Some Reflexions on the Relationship Between Freudian Psycho-Analysis and Husserlian Phenomenology

The magical number three has provided the template for this comparative study of Freudian psycho-analysis and Husserlian phenomenology. "Three" should be considered the number of dialectics; the method in the study to let three distinct thematisations succeed each other should find its legitimation in dialectics. The relationship between psycho-analysis and phenomenology as that between two dialectic theories might well call for a dialectic interpretation. It should be difficult from a straightforward and unambiguous interpretation to give full credit to the rich and equivocal meaning of psycho-analysis and phenomenology. I hope to have shown in the presentation above, that it is possible by accentuating different sides of the two scientific disciplines to reach different conclusions regarding their relationship. For a full account of this relationship these different conclusions should be placed together and viewed in their internal coherence as a dialectical unity. Thus none of the three sections of the text should be considered apart from the others. In the first section of the paper, the first thematisation, I tried to spell out the discrepancies between Freud and Husserl as clearly as possible. The point of departure here was the Freudian notion of the "psychical apparatus," and Husserl's doctrine of "intentional consciousness." The models built around these central notions can be shown to have a paradigmatic meaning for the development of Freud's and Husserl's psychological projects. Conceiving the subject as psychical apparatus, Freud thought it possible to make psychology a natural science. The subject could be treated like a mechanical apparatus, that is a machine admitting the general laws of motion. - In contrast, Husserl thought psychology should depart from natural science in its scientific selfunderstanding, and join the humanities instead. Psychology's departure from natural science, Husserl found legitimized in the subject's essential character of intentional consciousness. According to Husserl, man as a conscious being could not be reduced to a thing in the natural world. On the contrary, the aprioric basis for the world should be found in intentional consciousness, which constitutes the "world" as a meaningful coherence related to the subject. Freud's and Husserl's conceptions of psychology were traced to historical roots in respectively positivism, naturalism and mechanical materialism on the one hand, and rationalism, humanism and idealism on the other. In this first interpretation the relationship between psycho-analysis and phenomenology seemed to be antithetical, the two theoretical projects representing opposite poles with regard to cartesian dualism. Although in some ways caricaturing the theories in this one-sided interpretation, I tried to show, that such interpretation is possible with bases in the texts of Freud and Husserl. The decided one-sidedness of the first thematisation should, however, be balanced by the competing interpretation in the second section of the paper. In the second thematisation, I tried to show, that both psycho-analysis and phenomenology in their concrete psychological projects went beyond their points of departure. Although Freud as a scientist of the 19th century naturally found his theoretical language in the successful natural sciences, from which his scientific career started, he decisively broke with this frame of reference in his descriptions of the pathological problems from his clinical praxis. In contrast to the abstract metapsychology of the psychical apparatus, Freud in his clinical psychology departed from mechanism in his attempts to interpret the meaning of the patient's neurotic symptom. The clinical attitude of Freud might resemble phenomenologists' openness towards the meaning of the phenomena, and the case-histories of Freud often read like clinical analyses stemming from existential- phenomenological psychiatrists. - Correspondingly, although Husserl started from the tradition of German philosophy of consciousness, also he can be seen to go beyond the premises of his wellsprings. Starting with a notion of intentionality as consciousness's active positing meaningful objects, Husserl later was led to consider a deeper level of intentionality, a "functioning intentionality," that would situate the subject in a "world" prior to any thematic perceptual act. With the notion of functional intentionality and its further development in Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of the "body-subject," phenomenology seems to have come close to the Freudian doctrine of the unconscious. From this second interpretation it seemed to follow, that a meeting between psycho-analysis and phenomenology should be possible, by cutting off the mechanistic parts from psychoanalysis and the idealistic parts from phenomenology. The hindrance for such meeting should apparently be found in the divergent theoretical prejudices stemming from the ideological climates in which the theories were hatched. None of these two apparently contradictory interpretations, that of the first and second thematisation, should, however, rule out the other. To the question which interpretation is the right one, we should answer "both ... and," or perhaps better "Neither ... nor." Freud and Husserl in fact held contradictory views in their explicit scientific self-understanding. On the other hand, much of the controversy was caused by theoretical prejudices not essential to the central enterprise of psycho-analysis and phenomenology. And yet, the theoretical work of Freud and Husserl should be considered in its entirety, not omitting parts that do not fit the interpretative context. Freud's mechanistic theories must be read in connection with his clinical/phenomenological psychology, Husserl's doctrine of transcendental consciousness together with his concrete analyses of the world and the body. Freud sticked to his mechanistic metaphors throughout his life, not just because mechanic materialism was his scientific point of departure, but also because he found the models of the psychical apparatus useful to picture the subject-matter of psycho-analysis, the unconscious as it is discovered by the analytic method. Correspondingly, Husserl found in transcendental idealism a metaphysical horizon apparently suited for his main theoretical project, to un-cover by phenomenological reflexion man in his free and conscious being. In this way Freud's materialism and Husserl's idealism might find their limited justification, not in the absolutistic sense set forth in the first section, but in relation to their weighting different aspects of the subject/object dialectic of man. This point of view I tried to explicate in the third section of this paper. In the subject/object dialectic Freud seems to underline man's existence as object, his being ruled by the mechanic, the irrational, the infantile, the unconscious. In contrast, Husserl underlines man's existence as subject, his free and conscious openness towards the world and the future. This difference I characterized with the notions of Ricoeur as respectively an "archeology" and a "teleology" of the subject. And yet the difference between Freud and Husserl is that of a weighting different sides of the subject/object dialectic, not of an exclusive thematisation of man as either subject or object. Freudian archaeology is supplemented by an implicit teleology, Husserlian teleology by an implicit archeology. On the background of such interpretation the relationship between psycho-analysis and phenomenology should be seen neither as the polarity of the first thematisation, nor as the synthesis of the second. Psycho-analysis and phenomenology both contradict and imply each other in a relationship that should be termed dialectical. With this third interpretation the paper ended. At last I noted that the problems raised by the controversy on the subject/object dialectic of man should not easily be solved. Instead, the question "what is man" should have to be answered continuously in a concrete historical reflextion or dialogue. Yet I think it safe to conclude, that any psychological consideration has to take into consideration, both man's archeological and his teleological features, thus not allowing the one perspective completely to rule out the other
Keywords Psychoanalysis  Phenomenological psychology
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Reprint years 1978
Call number BF175.H693
DOI 10.1163/156916278X00023
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