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Wittgenstein Reads Freud:
The Myth of the Unconscious
Jacques Bouveresse
Translated by Carol Cosman
With a foreword by Vincent Descombes

Paperback | 1996 | $38.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691029047
168 pp. | 6 x 9
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Did Freud present a scientific hypothesis about the unconscious, as he always maintained and as many of his disciples keep repeating? This question has long prompted debates concerning the legitimacy and usefulness of psychoanalysis, and it is of utmost importance to Lacanian analysts, whose main project has been to stress Freud's scientific grounding. Here Jacques Bouveresse, a noted authority on Ludwig Wittgenstein, contributes to the debate by turning to this Austrian-born philosopher and contemporary of Freud for a candid assessment of the early issues surrounding psychoanalysis. Wittgenstein, who himself had delivered a devastating critique of traditional philosophy, sympathetically pondered Freud's claim to have produced a scientific theory in proposing a new model of the human psyche. What Wittgenstein recognized--and what Bouveresse so eloquently stresses for today's reader--is that psychoanalysis does not aim to produce a change limited to the intellect but rather seeks to provoke an authentic change of human attitudes. The beauty behind the theory of the unconscious for Wittgenstein is that it breaks away from scientific, causal explanations to offer new forms of thinking and speaking, or rather, a new mythology.

Offering a critical view of all the texts in which Wittgenstein mentions Freud, Bouveresse immerses us in the intellectual climate of Vienna in the early part of the twentieth century. Although we come to see why Wittgenstein did not view psychoanalysis as a science proper, we are nonetheless made to feel the philosopher's sense of wonder and respect for the cultural task Freud took on as he found new ways meaningfully to discuss human concerns. Intertwined in this story of Wittgenstein's grappling with the theory of the unconscious is the story of how he came to question the authority of science and of philosophy itself. While aiming primarily at the clarification of Wittgenstein's opinion of Freud, Bouveresse's book can be read as a challenge to the French psychoanalytic school of Lacan and as a provocative commentary on cultural authority.


"Wittgenstein is a severe critic of Freud's scientific claims, but he is not in the company of those who disparage his achievement. His remarks about Freud are scattered through his writing. Bouveresse has artfully brought them together to reveal a coherently ambivalent view of Freud."--Eugene Goodheart, Boston Book Review

"The grand Baroque architecture of Freud's thought still stands after Wittgenstein's, and Bouveresse's, peppering critique, but it no longer looks habitable."--Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle

"Bouveresse's perceptive and illuminating study of Wittgenstein on Freud ... is very welcome not just as an immensely readable account of two of the century's most important thinkers, but because it throws light also on the intellectual debate in France, where there has been a lively quarrel between psychoanalysis and philosophy."--A. C. Grayling, The London Financial Times

"In drawing together most of the remarks made by Wittgenstein on Freud, many of the relevant passages from Freud's work, and a good deal of quotation from the secondary literature on the subject, Bouveresse has performed a valuable service for Wittgenstein scholars."--Ray Monk, Nature

"This small book is a treasure for those of us who want to understand and better articulate our own ambivalent attitudes toward Freud."--Psychoanalytic Books


"`It will take a long time,' said Wittgenstein, `before we lose our subservience' to Freudian psychoanalysis. By casting the philosopher's scattered reflections into the form of a sustained and powerful critique, Jacques Bouveresse brings that day considerably nearer."--Frederick Crews

Table of Contents:

Ch. I Wittgenstein: Disciple of Freud? 3
Ch. II The Problem of the Reality of the Unconscious 22
Ch. III The "Generalizing Impulse" or the Philosopher in Spite of Himself 42
Ch. IV Reasons and Causes 69
Ch. V The Mechanics of the Mind 83
Ch. VI The "Principle of Insufficient Reason" and the Right to Nonsense 97
Ch. VII The "Message" of the Dream 109
Conclusion 122
Notes 127
Bibliography 133
Index 139


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Hardcover published in 1995

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