There has been a flood of comments on this blog [and a four or five fold increase in views, a result of Brian Leiter’s kind words and link]. I should like to respond calmly to just one, by LFC. Here is what he or she said:
“I think all I was trying to suggest -- and probably I didn't say it very well -- is that Wolff's Freudian take on Kavanaugh is theory-influenced (or theory-laden) speculation, and that's different from the people-watching analogies he used. Maybe "hazardous" was the wrong word. I just think it's different than common-sense inference.”
I don’t agree with that distinction. Let me explain why. All human beings, for as long as anyone can tell, have engaged in efforts to interpret the feelings, motives, and behavior of other human beings. These efforts, successful or not, all involve observation, memory, the forming of hypotheses, the checking of those hypotheses against new observations, the making of generalizations arising out of those efforts, and the remembering of past observations, hypotheses, and generalizations. Some people are astonishingly good at interpreting the feelings, motives, and behavior of others. Some are not so good at it.
In my opinion [and this is, I know, a matter of considerable debate among Philosophers of Science,] there is a continuum rather than a sharp dichotomy between what ordinary people do and what trained scientists do. And ordinary people of any period in history tend to incorporate into their explanatory efforts what they know about the scientific discoveries of previous periods. My examples of ordinary “people watching” were intended, perhaps unskillfully, to indicate that continuum.
In my interpretation of Kavanaugh’s testimony, I drew on my layman’s knowledge of psychoanalytic theory, derived principally from the quite limited and narrowly focused experiences of my own psychoanalysis. I also drew on my first-hand experiences with people and my [mostly] second-hand knowledge of American Catholic social milieus.
It might be useful here to tell once again a story from fifty years ago. One evening in New York, I attended a very chi-chi gathering of Upper West Side intellectuals at a meeting of something called The Theater for Ideas. The topic of the panel discussions was “The Hidden Philosophy of Psychoanalysis,” and one of the speakers was the famous psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim. [In the audience, by the way, were, among others, William Schuman, Susan Sontag, Sander Vanocur, and Norman Mailer. It was that sort of event.] After Bettelheim’s talk, feisty little neocon Sidney Hook got up and said, pugnaciously, “There is nothing new in what Freud said. Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare could do what Freud could do!” Bettelheim replied calmly, “That is true. Dostoyevsky could do what Freud did, and Shakespeare could do what Freud did. But Freud taught us to do it.”
Correctly or incorrectly, I was trying to do what Dostoyevsky did and what Shakespeare did, and what Austen and Dickens and Proust and countless other novelists have done, which is to make sense of a striking and extremely memorable public self-presentation.