Testing Freud: Adolf Grünbaum On The Scientific Standing Of Psychoanalysis

Adolf Grünbaum

Although some of his theories are still hotly debated, Sigmund Freud, (May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939) is widely regarded as a trailblazer in the realm of psychiatry and psychology. The Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist, who was allegedly the first to offer a comprehensive explanation of how human behavior is determined by the conscious and unconscious forces, is regarded as the founder of psychoanalysis.

Along with the “talk therapy” that remains the staple of psychiatric treatment to this day, Freud popularized, among other notions, such concepts as the psychosexual stages of development; Oedipus complex; transference; dream symbolism; Ego, Id and Super-Ego; and the one that has become part of colloquial English more than any other psychiatric term—the Freudian slip.

Adolf Grünbaum is the Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy of Science, Primary Research Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Research Professor of Psychiatry, and Chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science, all at the University of Pittsburgh. His 12 books include Philosophical Problems of Space and Time, Modern Science and Zeno’s Paradoxes and The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. He has contributed some 400 articles to anthologies and to philosophical and scientific periodicals.

Q: Your book The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique has been at the center of much debate over the philosophical standing of psychoanalysis since its publication in 1984. Can you briefly explain its chief bone of contention?

A: Freud and his followers rely primarily on the productions of patients in analytic treatment as evidence for their theoretical edifice. And psychoanalytic theory is replete with causal hypotheses purporting to explain normal and abnormal human conduct. But their clinical evidence does not provide cogent observational support for these core hypotheses, thus leaving their support remarkably weak. This is the skeptical upshot of my Foundations book.

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