Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Richardo Bernardi on the Need for Controversy in the Development of Psychoanalysis

"Scientific controversies are necessary, despite their difficulties. Some of the difficulties mentioned above probably crop up in all fields of knowledge. Other problems, which I will concentrate on here, are typical of debates between theories that, though they belong to a single discipline, diverge in their way of comprehending the particular discipline's methodological and epistemological criteria. This is frequently the case with psychoanalysis and with the social sciences. The possibility of true debates between members of different psychoanalytical cultures challenges psychoanalysis on two fronts. From the epistemological side, it tests the discipline's capacity to create a unitary field for argumentation when there are differences in premises. But, as the same time, this invites us to work on the psychoanalytic understanding of whatever unconscious factors encumber the dialogue.

When controversies erupt between psychoanalytic approaches differing in their premises, it becomes so difficult to circumscribe the discussion to particular theoretical or technical problems. Though not always explicitly, examining argumentative discourses reveals that what is being discussed, too, is each party's way of conceiving the rationality and scientific nature of psychoanalysis, that is, the type of scientific reasoning each party uses to substantiate its theoretical and technical postulates. For their part, the points where the discussion founders indicate problems the discipline cannot resolve because it has not been able to establish pertinent procedures acceptable to all parties.

Two situations of this kind deserve special notice. First, there is the difficulty of discerning the particular nature of each issue that could be included in the debate. Absent this, there is no way of identifying the most appropriate methodology for approaching each issue. For example, in the above-mentioned discussion on structuralism and Brentano's philosophy, for the debate to advance it would have been necessary first to specify the different levels of the problem, and then separate the purely philosophical debate from the consequences for psychoanalytical practice of particular philosophical ideas. This distinction would have also made it possible to take the discussion on to a terrain accessible to analytical experience. Let us mention a second example: if the discussion had considered the consequences of the two ways of conducting an analysis, it would then have been pertinent to debate the different methodologies that could be used to ascertain the results of analysis, thus broadening the scope of the discussion. Emphasising methodological problems imparts a particular direction to the debate, for it implies debating not so much what is known as how we get to know (Tuckett, 1998, p. ).

A second obstacle jeopardising progress in the controversies was how difficult it was for each party to include their premises and suppositions in the discussion. When each position locks itself into its suppositions, the situations of seeming incommensurability that I have analysed here are created. In this case, divergences at the epistemological level made it difficult to find common criteria for evaluating the quality of the argumentation. Even so—as we have seen—it is possible to create a shared argumentative field if people accept comparing the different positions on the basis of what each of them contributes in terms of theoretical intelligibility or clinical efficacy. More than a comparative confrontation of theoretical or clinical arguments piecemeal, what proves useful in these cases is a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of the way each position interweaves theoretical ideas with clinical practice.

At this juncture, we can see that reaching consensus is not the sole aim of controversies. Rather, we must manage them so that the different hypotheses interact and in so doing acquire better foundations. This is the way to further the development of the discipline. We might also expect that the effort of looking at the problem from different perspectives should lead to personal development. Debate can materialise only if there is the willingness to engage in it, that is, if desire and hope predominate, so that in the course of the discussion we find something we had not thought about previously, or at least not thought about in that way. If as analysts we lose the desire and hope of finding something new, perhaps—to avoid the consequences of professional burnout (Cooper, 1986)—the time for reanalysis has arrived.

Controversies demand a particular intellectual and emotional effort, connected to the acceptance of the other as different. The reward we can expect from such effort does not reside exclusively in a reduction of disagreements; indeed, controversies are also good for developing better substantiated theories, encouraging more careful examination of our clinical evidence and reminding us that there always are alternate hypotheses, whose careful consideration can both lead us to strengthen our previous convictions or see the need to revise and modify them, in both cases carrying us forward in the search for new ideas."
(pp. 869 - 870).

Ricardo Bernardi (2002). The Need for True Controversies in Psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Vol. 83, pp. 851-873

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