JOSEPH AGASSI'S REBUTTAL TO MY CRITIQUE OF POPPER
Adolf Grünbaum (California Institute of Technology and University of Pittsburgh) February 1, 1990 Dear Professor Eidlin:
I appreciate your invitation to publish the letters I wrote to Joseph Agassi, when he suggested to me that I reply to an essay of his occasioned by the appearance of my 1984 book The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophic Critique. The burden of his desultory, rambling essay was that my book had contained nothing new. Yet the book had quickly provoked a large literature from writers representing the entire spectrum of views on psychoanalysis. When Agassi's essay was rejected for publication by the journals to which he had submitted it, he decided to publish it in a volume of his own articles. Then he offered me the opportunity to reply in that same volume.
But I found his diatribe to be undisciplined, woefully undocumented and even personal. Thus, I saw no point in writing a retort and declined his offer. Since he persisted in pestering me to change my mind, it took several letters to convince him that I meant it. Hence my letters to him were not intended to respond substantively to his claims, and I did not even keep copies of them. By the same token, I do not think that their publication would materially advance the discussion of the issues, and therefore I won't avail myself of your otherwise welcome offer to make them public.
But I am concerned that our readers be aware of published work, ranging from 1976 through 1989, in which I have challenged in detail Popper's falsificationist conception of scientific rationality. It behooves me to outline their contents briefly with special attention to psychoanalysis, if only because I am satisfied to let them serve indirectly as my answer to Agassi.
Throughout his career, Popper has championed two cardinal theses concerning the psychoanalytic enterprise: 1) Logically, Freudian theory is irrefutable by any human behaviour, and 2) In the face of seemingly adverse evidence, psychoanalysts always dodged refutation by resorting to immunizing maneuvers. But if Popper were right in asserting that "Freud's theory...simply does not have potential falsifiers," why would it be necessary for Freudians to neutralize refutations by means of immunizing gambits? Popper's 1) and 2) seem incoherent. Conversely, 2) might be true even though 1) is false: After all, a theory may well be invalidated by known evidence, even as its true believers refuse to acknowledge this refutation. Besides, the failure of 2) to warrant 1) also emerges from Popper's own doctrine that theories, on the one hand, and the methodological conduct of their protagonists, on the other, "belong to two entirely different 'worlds'." Yet, he had offered psychoanalytic theory as the gravamen and benchmark of his case for the purported superiority of his own falsifiability criterion of demarcation over the received inductivist one.
In chapters 1 (B) and 11 of my Foundations, I had taken issue with both of Popper's principal tenets on psychoanalysis, although I had been more concerned with the first. As against his claim of superiority for his criterion of demarcation, I had argued for the following contention (Foundations, p. 280):
It is ironic that Popper should have pointed to psychoanalytic theory as a prime illustration of his thesis that inductively countenanced confirmations can easily be found for nearly every theory, if we look for them... it is precisely Freud's theory that furnished poignant evidence that Popper hascaricatured the inductivist tradition by his thesis of easy inductive confirmability of nearly every theory!
Within a few weeks after the appearance of my book, The New York Times of January 15, 1985 carried a lengthy news article on it by Daniel Goleman in its Science section. It included excerpts from my answers to questions about my judgement of Popper's account of psychoanalysis, which Goleman had put to me in an interview for his article.
Popper had not read my book. But when Goleman telemetered these excerpts to him, Popper gave him his written reaction to them under the title "Predicting overt behaviour versus predicting hidden states." By consent of Popper, Goleman and myself, the editor of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (hereafter "BBS") published that response as one of nearly 40 commentaries on Foundations in a review symposium (BBS vol.9, No. 2, June 1986). This symposium consists of (i) my chapter-by-chapter Précis of the book (pp. 217-228), (ii) 39 commentaries by as many authors, who include Frank Cioffi (pp. 228-266), and (iii) my "Author's Response" to all of them (pp. 266-281). In sections entitled "The falsifiability of psychoanalysis" (pp. 266-269), and "Experimental and 'quantitative' studies of psychoanalysis" (pp.269-270), I gave my reply to Popper's commentary.
Chapter II of his 1983 Postscript volume Realism and the Aim of Science is devoted to "Demarcation". It contains his first "published...detailed analysis of Freud's method of dealing with falsifying instances and critical suggestions" (p.164, n.1). But this Postscript volume had not yet been available to me, when I was completing the writing of Foundations. And my BBS "Author's Response" had to deal with his BBS commentary, not with his Postscript.
However, the 1989 appearance of a Festschrift for John Watkins, entitled Freedom and Rationality (ed. by D'Agostino and I.C. Jarvie), afforded me the opportunity of publishing a detailed critical scrutiny of Popper's Postscript chapter II, which I had presented in one of my 1985 Gifford Lectures at the Scottish University of St. Andrews. Entitled "The Degeneration of Popper's Theory of Demarcation," my contribution argues that Popper's most detailed account of psychoanalysis is multiply untenable. Besides, I exposed two other flaws that are unrelated to Freudian theory.
One looks in vain in Agassi's diatribe for a responsible attempt to come to grips with the painstaking arguments I offered against Popper's falsificationist philosophy of science in four interconnected papers that appeared in 1976: One of them was published in Essays in Memory of Imre Lakatos (vol. 39 of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science), and the other three appeared respectively in the March, June and December issues of vol. 27 of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Finally, it behooves me to supply some motivational context for the letters that Agassi wrote to me. My previously tenuous but untroubled personal contact with him went sour, when I chided him for publishing an altogether undocumented, irresponsible misrepresentation of the views that Carl Hempel had expressed - as part of a lecture attended by Agassi - concerning Thomas Kuhn's ideas. Agassi demanded that I retract my reproach to him with an apology. But I stood firm and challenged him to supply the missing documentation. As I knew from Professor Hempel, such documentation did not exist. And Hempel told Agassi so.
Thereupon, Agassi saw fit to send a written request to the Executive Committee of the American Philosophical Association. (Eastern Division), asking that I be formally censured for some of the content of my 1982 Presidential Address to the Association at its December meeting in Baltimore, MD. Ostensibly, his demand was prompted by his claim that I had displayed shockingly poor academic manners during my Address, when I characterized Habermas's and Gadamer's depictions of the natural sciences assmacking of stone-age physics. The Executive Committee of the Eastern Division of the APA then wrote to Agassi, informing him that it had considered his request for censure, but had "decided to take no action."
It would seem that his cumulative pique then inspired his lengthy attempt to establish that my Foundations contains nothing new. Try as he may, there will be no response from me beyond the present statement for your Newsletter.