Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



Total Pageviews

Monday, September 30, 2013

MORE FOR MAGPIE AND COMMENTS

My extended response to Magpie's questions about Marcuse has in turn prompted some interesting comments, including an extended and thoughtful comment by Howard Berman.  I should like, if I may, to take just a moment to say something about Marx and Freud, who were the subject of Magpie's original questions.  I shall be repeating things I said in my tutorials on the thought of Marx and of Freud, but I have found, to my astonishment [hem hem] that not everyone who visits this blog has read everything I have ever written [how can that be?] so a little repetition may not be superfluous.

Marx was, before all else, an economic historian and theorist.  That is what he devoted most of his mature years to, and that is the subject of more than five thousand pages of his published and unpublished writings, including all three volumes of Capital, the three volumes of Theories of Surplus Value, the Grundrisse, and A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.  Freud was a medical doctor, trained as a neurologist.  He spent his entire professional life, six hours or more each day, seeing patients.  His speculative writings, like Civilization and its Discontents, and his excursions into armchair analysis [of precisely the sort that his own theories said was impossible], such as Moses and Monotheism, are no more expressions of his most accomplished and professional work than The Holy Family is an expression of Marx at his most serious.

In trying to understand great thinkers like Marx and Freud, I find it useful to remind myself what they actually spent most of their time doing.  Both Marx and Freud have been hijacked by Literary Criticism -- I do not think that is too strong a word.  Neither of them would recognize himself in what has been written by those who claim to be their followers or to have been inspired by them.  Marcuse, despite giving very little evidence of familiarity with Economics, was, I think, actually being true to both thinkers in his efforts at a rapprochement between them.

Freud was, I repeat, trained as a neurologist, as a medical doctor.  His theory of the unconscious was an attempt to interpret observations made in the course of his treatment of patients.  To the end of his life, as his writings make clear, he assumed that there must be a neurological basis for everything he observed and theorized about, despite the fact that, as he well knew, medical science was not in his day advanced enough to provide more than the sketchiest anatomical and neurological grounding for what he called the Unconscious, the Libido, the Id, the Ego, the Superego, and so forth.  My own guess is that were he to return now and discover what could be done with brain scans and MRI's and CT scans and the rest, he would be thrilled and delighted.  The one thing he absolutely would not do is retreat into literary theory or ideological critique as a sanctuary protected from the latest advances of hard science.

One further point about Freud:  the focus of his medical practice was the treatment of what he called "neuroses."  He was well aware that there were many other psychological illnesses and presentations that did not fall into that category -- psychoses, psychopathologies, and so on.  He did not think his theories were the key to treating all mental illness -- only neuroses.  It is useful to keep that in mind.

3 comments:

Tsung-Yun said...

Very interesting post Prof. Wolff.

"Both Marx and Freud have been hijacked by Literary Criticism..."

I think that's okay as long as the the hijackers make new work that is both interesting and true.

"My own guess is that were [Freud] to return now and discover what could be done with brain scans and MRI's and CT scans and the rest, he would be thrilled and delighted. The one thing he absolutely would not do is retreat into literary theory or ideological critique as a sanctuary protected from the latest advances of hard science."

I find this comment to be puzzling. In an earlier post on the Sokal hoax and analytic philosophy of science, you affirmed a Kuhnian stance with regard to the social construction of scientific facts and the groundlessness of the positivistic conception of scientific progress. Here, you seem to be criticizing literary studies for refusing to accept neuroscientific progress. The achievements of cognitive neuroscience in the decades since Freud's death do not warrant a physically reductionist philosophy of mind, which seems to be what you're suggesting (please correct me if I'm wrong). Reductionism - e.g. identity theory or functionalism - is both dangerous and demonstrably false.

Doctor Singularis et Invincibilis said...

Yes. Marcuse took very seriously Das Unbehagen in der Kultur.

Unknown said...

Hi Professor. Howard again.
Two points, more for my educational benefit than anything else: first, my understanding is that Freud's main focus was the neuroses and dreams; but that these served as his microscope into the unconscious and the deep structure of the mind, which then guided by observation of everyday life, allowed him to generalize. eg the psychopathology of everyday life and Schreber and the future of an illusion.
Second, isn't it human nature to take a novel idea or tool and apply it to other undreamed of circumstances and contexts? eg psychoanalysis in literary theory, the internet, and the wheel or even fire?