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What Is Freud's Metapsychology?

Author(s): Patricia Kitcher and Kathleen V. Wilkes


Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 62 (1988), pp.
101-115+117-137
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The Aristotelian Society
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WHAT IS FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY?

Patricia Kitcher and Kathleen V. Wilkes

I-Patricia Kitcher
I

As believers have sometimes felt it necessary to try to'save Christ


from the Christians'-that is, from Christians other than
themselves-as a critical admirer of Freud's, I wish to try to save
at least some of Freud from the Freudians. The part of Freud's
work I propose to rescue is extremely unpopular both with
contemporary Freudians and with historians of psychoanalysis.
The definition of 'metapsychology' provided by The Language of
Psychoanalysis gives ample hints about why the doctrine has so
few friends:

Metapsychology constructs an ensemble of conceptual


models which are more or less far removed from empirical
reality. Examples are the fiction of a psychical apparatus
divided up into agencies, the theory of instincts, the
hypothetical process of repression, and so on.'

As if to cement the alienation of practically-minded clinicians


and empirically-oriented psychologists, the entry continues by
making an explicit analogy between metapsychology and
metaphysics.
Students of the psychoanalytic movement have also been
hostile to metapsychology. Adolf Griinbaum cites Freud's
description of metapsychology as a 'speculative superstructure
. . . that can be abandoned or changed without loss', in order to
deny the suggestion that Freud regarded metapsychology as
making any essential contribution to the support of his clinical
theories.2 In Griinbaum's history, Freud did not see his clinical
doctrines as deriving support from theoretical considerations,
but rather as resting on 'the evidence of the couch'.3 By contrast,

'J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, tr. by Donald Nicholson-Smith (London: The
Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis), 1973, pp. 249-50.
2Adolf Grinbaum, The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (Los Angeles: University of
California Press), 1984, pp. 4-5.
3ibid. Part I, chapter 2 passim.

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102 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

Frank Sulloway argues that the biological as


in Freud's metapsychological claims exerted
on the development of psychoanalysis. T
however, thoroughly baneful. Unwilling to
to his own originality, Freud denied the biol
of his theories, thus turning himself into a '
constantly made use of biological theories b
and for collateral support for psychoanalytic
disguised this fact from his students, in part
would now put it) all his notes, manusc
correspondence, twice-once in 1885 an
Freud's intellectual heirs have continued the
foundations, now with two motivations.
enhance the creative genius of their hero, the
reluctant to take seriously the idea that much
stands-or falls-with nineteenth century
While I concur with the great majority of
regarding Sulloway's and Grfinbaum's bo
contributions to our understanding of Freu
disagree with both their accounts of h
metapsychology. I take Freud's concerns wit
to focus primarily on the methodological que
pleted science of psychology should look like
that he offers substantive metapsychologica
thesis is that Freud's enduring commitment
does not reflect any attachment to particular
a vision of how various sciences can combine
us everything we want to know about huma
My interest in Freud's metapsychology does no
purely historical goals of trying to set the recor
give Freud his due credit or criticism on thi
decade, we have seen (in North America, at
change in the psychological Zeitgeist. Psycho
of psychology, linguists, computer scientists
anthropologists and others have converted t
gress in any of the 'cognitive sciences' can o

4 Frank Sulloway, Freud, Biologist of the Mind (New York:


especially pp. 3-5. This theme recurs throughout the book
5 ibid. p. 7.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 103

interdisciplinary approach. Psychological exper


theories must be informed by an understanding of
and neurophysiology; computer simulations of me
should also take advantage of what is known about
macro organization of the brain; psychology and n
should be aware of what we have learnt about c
processes from computer science, and so forth. Si
professional duty to synthesize the broad picture,
have to know everything.
As I read him, Freud's real longing was not to be
ician, but to be the complete interdisciplinary cognitiv
at least the father of a complete interdisciplinary cogn
His scheme of training for analysts is nothing less
lum for an interdisciplinary education in cognitiv
It must include elements from the mental scie
psychology, the history of civilization and s
well as from anatomy, biology and the study of

Freud was not only dedicated to the constr


interdisciplinary account of the mind, he was also
by his own education to undertake this daunting
believe that Freud's admittedly sketchy and
attempts at metapsychology offer us an histori
in interdisciplinary theory construction in psy
larger purpose is to investigate Freud's efforts in
gain a better understanding of how interdiscip
construction should and should not be done. In th
try to make the historical and philosophical ar
despite its many detractors, Freud's metapsych
sound prescription for constructing an interdiscip
of the mind.

II

Freud's most systematic account of metapsychology occurs in


his 1915 paper, 'The Unconscious':

6James Strachey, editor, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of
Sigmund Freud (London: The Hogarth Press), 1963, 24 vols., Vol. XX, p. 252. Future
references to this work will be listed in the text by S.E. and the volume and page numbers
in parentheses.

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104 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

It will not be unreasonable to give a


whole way of regarding our subject-m
consummation of psycho-analytic rese
when we have succeeded in describing
in its dynamic, topographical and ec
should speak of it as a metapsychologi
must say at once that in the present st
there are only a few points at which w
(S.E. XIV 181, emphasis original).
Given that metapsychological presen
consummations of psychoanalytic resea
those who would save psychoanalysis f
have a very different vision of the enter
founder.
However, it seems equally obvious that
that he has offered much in the way of s
logical claims. Metapsychology attract
ideal; he is quite skeptical, indeed often
particular efforts in substantive metapsy
characterizes his metapsychological const
'speculations'. Further, he denies that
psychoanalysis:

Such ideas as these are part of a specu


of psycho-analysis, any portion of whi
or changed without loss or regret the m
has been proved. But there is still plen
that lies closer to actual experience
see also XX:266).
Such passages provide Grfinbaum with ap
evidence to support his contention that F
regard metapsychology as crucial to ps
there are also texts that run exactly c
interpretation, for example, the passage
cited above and the following:
In the theory of psycho-analysis we h
assuming that the course taken b
automatically regulated by the pleasur
is ... that the course of those events

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 105

motion by an unpleasurable tension ... [T


introducing an 'economic' factor in addit
'topographical' and 'dynamic' ones ... (S.E. 1920,
XVIII:7).
One could hypothesize that Freud simply changed his
mind-back and forth-over time about the status of metapsy-
chology. However, I think that the far more reasonable view is
that Freud regarded his substantive metapsychological claims
as 'working hypotheses', to be abandoned should they cease to be
valid or useful. The position he clung to throughout his long
career was that psychoanalysis needs metapsychology as a
guiding research ideal: Freud gave his inchoate psychoanalytic
theory an economic, dynamic and topographic foundation in
the Project (1895) (S.E. 283-387); this view was repeated with
some alterations in the VIIth chapter of the Interpretation of
Dreams (1901) (S.E. V:509ff.); Freud published five papers on
metapsychology (1915- 17) (S.E. XIV); he offered a substantially
revised metapsychology in The Ego and the Id (1923) (S.E.
XIX: 13ff.); in an article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Freud
presented his 'depth-psychology' in terms of dynamic, economic,
and topographical studies (1926) (S.E. XX:264-269); in the
final major piece in the Standard Edition, 'An Outline of
Psychoanalysis', Freud again approached his material from the
dynamic, economic, and topographical points of view (1938)
(S.E. XXIII:144ff.).7
What is this research ideal to which Freud remained faithful
for so many years, despite his recognition that his results were
almost certain to be ephemeral at best? The most obvious way to
begin to answer this question is to replace it with more specific

7 One passage that appears to run counter to my view that Freud always retained his
belief in the importance of metapsychology as an approach occurs in the Autobiographical
Study: 'Later on I made an attempt to produce a "Metapsychology". By this I meant a
method of approach according to which every mental process is considered in relation to
three co-ordinates, which I described as dynamic, topographical, and economic respectively;
and this seemed to me to represent the furthest goal that psychology could attain. The
attempt remained no more than a torso; after writing two or three papers ... I broke off,
wisely perhaps, since the time for theoretical predications of this kind had not yet come'
(S.E. XX:59). On my view, what Freud claims he gave up for a while was the attempt to
formulate substantive metapsychological hypotheses, not the view that all theory
construction in psychoanalysis should be done with a view towards eventually achieving
a completed metapsychology.

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106 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

questions about the dynamic, economic,


of psychological theorizing.
III

All of Freud's psychological theorizing will be clearer if we note


that he restricted the realm of psychoanalytic explanation. Not
all facets of behaviour can be understood by psychoanalytic
means; indeed not all facets of neurotic behaviour are susceptible
to psychoanalytic explanation or remediation. From early in his
career, Freud recognized a distinction between the psycho-
neuroses, which he believed he could alleviate, and the 'actual
neuroses', such as anxiety neurosis. While anxiety neurosis has a
sexual origin, it does not derive from sexual ideas: '. . . it has no
psychical mechanism. Its specific cause is the accumulation of
sexual tensions, produced by abstinence or by unconsummated
sexual excitation' (S.E. 111:81). Thus, even in a case of sexually-
induced neurotic behaviour, there may be no place for a
psychoanalytic explanation.
Freud seems to suggest, by contrast, that psychoanalytic
explanation is in order at least when the specific cause of
behaviour is an idea. This characterization is still too broad,
however. If friends set out for Covent Garden because they
knowingly enjoy opera, then psychoanalysis has nothing to say
about their actions. The actors themselves are witness both to
their behaviour and to its cause (S.E. XXIII: 144). Psychoanalytic
explanation is called for only when the determinants of an
action are both psychic and unobserved. In terminology that is
now more familiar, the distinctive and, indeed, definitive range
of psychoanalysis is behaviour produced through unconscious
motivation.
I take Freud to intend the dynamic part of psychoanalysis to
encompass descriptions of the unobserved, psychic, proximate
causes of behaviour. These would include both particular ideas
and forces that act directly on ideas, such as repression,
sublimation, and reaction-formation (the strengthening of an
opposing idea). Psychoanalysis, in its dynamic approach,
provides qualitative accounts of the immediate determinants of
behaviour which replace inadequate medical or common sense
explanations (S.E. XVI:374).
The dynamic approach is thus the least theoretical and most

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 107

clinically relevant part ofmetapsychology. Dynamic


supply the engrossing twists and turns of plot in the c
as the protagonists' true motivations are uncovere
side, the individual cases provide examples from
tried to extrapolate general dynamical hypotheses
the early hypothesis that 'hysterics suffer mainly
niscences [memory ideas that have been repressed]
hypothesis that all mental processes derive '. .
interplay of forces ... [which] are all originally in
instincts ... [specifically] ... Eros ... and the
destruction . . .' (S.E. XX:265). As I read it, far
dispensable to the therapist, the dynamic approach
basic psychoanalytic explanation of symptoms.
Since this is not the usual way of regarding
between Freud's psychoanalytic explanations and h
chology, I will offer some additional defence of my
a possible explanation of the popularity of the sta
On the standard view, what I have called 'dynamic
and explanations would be regarded as 'clinical' ma
distinguished from the highly theoretical and
metapsychology. One problem with the standard v
does not really have a separate account of what
part of metapsychology is supposed to be; the dyn
simply lumped with the topographic and the econ
whole package is rejected as misguided mechanism
Sulloway's normally sensitive historical treatme
error. Sulloway starts by talking about the eco
with its references to quantities of mental ene
suggests that the dynamic aspect is supposed to acc
these forces are dammed up in the unconscious
dynamic part is just some particular claims about
energy within the mind-brain.8 But, as we will se
claims really belong to the economic part of p
explanation. So Sulloway has not offered an ade
of what Freud meant by a dynamic-as opp
economic-part of metapsychology.
If it is not assumed at the outset that metaps
divorced from the clinical work, then the question

8 Sulloway, op. cit., p. 63.

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108 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

meant by a dynamic part of psychological


an obvious answer. When Freud offe
presentations of the Unconscious' in 'A No
in Psycho-analysis', 'The Unconscious',
Principle' and 'The Ego and the Id', he alw
psychoanalytic conception of the uncons
contrast to the usual 'descriptive' sense
description, to say that an idea is 'unconsc
that it is not (presently) an item of con
contrast, the dynamic, psychoanalytic
signifies both that an idea is not present t
is repressed, and that it is nevertheless an
determination of behaviour (S.E. XII:
19-20, XIX: 13-15). If one makes the nat
explaining behaviour in terms of the dyna
adopting the dynamic point of view, th
follows directly.
IV

Since my interpretations of the topographic and the economic


parts of metapsychology are less contentious, I will offer less
textual defence. In writings separated by a quarter of a century,
Freud presents the topographic approach through the same
metaphor:

. . the idea of a psychical locality. I shall entirely disregard


the fact that the mental apparatus with which we are here
concerned is also known to us in the form of an anatomical
preparation, and I shall carefully avoid the temptation to
determine psychical locality in any anatomical fashion. I
shall remain on psychological ground, and I propose
simply to follow the suggestion that we should picture the
instrument which carries out our mental functions as
resembling a compound microscope . . or something of
the kind. On that basis, psychical locality will correspond
to a point inside the apparatus at which one of the
preliminary states of an image comes into being. ... [Thus
we] attempt to make the complications of mental function-

9 Here I capitalize Unconscious in order to indicate that I am referring to Freud's


systematic sense of the word.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 109

ing intelligible by dissecting the function and a


different constituents to different component
apparatus ... (S.E. V:536; see also XX:266)

Freud's message should be particularly clear to cur


even without the analogy. What he is doing
topographical divisions of the mind is decompos
into its gross functional units. The hope is to introduc
into the apparent chaos of mental life by trying
whether some of the operations carried out in var
are sufficiently similar to be usefully assigned to
functional units. A functional unit is a unit rather
array, because there is some important similar
operations that it is said to carry out. So, in the crucia
Unconscious, for example, Freud argues tha
regarded as a system, a unit, because the variou
assigns to it are all carried out according to th
principles (timelessness, exemption from mutual c
and so forth) (S.E. XIV:186-189).
Not only should Freud's topographical approac
comprehensible to the modern reader, it sh
completely congenial. Psychology books and journ
with attempts to sort the various operations we a
out into gross functional divisions. For example, in
there have been hypotheses about episodic ver
memory systems, various attentional systems, ima
and so forth. Further, proponents of these system
correlate these gross functional units with known
brain, a temptation that Freud acknowledges in th
succumbs to in most of his highly theoretical wri
Despite the similarity with present researc
interpretation of Freud's topographic approac
chronistic. In believing that a completed psychoan
should contain a topographic portion, Freud w
adopting one of the acceptable modes of theory co
the 1890s. This approach can be seen in the wo
Hughlings Jackson, whom Freud read and admired
Jackson argued that the nervous system is compos
levels that represent different levels of evolutionar
and that are able to perform increasingly co

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110 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

According to his theory of 'nervous dissol


in mental illness is that higher levels a
thinking is taken over by lower, older,
thought processes.10 Hughlings Jackson ch
as 'anatomical' and 'physiological', in contr
method that 'explains' aphasia, for exam
the patient has lost his memory for wo
contrasted his method with those who loo
and cells. A crucial explanatory level is r
and psychology, namely, a level tha
apparatus into units based on evolution
considerations." These units will map
cerebral locations." As Frank Sulloway
great detail, Freud followed the prevail
fashion, not only in believing that phy
ontogeny, but also in believing that the d
was crucial in understanding how the min
Thus, Freud's approach to theory constr
was remarkably like Hughlings Jackso
functional divisions within the mind that
plausible scenarios about the evolution of
Thus, if we consider what Freud was tryi
his substantive theories, then his topogra
to be a reasonable strategy in psychologic
by the standards of his time and our own
disown this aspect of metapsychology in p
to revise the Freudian divisions of the min
reason to criticize the topographic app
often revised his views about how best to
most dramatically between 'The Uncon
and the Id'. As in the case of the dynamic
had to abandon particular theories abou
Still, he wisely remained loyal to the goal o
the mind in terms of gross, evolutionary a

"oJames Taylor, editor, Selected Writings of John Hughli


Basic Books, Inc., 1958):3-118 passim.
" Of course functional and evolutionary considerations
But Freud, like many modern thinkers tended to think
" Hughlings Jackson, Taylor. op. cit., p. 89.
13 Sulloway, op. cit., pp. 199-204, 258-261, 398-99, am

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 111

Given our results so far, if metapsychology was either a


pernicious or irrelevant appendage to psychoanalysis, then it
must be by virtue of its economic aspect. And, in fact it is Freud's
economic theories, with their appeals to 'contact barriers',
'cathexis', 'hyper-cathexis', 'anti-cathexis', 'side-cathexis',
'quotas of affect' and the 'constancy or pleasure principle' that
have been the targets of most of the anti-metapsychological
rhetoric.'4 However, as with the other two aspects, I will not
focus on Freud's substantive economic theories, but on the
research strategy embodied in the economic approach.
Freud presents his goal clearly in a classic statement in Project:

The intention is to furnish a psychology that shall be a


natural science: that is, to represent psychical processes as
quantitatively determinate states of specifiable material
particles, thus making those processes perspicuous and free
from contradiction. Two principal ideas are involved: [1]
what distinguishes activity from rest is to be regarded as Q,
subject to the general laws of motion; (2) the neurones are
to be taken as the material particles (S.E. 1:295).
Freud's theoretical strategy should, again, be very familiar to
present readers. His hope is that by tying his account of
psychological processes to specific physical realizations of those
processes he can discover any hidden contradictions in his
explanatory scheme. Similarly, for the last twenty years, we
have been telling ourselves that one of the great advantages of
computer simulations of mental processes is that by actually
running a programme that simulates a mental operation, we
can tell whether our analysis of how the process could happen is
both consistent and non-miraculous. Of course, could he bring it
off, Freud's demonstration would be even better, because he
would be showing that the processes proposed by his theory
could run on our actual neural hardware.
Freud knew as well as we do that the brain is not merely a

'4 See, for example, George S. Klein, 'Freud's Two Theories of Sexuality', in Merton
M. Gill and Philip S. Holzman, editors, Psychology Versus Metapsychology, Psychological
Issues, vol. IX, no. 4 (New York International Universities Press, Inc.), 1976, pp. 14-70.

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112 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

model for testing the internal consistency o


model, for it is what actually does the t
always believed that his psychological theo
be grounded in the biology of the br
structure of psycho-analysis that we have
superstructure, which will one day hav
organic foundation. But we are still ig
XVI:389). Nevertheless, despite his recog
ignorance of neurophysiology, Freud tried
accounts as far as possible, by tryin
psychological forces he postulated wer
benefit of miracles-given the (current
forces operating on (currently) known b
Like my interpretation of the topogra
account of Freud's commitment to a
metapsychology may seem too good to be
ought to recognize the constraint of bio
psychological theorizing if he is a physi
think that there is no question that Fr
Darwinian, and so believed that human me
the capacities of 'lower' organisms; his wr
suggestions about how various menta
evolved. Unfortunately, this does not qu
physicalism, because some Darwinians, m
Russell Wallace, treated the mind as a s
Richard Wollheim, K. V. Wilkes, and oth
that Freud clearly was a physicalist.'" And
textual evidence on their side. While F
mechanistic medical model, which trie
illnesses to particular bits or regions of
VII:285-86), he always believed that eventu
cal theories must be related to brain anato
'Our psychical topography hasfor the prese
anatomy .. .;' (S.E. XIV: 175, Freud's em
recollect that all our provisional idea
presumably some day be based on an o

" See, for example, the discussion in 'Mourning and


"6Richard Wollheim, Freud (London, Fontana),
'Anthropomorphism and Analogy in Psychology', Philos
especially 127.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 113

(S.E. XIV:78). Despite such apparently decisive


however, Frank Sulloway maintains that Freu
dualist.'7 And citations can be offered in support o
example: 'The relation between body and m
reciprocal one; but in earlier times the other side
the effect of the mind upon the body, found litt
eyes of physicians' (S.E. VII:284). Still I th
reasonably straightforward, if philosophically
explanation for Freud's apparent inconsistency in
As Sulloway points out, Freud's views on th
problem are borrowed explicitly from Hughli
Here is Hughlings Jackson's considered opinion o
I do not concern myself with mental states at
directly in seeking their anatomical substr
trouble myself about the mode of connection b
and matter. It is enough to assume a parallelis
with excitations or discharges of nervous arrangem
cerebrum, mental states occur, I, of course, ad
this is I do not inquire; indeed, so far as clinica
concerned, I do not care. If anyone feels warr
suming that physical states in the highest nervou
mental states are one and the same thing, he is
bound as anyone else to seek the anatomical n
nervous arrangements in which the psychico-p
occur. To give a materialistic explanation of mental
give an anatomical one.'9

In other words, from the point of view of scientific


is no difference between believing that the ment
to-is a 'dependent concomitant' of-physical p
simply identifying them. Whether one is a m
parallelist, one must still find the underlying phy
that subserve mental functions. The only differen
positions is philosophical-whether one would pref
the enigma of mind-body interaction or th
identification of two apparently very different e

"7 Sulloway, op. cit., pp. 48, 50-51.


"'Sulloway, loc. cit., (S.E. XIV:206-208).
9 Hughlings Jackson, Taylor, op. cit., p. 52.

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114 I-PATRICIA KITCHER

Hughlings Jackson nor Freud had the slig


philosophical conundrum. Indeed, at one
with obvious sarcasm, that he has a consti
philosophy (S.E. XX:59). So both F
Jackson adopt the pragmatic solution of tr
were the brain, while still allowing th
correct philosophical position. Given the
been spent on these puzzles without se
understanding of thought processes, their
methodologically sound.
VI

Because he believed that mental activity must be understood in


terms of the workings of the brain, Freud believed that a
completed psychology must have an economic aspect and that
present knowledge of how the brain works should constrain and
guide psychological speculations. Freud believed that psychology
must employ a topographic approach, because he believed that
mental activity is enormously complex and probably the result
of the interplay of systems that evolved at different times for
different purposes and so operate on different principles. And,
most obviously, Freud believed that psychology must have a
dynamic part, because of the revolutionary discovery by
psychoanalysis of widespread unconscious motivation.
I take Freud's substantive dynamic, topographic, and
economic hypotheses to be attempts to put this grand plan for a
completed science of psychology into practice. Thus I take the
methodological and substantive parts of metapsychology to
encompass all of psychoanalysis except various clinical tech-
niques. Given this position, my original claim that metapsy-
chology is essential to psychoanalysis follows trivially. However,
it may well seem that if others have dismissed the metapsychology
too quickly, I am overcompensating, by allowing it to extend
over the whole domain of psychoanalysis. In defence, I would
note that in Freud's correspondence with Fliess, he contemplates
using 'metapsychology' to refer to 'my psychology that leads
behind consciousness.'20 Further Freud often referred to his

z2Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, tr. and ed. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to
Wilhelm Fliess (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press), 1985, p. 301.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 115

unique approach to psychology as 'depth psycholog


I believe, simply a non-Latinate version of 'metapsy
both expressions convey the idea that his theory g
beyond the realm of the conscious.
However, my point is not merely the verbal one
use 'metapsychology' to refer to most of Freud'
often noted in his battles about unconscious motiv
arguments are not very fruitful. Rather, my thesi
understand Freud's explicit remarks about meta
laying out the methodological principles he believe
followed in constructing a complete account of men
we can see his efforts in a new and, I hope, truer
Freud offered bold hypotheses about the dynamic
mind, he had standards about how such claims
down. Eventually, any dynamical account must be
an account of the evolutionary and individual deve
produced the forces and ideas, and by an acc
neurological structures that underlie them. Fur
argued that these standards are very much our co
standards for theory construction in cognitive sci
hope the interpretation I have provided for metaps
enable us both to learn more about the logical
Freud's theories and to learn more from Freud about how to
construct a complete interdisciplinary science of mind."2

21I am grateful to Patricia Churchland, Adolf Griinbaum, Judith Hughes, Philip


Kitcher, Gerasimos Santas, Stephen Stich, Frank Sulloway, and Robert Westman for
helpful discussion of these issues, and to Warren Dow for helping me to go through a
large body of Freud's texts.

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WHAT IS FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY?

Patricia Kitcher and Kathleen V. Wilkes

II-Kathleen V. Wilkes

I agree with Professor Kitcher that Freud had, and needed to


have, a 'metapsychology'. I disagree, though, about how best to
characterize it. I agree too that Freud had a unique and original
vision about the 'complete science' of psychology; but I would
locate the uniqueness and originality elsewhere. Since therefore
we have these substantial bones of contention, I shall devote
most of this paper to them, rather than to endorsing the many
arguments with which I am in full sympathy.
I

Kitcher considers that 'Freud's intellectual heirs' try to deny the


role of biology in his (meta)psychology. This would be an extra-
ordinary denial. To show this I want to go rather circuitously.
Psychological theories (of whatever stripe) tend to take-
implicitly or explicitly--physics or one of the 'developed'
sciences as their superego. When this is recognised, some
applaud it: physics is our paradigmatic mature science, and
psychology as an underdeveloped science needs apron-strings.
Others deplore it: psychology should not be confined within the
methodological or normative standards that govern a science in
a wholly different domain. (Both parties to the debate, though,
oversimplify the nature of research in the natural sciences, and
exaggerate the 'purity' of physics or the other natural or 'hard'
sciences; hence it is appropriate to use the term 'superego'.)
The influence of the natural sciences dominates psychology
via biology. Biology in general and physiology in particular were
boom sciences by Freud's time; the likes of Johannes Miiller,
and Hermann von Helmholtz--primarily a physicist but
scientifically speaking a polymath-had made them respectable.
Indeed Wundt, the father of scientific psychology, trained for
seventeen years as a physiologist (part of the time under
Helmholtz). Biology, and through it the canons of 'hard'
science, were taken for granted as the backdrop to nineteenth
century psychology.

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118 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

In general of course it is psychologists of a m


who look to physics or the biological sciences f
and normative clues and standards. These are the ones who
employ biological theories, analogies, models; who would
accept Johannes Muiller's battle-cry, 'nemo psychologus nisi
physiologus'. But there can be, and are, degrees of reliance on
terms, analogies, and norms from different domains. Some
borrowings are purely heuristic, assisting the newcomer to come
to grips with part of the meaning of a theoretical term. The
'spin' of an electron is something like that; perhaps too Freud's
anthropomorphism-conspicuously most marked in his more
popularising works-of ego, superego, and id. Such 'heuristic
metaphors' carry no theoretical commitments; the convinced
dualist, for instance, could use them freely. Other borrowings
involve analogies which have a fairly strong positive element,
but where the negative or neutral sides to the comparison must
be identified; Freud's hydraulic metaphors fit this bill, as would
the billiard ball model for the kinetic theory of gases, and
(probably) Hume's inner theatre as a picture of the mind. Such
models or analogies are usually regulative as well as heuristic,
and so start to commit anyone using them to substantial
theoretical positions and methodological principles. A third
kind of model is intended to be taken more literally. Here the
obvious example is the contemporary one: 'the mind is like a
computer' becomes 'the mind is a computer'. No longer are the
terms of computer science to be metaphorical or analogical
descriptions of psychological and neuropsychological functioning;
instead, computer science purports to supply the conceptual
framework within which psychology should operate. Fodor'
illustrates this attitude:

The idea was that the conceptual mechanisms exploited in


[functional definitions of psychological kinds] were to be
identical with those employed in specifying the program
states of (a restricted class of) computers.
Freud seems to me to have been one of those who welcomed the
physical sciences as a superego for psychology in general. (See

'Fodor, J. [1981], 'Introduction', to J. Fodor, Representations (Harvester Press,


Brighton); p. 13.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 119

for example a paragraph from the 'Outline of Ps


1938, on pp. 196-7 of S.E. xxiii.)' Not surprisingly
indubitably a physicalist. This is clear from
sentence of the 'Project for a Scientific Psych
'Project'): '[t]he intention is to furnish a psycholog
a natural science: that is, to represent psychic
quantitatively determinable states of specif
particles' (S.E. i, p. 295). This was written in 1
know, he soon after abandoned the ambition of so
psychical processes. For all that, though, he neve
idea that he was working in a science. (He wrote
a year before he died, '[p]sychology, too, is a n
What else can it be?' (S.E. xxiii, p. 282).) Nor did
idea that any adequate theory of psychoanalysis
be explicable by neuroscience. In 1914, for exa
this clear: 'all our provisional ideas in psychology w
some day be based on an organic substructure' (S
and many similar passages (e.g., S.E. xviii, p. 60
be found. What he abandoned was thus simply th
the project and the 'Project' in his lifetime.
We should not overlook the obvious fact that t
surprising. He studied biology, physiology, neuro
anatomy in the University of Vienna, where inter
on the reproductive system of the eel. He took a
in 1881; he worked on neurological problems
General Hospital. With Karl Koller he discove
anaesthetic effects of cocaine. Even after his retur
in Paris with Charcot (it is sometimes said that h
as a neurologist and returned as a psychotherapis
for another two years or thereabouts in brain pat
he published a monograph on aphasia, four years
the 'Project'. Like Wundt, then, he came to psych
biological sciences.
I thus find it astonishing that anyone should th
would wish to 'disguise' his use of biological theo
inspiration, or for collateral support; or that

2I too shall use 'S.E., vol. number, page number' for almost all
writings--referring to J. Strachey [1963] (ed.), The Standard Edit
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press), 24

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120 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

think that this in any way diminishes his geniu


after all, attempts to track our psychological
simplest and most basic elements, and these, he t
ones that are essentially bound up with biolog
There are literally countless places in which h
necessity of biology; consider just one ran
comment from 1923: 'psychoanalysis ... is ob
basis for the theory of the instincts in biology' (S
Another work of the 1920s, 'Beyond the Ple
(S.E. xviii, pp. 7-64) is throughout heavily, e
consistently founded in biology. When he
'Project', it was precisely because the (neuro)biol
of the nineteenth century were not up to the tas
his psychological hypotheses.3 Indeed, he rega
contributing to biology:

The phenomena with which we are dealing do


to psychology alone; they have an organic
side as well, and accordingly in the course of
building up psycho-analysis we have also m
portant biological discoveries and have not bee
framing new biological hypotheses (S.E. xx
So to a large extent psychoanalysis and biolog
together. Thus it is the very reverse of the tru
Freud denied the biological underpinnings of his t
win kudos for originality; quite the contrary-he
for originality in biology too.
Now to some extent he may have been sidetrack
took contemporary biology to suggest. The nine
view of what sorts of thing drives had to be ('dri
is a better translation of'Trieb' than is 'instinct'
to explain why the sexual drive, that polymorph
the Freudian stage, received the description tha
needs to be stressed that Freud was sceptical eno
theory of the drives accepted in his day: '[i]n the
reigns at present in the theory of the instincts, it w

' It would be equally true to say that Freud's psychological hypoth


the task' of being grounded by biology. But as we shall soon se
sciences to evolve together.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 121

to reject any idea that promises to throw light on it


53); as I have suggested already, the biology and the
according to him, need to develop together, each c
/or illuminating the other. Furthermore, the sexua
as characterized by Freud, had little if any empiri
nineteenth century biology; indeed, Freud him
priority over Moll in identifying it (see below). It
that, from Adler and Jung on, critics have
challenged or disputed the nature and the role o
Moreover, the later death drive (Thanatos) had no
the content (rather than the theory; or maybe Freu
the theory) of the biological sciences of the day.
Thus Freudian theory 'relies' on biology to the
Freud may have accepted too uncritically th
century account of the sorts of things that drives w
this looks a little implausible. The specification of
postulated, though, borrowed little if anything fro
ary biology. His theory 'relies' on biology, too, in
weighty way: if it has claims to truth, then one day it
ideas' will be 'based on an organic substructure'; in
(neuro)biology would in some far future vindic
them. This is indeed 'reliance', making psychoanaly
to future progress in the biological sciences.5
The fact that he constantly borrows models,
metaphors, hints, terminology from the biologica
not, however, 'reliance'; all sciences borrow freely
domains for heuristic and suggestive purposes.
took what he wanted from the applied sciences of h

4With reason. Freud's case for extending its scope so widely is pre
instance his appalling argument in S.E. xxiii, p. 154: '[t]he baby's ob
in sucking gives evidence at an early stage of a need for satisfaction
originates from and is instigated by the taking of nourishment, never
obtain pleasure independently of nourishment and for that reason may and
sexual' (italics mine).
5 Consider a remark in 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' of 1920:
. . it should be made quite clear that the uncertainty of our specu
greatly increased by the necessity of borrowing from the scie
Biology is truly a land of unlimited possibilities. We may expect
most surprising information and we cannot guess what answers it
few dozen years to the questions we have put to it. They may be
will blow away the whole of our artificial structure of hypothese
60)

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122 II--KATHLEEN V. WILKES

mechanics too; as he did from history, from physics, from


medicine, from the 'magic writing pad', from mythology ... in
short from all over. If what he borrows from biology is
subsequently dropped or rejected by the biologists, then of
course the heuristic contribution of the analogy or metaphor
may be weakened, or the negative part of the analogy increased
at the expense of the positive part; maybe a new model or analogy
should be adopted instead. As someone trained in biology in
general and neuroscience and medicine in particular, it would
be quite amazing if such analogies and models were not scattered
freely throughout his writings-giving inspiration and collateral
support. There is no question of 'failure of originality' here.6
It is unfortunately true, all the same, that Freud was
preoccupied with his own originality. He repeatedly denies that
he is interested in issues of priority; and Jones7 claims too that
Freud was unconcerned about who held the intellectual patent
in certain discoveries. But we cannot believe either. Steele,8 in
his recent 'deconstruction' of Freud's 'On the History of the
Psycho-Analytic Movement' (S.E. xiv, pp. 7-66), supplies the
evidence to show how much the matter preoccupied Freud. For
example (most of the following derives from Steele): Merton'
cites more than 150 passages in which Freud is concerned about
priority-questions. Then: Freud split with Wilhelm Fliess
precisely because he denied Fliess's role in the discovery of
bisexuality-and conspicuously omitted any reference to Fliess
in his 'History'-an 'historical reconstruction' if ever there was
one. Again: in 1887 Albert Moll published Untersuschungen uiber die
Libido Sexualis,'o which Freud read; but Freud: 'I would not
concede priority in the idea to anyone'." Again: in the 'History'

6 So I expect that the reason he destroyed his notes and diaries is more likely to be the
reason we all have-too much paper about the place-rather than because he wanted to
disguise his use of biology.
7Jones, E. [1953], The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, vol. I (New York: Basic Books).
8Steele, R. S. [1985], 'Paradigm Found: A Deconstruction of the History of the
Psychoanalytic Movement', in C.E. Buxton (ed.), Points of View in the Modern History of
Psychology (London: Academic Press).
9Merton, R. [1976], 'The Ambivalence of Scientists', in Merton, Sociological
Ambivalence and Other Essays (New York: Free Press).
1o Moll, A. [1897], Untersuschungen iiber die Libido Sexualis (Berlin: Kornfeld).
" Freud, S. [1954], The Origins of Psycho-Analysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and
Notes, eds. M. Bonaparte, A. Freud, and E. Kris (New York: Basic Books); p. 231.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 123

Freud claims that Breuer was blind to the sexual


neurosis. Yet Breuer had written 'the great majority
neuroses in women have their origin in the marriage
ii, p. 246). And yet again, when trying to downpla
influence on him, Freud records Charcot's remark, 'M
des cas pareils c'est toujours la chose ginitale, toujours. . .
toujours' (S.E. xiv, p. 14), but then suggests, but for n
reason, that Charcot would deny having said this
unfortunate, and unfortunate because it is so unneces
is no denying Freud's originality. But to be origin
mean starting everything from scratch; indeed, orig
science is very largely a matter of scratching familiar
a new description, or in a new light, or in a new
against a new background.
Freud's originality is unquestionable and shou
questioned. But it displays our (and maybe his, too) m
standing of scientific inventiveness to demand that al
the planks in the platform of his theory should h
unheralded and unprecedented from his head in t
of Athene and Zeus. (Galileo had numerous predec
had proposed the heliocentric hypothesis.) It would
sadly regressive if, after abandoning the 'Project',
also abandoned the belief that lay behind it: that
about the operations of the mind that purports to
truth should one day be underpinned by neuroscie
nately, he did not.
II

We can now turn explicitly to 'metapsychology'. Kitcher's final


view of Freud's metapsychology is that it encompasses 'all of
psychoanalysis except various clinical techniques'; all the
hypotheses that can fall under one or more of the dynamic,
topographical, or economic coordinates. Metapsychology be-
comes psychoanalysis, or indeed any theory that 'leads behind
consciousness'." This, as she notes, is not fully consistent with
everything that Freud said about metapsychology-in particular,

" This would of course make into 'metapsychology' much of Aristotle's, Helmholtz's,
and Herbart's, work. This must show it to be a mistake. These three had 'meta' levels to
their psychological theories; but the high level, or theoretical, propositions were
indifferent as to whether the lower level statements were or were not conscious.

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124 II--KATHLEEN V. WILKES
that it could be 'abandoned without loss'-but I see no harm in
that: Freud wrote an inordinate amount, and was entitled to
change his mind. However, I am worried by the fact that it
conflicts with Freud's often-repeated claim that metapsychology
is a 'superstructure', because to my mind this is exactly what he
thought it was.
It might be as well to see what other accounts of 'metapsy-
chology' there are. Nobody's description is privileged-and that
includes Freud, whose remarks on this score are not consistent.
The Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis begins its entry under
'Metapsychology': 'Term invented by Freud to describe what
other sciences call 'general theory', i.e., statements at the highest
level of abstraction'.'3 Farrell seems to endorse this when he
writes that the metapsychological statements (those that go to
make up what he calls the 'High Level theory') 'give us an
account of the way the mind works as a whole. It postulates
certain machinery and functioning, which go to explain the low
level generalizations of the theory'.4 Grfinbaum describes as
'metapsychology' '[the] successive models of the structure and
function of the psychic apparatus'.i
It would seem that these authors accept the 'speculative
superstructure' picture of 'metapsychology'. On such an
account, 'metapsychological' statements would be high level
statements of theory, which purportedly explain why lower level
statements work to the extent that they do, and unify and
organize them. This is indeed the sort of structure we expect of
any genuine theory-an hierarchical network of higher and
lower level laws, hypotheses, postulates. Furthermore, this
picture of the role of higher level postulates (explaining,
organizing, unifying lower level ones) fits well with Freud's own
demands on his metapsychology. Consider his remarks on
'internal perceptions' in 'The Ego and the Id' (1923):

Internal perceptions yield sensations of processes . . Very


little is known about these sensations and feelings .. . I

'3 The Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Penguin, 1972); p. 91.


'4Farrell, B. A. [1981], The Standing of Psychoanalysis (Oxford: Oxford University
Press); pp. 37-8.
"'Griinbaum, A. [1984], The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press); p. 5.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 125

have elsewhere expressed my views about th


economic significance and the metapsychological re
(S.E. xix, pp. 21-2, italics mine).

Or, from the same work (a comment which will re


have said above about his views on biology): '[o]
theoretical considerations, supported by biology, we pu
hypothesis of a death instinct' (S.E. xix, p. 40,
mine). On numerous occasions we find high level, o
justifications for low level, 'couch-data', hypothese
one example, from the thousands possible, see his
'On the Mechanism of Paranoia' (1911): '[i]t is q
that a detachment of the libido is the essential and
anism of every repression. We can have no positive
that point until the other disorders that are based u
have been similarly examined. . .'(S.E. xii, pp. 7
My general point is that there is nothing
metapsychology. What the label picks out is c
developed theories, viz., the highly 'theoretical' le
the name is what misleads: after all, the theoretical
physics are not (or are not simply) 'metaphysics' in
philosophers' sense; there is no such label as 'me
the magisterial Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychology"
under 'Metapsychology'. But all sciences have h
low level propositions in their theories--including
Indeed, we need more than the lower level, and
logical, statements when examining Freudian
recently become widely accepted that the objec
philosophy of science should not just be 'a theor
dividing the so-called 'context of discovery' from t
justification'. It must rather be one of a numb
equivalent larger explananda: 'paradigms', 'research
'themas', 'research traditions', 'trees', 'globa
(pronounced 'goos' to suggest the glue-like func
units).17 Despite substantial differences, what all

"6Harr6, R., and Lamb, R., (eds.) [1983], The Encvclopedic Dictiona
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell).
7 I refer (in order) to: Kuhn, T. [1970], The Structure of Scientific R
edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press); Lakatos, I. [1970], 'F
Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes', in I. Lakatos and

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126 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

common is that they demand that the appr


study is a sequence of theories in their
diachronic context: their growth, developmen
background. Such a background includes fundam
and methodological assumptions; a consensus
'good-making features' of the theory; and of
setting, research-council funding, etc. of the s
It would be worthwhile and important
contrast all these variant versions of 'wide' expl
with all of them there is a serious difficulty
when, for example, to say that we are still wi
tradition, paradigm, or GU, merely develo
direction; and when to say that we have left i
there is neither time nor need here to reso
interesting as they undoubtedly are. For our p
metaphorically-described 'wide' explanandum
we need. Papineau offers the readily-accessible
all branches and twigs depend on the same trun
are bigger than their subordinate branches; so
pruned with no detriment to anything signific
a given moment, is a description of the trunk,
and one specific route from major to minor b
to twigs. So a tree can contain within itself
numerous competing theories. The trunk we ca
most fundamental shared assumptions and
principles. (Example: Wundt's assumption-
many predecessors--that the mental was ato
Newtonian physics; and deterministic; an
methodology for investigating it was introspe
who shared these assumptions went off on dif
the Wiirzburg school, for instance.) 'Metapsyc
set of high level, abstract claims of the theory,
this trunk; but so also will assumptions (impli
held) that should more properly be called

Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge U


G. [1973], Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought (Cambridge: H
Laudan, L. [1976], Progress and its Problems (Los Angeles: Univer
Papineau, D. [1979], Theory and Meaning (Oxford: Clarendo
Brown, J. R. [1987], 'The Nature and Rationality of Piaget's Revo
and Science, pp. 97-119.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 127

meta-methodological, evaluative, and even-yes-m


Such a metaphor allows us to put the ambiva
Freud's 'meta'psychology into context. Once we
theory and its empirical implications are not the s
study, but that the larger picture is needed, we ca
what counts as 'meta' and what not is indeed,
comments, 'verbal', if 'verbal' is construed as 'a
degree' (some 'metapsychological' claims will b
trunk, others rather part of major branches); but e
insist that differences of degree can be as literally m
is that between the bumps in my lawn and the
In Freudian psychoanalysis we have a saplin
saplings have trunks, branches, and twigs. The trun
relatively basic ingredients, the core assumptions (bo
and normative; both implicitly and explicitly
Descartes and Boyle assumed that all phenomen
more than the result of matter in motion, so Freu
existence of a dynamic unconscious, psychological
goal-directedness, the libidinal drive, the ce
developmental/historical methodology, the presup
eventually the theory would be grounded in neuro
so forth. (Evidently the list of such 'trunk', or
assumptions can be supplemented or adapted b
scholar ad lib.; I am trying neither to be comp
authoritative here.) All these were 'given' for anyo
with a Freudian 'tree'. Indeed, why were Ad
drummed out of Freudian favour? Precisely b
wanted to downplay the centrality of infantile se
The core postulates of any theory, and its regula
and associated methodological norms, can rarely
assessed directly-the twigs and smaller branch
brunt of the assault by data. So, as Laplanche
suggest, the metapsychological constructs 'are mo
removed from empirical reality'. (In fact I do
Kitcher takes this sensible comment, at least in
quotation from Laplanche and Pontalis goes,' to
attack on metapsychology.) But a build-up of

"'Laplanche, J., and Pontalis, J-B. [1973], The Language of Psyc


Nicholson-Smith; London: the Hogarth Press); pp. 249-50.

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128 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

persuade the scientist that he is barking up


Alternatively, one or more of the planks in th
metaphors-might be modified or altered. Fo
the war Freud added Thanatos, the death driv
reason that the pleasure principle failed
behaviour and the dreams of war-traumat
then (1923) there came too the famous stru
'The Ego and the Id'. It is undeniable that Fr
one allowed to reshape the theory's trunk; Ju
tried, were cast as opponents, and there is a re
a letter to Abraham (cited by Steele): '[t]he wa
you try to show me the value of the work by
drawing conclusions from it is of course qu
Abraham et al. hopped firmly around the sma
the twigs.
Empirical evidence supplies a tricky card for the Freudian to
play. Here, as Farrell has decisively and entertainingly shown,
theory can determine all too strongly what is taken to count as
data. The problem is too familiar to need repetition; one
quotation from Freud will explain why the difficulty makes
friends and foes alike tear their hair:
So far as the theory of the sexual aetiology of neurasthenia
is concerned, there are no negative cases. In my mind, at
least, the conviction has become so certain that where an
interrogation has shown a negative result, I have turned
this to account too for diagnostic purposes. I have told
myself, that is, that such a case cannot be one of
neurasthenia (S.E. iii, p. 269).
One of the most admirable features of Grfinbaum's book (he
also, I note, cites this passage) is that he proves beyond question
that Freud was very well aware of the problem here, and tried
hard-even if ultimately unsuccessfully--to rebut it. But Freud
had of course been trained in 'hard' sciences, and knew much
better than most of his followers, then and now, the canons of
sound methodological practice. (Whether or not we finally
decide that Freudian psychoanalysis is a genuine science, Freud

'9 Abraham, H., and Freud, E. (eds.) [1965], A Psychoanalytic Dialogue: the Letters of
Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham, 1907-1926 (New York: Basic Books); p. 142.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 129

undeniably and certainly knew what was required


one, and struggled to make it so.) However, core
dominating models and analogies are not solely bo
but just as importantly are bound to each other; t
of the dynamic unconscious helps determine what
of defence should be postulated, and what princ
repression, regression, condensation, distortion, d
reaction-formation, fixation, sublimation, overdet
serve to organize the dynamism. The theoretical s
awesomely impressive edifice, but must be one
extreme cases of underdetermination in the annals of science.
Hence we should not be worried by the apparent opposition of
Griinbaum and Sulloway. Freud did indeed regard 'the
evidence of the couch' as supplying the 'hardest' support for his
theories. Equally there was-as there should have been-
theoretical pressure from above. Some such pressure derives
from the metapsychology, e.g., from the dynamic, topographical,
and economic structure and the implications of that, or from the
'two fundamental hypotheses' of the 'Outline' (S.E. xxiii, p. 145:
that of the structured psychic apparatus extended in space; and
p. 158: that the psychical includes the unconscious). But
pressure comes not only from the metapsychology but also from
other parts of the background: the demands of consistency,
simplicity, explanatory scope, empirical adequacy, coherence,
coherence with other theories in the human sciences, biological
plausibility, etc., etc.-the core or fundamental principles, and
methodological demands, of the theory's trunk.
What then of Freud's comment that the 'speculative super-
structure ... can be abandoned or changed without loss' (S.E.
xx, p. 32), when contrasted with his description of it as 'the
consummation of psycho-analytic research' (S.E. xiv, p. 181)?
This becomes intelligible if we suppose that Freud realized the
underdetermination of the highly abstract theoretical claims by
the data from the couch. (This he undoubtedly did realize; see,
as one of many examples, S.E. xiv, pp. 78-9.) There is colossal
slack between most of the superstructure and the data-base.
Notwithstanding this realization, Freud was throughout his life
remarkably protective of the superstructure--he and he alone
was permitted to modify it-and would not have accepted
Wittgenstein's challenge: '[c]ouldn't the whole thing have been

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130 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

differently treated?'20 For the job of the 'superst


together, explain, and unify, the low level hyp
suggested by the clinical evidence; and Fre
frequently, consistently, so used it.
If however we consider 'the' superstructure to
ordinates of the dynamic, the topographical, a
thus broadly envisioned-rather than var
postulates within these co-ordinates, such as i
resistance and repression, the mechanisms of
Thanatos, etc.-then Freud could not possibl
them. Here his assertion that the metapsy
'abandoned without loss' is about as accurate to his own
methodology as was Newton's 'hypotheses non fingo'. Psycho-
therapy, and conjectures about the aetiology of psychological
disease, make no sense without the supposition that the
unconscious is dynamic. Some forms of unconscious dynamism
had long been around; Freud-unlike, say, Shakespeare or
Wordsworth, who were just as sure as was Freud that the
unconscious was dynamic, and that there was in all of us
'widespread unconscious motivation' (Kitcher, p. 114)-set out
to describe the nature of the dynamism. Topographical
('functional') descriptions of the mind had long been taken for
granted by neurologists; Freud is not here original. What
distinguishes him from his colleagues in neurology was that he
was-at least post-'Project'--less sanguine about the possibility
of finding neuroscientific ('structural') bases for his psychological
phenomena than were they for Broca's or Wernicke's aphasia,
or for prosopagnosia. The economic hypothesis too is not
dispensable. Writing about Freud's use of economic models,
Hart rightly claims:21

Such models are essential if we are to discern causal


structures in the mind. For the essence of causation
includes conservation, and conservation is of the essence o
an economic model. Without a causal structure, the mind

0 Wittgenstein, L. [1967 ], Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Relig


Belief, ed. C. Barrett (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press); p
21 Hart, W. D. [1982], 'Models of Repression', in R. Wollheim and J. Hopkins (ed
Philosophical Essays on Freud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press); p. 193.

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 131

should probably be denied to have a nature


mind had no nature, there would be precious
scientific psychology to discover.

None of these, then, was per se dispensable-any m


determinism in Newtonian physics; or psychologic
and the method of introspection, in Wundtian s
The articulation and description of the dynamic forces
of the topographical map, and the sort of stu
economized--these were the modifiable hypotheses
exact type of introspection to be deployed disting
at Leipzig from the Wuirzburg school.
To conclude this section let me offer an anachronistic
suggestion. Why not treat the core postulates of Freudi
theory, pro tem. anyway, instrumentalistically- accepti
Laplanche and Pontalis's description of 'a psychical appara
divided up into agencies' as a 'fiction'? Realist construals
psychoanalytic theory may be supported, at least to som
extent, in two ways. Either by solid, 'hard' data from the co
and from empirical studies (notwithstanding the fact that Fre
neglected the latter, and that all the evidence we have so far f
to give Freudian theory any more support than that enjoyed
Jungian, Kleinian, Adlerian, behavioural (etc.) theories).
they can be defended by neuroscientific underpinnings--
these are far away. I have suggested elsewhere22 that th
immensely successful apparatus of common sense psycholo
should largely be construed instrumentalistically, and s
should be clear that I have nothing against instrumentalism
psychology. Quite apart from that, though, much of science c
be seen to have developed by means of hypotheses that w
originally used and deployed without necessary commitment
the part of scientists either to their truth, or to the entities
which the theoretical terms referred. Much of it, also, s
sequently turned realist, as the theoretical entities were 'fou
by newer technology, or were supported by independent dat
Given the gross underdetermination of Freudian (and Jungia
Kleinian, Adlerian, behavioural ...) theory, should we

22 Wilkes, K. V. [1987], 'Describing the Child's Mind', inJ. Russell (ed.), Philosop
Perspectives on Developmental Psychology (Oxford: Basil Blackwell).

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132 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES
adopt the notion 'ifit works, don't muck it about'-even though
the question whether Freudian theory 'works', clinically, is
moot-and leave questions of realism and truth to await what
Freud believed to be essential: confirmation from neuroscience?23
III

Finally, where Freud's originality lies: Kitcher would like to


give Freud credit for being, so to speak, the godfather of 'the
complete interdisciplinary cognitive scien[ce]'; a forerunner of
'a tremendous change in the psychological Zeitgeist' which has
swept over North America at least, a change which has at last
got 'psychologists, philosophers of psychology, linguists, computer
scientists, neurophysiologists, anthropologists, and others... con-
verted to the view that progress in any of the "cognitive sciences"
can only be made by an interdisciplinary approach' (p. 102-3). Be-
longing to one of the benighted countries outside North America,
I shall conclude by putting this claim into some perspective.
If psychology gets to be equated with 'cognitive science', we
would be restricting ourselves savagely and unnecessarily. The
understanding of the unity of the study of living organisms
which was taken for granted by philosopher-psychologists
between Aristotle and Descartes would, slowly recovered, be
again in jeopardy. Descartes hived off the tip of conscious mental
processes from the rest of the iceberg of mentality; saddled us
with an allegedly homogeneous 'mind'; and set philosophy-
psychology off on a track from which Watson was not the first,
but was certainly one of the most conspicuous, tojump (perhaps
this is his main claim to credit). My fear is that the worship of
'cognitive science' is doing something strictly analogous. Just as
most interesting psychological phenomena aren't exclusively
conscious, so there is a vast amount that is not (by any reasonable

23 Strangely enough such a (temporary) instrumentalism might not be wholly alien to


Freud. In 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' we find him saying:
It may be asked whether and how far I am myself convinced of the truth of the
hypotheses that have been set out in these pages. My answer would be that I am
not convinced myself... Or, more precisely, that I do not know how far I believe
in them ... It is surely possible to throw oneself into a line of thought and to
follow it wherever it leads out of simple scientific curiosity, or, if the reader
prefers, as an advocatus diaboli.. . it is impossible to pursue an idea of this kind [the
regressive character of drives] except by repeatedly combining factual material
with what is purely speculative and thus diverging widely from empirical
observation (S.E. xviii, pp. 59-60).

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 133

reading of the term 'cognitive') cognitive in


Emotions; all the senses (including kinaesthesia); s
as pain; sensori-motor control-a broad field.
There is nothing wrong with 'cognitive scien
imperialist claim to the whole field of psycho
nothing wrong with 'the' computer model of the m
its claim to be 'the', and not 'a', model for ps
philosophical psychology has throughout its histo
post-Cartesian history-always been saddle
model. Hume's 'inner theatre'-which he at leas
of his associationist followers, knew was no more
analogy-was the dominant model until Ryle and W
Watson's model of the brain as a telephone exc
win allegiance outside North America. Now, t
psychology is asked to accept the computer as 'th
single models suggest specific methodologies a
restrict the field of study by ignoring what can't
Wundt inherited the theatre model of the min
spection as its associated method-and therefore w
not be introspected fell outside his 'New Scie
'V6lkerpsychologie'. If the computer invite
psychology with 'cognitive science', it will exert
restricting force.
Fortunately the working psychologists and n
have not bothered to scrutinize and respect st
philosophical psychology about what psychol
Wundt, as noted already, trained for sevente
physiologist--and then took a professorship in
department in (briefly Zurich and then) Leipz
physiology, and psychology, have from the v
bound in holy or, if you prefer, unholy, wedloc
hard against the pricks,24 others took the union

"2Most of the early German psychologists were, faut de mi


departments. This made some of them (e.g., Kfilpe) uneasy; b
persuade Kilpe that philosophy and psychology were concerned
same business. The philosophers started to protest actively in 1913,
Husserl) drafted a manifesto which 107 signed, to demand that n
psychologists be appointed to philosophy chairs. The divorce that th
between philosophy and psychology was emphatically not su
Fortunately psychology and physiology never divorced, no
separated.

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134 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

quietly got on with things. From this side of the


looks to me as though twentieth-century phi
suddenly woken up to what has been routine
decades and even centuries-routine business, at
those in laboratories and white coats.
Look briefly at a very few of the figures who have dominated
psychology and physiology in the last centuries. We find that
many, even most, took for granted the interaction of the
psychological and the physiological (think of all the work in
psychophysics); considered that perception, emotion, conscious-
ness, attention, and thinking itself presupposed movement
(either gross physical movement, such as reaching, handling,
turning the head, or muscular movements such as of the muscles
around the eye); argued for a 'muscle sense' concept (later to get
called kinaesthesia by the psychologists and proprioception by
the physiologists); studied questions to do with the localization
of psychological functioning; emphasized developmental issues;
filled out, and relied on, evolutionary theory. The list is a roll-
call of 'the great and the good'. George Berkeley (the 'New
Theory of Vision'); Etienne de Condillac; Herbert Spencer; Sir
Charles Bell; Thomas Brown; Rudolf Lotze; William Hamilton;
John Stuart Mill; Alexander Bain; Jacques Loeb; Johannes
Miiller; Hermann von Helmholtz; Gustav Fechner; Wilhelm
Wundt; Hermann Ebbinghaus; Thbodule Ribot; Georg Miiller;
William James and Carl Lange (cf. the James-Lange theory of
emotions); Jean Charcot; Hugo Miinsterberg; Edward Titchener;
Margaret Washburn; M. V. Lomsomov; Nicolay Lange; Ivan
Sechenov; Ivan Pavlov of course; James Baldwin; Jean Piaget;
Leon Festinger. Such a list is necessarily arbitrary, and I have
not even included the names of the dozens working primarily in
comparative psychology during this period. Some, like Pavlov,
are rather 'physiologists' than 'psychologists', but this simply
reinforces my point: it becomes boring and irrelevant to insist on
one rather than another label. The moral is that almost all the
great figures in the history ofpsychology would have taken for granted
'the view that progress in any of the "cognitive sciences" can
only be made by an interdisciplinary approach' (Kitcher, p.
102-3), even though they would have preferred to substitute
'psychology' for 'cognitive sciences'.
So what is new (apart from the fact that there are few recent

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 135

philosophers in the list above)? The computer; and


upsurge of philosophical interest. Not, certainl
'function', and 'structure'; such terminology, when
was commonplace long before Freud. I woul
'psychology and neuroscience should be aware of w
learned about computational processes from compu
subject to the qualification that they should equ
that it is so far mostly negative knowledge, about h
brain does not work (maybe PDP research will cha
But it is the philosophers who have converted.
must regard the change in the 'Zeitgeist'--whi
judgment a change in the philosophical, rath
psychological, Zeitgeist-with wry amusement.
professional duty of philosophers to synthesiz
picture, then we have been sleeping through m
century.
Indeed it is somewhat ironical to cite Freud as a patron or
forerunner of 'the complete interdisciplinary cognitive scien[ce]'.
For if Adler and Jung were right to dispute the centrality of the
sexual drive, 'cognitive science' errs in the other direction: not
nearly enough libido. Computer scientists attempt to model
certain highly cognitive and program-driven psychological
competences, but it is fair to say that models for 'sentience'
rather than 'sapience' are not even off the ground.25 If we want a
'complete interdisciplinary' psychology, then we had better
break away from computer-worship; and put computer model-
ling in its place as just one of the methodological tools in the
armoury of psychology. It is only one model, and it allows us to
see certain aspects of certain phenomena through it; but
different problems have different facets, and numerous models
will be required (just as they are in physics).
Furthermore, casting Freud as the patron saint of cognitive
science mis-places, in my opinion, his real contribution. Freud's

25 'Traditonal' computer modelling has of course weaknesses other than its failure to
come to grips with sentience, and some of these failures are significant, given what we
have said above about the role of the other behavioural and brain sciences: pattern-
recognition, and smooth 3-D movement, are very rudimentary, and computer
modelling has so far had nothing to contribute to developmental questions. Perhaps
PDP modelling will help with these-it is no accident, though, that PDP systems are
heavily biologically constrained.

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136 II-KATHLEEN V. WILKES

startling innovation, for which even his oppon


him due credit, was indeed a unification; bu
abnormal psychology with psychology more g
analysis is a part of the mental science of psyc
p. 282). He expanded the goal-directedness o
include the realm of the seemingly irration
breaking the hold on psychology of the 'conve
cation of the mental with the conscious', a hold
had resisted (Helmholtz and Herbart were
not only enlarged the domain of psycholo
plemented and enriched traditional psycholo
... it would be unjustifiable and inexped
breach in the unity of mental life for the s
up a definition, since it is clear in an
consciousness can only offer us an incompl
chain of phenomena. And it can scarcely
chance that it was not until the change had
the definition of the psychical that it beca
construct a comprehensive and coherent th
life (S.E. xxiii, p. 286).
Restricting psychology to the study of consci

... disrupts psychical continuities . . .


reproach that for no obvious reason it over
part played by consciousness, and tha
prematurely to abandon the field of psycho
without being able to offer us any compens
fields (S.E. xiv, p. 168).
To say, with Kitcher, that '[p]sychoanalyti
called for only when the determinant of an act
and unobserved' (p. 106) is thus somewhat m
all behaviour is the product of a complex meld
non-conscious determinants. This is indeed
currently fashionable talk of 'the holism of
propositional attitude ascriptions can be explai
a tacit background of other, conscious and
attitudes, thoughts, predispositions, moods, an
is important to bear in mind that the perfect
and characteristics of the human agent,

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FREUD'S METAPSYCHOLOGY 137

timidity, generosity, absent-mindedness, courageou


laziness, sociability, whatever, will (according
theory) need an explanation that reverts (inte
features of the high level theory: sublimation, fixation
repression--consider only his paper 'Charact
Erotism' (1908; S.E. ix, pp. 169-75), where the t
'orderly, parsimonious, and obstinate' is explain
character'. More generally, at several points Freud
saying that the repression of the libido is the univ
for all learning and rational progress. (Consider
S.E. xviii, p. 42, where Freud talks of 'the instinct
upon which is based all that is most preciou
civilization'.) Maybe so; far more likely, maybe
matter for our present purposes. My point is s
numerous places Freud extends his theory to cove
'normal' sorts of thing: humour, character-traits,
day-dreaming, forgettings-in short, 'the psych
everyday life'.
This is the unification which is Freud's most
challenging claim; bringing the irrational and
into a 'comprehensive and coherent theory of men
may not agree with the way the theory unite
abnormal. But even if not-what an idea.

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