Sigmund Freud: The Reluctant Philosopher

Alfred I. Tauber's new study contextualizes psychoanalysis within the history of Western philosophy

Leslie Chamberlain of the New Statesman reviews Alfred I. Tauber's Freud: The Reluctant Philosopher:
Alfred I Tauber's judgement, with which I wholeheartedly concur, is that Freud is the great architect of 20th-century moral sensibility. Tauber, a leading professor of philosophy and medicine in Boston, wants to rescue Freud from the narrow-minded scientism of the past few decades, "because he tapped in to the deepest sources of western identity and re-expressed its key tenets in terms that we might effectively apply to ourselves". Tauber's humanising mission could not come soon enough.

Freud's star began to wane in the 1970s when an emphasis on his poor science undermined the credibility of psychoanalysis. The almost graceful irony of the famed New Yorker jokes and the early Woody Allen films was eclipsed by a clunking rejection of Freud as a purveyor of nonsense, a fraud even.

Typically of a fuming new breed of academic thinker, Frederick C Crews, in his 1995 book The Memory Wars, blamed Freud for a corrupt therapeutic industry that persuaded adult patients to "remember" that they had been sexually abused by their parents. When the history of late-20th-century opposition to Freud is written, it will feature men like Crews, a former Freudian who felt betrayed and wanted science to compensate him. It will link also to the rise of neuroscience, to philosophers wanting to be cognitive scientists; and it will stress the perennial sexual anxiety generated by Freud's theory of the unconscious, which makes so many commentators angry. It may also stress that Freud was middle-class and from fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna, and that he conditionally defended a bourgeois world.

Tauber, however, sees him as a "reluctant philosopher" who updated for the 20th century the Enlightenment ideal of self-knowledge as the key to a happier life and better social relations. A timeless figure, in short. [Read more]

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