Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 223–238 | Cite as

Psychotherapy as Science or Knack? A Critique of the Hermeneutic Defense

  • M. Andrew Holowchak


Psychoanalysis, in Freud’s day and our own, has met with and continues to meet with staunch opposition from critics. The most ruinous criticism comes from philosophers, with a special interest in science, who claim psychoanalysis does not measure up to the above-board canons of acceptable scientific practices and, thus, is not scientific. It is common today to direct such criticisms to all metempirical forms of psychotherapy—i.e., psychotherapies that in no way concern themselves with grounding their claims with empirical research. The most common defense is to cold-shoulder the criticism and counter that psychoanalysis, whether or not Freud recognized it, is a hermeneutical, not an etiological, method of therapy. In that regard, its measure of success is not symptom-removal or redirection of drive-energy in socially condoned or acceptable ways, but broadened understanding through a commonly created myth, effected by therapist and patient, for the patient’s wellbeing. In this undertaking, I argue that the hermeneutical apologia of psychoanalysis is a dodge, not a defense—an impenetrable asylum in which therapists can find refuge by buffering themselves from the possibility of criticism of the scientificity of their discipline. Because hermeneuticism disavows the possibility of knowledge in any meaningful sense—and, with that, scientific knowledge gained through observation or experimentation—it levels the epistemological playing field. With knowledge impossible and science annulled, no “investigative” inquiry or discipline can claim a status superior to any other and, hence, psychotherapy is an investigative discipline as legitimate as any other. The literature on the hermeneutic defence of psychotherapy is vast—too vast for anything but a representative sample of it in this critique. I focus merely on some of the most recent literature.


Freud Hermeneutics Psychoanalysis Psychotherapy Subjectivity 



I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers of JGPS for helpful comments that improved this piece.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LawrencevilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyRider UniversityLindenwoldUSA

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