From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
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science (science) Both Freud and Lacan use the term 'science' in the

singular, thus implying that there is a specific unified, homogeneous kind of

discourse that can be called 'scientific'. This discourse begins, according to

Lacan, in the seventeenth century (Ec, 857), with the inauguration of modern

physics (Ec, 855).

     Freud regarded science (Ger. Wissenschaft     - a term with markedly different

connotations in German) as one of civilisation's highest achievements, and

opposed it to the reactionary forces of RELIGION. Lacan's attitude to science is

 more ambiguous. On the one hand, he criticises modern science for ignoring

the Symbolic dimension of human existence and thus encouraging modern man

'to forget his subjectivity' (E, 70). He also compares modern science to a 'fully

Realised paranoia', in the sense that its totalising constructions resemble the

architecture of a delusion (Ec, 874).

     On the other hand, these criticisms are not levelled at science per se, but at

the positivist model of science. Lacan implies that positivism is actually a

deviation from 'true science', and his own model of science owes more to the

rationalism of KoyrÈ, Bachelard and Canguilhem than to empiricism. In other

words, for Lacan, what marks a discourse as scientific is a high degree of

mathematical formalisation. This is what lies behind Lacan's attempts to

formalise psychoanalytic theory in terms of various mathematical formulae

(see MATHEMATICS, ALGEBRA). These formulae also encapsulate a further

characteristic of scientific discourse (perhaps the most fundamental one in

Lacan's view), which is that it should be transmissible (Lacan, 1973a: 60).

     Lacan argues that science is characterised by a particular relationship to
 TRUTH. On the one hand, it attempts (illegitimately, thinks Lacan) to mono-

polise truth as its exclusive property (Ec, 79); and, on the other hand (as Lacan

later argues), science is in fact based on a foreclosure of the concept of truth as

 cause (Ec, 874).
     Science is also characterised by         a particular relationship tO KNOWLEDGE

(savoir), in that science is based on the exclusion of any access to knowledge

by recourse to intuition and thus forces all the search for knowledge to follow only the path of reason (Ec, 831). The modern subject is the 'subject of

science' in the sense that this exclusively rational route to knowledge is

now a common presupposition. In stating that psychoanalysis operates only

the subject of science (Ec, 858) Lacan is arguing that psychoanalysis is not

based on any appeal to an ineffable experience or flash of intuition, but on a

process of reasoned dialogue, even when reason confronts its limit in madness.

    Although the distinction between the human sciences and the natural sciences

had become quite well-established by the end of the nineteenth century (thanks

to the work of Dilthey), it does not figure in Freud's work. Lacan, on the other

hand, pays great attention to this distinction. However, rather than talking of the

'human sciences' (a term which Lacan dislikes intensely - see Ec, 859) and the

'natural sciences', Lacan prefers instead to talk of the 'conjectural sciences' (or

sciences of subjectivity) and the 'exact sciences'. Whereas the exact sciences

concern the field of phenomena in which there is no one who uses a signifier (S3,

186), the conjectural sciences are fundamentally different because they concern

beings who inhabit the Symbolic order. In 1965, however, Lacan problematises

the distinction between conjectural and exact sciences:

    The opposition between the exact sciences and the conjectural sciences can
    no longer be sustained from the moment when conjecture is susceptible to an
    exact calculation (probability) and when exactitude is based only              on  a
    formalism which separates axioms and laws of grouping symbols.
                                                                                                             (Ec, 863)
    Whereas in the last century physics provided a paradigm of exactitude for

the exact sciences which made the conjectural sciences seem sloppy by

comparison, the arrival on the scene of structural linguistics redressed the

imbalance by providing an equally exact paradigm for the conjectural scien-

ces. When Freud borrowed terms from other sciences, it was always from the

natural sciences (principally BIOLOGY, medicine and thermodynamics) because

these were the only sciences around in Freud's day that provided a model of

rigorous investigation and thought. Lacan differs from Freud by importing

concepts mainly from the 'sciences of subjectivity' (principally LINGUISTICS),

and by aligning psychoanalytic theory with these rather than with the natural

sciences. Lacan argues that this paradigm shift is in fact implicit in Freud's

own reformulations of the concepts that he borrowed from the natural sciences.

In other words, whenever Freud borrowed concepts from biology he reformu-

lated those concepts so radically that he created a totally new paradigm which

was quite alien to its biological origins. Thus, according to Lacan, Freud

anticipated the findings of modern structural linguists such as Saussure, and

his work can be better understood in the light of these linguistic concepts.

    Is psychoanalysis    a science? Freud      was quite explicit in affirming the

scientific status of psychoanalysis: 'While it was originally the name of a

particular therapeutic method,' he wrote in 1924, 'it has now also become

the name of a science - the science of unconscious mental processes' (Freud,

1925a: SE XX, 70). However, he also insisted on the unique character of

psychoanalysis that sets it apart from the other sciences; 'Every science is

based on observations and experiences arrived at through the medium of our

psychical apparatus. But since our science has as its subject that apparatus

itself, the analogy ends here' (Freud, 1940a: SE XXIII, 159).The question of

the status of psychoanalysis and its relationship with other disciplines is also

one to which Lacan devotes much attention. In his pre-war writings, psycho-

analysis is seen unreservedly in scientific terms (e.g. Lacan, 1936). However,

after 1950 Lacan's attitude to the question becomes much more complex.

    In 1953, he states that in the opposition science versus ART, psychoanalysis

can be located on the side of art, on condition that the term 'art' is understood

in the sense in which it was used in the Middle Ages, when the 'liberal arts'

included arithmetic, geometry, music and grammar (Lacan: 1953b: 224).

However, in the opposition science versus religion, Lacan follows Freud in

arguing that psychoanalysis has more in common with scientific discourse than

religious discourse: 'psychoanalysis is not a religion. It proceeds from the

same status as Science itself (Sl1, 265).

    If, as Lacan argues, a science is only constituted as such by isolating and

defming its particular object of enquiry (see Lacan, 1946, where he argues that

psychoanalysis has actually set psychology on a scientific footing by providing

it with a proper object of enquiry - the imago - Ec, 188), then, when in 1965

he isolates the objet petit a as the object of psychoanalysis, he is in effect

claiming a scientific status for psychoanalysis (Ec, 863).

    However, from this point on Lacan comes increasingly to question this view

of psychoanalysis as a science. In the same year he states that psychoanalysis

is not a science but a 'practice' (pratique) with a 'scientific vocation' (Ec,

863), though in the same year he also speaks of 'the psychoanalytic science'

(Ec, 876). By 1977 he has become more categorical:

    Psychoanalysis is not a science. It has no scientific status    - it merely waits
    and hopes for it. Psychoanalysis is a delusion  - a delusion which is expected
    to produce a science. .  . . It is a scientific delusion, but this doesn't mean that
    analytic practice will ever produce a science.
                       (Lacan, 1976-7; seminar of 11 January 1977; Ornicar?, 14: 4)
    However, even when Lacan makes such statements, he never abandons the

project of formalising psychoanalytic theory in linguistic and mathematical

terms. Indeed, the tension between the scientific formalism of the MATHEME and

the semantic profusion of lalangue constitutes one of the most interesting

features of Lacan's later work.