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Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis
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Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis: A Study in the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis is a 1993 book about psychoanalysis, and related topics such as the nature and effectiveness of the placebo and its role in psychiatry and medicine, by the philosopher Adolf Grünbaum. The book, in part a sequel to Grünbaum's earlier The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984) and a response to analytic critics of that work, received both positive reviews and more mixed assessments. Reviewers found it an important work about both psychoanalysis and the concept of the placebo, but noted that Grünbaum's writing style made it difficult to read.

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    1. Summary

    Grünbaum describes Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis as being in part a sequel to The Foundations of Psychoanalysis, and a response to analytic critics of that earlier work. Grünbaum argues that the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud maintained a view, which he refers to as "Freud's Master Proposition", according to which, "A neurosis can be dependably eradicated only by the conscious mastery of the repressions that are causally required for its pathogenesis, and only the therapeutic techniques of psychoanalysis can generate the requisite insight into the specific pathogen." He evaluates the significance of the proposition.[1]

    He also criticizes the hermeneutic interpretations of psychoanalysis advanced by the philosophers Jürgen Habermas and Paul Ricœur, as well as by Roy Schafer, expands on his previous criticisms of the philosopher Karl Popper's critique of psychoanalysis, discusses the philosopher Francis Bacon, discusses the concept of the placebo and its role in psychiatry and medicine, responds to criticism of his views from the psychoanalyst Marshall Edelson, criticizes Philip Rieff and his book Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959), as well as the Jesuit priest and psychoanalyst William Meissner, and presents new arguments against Freud's theory of dreams.[2]

    2. Publication History

    Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis was published in 1993 by International Universities Press.[3]

    3. Reception

    Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis received positive reviews from Ann Casement in the Journal of Analytical Psychology,[4] Aaron H. Esman in the American Journal of Psychiatry,[5] the philosopher Patricia Kitcher in Philosophy of Science,[6] and Nathaniel Laor in Philosophy of the Social Sciences,[7] mixed reviews from the sociologist Edith Kurzweil in Society and Melvin Berg and Jon G. Allen in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic,[8][9] and a negative review from the philosopher Owen Flanagan in The Times Literary Supplement.[10]

    Casement described the book as a "major sequel" to The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. She credited Grünbaum with using his "profound knowledge of modern physics" to criticize Habermas, and with demonstrating that "many practices in orthodox medicine are placebogenic". She concluded that the book was essential reading for anyone interested in psychoanalysis despite Grünbaum's "dense writing style", which made it "a difficult book to penetrate."[4] Esman credited Grünbaum with presenting a "major challenge to psychoanalysis". He believed that he offered a powerful argument that validation of Freudian hypotheses must come from extra-clinical investigations, and convincingly criticized Edelson's arguments to the contrary, as well as the views of Popper and Meissner. However, he criticized his attempts to define the concept of the placebo as "rather scholastic" and "logic-chopping", and his treatment of Schafer. He also found his writing needlessly repetitive, and criticized his "caustic" and "contemptuous" dismissal of those who disagreed with him. He also suggested that, "Grünbaum seems inadequately to appreciate the profound diffusion of Freudian thought into the broad matrix of modern culture."[5]

    Kitcher credited Grünbaum with offering a compelling critique of psychoanalysis, including the views of "contemporary Freudians". She endorsed his argument that psychoanalysis rests on the "Master Proposition". She agreed with Grünbaum that the only methodologically sound way of demonstrating the "Master Proposition" would have been to conduct studies showing that psychoanalytic treatment cures neurosis at a rate better than placebo treatment, something neither Freud nor his followers did, and wrote that the "Master Proposition" was never supported by "reasonable evidence" and has now been shown to be false. She also wrote that Grünbaum provided an "illuminating account of placebos". However, she wrote that his criteria for determining "the adequacy of evidential support for a theory that turns out to revolutionize the intellectual landscape" seemed "unrealistically high", and that he "can only present a convincing case that psychoanalysis was not just wrong, but wrong-headed by being more sensitive to Freud's scientific context."[6]

    Laor described Grünbaum's arguments as familiar from his previous work. He considered Grünbaum's criticism of Popper convincing, and his arguments about the role of the placebo in medicine in general and psychoanalysis in particular interesting, but his discussion of Freud’s theory of anxiety and of traumatic dreams less innovative. He considered Grünbaum correct to dismiss hermeneutic interpretations of psychoanalysis, but incorrect to dismiss hermeneutics itself. He also believed that Grünbaum misinterpreted Bacon.[7]

    Kurzweil wrote that Grünbaum employs a highly technical philosophical terminology that made his book "often impenetrable", and predicted that "Grünbaum's abstruse discourse will put off the ordinary reader." She criticized Grünbaum for making "gratuitous, peripheral observations that obstruct the flow of his arguments", for example by referring to the political activist Anita Bryant in the course of a discussion of Popper's claim that psychoanalysis is not falsifiable. She found Grünbaum's responses to the analyst Edelson's criticisms of his views unproductive, arguing that neither Grünbaum nor Edelson truly appreciated the other's position and that they were "talking past each other". Nevertheless, she concluded that Grünbaum "is the most erudite and sophisticated spokesman for the long-standing empiricist hostility to psychoanalysis."[9]

    Berg and Allen wrote that Grünbaum displayed a "powerful intellect capable of discerning the internal logical girders upon which clinical inference making rests" and that his reasoning was "meticulous and capable of building intricate arguments that spring upon the reader with conclusions as gripping as a bear trap." However, while they credited him with "scholarly knowledge of Freud" and "proficiency at revealing logical flaws in Freud's reasoning", they concluded that his discussion of Freud came across as a polemic rather than a judicious evaluation and that there were places where the "logic of his own argument becomes strained and incoherent". They criticized him for citing "laboratory studies of perception and memory that employ experimental paradigms so far removed from the essential qualities of the psychoanalytic situation as to result in a meaningless comparison." Though appreciating his critique of Freud's original theories, they accused him of not being fully aware of the current state of psychoanalytic clinical theory and practice. They concluded that Grünbaum's book was "tough going" but also "essential reading" for psychoanalysts "who want to examine the basic assumptions underlying their work".[8]

    Flanagan described Grünbaum's arguments as "relentless, breathless, sometimes windy". Though he considered the critique of psychoanalysis important, he wrote that "the battle will not be won by sticking as close to the text and its logical relations as Grünbaum does" and that it was necessary "to look more closely at the actual practices of therapists".[10]

    The historian Edward Shorter credited Grünbaum with convincingly criticizing the psychoanalytic concept of the transference.[11] The psychologist Michael Billig noted that while Grünbaum believes that Freud's theories have been almost entirely discredited, that verdict is not universally shared, since psychologists such as Seymour Fisher, Roger P. Greenberg, and Paul Kline "argue that the main elements of Freudian theory have been confirmed."[12]


    1. Grünbaum 1993, pp. ix, 28.
    2. Grünbaum 1993, pp. 1–107, 63, 67, 229–257, 267–268, 272–273, 357–384.
    3. Grünbaum 1993, p. iv.
    4. Casement 1994, pp. 135–136.
    5. Esman 1995, p. 283.
    6. Kitcher 1995, pp. 166–167.
    7. Laor 1996, p. 432.
    8. Berg & Allen 1995, p. 129.
    9. Kurzweil 1994, pp. 81–84.
    10. Flanagan 1993, p. 3.
    11. Shorter 1997, pp. 313, 415.
    12. Billig 1999, pp. 5, 269.
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    Entry Collection: HandWiki
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    Update Date: 14 Oct 2022
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