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Wittgenstein Reads Freud
By Steve Hoenisch
Last updated on Feb. 15, 2006
Copyright 1996-2006 www.Criticism.Com
Table of Contents
3 Solving vs. Dissolving Problems
4 Criticisms of Freud from a "Disciple"
5 It's All in the Technique
6 Theoretical Issues
7 A Powerful Mythology
8 Related Pages
I don't want to bore you to death by merely recounting the contents of Chapter 1 in Wittgenstein Reads Freud, so this presentation will also include an interpretation that, for me, underlies the content of this somewhat biographical chapter.
The three most pressing questions that arise from Ch. 1 are these:
As Bouveresse notes, one problem with interpreting Wittgenstein's remarks on Freud is that they appear in brief, allusive passages that are, with the exception of Conversations on Freud , scattered throughout his writings and notes of his lectures.
Yet one pattern does emerge: Freud's name is often mentioned in broad philosophical discussions on language, on mythology, and on the distinctions between reasons and causes and between aesthetic explanation and causal explanation.
In Chapter 1, Bouveresse begins to make some sense of these scattered remarks, especially the ambivalence inherent in Wittgenstein's criticisms of Freud at the same time that Wittgenstein claims to be a disciple of him. How, Bouveresse seeks to explain, could Wittgenstein have considered psychoanalysis both important and mistaken.
Perhaps an answer to this questions lies in a remark by Wittgenstein that is pivotal to my own interpretation. In Culture and Value, Wittgenstein writes:
"In a way, having oneself psychoanalyzed is like eating from the tree of knowledge. Knowledge acquired sets us (new) ethical problems; but contributes nothing to their solution."
On the basis of this remark as well as others by Wittgenstein, I will argue that Wittgenstein held psychoanalysis to be a method that could clarify but not resolve not only ethical but also psychological problems. In other words, for Wittgenstein one of the myths of psychoanalysis is that even though the insights gained through it can be beneficial in themselves, the insights do not entail a solution to or resolution of the problem. In this way, Wittgenstein is dispelling a myth of psychoanalysis.
That Wittgenstein believed psychoanalysis cannot resolve problems forms part of his basis for calling himself a follower of Freud while criticizing Freud and viewing his theory as wrong. There are, of course, problems with this interpretation: As will become apparent, it produces some ambivalence of its own.
One problem pertains to the distinction between saying a problem is solved and saying that it has somehow evaporated because, for instance, it has been pulled out by its linguistic roots, so to speak.
Such a view must also be reconciled with a passage from Philosophical Investigations in which Wittgenstein says, somewhat uncharacteristically, that certain problems of language are indeed "solved." And this remark clashes, to a certain extent, with another remark in the Brown Book where Wittgenstein says the application of his technique aims to yield a clarity so complete that the philosophical problem at hand completely disappears. But if the problem disappears, has it been resolved?
Anyway: I'm not going to worry about this too much just now. Perhaps some of you will have some comments on it later. Instead, I wanted to point out some of Wittgenstein's criticisms of Freud, as well as some of the reasons Wittgenstein may have saw himself as a disciple of Freud.
But first, it may be worth noting that a fundamental difference between Wittgenstein and Freud pertains to Wittgenstein's view of madness. As Bouveresse points out, Wittgenstein wondered if the concept of illness was really appropriate, writing that
"Madness need not be regarded as an illness. Why shouldn't it be seen as a sudden--more or less sudden--change of character."
First, Wittgenstein sees Freud's theory as speculation, not science. On Page 44 of Conversations on Freud, Wittgenstein writes: "Freud is constantly claiming to be scientific. But what he gives is speculation--something prior even to the formation of a hypothesis."
Second, Wittgenstein, Bouveresse points out, often alluded to the distinction between the unconscious and conscious as one that would constitute an additional source of confusion: Wittgenstein's skepticism about the unconscious clashes with his philosophical method, which holds that there is nothing "hidden" to bring to the surface but that everything is in principle immediately accessible at the surface (cf structuralism). In this way, Wittgenstein's conception of the nature of psychic phenomena, Bouveresse says, does not mark Wittgenstein as a disciple of Freud (or as a structuralist, for that matter).
So just what does mark Wittgenstein as a disciple of Freud, especially given that Wittgenstein thinks that the postulation of the unconscious -- one of Freud's foremost theoretical moves -- is not only philosophically misguided but also without scientific basis.
The reasons for Wittgenstein's self-characterization as a disciple of Freud must be sought elsewhere -- in the application of a technique.
The technique that Wittgenstein used in his later years was among other things to clarify the nature of philosophical problems by examining the language in which they were presented. The language game, used to get at the root of a problem, sought to analyze the use or function of language in a particular context.
Bouveresse says that despite Wittgenstein's misgivings about such a comparison, the reduction of philosophy to a form of psychoanalysis seems justified. Bouveresse gives additional reasons why the comparison is justified:
In this way, then, Wittgenstein can be seen as a follower of Freud -- metaphorically he believed that his work of clarification required the analysis of the philosophical self, so to speak.
Bouveresse points out there are still other ways, by analogy, in which Wittgenstein's technique can be seen as making him a follower of Freud:
But this raises yet another Question: If Wittgenstein's technique is not based upon theory at all, and Freud's technique is based upon a ill-begotten theory, how can we know that their techniques have identified the right problems or eliminated the correct causes of trouble? Must we just take it as a matter of faith or intuition that they have?
Yet Wittgenstein came to harshly criticize aspects of many of the theoretical notions upon which Freud's technique was founded:
And here is the crucial difference for Wittgenstein. Although he believed Freud's theory to be unscientific and misguided, he believed that the mythology it produced could be used to clarify psychological problems just as his philosophical technique, which was also in no way based upon a science, could shed a clarifying light on age-old philosophical problems. through the application of psychoanalysis, as well as Wittgenstein's language game technique, "bumps" are uncovered that make one see the value of discovery.
But it is knowledge of the self, for the self -- like religious or aesthetic knowledge - that lies outside the category of the scientific.
This makes a start at answering the three questions I posed at the beginning of this talk. Perhaps the first two have been answered sufficiently. But what about the third question? Any thoughts?