October 30, 2015

Depth psychology as pseudoscience and nonscience

Note that I did not say 'Depth psychology AND pseudoscience."

The "as" is quite deliberate.

This is a critique of a comment by philosophy professor Dan Kaufman in defense of an essay by him on his new webzine, The Electric Agora. (Disclosure: I am a contributor there. And, I like a fair amount of Dan's ideas; I too am a Wittgensteinian, for example.) Here is the essay, and here is the particular comment, made in reference to someone else:
Robin: I am far more positive about depth psychology than you are, so once again, we are just going to have to disagree on this. Ditto regarding the efficacy of modern marketing and advertising techniques. You see no difference between these techniques and their effects and the methods of persuasion that institutions have been using for millennia, whereas I see — as Aldous Huxley and others did — an enormous and game-changing difference.
That original comment included this:
Freud’s theories were never useful at all in evidence based treatment of mental health, so I don’t see why I should accept that they were efficacious in mass psychology, especially as the field is just a continuation of something long established..
I then offered up this as part of my first in-depth comment:
First, on depth psychology? 
Really, Dan? You give that much credence to it? Freud was bad and Jung was worse. Both were unethical as part of that. Freud stopped pursuing what was actually behind many cases of “hysteria” when he discovered that what that was, was child sexual abuse in many cases, and came up with sexist “answers” instead. Jung slept repeatedly with one patient that we know of, invented New Agey myths, and was a huge Nazi sympathizer. (I cannot recommend strongly enough the bio, “The Aryan Christ,” about Jung.) James wasn’t quite as bad, but, as a rich white American of leisure, he was “self-allowed” to have what Freud would have labeled “hysteria” had it occurred in a young woman, and quasi-Jung, lent his name and credibility to spiritism, etc.
Again, I cannot recommend that book strongly enough, reviewed here by the New York Times. If you click the Amazon link in the blockquote, you'll also see how much Jungian cultists dislike it. And, yes, cultists, and yes, he was a Nazi sympathizer and all. 

From there, in this comment, Kaufman goes on to very favorably reference the three putative founders of depth psychology, one of whom, of course, is Freud:
1. Re: Depth psychology — as far as I am concerned, the crucial insights (which go, at least, as far back as Nietzsche), are absolutely spot on. That we vastly overestimate the extent to which we are conscious of our own reasons for acting; that we are far less rational than we like to think; that we are as much mysteries to ourselves as to others; that civilization is largely an exercise in combating our baser instincts; all of these things are not only true, but essential to a complete understanding of our nature.
Of course, the problems actually start in the body of the essay, along with multiple other problems, none of which Kaufman ever addressed from my main comment, but that's for another blog post.

In the essay body, Kaufman says:
For a liberal education to serve a countercultural role in today’s postindustrial world, it would require a radically different curriculum; one that emphasized late 19th century and 20th century arts and letters and particularly, those that serve demystifying, debunking, and unmasking functions: works by the likes of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, the later Wittgenstein, Foucault, Huxley, Orwell, etc.  
I cited that to explain his reference to Nietzsche.

First, Nietzsche was NOT a good psychologist or philosopher of psychology. He was a quasi-religious person, arguably, with the religion being the deification of one Friedrich Nietzsche, if anything, anticipating Jung.

Second, Marx was in no way a debunker, at least not an original one. Any debunking of religion, per his famous "opiate of the masses" bon mot, was stolen from Feuerbach. 

Third, the non-rational basis of much human thought, action and motivation goes back 150 years before Nietzsche, to the first philosopher to be a modern psychologist.

For the unaware, I'm talking of David Hume. His "A Treatise of Human Nature" explicates well HIS bon mot that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." With his empiricist emphasis on sense impressions and sensibilities derived from them, Hume believed that ethics in particular, and explanations of human motivation in general, cannot be rationally derived. Wikipedia tackles this in its explanation of Book 3: On Morals, and this piece does so even more concisely.


(Sidebar: This is why I disagree with Massimo Pigliucci that Western philosophy is but a set of footnotes to Plato. Good Stoic and other things that he is, he defends the idea in this piece at his latest blog site. But I digress.)

Dan defends the "value" of works by Jung and Freud. But, beyond dodging multiple issues (mainly related to Gilbert Ryle and differing interpretations of knowing-how vs knowing-that) from my longest main comment, Kaufman also dodges one related to those two and William James, the third founder of depth psychology, ignoring the non-psychologist Nietzsche.

And, that's noted in the headline here.

It's the pseudoscience or nonscience of them. Nonscience may be a word nouveau by me, but I'm using it for something slightly different than pseudoscience.

Jung and James were very arguably, from their own writings and reasonably extrapolation, both ontological dualists. One does not uncritically support psychic research (James) or believe oneself to be a reincarnated deity (Jung) without being, in the Western tradition, an ontological dualist.

The foundation principle of modern science is methodological naturalism.

Ergo, James and Jung are nonscientists.

James was not a practicing counselor in the way Jung was, so I cannot call him a pseudoscientist in presentations from case studies, etc.

I can, and do, call both Jung and Freud that, though.

Freud, of course, was simply wrong in reducing all our unconscious desires to sex. Related to that, and ironically, or something else, for Kaufman mentioning his name in a piece on ethics, he was also unethical, including professionally unethical to clients, by abandoning his research into so-called hysteria of many women when it started becoming clear that such research revealed the cause of such hysteria to often be child sexual abuse. Jung was pseudoscientific in him making specific New Age-type claims, many of them dualistically framed. And, he was professionally unethical by sleeping with at least one client.

I haven't thought about how much to dive into the numerous other issues I had with the essay, which go beyond even those posted in comments there and this blog piece.

Whatever Kaufman's depth of insight as a philosopher, it doesn't seemingly extend to the natural sciences.

Suffice it to say that I was surprised to read such in-depth (no pun intended originally, but I'll stick with it) defense of depth psychology. Maybe even stunned.

But, I realize that I won't persuade Dan, and he won't persuade me. That said, I did appreciate the exchange in that it gave me further insight into a couple of pieces by him on his previous blog.



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