The grand challenge for psychoanalysis – and neuropsychoanalysis: taking on the game

Frontiers in Psychology 2:220 (2011)
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As Ebbinghaus (1908) tells us in the opening words of his popular textbook of psychology, “psychology has a long past but only a short history.” In my opinion, there are three foundational moments in the history of psychology and, paradoxically, all three are moments of great advancement in biology. First, in the long past of psychology, psychology did not exist as such but was part of philosophy. It is extremely interesting to understand why it has been necessary, at one point of time in the sixteenth century, to invent this field and to create a signifier – namely “psychology” – separate from philosophy, which enabled the field to distinguish itself from philosophy (Mengal, 2000/2001). In this century of religious violence, bare corpses lay everywhere and progresses in anatomy are major. In 1540, the German religious reformer Philippe Melanchthon publishes a book which comments the De anima of Aristotle and he completes the Aristotelian text with a long treaty of anatomy (Mengal, 2000/2001). On the basis of this new knowledge, Melanchthon attributes functions to the body which were previously reserved for the soul. The brain becomes the principal organ of sensory functions and displaces the heart as the seat of emotional life and of thought. To the Aristotelian position that all living beings, whether plant, animal, or human, to varying degrees possess a soul which organizes the body, Melanchthon opposes a dualistic anthropology which divides the human in body and soul. The two-dimensional “anthropologia” is articulated in “anatomia,” science of body, and “psychologia,” science of the soul. It is this new anthropology that is diffused into the world of the Reformation (Mengal, 2000/2001). The Dutch reformer Snellius (1594), for example, defines the body and the soul by their respective essential property: “The rational soul of man is the thought that, coupled with the body, completes man. (…) The physical things closer to natural bodies that move naturally, have an extension and for that reason occupy a space. (…) The faculty of the rational soul is the mind or will. Thought is the faculty of the soul to discourse and think about things which are and which are not.”1 (Snellius, 1594, pp. 26–27). It is as a philosopher that René Descartes proposes his dualist vision much in line with the reformist opinions. Descartes dissects animals and human cadavers and is familiar with the research on the flow of blood (Fuchs, 2001). He comes to the conclusion that the body is a complex device that is capable of moving without the soul, thus contradicting the Aristotelian doctrine of the soul. The metaphysical order, which states that the body exists by the soul, is broken.

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Ariane Bazan
Université Libre de Bruxelles


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