Disciple of Freud?

Authored by: Edward Harcourt

The Routledge International Handbook of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367276454
eBook ISBN: 9780429297076
Adobe ISBN:


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Wittgenstein’s post-1929 writings and, in particular his lectures, contain a number of discussions of psychoanalysis. But Wittgenstein’s attitude to psychoanalysis (which in practice means his attitude to Freud) is hard to pin down: he describes himself as a ‘disciple of Freud’, but he also condemns Freud’s followers for leaving ‘an abominable mess’. Is it possible cleanly to subtract what Wittgenstein criticized in Freud from what he admired? Some readers of Wittgenstein have thought so, extracting a purified version of Freud whose most salient feature is that psychoanalysis should be seen as an interpretative rather than a scientific enterprise, offering ‘reasons’ for human thought and behaviour rather than ‘causes’. Thus Wittgenstein’s positive and negative attitudes to psychoanalysis are shared out neatly between Freud’s bad theoretical account of what he was doing and his good first-order insights into the human mind. But is Wittgenstein’s view of Freud that straightforward? And if it is, is the resulting view really an ‘extraordinary … achievement’, or is Freud brought so far down to earth that what we are left with is just common sense? This chapter examines Wittgenstein’s discussions of Freud, focusing especially on the explanation of dreams and jokes, and on the comparison between psychoanalysis and Wittgenstein’s own method in philosophy. It concludes that both psychoanalysis and Wittgenstein’s attitude to it are more complicated than the purified version allows. But it is also suggested that Wittgenstein’s ‘Freudianism’ goes beyond anything that finds expression in his strictly philosophical writings.

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