About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Wittgenstein vs. Freud
Apparently, Witty often referred to himself as a "disciple" of Freud, and clearly admired the latter's intellect. However, beware of a compliment coming from Ludwig! Here are a few comments on psychoanalysis and its inventor, straight from the philosopher's pen:
* "Freud's fanciful pseudo-explanations (precisely because they are brilliant) perform a disservice. Now any ass has these pictures available to use in 'explaining' symptoms of illness."
* "Freud is constantly claiming to be scientific. But what he gives is speculation -- something prior even to the formation of a hypothesis."
* "Wisdom is something I never would expect from Freud. Cleverness, certainly; but not wisdom."
All of this makes Wittgenstein sound remarkably like his contemporary philosophical colleague, Karl Popper (also a Viennese, incidentally), who criticized psychoanalysis on the ground that it fails to meet Popper's criterion of "falsifiability," which allegedly differentiates science from pseudoscience (contemporary philosophers have moved beyond falsificationism, and admit that the boundary separating good science, bad science, and pseudoscience is somewhat fuzzy). Yet, Witty and Popper were actually often at odds, and they had a famous public dispute during a visit of Popper to Cambridge, where Wittgenstein was working.
Indeed, although I actually agree with the comments quoted above, their origin is to be found in Wittgenstein's (I think) excessive distrust of scientific explanations of human phenomena (such as the workings of the mind). Wittgenstein has made some blunders of his own, as in his criticism of Darwin's theory on grounds similar to his rejection of Freud:
"I have always thought that Darwin was wrong: his theory doesn't account for all this variety of species. It hasn't the necessary multiplicity."
By which he meant that the Darwinian principles of common descent and natural selection are insufficient to account for the variety of forms seen in the biological world. While this is in fact very likely true, it does not imply a rejection of Darwinism, but rather its expansion, building on Darwin's original insight (which is exactly what has happened over the past 150 years in biology).
Well, more on Witty vs. Freud if I have the stomach to keep reading Bouveresse...