A Debate on Whether Psychoanalysis is a Science or Just a Historical Curiosity

Few issues inflame heated discussion in the scientific community as the scientific standing of psychoanalysis. (One editor cannot but help add “that Viennese quack” after any mention of Freud. I began thinking about the issue of what kind of knowledge is critical theory after coming upon Raymond Geuss’ concise and brilliant The Idea of a Critical Theory.)

Now Butterflies and Wheels, one of more intelligent on-line journals/debate fora, has an exchange on Psychoanalysis as Science with Norman Holland insisting:

“Current objections to psychoanalysis as untestable and unscientific ignore two facts. First, a large body of experimental evidence has tested psychoanlaytic ideas, confirming some and not others. Second, psychoanalysis itself, while it does not usually use experimentation, does use holistic method. This is a procedure in wide use in the social sciences and even in the “hard” sciences.” (Read the full article here.)

And Frederick Crews rejoins:

“[Norman] Holland maintains that important parts of psychoanalytic theory have been experimentally confirmed . . . As he recognizes, this judgment stands at odds with the tacit, all but unanimous verdict of North American psychology faculties. Where psychoanalysis appears at all in the catalogs of well-regarded university departments of psychology, it usually figures as a prescientific historical curiosity, not as a viable body of theory. . . Holland asserts that this snub bespeaks not a considered scientific assessment but rather “a deep-seated prejudice against psychoanalysis” on the part of psychology professors and textbook authors. The academic establishment, he holds, has turned its back on a mountain of studies validating key portions of psychoanalytic doctrine . . .”