The Foundations of Psychoanalysis

The Foundations of Psychoanalysis

The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique
The 1985 University of California Press edition
Author Adolf Grünbaum
Country United States
Language English
Genre Philosophy
Published 1984 (University of California Press)
Media type Print
Pages 310

The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique is a 1984 book by Adolf Grünbaum, who provides a critique of Sigmund Freud and the scientific credentials of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. Grünbaum argues that there are methodological and epistemological reasons to conclude that some central Freudian theories are not well supported by empirical evidence.[1]


  • Summary 1
  • Scholarly reception 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
    • Footnotes 4.1
    • Bibliography 4.2


Grünbaum offers a critique of the scientific credentials of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, arguing that there are methodological and epistemological reasons to think that some central Freudian doctrines are not well supported by empirical evidence.[1] (For example, Grünbaum is critical of Freud's theory of dreams,[2] which he considers the cornerstone of psychoanalysis).[3]

Despite taking this position, Grünbaum approves of Freud's interpretation of religion[4] and argues against the idea that psychoanalysis is a pseudo-science. He criticizes Sir Karl Popper's view that psychoanalytic propositions cannot be disconfirmed and that psychoanalysis is therefore pseudo-scientific.[5][6][7] Grünbaum considers Popper, like many other philosophers who have written about Freud, to be both a very poor reader of Freud and a poor logician. Grünbaum observes, for example, that Freud's theory that paranoia results from repressed homosexuality invites the obviously falsifiable prediction that a decline in the repression of homosexuality should result in a corresponding of paranoia, thereby disproving Popper's claim that psychoanalytic propositions are unfalsifiable.[8]

Grünbaum is also critical of the hermeneutic interpretation of psychoanalysis propounded by Jürgen Habermas in Knowledge and Human Interests (1968). He argues that Habermas misunderstands psychoanalysis, falsely maintaining that it abandons the scientific norm in its aspirations. Grünbaum, drawing on his knowledge of modern physics, contends that Habermas is ignorant of science.[9]

Paul Ricœur's hermeneutic interpretation of Freud in his Freud and Philosophy (1965) is similarly criticized by Grünbaum. Ricœur seeks to limit the proper subject of psychoanalysis to the verbal communications of the patient in analysis, something Grünbaum denounces as "ideological surgery" and "mutilation" of psychoanalysis. Grünbaum shows that Freud could not have accepted such a limited conception of the proper domain of psychoanalysis, since he often considered the nonverbal behavior of patients, speculated about the psychological meaning of artifacts such as statues and paintings, and most importantly believed that his discoveries held true for people who had never been analyzed and therefore never had to produce a narrative account of their symptoms.[10]

In Grünbaum's view, the causal claims of psychoanalysis must be assessed through methodological procedures deriving from the work of Francis Bacon and John Stuart Mill.[11]

Scholarly reception

Grünbaum's influential[1] work was seen as a landmark in the debate over the merits of psychoanalysis when it was published, and a number of critics of Freud hailed it as a masterpiece.[7] Those praising The Foundations of Psychoanalysis included psychologist Hans Eysenck, who in his Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985) deemed it the definitive work on the subject, praising its "logical rigour and argumentative precision" and "extensive scholarship of both the psychoanalytic literature."[12] Professor of German Ritchie Robertson writes that The Foundations of Psychoanalysis is the leading scientific critique of Freud's work.[13]

The Foundations of Psychoanalysis has also been considered the most important philosophical critique of Freud,[14] though the amount of space Grünbaum devotes to criticizing hermeneutic interpretations of Freud (which amounts to a third of his book) has become notorious.[11][15] Psychoanalysts have given Grünbaum greater attention than other recent critics of psychoanalysis.[15] Psychoanalyst Marshall Edelson wrote a book, Hypothesis and Evidence in Psychoanalysis (1984), responding to Grünbaum's arguments.[16] Psychoanalyst Joel Kovel credits Grünbaum with providing the best discussion of the problems surrounding the validation of Freud's theories.[4] In his Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988) historian Peter Gay credits Grünbaum with discrediting Popper's argument that psychoanalysis is a pseudo-science,[5] while philosopher Michael Ruse, writing in Homosexuality: A Philosophical Inquiry (1988), finds his discussion of Popper to be definitive.[17] However, philosopher James Hopkins argues that Grünbaum's criticism of Freud's theory of dreams is based on a misunderstanding of Freud.[2] He also argues that Mill's methodology is inapplicable to motive and therefore inappropriate to assessing psychoanalysis, a psychology of motive.[18]

Cultural historian Richard Webster notes in his Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) that Grünbaum's work has been criticized by Frank Cioffi, who rejects his portrayal of Freud as a philosophically astute investigator of human psychology. Webster's view is that while The Foundations of Psychoanalysis contains many insights and much pertinent criticism of Freud's approach, it is a lesser achievement than it has sometimes been acclaimed as. Webster believes that Grünbaum's work has been overvalued by critics of psychoanalysis because of its style of argument, which he considers to be overly theoretical and abstract, and to have had the undesirable effect of distracting attention away from issues such as Freud's character.[19]

Literary critic Frederick Crews commends Grünbaum's critique of Freud, but criticizes him for focusing on Freud's clinical theory while neglecting Freud's metapsychology, and for accepting "Freud's after-the-fact professions of methodological sophistication."[20] Grünbaum has been criticized by philosopher David Sachs in "In Fairness to Freud".[13] Sachs argues that Grünbaum focuses too much on passages from Freud's writings taken in isolation, without considering what Freud writes about the same subjects elsewhere in his work. Literary critic Alexander Welsh believes that since it is not clear which parts of Freud's clinical data were reported and which were invented, Grünbaum's critique of Freud's claims to empiricism is seriously compromised. In his view, defenses of psychoanalysis against Grünbaum, including that of Edelson, suffer from the same problem.[15]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Quinn 2005. p. 355.
  2. ^ a b Hopkins 1991. p. 122.
  3. ^ Hobson 1993. p. 489.
  4. ^ a b Kovel 1991. p. 250.
  5. ^ a b Gay 1995. p. 745.
  6. ^ Ruse 1988. pp. 31, 280.
  7. ^ a b Webster 2005. p. 24.
  8. ^ Robinson 1993. pp. 182-183.
  9. ^ Robinson 1993. pp. 188-189.
  10. ^ Robinson 1993. pp. 195-196, 198.
  11. ^ a b Hopkins 1991. pp. 127-128.
  12. ^ Eysenck 1986. p. 212.
  13. ^ a b Robertson 1999. p. x.
  14. ^ Robinson 1993. p. 180.
  15. ^ a b c Welsh 1994. pp. 124-125.
  16. ^ Robinson 1993. p. 181.
  17. ^ Ruse 1988. p. 31.
  18. ^ Hopkins 1991. p. 128.
  19. ^ Webster 2005. pp. 24, 560.
  20. ^ Crews 1997. pp. vii-ix.


  • Crews, Frederick; Macmillan, Malcolm (1997). Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc. Cambridge: The MIT Press.  
  • Eysenck, Hans (1986). Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.  
  • Gay, Peter (1995). Freud: A Life for Our Time. Harmondsworth: Papermac.  
  • Hobson, J. Allan (1993). Earman, John, et al, ed. Philosophical Problems of the Internal and External Worlds. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.  
  • Hopkins, James (1991). Neu, Jerome, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Freud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Kovel, Joel (1991). History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press.  
  • Quinn, Philip L. (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Robertson, Ritchie; Freud, Sigmund (1999). The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  
  • Robinson, Paul (1993). Freud and His Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press.  
  • Ruse, Michael (1988). Homosexuality: A Philosophical Inquiry. New York: Basil Blackwell.  
  • Webster, Richard (2005). Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. Oxford: The Orwell Press.  
  • Welsh, Alexander (1994). Freud's Wishful Dream Book. Princeton: Princeton University Press.