Was Freud a Scientist

A second area of criticism of Freud centers around his status as a scientist. Although he repeatedly hisisted that he was primarily a scientist and that psychoanalysis was a science, Freud's definition of science needs some explanation. When he called psychoanalysis a science, he was attempting to separate it from a philosophy or an ideology. He was not claiming that it was a natural science. The German language and culture of Freud's day made a distinction between a natural science (Natur-wis-senschaften) and a human science ( Geistes wissenschaften ). Unfortunately, James Strachey's translations hi the Standard Edition make Freud seem to be a natural scientist. However, other scholars (Fedem, 1988; Holder, 1988) believe that Freud clearly saw himself as a human scientist, that is, a humanist or scholar and not a natural scientist. In order to render Freud's works more accurate and more humanistic, a group of language scholars are currently produchig an updated translation of Freud. (See, for example, Freud 1905/2002, 1918/2003.).

Bruno Bettelheim (1982, 1983) was also critical of Strachey's translations. He contended that the Standard Edition used precise medical concepts and misleading Greek and Latin terms instead of the ordinary, often ambiguous, German words that

60 Part II Psychodynamic Theories

Freud had chosen. Such precision tended to render Freud more scientific and less humanistic than he appears to the German reader. For example, Bettelheim, whose introduction to Freud was in German, believed that Freud saw psychoanalytic therapy as a spiritual journey mto the depths of the soul (translated by Strachey as "mind") and not a mechanistic analysis of the mental apparatus.

As a result of Freud's 19th century German view of science, many contemporary writers regard his theory-building methods as untenable and rather unscientific (Breger, 2000; Crews, 1995, 1996; Sulloway, 1992; Webster, 1995). His theories were not based on experimental investigation but rather on subjective observations that Freud made of himself and his clinical patients. These patients were not representative of people in general but came mostly from the middle and upper classes.

Apart from this widespread popular and professional interest, the question remains: Was Freud scientific? Freud's (1915/1957a) own description of science permits much room for subjective interpretations and indefinite definitions:

We have often heard it maintained that sciences should be built up on clear and sharply defined basic concepts. In actual fact no science, not even the most exact, begins with such definitions. The true beginning of scientific activity consists rather in describing phenomena and then in proceeding to group, classify and correlate them. Even at the stage of description it is not possible to avoid applying certain abstract ideas to the material in hand, ideas derived from somewhere or other but certainly not from the new observations alone, (p. 117)

Perhaps Freud himself left us with the best description of how he built his theories. In 1900, shortly after the publication of Interpretation of Dreams, he wrote to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, confessing that "I am actually not at all a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter, not a thinker. I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador—an adventurer . . . with all the curiosity, daring, and tenacity characteristic of a man of this sort" (Freud 1985, p. 398).

Although Freud at times may have seen himself as a conquistador, he also believed that he was constructing a scientific theory. How well does that theory meet the six criteria for a useful theory that we identified hi Chapter 1?

Despite serious difficulties in testing Freud's assumptions, researchers have conducted studies that relate either directly or indirectly to psychoanalytic theory. Thus, we rate Freudian theory about average hi its ability to generate research.

Second a useful theory should be falsifiable. Because much of the research evidence consistent with Freud's ideas can also be explained by other models, Freudian theory is nearly impossible to falsify. A good example of the difficulty of falsifying psychoanalysis is the story of the woman who dreamed that her mother-in-law was coming for a visit. The content of his dream could not be a wish fulfillment because the woman hated her mother-in-law and would not wish for a visit from her. Freud escaped this conundrum by explaining that the woman had the dream merely to spite Freud and to prove to him that not all dreams are wish fulfillments. This kind of reasoning clearly gives Freudian theory a very low rating on its ability to generate falsifiable hypotheses.

A third criterion of any useful theory is its ability to organize knowledge mto a meaningful framework. Unfortunately, the framework of Freud's personality theory, with its emphasis on the unconscious, is so loose and flexible that seemingly in consistent data can coexist within its boundaries. Compared with other theories of personality, psychoanalysis ventures more answers to questions concerning why people behave as they do. But only some of these answers come from scientific investigations—most are simply logical extensions of Freud's basic assumptions. Thus, we rate psychoanalysis as having only moderate ability to organize knowledge.

Fourth, a useful theory should serve as a guide for the solution of practical problems. Because Freudian theory is unusually comprehensive, many psychoana-lytically trained practitioners rely on it to find solutions to practical day-to-day problems. However, psychoanalysis no longer dominates the field of psychotherapy, and most present-day therapists use other theoretical orientations in their practice. Thus, we give psychoanalysis a low rating as a guide to the practitioner.

The fifth criterion of a useful theory deals with internal consistency, including operationally defined terms. Psychoanalysis is an internally consistent theory, if one remembers that Freud wrote over a period of more than 40 years and gradually altered the meaning of some concepts during that time. However, at any single point in time, the theory generally possessed internal consistency, although some specific terms were used with less than scientific rigor.

Does psychoanalysis possess a set of operationally defined terms? Here the theory definitely falls short. Such terms as id, ego, superego, conscious, precon-scious, unconscious, oral stage, sadistic-anal stage, phallic stage, Oedipus complex, latent level of dreams, and many others are not operationally defined; that is, they are not spelled out in terms of specific operations or behaviors. Researchers must originate their own particular definition of most psychoanalytic terms.

Sixth, psychoanalysis is not a simple or parsimonious theory, but considering its comprehensiveness and the complexity of human personality, it is not needlessly cumbersome.

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