Popper's Fundamental Misdiagnosis of the Scientific Defects of Freudian Psychoanalysis

  • Adolf Grünbaum
Conference paper
Part of the Boston Studies in The Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 272)

The first impetus for my philosophical appraisal of Freudian psychoanalytic theory came from Popper's report that its edifice had played a pivotal role in his elevation of the empirical falsifiability of a hypothesis by potentially contrary evidence to be the linchpin of his entire philosophy of science, beginning with his anti-inductivist theory of demarcation (Popper 1974, p. 984). Indeed, for Popper, psychoanalysis avowedly served as the centerpiece for the purported superiority of his own falsifiability criterion of demarcation between science and non-(pseudo) science to the received inductivist standard for empirical theory-validation that originated three centuries earlier with Francis Bacon, a Baconian benchmark which Popper erroneously censured as being unacceptably permissive epistemologically.

True, Bacon had erred in supposing that, for any given set of observational data, there is only a finite set of alternative hypotheses, each of which might explain the known data. But he emphasized, long before Popper, that — other things being equal — negative instances have greater probative force than positive ones in validating theories, having scoffed at simple enumerative induction from positive instances as “puerile.” Thus, Bacon envisioned the inductive elimination of all but one of the supposedly finite number of alternative hypotheses, which would thereby be shown to be true.

But, as we know, there is always a potentially infinite set of alternative explanatory hypotheses, some of which working scientists may eliminate by means of refuting (disconfirming) instances, while other such hypotheses in the set survive, at least temporarily, as theoretical candidates for inductive acceptance. Therefore, in my 1984 book on The Foundations of Psychoanalysis, I advisedly denoted this epistemic vetting process by the locution “neo-Baconian eliminative induction,” which should not have occasioned any carping, although it did. The less so, since Bacon clearly disparaged hypothetico-deductive confirmationism, especially in the case of causal hypotheses, which are ubiquitous in the Freudian corpus.

Early in the twentieth century, Popper fallaciously inferred the non-falsifiability of Freudian and Adlerian psychology from his own declared inability to imagine logically possible contrary instances of human behavior. Moreover, he tried to

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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adolf Grünbaum
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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