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As the earliest form of depth psychology, psychoanalysis is very nearly opposite
Behaviorism, which eschews consideration of mental phenomena. Because the prevailing concern of psychoanalysis is with psychological disorders, some of the earliest descriptions of Personality Disorders were inspired by psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis: Is it Science?

Psychoanalysis is probably the psychological theory best known by the public. For example, laypersons are familiar with the term "anal retentive." However, psychoanalysis is very controversial among psychologists. Some psychologists claim that psychoanalysis is good science, others that it is bad science, and still others that it is not science. Those who believe psychoanalysis is good science are perhaps the rarest group, and surprisingly not all psychoanalysts fall into this group. Rather, a fair number of psychoanalysts are willing to concede that psychoanlysis is not science, and that it was never meant to be science, but that it is rather more like a worldview that helps people see connections that they otherwise would miss.

Among those who believe that psychoanalysis is not science is the philosopher Karl Popper. Popper holds that the demarcation criterion that separates science from logic, myth, religion, metaphysics, etc. is that all scientific theories can be falsified by empirical tests--that is, a scientific theory rules out some class of events, and if one of those events occurs, then the theory is declared false. According to Popper, psychoanalysis does not meet the falsification criterion because it does not rule out any class of events. Because it explains everything, it explains nothing.

Adolf Grünbaum disagrees with Popper. Grünbaum believes that Freud meant his theory to be scientific, that he made falsifiable predictions, and that those predictions proved false. For example, Freud's Master Proposition, also known as the Necessary Condition Thesis (NCT), is that ONLY psychoanalysis can produce a durable cure of a psychoneurosis (a mental illness caused by childhood trauma). This is a strong statement that could be falsified if, for example, another form of therapy such as behavior therapy cured someone of a neurosis, or even if spontaneous remission occurred. We now know that neurosis yields to both of these alternatives. Therefore, Grünbaum concludes that psychoanalysis, being false, is bad science.

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Grünbaum's Arguments

The figure below (Von Eckardt, 1986) represents epistemological problems in Freud's use of clinical data as discussed by Grünbaum (1984) (circled numbers correspond to numbered problems at left; arrows represent the relation "is considered evidence for").



  1. suggestibility (pp. 130-135);
  2. failure of tally argument (pp. 135-172);
  3. weakness of consilience argument (pp. 273-278);
  4. Nisbett and Wilson findings (pp. 147-148);
  5. problems with Breuer-Freud argument (pp. 177-189);
  6. problems with extrapolation to slips and dreams (pp. 190-239);
  7. problems with establishing causal claims by retrospective testing (pp. 177-189).

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Grünbaum, A. (1984). The foundations of psychoanalysis: A philosophical critique. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Von Eckardt, B. (1986). Grünbaum's challenge to Freud's logic of argumentation: A reconstruction and an addendum. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9, 262-263.

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Psychoanalysis Links

Psychoanalysis: Student Papers in This Website Psychoanalysis: Papers Elsewhere Psychoanalysis: Websites Elsewhere Psychoanalysis: Reference Sources
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Last modified January 1999

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