "other domains of knowledge," a spirit that motivated him ever since the afflux of students put an end to his splendid isolation. The break with the Jungians further reinforced the necessity of familiarizing researchers with the "reveals unexpected relations" (p. 165) between their subjects and the pathology of mental life" (p. 165).

First mentioned were the "language sciences," a pre-eminence that may easily seem prophetic. Interpretation is the "translations from an alien method of expression into the one which is familiar to us" (p. 176) and the study of dream symbols evokes "the earliest phases of linguistic development and conceptual construction" (p. 176). "The language of dreams may be looked upon as the method by which unconscious mental activity expresses itself. But the unconscious speaks more than one dialect" (p. 177).

"The philosophical interest of psycho-analysis" (p. 178) comes next, specifically asserting the existence of an Unconscious that is no longer a mystical hypothesis, and the new implications of this for "the relation of mind to body" (p. 178). But Freud's distrust of philosophers found expression in the paragraph where he extols the merits of a psychoanalytic pathography that "psychography" (p. 179) that "can indicate the subjective and individual motives behind philosophical theories which have ostensibly sprung from impartial logical work" (p. 179).

It was in terms of its "biological" (p. 179) interest that psychoanalysis attracted the most criticism: the revelation of the importance of the sexual function shocked, mainly because of the light it shed on the forbidden territory of infantile sexuality. It was, however, desirable to establish a junction between the two sciences in order to have a better understanding of the instincts, a point of contact with biology" (p. 182) and to shed light on their "active" and "passive" properties in their relations with masculinity and femininity.

"The interest of psycho-analysis from a developmental point of view" followed next, organized around the evolution from the psychic life of the child to that of the adult and the discovery that "in spite of all the later development that occurs in the adult, none of the infantile formations perish. All the wishes, instinctual impulses, modes of reaction and attitudes of childhood are still demonstrably present in maturity and in appropriate circumstances emerge once more" (p. 184). Moreover, psychoanalysis confirmed the idea that "'ontogeny is a repetition of phylogeny" (p. 184), which demonstrated its "interest . . . from the point of view of the history of civilization" (p. 184) in relation to deciphering myths, understanding primitive peoples, ancient civilizations and religions. The new hypothesis was that "the principle function of the mental mechanism is to relieve the individual from the tensions created in him by his needs. One part of this task can be achieved by extracting satisfaction from the external world; and for this purpose it is essential to have control over the real world" (p. 186). The study of the neuroses demonstrated the same dynamism and thus enriched anthropological research with its discoveries.

"The interest of psycho-analysis from the point of view of the science of aesthetics" (p. 187) is next stressed, opening the door to this form of "applied psychoanalysis" that has been of such importance in the history of psychoanalysis. But Freud cautiously states that "the motive forces of artists are the same conflicts which drive other people into neurosis and have encouraged society to construct its institutions. Whence it is that the artist derives his creative capacity is not a question for psychology" (p. 187). Art "constitutes a region half-way between a reality which frustrates wishes and the wish-fulfilling world of the imagination—a region in which, as it were, primitive man's strivings for omnipotence are still in full force" (p. 188).

The erotism underlying social relations and the repression required by the cohabitation of human beings are essential psychoanalytic contributions to "sociology." Hence, also, "the educational interest" (p. 189) of a science that becomes more familiar with the real psychic life of the child and its evolution. "We grown-up people cannot understand children because we no longer understand our own childhood" (p. 189). Teachers learned from the discoveries concerning the "Oedipus complex, self-love (or 'narcissism'), the disposition to perversions, anal erotism, [and] sexual curiosity" (p. 189). Psychoanalysis "can also show what precious contributions to the formation of character are made by these asocial and perverse instincts in the child, if they are not subjected to repression but are diverted from their original aims to more valuable ones by the process known as 'sublimation.' Our highest virtues have grown up, as reaction formations and sublimations, out of our worst dispositions" (p. 190).


See also: Anthropology and psychoanalysis; Applied psychoanalysis and the interactions of psychoanalysis; Ego; France; Imago. Zeitschrift für die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften. "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement"; Psychoanalytic epistemology; Sociology and psychoanalysis, sociology. Source Citation

   * Freud, Sigmund. (1913j). Das Interesse an der Psychoanalyse. Scientia, XIV, p. 240-250, 369-384; GW, VIII: 389-420; The claims of psycho-analysis to scientific interest. SE, 13: 163-190.