The most persistent attempt to counter this widespread disillusionment is to argue that Freud's claims to the scientific status of his theories stemmed from what Paul Ricoeur has called his "scientistic self-misunderstanding," and that psychoanalysis should therefore be understood not as an empirical science but simply as a hermeneutic, a method of interpretation. But such a tactic has to accept (as does Ricoeur) the fact that because "psychoanalysis is itself a work of speech with the patient," then the most it needs to produce is a narrative that the patient finds acceptable, whether it is accurate or not. The hermeneutic rescue of psychoanalysis, in other words, denies Freud his claim to have discovered the causes of human behavior and settles for meanings "discovered" by the analyst: in the attempt to rescue psychoanalysis as a therapy, it destroys it as a general theory of human behavior. The fact is, if psychoanalysis is to provide a reliable paradigm for understanding human behavior--especially premodern behavior, and all the more the behavior of characters created by premodern writers--then it must not be denied its claim to scientific truth. As Freud himself said, "I have always felt it as a gross injustice that people have refused to treat psycho-analysis like any other science."


Lee Patterson, “Chaucer’s Pardoner on the Couch: Psyche and Clio in Medieval Literary Studies” (Speculum 76 [2001]), p.641)


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Yet, for all that, it also seems to me clear that, at his best, Freud is a deep explorer of the human condition, working in a tradition which goes back to Sophocles and which extends through Plato, Saint Augustine and Shakespeare to Proust and Nietzsche. What holds this tradition together is its insistence that there are significant meanings for human well-being which are obscured from immediate awareness. Sophoclean tragedy locates another realm of meaning in a divine world that humans can at most glimpse through oracles. In misunderstanding these strange meanings, humans usher in catastrophe.

Freud's achievement, from this perspective, is to locate these meanings fully inside the human world. Humans make meaning, for themselves and for others, of which they have no direct or immediate awareness. People make more meaning than they know what to do with. This is what Freud meant by the unconscious. And whatever valid criticisms can be aimed at him or at the psychoanalytic profession, it is nevertheless true that psychoanalysis is the most sustained and successful attempt to make these obscure meanings intelligible.


Jonathan Lear, “A Counterblast in the War on Freud:The Shrink Is In,The New Republic, December 25, 1995