“Every Path Will End in Darkness” or: Why Psychoanalysis Needs Metapsychology

Science in Context 7 (1):83-101 (1994)
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This article focuses on the dialectic of metapsychology and hermeneutics in psychoanalysis. By combining the causal language of the former with the intentional terminology of the latter, Freud's discourse continuously transgresses narrowly conceived boundaries of scientific disciplines and places its stakes both in the humanities and the natural sciences. The argument is made that attempts to reduce psychoanalytic theory to either causal explanation or interpretation of meaning, turn it into a closed thought-system and rob it of its vitality. Moreover, it is argued that although Freud understood himself to be a scientist, by eschewing the dichotomous reductionism characteristic for both his orthodox followers and critics who try to turn psychoanalysis into either a natural-science-like discipline or a hermeneutics, Freud demonstrated that his self-understanding was far more sophisticated than either of these two groups admit to. This argument is supported by a detailed discussion of Freud's epistemological premises, his conception of science and reality, and, especially, the place which Freud allocated to metapsychology in his interdisciplinary science. It is claimed that metapsychology served Freud as a double-edged sword, both enabling creative and metaphorical thought about the mind's hidden reality, and revealing the necessary incompleteness of hermeneutics. The article concludes with the claim that psychoanalysis needs metapsychology in order to pursue this dual task.
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