Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kant and the Freudian Unconscious

Then it struck him that some reckless murderous power was drawing him on, forcing him, while he yet remained passionately aware of the all too possible consequences and somehow as innocently unconscious, to do without precaution or conscience what he would never be able to undo or gainsay[1]
--Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano--

Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason points us in the direction of pure thought through synthesis. As Kant did not have the luxury, or present-at-hand
[2] of psychoanalytic metapsychology, he saw no place for the unconscious in his epistemic system. Freud’s unconscious might very well have something to tell us about Kant’s Critique; drawing attention not only to the dissimilarities, but similarities between the two.

Noumenon refers to the thing in itself, that which cannot be known through reason alone. In the Freudian dynamic the unconscious plays a similar role or function; it is that part of the psychic life which can only be known through symptomology or interpretation (the interpretive act following the symptomatic, i.e. the reconstruction or translation of unconscious images, rebus and so forth into conscious thought). Outside of these, interpretation and symptom, the unconscious is unknowable. As with Freud the Kantian noumenon cannot be apprehended through pure reason, and as such cannot be put into words (as risky as this may sound, words cannot be attributed to an objectless thing, for to do so would be to give the objectless thing objectivity, thereby changing the thing in itself to a knowable or identifiable thing, which the noumenon clearly is not). Both the Freudian and Kantian systems are linguistically constrained; they cannot be spoken of outside of their reference or representation. In one of Samuel Beckett’s lesser known novels, The Unnamable
[3], the third in the trilogy Malloy and Malone Dies, the protagonist speaks in a disjointed monologue from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. As the narrator is indeterminate (unknown or with out ‘name’) he is unknowable. In this manner Freud’s unconscious and Kant’s noumenon are unnamable, they are things in themselves, and as such known only through their representation or translation. Unlike the unconscious the noumenon is not a symptom of a hidden or repressed wish, image, memory etc., but rather that which we cannot have direct knowledge or awareness of. In showing the difference between the two, the unconscious and the noumenon, we are drawn closer to their similarities. As suggested earlier, I will attempt to show the similarities between Freud’s unconscious and Kant’s noumenon, and in so doing endeavor to place the unconscious within Kant’s epistemic system.

It is known that Freud read Kant, although to what extent and how much Kant influenced his work is not well documented. In On Metapsychology Freud refers to Kant’s categorical imperative in discussing the influence of the super ego on the formation of the ego and the Oedipal Complex,

The super-ego retained essential features of the introjected person [parents] – their strength, their severity, their inclination to supervise and punish. As I have shown elsewhere, it is easily conceivable that, thanks to the defusion of instinct which occurs along with this introduction into the ego, the severity was increased. The super-ego---the conscious at work in the ego---may then become harsh, cruel and inexorable against the ego which is in its charge. Kant’s Categorical Imperative is thus the direct heir of the Oedipus Complex.

Kant’s categorical imperative and Freud’s ego states, principally the Oedipal Complex, share certain similarities: Freud’s notion of the unconscious as a storehouse of repressed memories, accessible through free-association and interpretation, and Kant’s noumenon, or thing in itself, cannot be known outside their appearance or representation (even as inner sensibility). Both noumenon and the unconscious are atemporal, a priori in the Kantian system and timeless, referring to the now or moment of interpretation, in the Freudian dynamic, they are lacking in spatiality. A memory, be it conscious or interpreted, has no spatial form; it is always in the present, the now. Noumenon, thing in itself, follows the same rule, albeit without the requirement of interpretation as in the psychodynamic method.

In the Transcendental Logic, (Phenomena and Noumena), Kant posits the difference between phenomena and noumena,

Appearances, insofar as they are thought as objects according to the unity of the categories, are called phenomena. But if I assume things that are objects merely of the understanding and that, as such, can nonetheless be given to an intuition---even if not sensible intuition (but hence coram intuitu intellectuali)---then such things would be called noumena (intelligibilia).

Kant here divides the world into a world of sense and a world of understanding (mundus sensibilis et intelligibilis). The world of sense requires the concepts for understanding; the noumenal world does not, as noumenal objects are objects of the understanding, and as such non-spatial. Phenomena are bound by temporal and spatial coordinates; the noumenal are atemporal (though they are of inner sense, and time, as Kant says, is a priori) as they have no external object of reference or presentation. In the Freudian dynamic we have experiential phenomena, felt and experienced in time and space, and non-spatial phenomena, unconscious and preconscious. An unconscious thought or memory is accessible first to preconscious, then through interpretation conscious thought. The original event or happening occurs in the sensible world, the unconscious thought and or memory, like the noumenal world, is atemporal and subject to the vicissitudes of repression, displacement and interpretation; it has no spatial determination.

In his book On Metapsychology Freud explains the unconscious and how it is arrived at,

How are we to arrive at a knowledge of the unconscious? It is of course only as something conscious that we know it, after it has undergone transformations or translation into something conscious…[we] can go further and argue, in support of there being an unconscious psychical state, that at any give moment consciousness includes only a small content, so that the greater part of what we call conscious knowledge must in any case be for very considerable periods of time in a state of latency, that is to say, of being psychically unconscious. When all our latent memories are taken into consideration it becomes totally incomprehensible how the existence of the unconscious can be denied.

Here Freud shows us that much of what we take to be conscious, in the now, might very well have been latent or stored in the unconscious before reaching conscious thought. In this way the conscious and the unconscious are found together; the repressed or latent memory finding its way into consciousness through an act of cognition. Noumenon, or thing in itself is a priori, and as such an interior or rule-governed synthesis. Time does not exist (or is apprehensible) in the world of phenomena, but is attributed to phenomena through synthesis. Freud’s unconscious is timeless, a interior process or cognizant; the contents of the unconscious are situated in the present, the moment of explication or translation. In this manner Kant’s noumenon and Freud’s unconscious are indeterminate. As we cannot have direct knowledge of the indeterminate, this is true for both Kant’s noumenon and Freud’s unconscious, it stands to reason (though reason has little to do with it) that things, objects, memories and phenomena are unknowable as things in themselves (unless divine nature is attributed to the thing in itself).

The senses, according to Kant, present things to us as they appear in the world of senses; the noumenon in the world of the intellect. The following quote outlines the possibility of an intelligible nonsensible world,

For if the senses present something to us merely as it appears, then surely this something must also in itself be a thing, and an object of a nonsensible intuition, i.e. an object of understanding, That is, a cognition must then be possible in which no sensibility is to be found, and which alone has reality that is objective absolutely---i.e., a cognition whereby objects are presented to us as they are while being cognized in our understanding’s empirical use only as they appear. Hence there would be, besides the empirical use of the categories (which is limited to sensible conditions), also a pure and yet objectively valid use of them; and we could not assert what we have alleged thus far, viz., that our pure cognitions of understanding are nothing more at all than principles of the exposition of appearance which even a priori deal with no more than the formal possibility of experience. For a wholly different realm would here lie open before us; a world, as it were, thought (perhaps even intuited) in the intellect---a world that could engage our pure understanding not less, but indeed much more nobly.

The noble intellect, or in the Freudian dynamic the super-ego; the origin of moral and ethical prohibition and acquiescence. Once the super-ego is interiorized (parental rules, societal laws and so forth) the ego is forced to obey the super-ego’s commands lest it be subject to neurosis and ego-dissolution. For Kant the thing in itself, noumenon, serves a similar portend, it allows for the Categorical Imperative in his moral system. Kant’s moral system is not based on sensible things, empirical phenomena, but on the noumenal. Again we can see the similarities between Freud’s super-ego and Kant’s noumenon; both are nonsensible yet objectively valid in the Kantian sense (see quote above). The difference between pure understanding and sensible intuition, arrived at or synthesized through the categories, seems to lie in the intellect’s ability to exteriorize an interior object of cognition, the thing in itself. That which is presented to pure understanding, though not an outer appearance, seems to have an empirical objectivity or exposition of appearance. As with Freud’s inner-world of the psyche, projection, transference, etc., Kant’s pure understanding can be exteriorized, “…an object of a nonsensible intuition”.

In his paper Kant and Freud
[9] Andrew Brook discusses the similarities between Kant’s philosophical system and Freud’s psychoanalytic method, underlining the tripartite model in Kant’s epistemology and Freudian psychodynamics. Brook compares Kant’s noumenon with Freud’s unconscious, drawing our attention to Kant’s influence on Freud’s model of the unconscious.

Earlier we said that, for Kant, all we can be directly aware of are states of our own mind, what he called phenomena. What about everything else? Indeed, is there anything else? For Kant there is. He called it the ‘ding an sich’ or the noumenal. ‘Noumenal’ just means ‘unknowable’. Kant held that we cannot know things as there are, just things as they appear to us. Unknowable ‘ding an sich’ underlie two vital aspects of mind. The source of our intuitions, intuitions both of inner sense (of our own psyche and soma) and of outer sense (of the external world), are unknowable. And the mind as it is, the thing that works intuitions up into experiences, is also unknowable. We know of the mind only as it appears to us in inner sense, not as it is. Thus, both the source of intuitions and actual nature of the apparatus that works them up into conscious experiences must remain forever beyond experience (in Freud’s terms, unconscious). Though they produce experience, they can never themselves be experienced. (According to Beck, Herbart held the same view (Beck 1967a, p 305).) This view of Kant’s made a profound impression on Freud.

As with Freud Kant held that we cannot know things as they are, only as they appear to us, including knowledge of oneself. Outer and inner sense is known through appearance and representation. In this way we cannot have direct knowledge of our inner self, our mind, or the apparatus’ of reason and thought. In Freud unconscious content is unknowable outside of its interpretation; for Kant the noumenal is unknowable, it is insensible. According to Kant the noumenal is the source of the contents of inner sense and outer sense, inner sense being our awareness of our own psyche and soma.
[11] Freud did not share Kant’s view about awareness of our inner world, however he did agree with Kant’s idea about a noumenal outer world, or noumenal unconscious, and the limits of knowability. In this manner Kant held the view that the sources of inner sense are as vague to consciousness as are the sources of outer sense. Kant argued that both the internal and the external world as they are in themselves are unknowable, all we can have is awareness of how they appear to us. Kant and Freud both agreed that we cannot know the psyche, or inner world as it really is. If all we can know are representations of ‘things’ or appearances, then direct knowledge of oneself (the inner world) is impossible.

Kant believed that the source of both empirical self-consciousness and consciousness of oneself and one’s inner sense belong to inner sense (time and space being inner). We do not have direct awareness or knowledge of inner sense, or self, but rather consciousness of what we do or the synthesis that gives way to thought. The self, if known at all, is known through the action of thinking, not thought itself. The noumenal, or thing in itself, much like the unconscious is not directly known. As suggested earlier, if all we have knowledge of is appearance and representation, then the ‘self’, too, is known indirectly. It appears that for Kant the action or office of thinking is all we have awareness of; we have no direct knowledge of the mind. Much like Freud’s notion of the unconscious, inner sense or awareness of oneself is known through its operation, not as it is in itself. I have access to the unconscious, not directly, but through symptoms and behaviour which are then interpreted and given meaning or sense.

Let us take a look at Kant’s notion of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ noumenon. As the noumenal is neither spatial or temporal, timeless in the Freudian sense, it cannot be known through the categories. Kant says,

If by abstracting from our way of intuiting a thing, we mean by noumenon a thing insofar as it is not an object of our sensible intuition, then this is a noumenon in the negative meaning of the term. But if by noumenon we mean an object of nonsensible intuition and hence assume a special kind of intuition, viz., an intellectual one---which, however, is not ours and into the possibility of which we also have no insight---then that would be the noumenon in the positive meaning of the term.

Kant continues with the following,

Now the doctrine of sensibility is simultaneously the doctrine of noumenon in the negative meaning of the term, i.e., it is the doctrine of things that the understanding must think without this reference to our kind of intuition, and hence must think not merely as appearances but as things in themselves. But the understanding, in thus separating {things from our intuition}, simultaneously comprehends that in considering them in this way it cannot make any use of the categories. For the categories have significance only in reference to the unity of intuitions in space and time; and hence, by the same token, they can a priori determine this same unity though universal combination concepts only because space and time are merely ideal. Where this unity of time cannot be found, and hence in the case of the noumenon, there the entire use of the categories---indeed, even all their signification---cease completely, because we then have no insight even into the possibility of the things that are to correspond to the categories…

In order to have intuition of the noumenal Kant proposes an ‘intellectual intuition’ which “lies absolutely outside our cognitive powers”.
[14] This is interesting, in that we can only know things as appearances, yet noumenon, which cannot be known through the categories is known through an ‘intellectual intuition’. In this manner one might suggest that the noumenon, like the unconscious, if known at all, is know through its action on the mind, not as a determinate thing, but as a pure inner sensibility. And if, indeed, it is a pure sensibility (reason), then it can never be discounted or verified. Also, Kant proposes that “…the doctrine of sensibility is simultaneously the doctrine of noumenon in the negative meaning…”[15] suggesting that ‘all’ understanding has an underling or simultaneous ‘noumenal’ meaning or conscription. In this we might recognize a similarity with the Freudian unconscious. But let us first look at what Strawson (The Bounds of Sense, 1966) has to say about noumenon and the antimonies,

What Kant in effect suggests, in offering a new kind of solution for these antimonies, is that reason is looking for its quarry in the wrong place. Behind this suggestion there lies once more the transcendental idealist doctrine that things in space and time are only appearances. But a quite different aspect of this doctrine is now to the fore: not simply the fact that things in space and time are mere appearances but the fact that, as appearances, they must have a noumenal ground.

Now what Freud says about the nature of the unconscious in relation to the preconscious Pcs

It would nevertheless be wrong to imagine that the Ucs. remains at rest while the whole work of the mind is performed by the Pcs. ---that the Ucs. is something finished with, a vestigial organ, a residuum from the process of development. It is wrong also to suppose that communication between the two systems is confined to the act of repression, with the Pcs. casting everything that seems disturbing to it into the abyss of the Ucs. On the contrary, the Ucs. is alive and capable of development and maintains a number of other relations with the Pcs., among them that of co-operation. In brief, it must be said that the Ucs. is continued into what we know as derivatives, that it is accessible to the impressions of life, that it constantly influences the Pcs., and is even, for its part, subjected to influences from the Pcs.

Herein perhaps the unconscious and the noumenal play similar roles; both effect and are somehow conjoined with thought and affectation: for Freud in the preconscious and conscious, and for Kant in appearance and reason. If we accept that the unconscious, though unknowable in itself, is at play in preconscious and conscious thought, effecting how we see, perceive and engage with the outer world, and that Kant’s noumenon, though unknowable as the thing in itself, is found in all cognitive action, the similarities between the two appears likely if not at altogether possible.

Freud believed that the unconscious effects all we do; it runs behind or beneath thought and behaviour. In a way the unconscious brings to light, through interpretation, the inner workings of the mind or psyche. It anchors that which we feel, through symptomology and behaviour (be they neurotic or simply unwanted), yet have no conscious apprehension of. In Kant perhaps the noumenal plays a similar, albeit intellectual role; anchoring appearance as the thing in itself. Although we cannot have direct knowledge of the noumenal, it does have its place in how we understand and engage in the outer world of sensibility. In this manner the outer and inner appear to be sequential or simultaneous.

Now had Freud preceded Kant, and assuming that Kant would have read Freud (let us attributed to Freud the importance that was, and is attributed to Kant), how might Kant’s system have looked? If we place the unconscious in the noumenal and ascribe to it a formal condition, say a storehouse of information, allowing for the unknown to be known by way of preconscious and conscious activity, how might our understanding of the outer and inner change? In this manner, and taking into consideration the image-laden or memory-based content of the unconscious, conscious activity, or awareness, might very well be the result of the unity of past images and thoughts (memory) and immediate apprehension or sensibility.

Now if we accept that unconscious activity is unknowable, in the sense that we are not aware of ‘it’ or how it impacts or effects consciousness, but rather have feelings or symptoms, desirable or unwanted, manifest in our thoughts and behaviour, how would we know (or be aware of) which was a conscious sensibility and which an unconscious sensibility? I suppose we could interpret behaviour and or symptoms and come to a fitting or suitable presentation or understanding (why I’m frightened by the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, looking back on the fear or trauma I might have experienced on first seeing the movie, the repression of that fear and trauma, and its continued effect on my current behaviour, fear of flying monkeys). Or we might claim that we can never, for certain, know if what I am having or experiencing is a purely conscious or immediate thought or one influenced by the unconscious. If we accept the latter, then we must, in toto, accept the likelihood of the existence of the unconscious.

I am not suggesting that Kant’s noumenon and Freud’s unconscious function in exactly the same way, but rather that they share similar attributes. Both, as we have seen, are unknowable, as in the ‘thing in itself’, neither are based on appearance, the outer sensible world, yet both have an inner sensibility that somehow expresses an outer sensibility. Our awareness of self, the ‘I’, is only an awareness of the appearance of the self as understood in conjunction with the outer world of appearances; we never have an understanding of the self as thing in itself, the Cartesian ‘I’. Freud believed that much of what we do and think is in someway effected by the unconscious. It is not until a problem arises, an unwanted feeling, behaviour or thought, that we feel the need to know the unknowable; and in coming to ‘see’ what is behind how we feel, think and behave, are better equipped to deal with the immediate world of appearances and sensibilities.

The unconscious---in the purely psychoanalytic sense---would create a rift or disunity in Kant’s system; the unconscious not fitting well into a transcendental philosophical system. It would be difficult, if not altogether impossible to synthesizing the unconscious into a unified model of perception and or understanding. As the unconscious is know only through interpretation, the possibility of differing or competing interpretations is likely. Kant’s system would not condone such disunity, finding the plasticity of the unconscious a wrench in a unified concept of understanding.

In conclusion we might say, yes, there are apparent similarities between Kant’s noumenon and Freud’s unconscious; however, as Kant was not interested in a psychological rendering or commission of the understanding, Freud’s unconscious, though of interest to those who find philosophical or analytic pedagogy unsatisfying, does not satisfy a purely critical method of philosophical investigation. The following quote from Freud’s Instincts And Their Vicissitudes seems a fitting way to conclude this paper.

We have often heard it maintained that science should be built up on clear and sharply defined basic concepts. In actual face no science, not even the most exact, begins with such definitions. The true beginning of scientific activity consists rather in describing phenomena and then in proceeding to group, classify and correlate them. Even at the stage of description it is not possible to avoid applying certain abstract ideas to the material in hand, ideas derived from somewhere or other but certainly not from the new observations alone. Such ideas---which will later become the basic concepts of the sciences---are still more indispensible as the material is further worked over. They must at first process some degree of indefiniteness; there can be no question of any clear delimitation of their content. So long as they remain in this condition, we come to an understanding about their meaning by making repeated references to the material of observation from which they appear to have been derived, but upon which, in fact, they have been imposed.

[1] Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1965, p.348
2 Heidegger’s concept of ‘present-at-hand’, merely looking at or observing something, concerned only with the bare facts of a thing or a concept, as they are present and in order to theorize about.
3 Samuel Beckett, Three novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The unnamable, New York, Grove Press, 1965
4 Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p.422
[5] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996 p.312
[6] Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p.p. 167-68
[7] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996 p.313
[8] Ibid, p.313
[9] Andrew Brook, Kant and Freud, In M. Cheung and Colin Feltman, eds. Psychoanalytic knowledge. Palgrave Publishers Ltd. (Macmillan), 2003
[10] Ibid, p.14
[11] Ibid, p.15
[12] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996 p.317
[13] Ibid, p.317
[14] Ibid, p.318
[15] Ibid, p.318
[16] P.F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense, London: Methuen, 1966, p.211
[17] The preconscious (das Vorbewusste), contents of the mind accessible to consciousness but not in awareness at the moment; i.e., what is descriptively unconscious but not blocked from access by repression or other psychological defenses.
[18] Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 194
[19] Ibid 1991, p.113

Monday, January 05, 2009

Historical Narrative and Psychoanalytic Narrative

"'History,' Stephen said, 'is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."
James Joyce, Ulysses

Joyce takes his readers on a peregrination through Dublin, leaving the reader with a premonition of the never ending proselytism that is history. Like lambs to the slaughter, condemned to revisit the Nietzschean nightmare that started it all, those who see history as a factual account of events, live their lives in fear of repeating that which came before. Whether we understand history as that which has passed or that which is yet to come, we all have some stake in how and when history unfolds. Like Stephen Dedalus, our fears outweigh our feeling that we can outsmart history, awakening from the unfolding of that for which there is no mimesis. If we accept historical knowledge as ‘the truth’, a factual reportage of events, events that could not have happened, unfolded, other than they had, then we have no claim in changing history. If history is based on ‘closed concepts’, then history is as it is, it cannot be other than it is. If, however, history as such is an ongoing process based on ‘open concepts’, then there is room for mimesis and interpretation.

Freud’s unconscious, hereafter referred to as Ucs., is a mimesis, an interpretable narrative. If we accept Freud’s notion of the Ucs., that which is made accessible to conscious thought through dreams, free-association and interpretation, then the idea of the Ucs. as interpretable, as a history, a narrative, then we might better understand Stephen Dedalus’ lament. In this paper I will look at the Ucs. as a narrative, albeit a narrative that can be assembled as a history of the self, or analysand. If the Ucs. is a narrative, and therefore an ‘open concept’ or history, and the historian the custodian of the past, then we might conjecture that all historical knowledge is ‘open’, a mimesis, a retelling of past events, things, objects and so forth. Much like the analyst the historian collects antiquities, thoughts and happenings, so-called facts, in the hope of making sense and explaining the past. These past events, happenings, and so-called facts, are collected and written down for posterity, a collection of historical truths. Having been processed in thought, the historian’s thoughts, they are subject to the viccitudes of the Ucs., whether one accepts or acknowledges the existence of the Ucs. For the purposes of this paper we will accept the Ucs. as part of the Freudian topography of the psyche, thereby sidestepping any disagreements and arguments as to its existence.

I would like to start with three principle quotes, one each from R.G. Collingwood, Freud and R.F. Atkinson. R.G. Collingwood writes in The Idea of History,

Historical knowledge is the knowledge of what mind has done in the past, and at the same time it is the redoing of this, the perpetuation of past acts in the present. Its objective is therefore not a mere object, something outside the mind which knows it; it is an activity of thought, which can be known only in so far as the knowing mind re-enacts it and knows itself as so doing. To the historian, the activities whose history he is studying are not spectacles to be watched, but experiences to be lived in his own mind.

Freud writes in On Metapsychology,

How are we to arrive at a knowledge of the unconscious? It is of course only as something conscious that we know it, after it has undergone transformations or translations into something conscious. Psychoanalytic work shows us every day that translation of this kind is possible. In order that this should come about, the person under analysis must overcome certain resistances---the same resistances as those which, earlier, made the material concerned into something repressed by rejecting it from the conscious.

In Knowledge and Explanation in History, Atkinson writes,

It remains to consider the third view [description explanations, law explanations, rational explanations] that narrative—recounting what happened---is explanatory in itself, regardless of whether the events, actions, situations purportedly explained are connectable with antecedent events, etc. by laws or generalizations, or of whether they were the objects of anybody’s rational endeavour. Its is not denied, as it could not be, that such law and rational explanations occur in history; the claim is rather that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to historical writing’s being explanatory that they should, or more strongly, that they earn their place only to the extent that they help on the story told.

These three quotes should set the tone of the argument to follow. Collingwood’s notion that the historian re-experiences, or re-enacts that which is under scrutiny seems to align itself with Freud’s notion of the unconscious, even though Collingwood, I dare say, would not have acceded to a psychoanalytic historicism. Freud’s unconscious, part of the topography of the psyche, lends to an interesting, albeit non-rational, opening onto what is and what is not part of an analysand’s history or life-story. I will be referring to the Freudian view as a narrative undertaking, or interpretation of causal events or happenings (although causation in psychoanalysis is far from an exact science, if a science at all). And Atkinson’s narrative, drawn from an explanatory view of history, fits well with the overtone of the argument: history as narrative; and narrative as interpretation and translation.

For history is to tell us anything it must be understandable; and for it to be understandable it must offer a shareable narrative, whether the narrative is an evidentiary one or one based solely on objectified facts. Evidence, by its nature, is interpretable (a court of law), objective facts are not (geometry or chemistry). If history is based on facts, objectified and untranslatable, then there is no place for interpretation or competing narratives. The psychoanalytic narrative, by its very nature, is interpretable; lending to differing or competing translations. If the historian works from conscious and unconscious translations, delving into the thoughts and ideas of their subjects, then it seems reasonable to suggest that they, too, run the risk of competing narratives. Patrick Gardiner refers to the imaginative nature of historical explanation
[4] and its influences on interpretation in history. Much like the psychologist the historian examines the motives and intentions of his or her subject, bearing out a likeness of thought, intention and motive. Of course it would seem preposterous to claim that the one (the historian) and the other (the subject) think and experience identical thoughts. Cultural biases and technological advancement (the subject having lived in the 12th century, the historian writing in the 21rst) preclude the one from having access to the other’s pure motives and intentions.

But if we acknowledge the ubiquity of narrative, the ‘openness’ of narrative explanation, it does seem reasonable to assume, taking into consideration the above mentioned caveat, that one can identify with the subject, but not become or assume the nature of the subject. If identification is all that is needed, then we can, without bias, say that we indentify with the culture regardless of having never directly experienced the culture.

In defense of the Ucs. Freud offers the following example (it is of interest to note that Freud argues from ‘analogy and inference’ to the acceptance of ‘others’ mental states).

The assumption of an unconscious is, moreover, a perfectly legitimate one, inasmuch as in postulating it we are not departing a single step from our customary and generally accepted mode of thinking. Consciousness makes each of us aware only of his own states of mind; that other people, too, possess a consciousness is an inference which we draw by analogy from their observable utterances and actions, in order to make this behaviour of theirs intelligible to us. (It would no doubt be psychologically more correct to put it in this way: that without any special reflection we attribute to everyone else our own constitution and therefore our consciousness as well, and that this identification is a sine qua non of our understanding).

In saying this is Freud not saying that any and all identification with others is based on inference and analogy; and if this is the case, then the historian, too, follows the same line of identification? If as R.G. Collingwood says historical knowledge is knowledge of what mind has done in the past
[6], it seems reasonable to acknowledge, if not accede to, Freud’s notion of identification through analogy and inference. Is this not what the historian does when he or she writes history? In Civilization and its Discontents[7] Freud compares the mind’s ability to retain past information (memories, objects, events, happenings) with the early history of Rome. The Rome that is described, explained and narrated in history is far different from the Rome one visits today.

Now let us make the fantastic supposition that Rome were not a human dwelling-place, but a mental entity with just as long and varied a past history: that is, I which nothing once constructed has perished, and all the earlier stages of development had survived alongside the latest. This would mean that in Rome the palaces of Caesar were still standing on the Palatine and the Septizonium of Septimius Severus was still towering to its old height; that the beautiful statues were still standing in the colonnade of the Castle of St. Angelo, as they were up to its siege by the Goths, and so on…[there] is clearly no object in spinning this fantasy further; it leads to the inconceivable , or even to absurdities…[there] is one objection, though, to which we must pay attention. It questions our choosing in particular the past history of a city to liken to the past of the mind. Even for the mental life our assumption that everything past is preserved holds good only on condition that the organ of the mind remains intact and its structure has not been injured by traumas or inflammation. Destructive influences comparable to these morbid agencies are never lacking in the history of any town, even if it has had a less chequered past than Rome, even if, like London, it has hardly ever been pillaged by an enemy.

Freud draws our attention to the difference between the minds ability to remember, repress, redact past images, memories, events and happenings, and what remains of a city as time passes. Does this not propose an interesting query as to the basis of historical knowledge? The city fades away, the memory of the city in the mind does not; and if it does, it can be drawn back into conscious thought through remembering, translating and interpretation. True, the image we had of the city, from our first visit to our last, does not present itself to conscious thought, but a translation or interpretation of it does or can be. When the historian writes about antiquities, he or she is rethinking or reimagining what was in the mind of those whom they are studying. From their historical standpoint in time the historian reconstructs the past, allowing for cultural and intellectual differences. As R.G. Collingwood says,

Its objective is therefore not a mere object, something outside the mind which knows it; it is an activity of thought, which can be known only in so far as the knowing mind re-enacts it and knows itself as so doing.

What the historian tells us we take as his or her reimagining of the images or thoughts of the past, a translation or resetting of the past in the thinking mind of the one present, the historian.

The epistemological basis of history, how history is thought out and produced, how the historian, the analysand, too, are led to trust their reconstructions, translations and reimagining’s, is an question that opens up not only the past, but the future too.

Here we are not concerned with the truth or falsity of history but rather its utility. As in psychoanalysis, the truth of interpretations and translations is of less importance than the abreaction or catharsis
[10] they produce. The history of the self in psychoanalysis is extracted from the past then reconstructed and interpreted in the present. Much like the historian the analyst helps the analysand retrieve and re-imagine a past event in the present, releasing emotional energy attached to the past event and or memory. In this manner the truth of the interpretation is of less important than the effect it has on the analysand.

Of the ongoing debates in epistemology of history the one between history as fact and history as narrative has consequences for both the historian and the psychoanalyst. Jean Laplanche adds to the debate comparing the historian with the psychoanalyst. In his collection of essays, Essays on Otherness, Laplanche draws our attention to the ambiguities between the two thesis’,

This ambiguity can be illustrated by apportioning it---but is this always so easy?---between history that happens, the history that is narrated, and history as a discipline, or historiography. Historical positivism---which is perhaps somewhat too hastily caricatured and stigmatized---may be said to aim, in its na├»ve realism, at a seamless reproduction of ‘the history that happens’ in historiography. Leopold von Ranke’s oft-quoted, notorious statement that the historian should merely show ‘what really happened’ has become virtually a scapegoat of the epistemology of history. Let us only recall two major stages in this criticism, at least in France; Aron
[11] on the one hand and the Ecole des Annales[12] on the other.[13]

History as narrative requires some degree of creativity on the part of the historian; a skill at relating the past in interesting unambiguous terms. However, ambiguity arises when there are competing narratives, or histories, creating ‘a best’ or ‘second best’ adversarial. These competing narratives should be embraced, not relegated to history’s dustbin. The analysand uncovers, and with the aid of the analyst, interprets his or her own narratives, allowing for competing interpretations and narratives. It is not the truth or fact of the narrative that is desired, but rather how that interpretation leads to or encourages a lessening or release of emotional energy through catharsis. Facts and truth, after all, are not generally subject to interpretation: they are what they are.

A historiography of closed concepts resist explanation and interpretation, the facticity speaks but once, and when it speaks again repeats itself. A closed concept is a concept whereby all the necessary and sufficient conditions are contained within it, such as the concept of a triangle. An open concept allows for extended explanation and interpretation, whereby the concept is open to revision and further exploration. Psychoanalytic concepts, by their very nature, are open, allowing for competing interpretations. The fragmentation of repressed memories, displacement, condensing and splitting, engenders an openness of meaning and explanation. Historical concepts, though situated in time and place (the past), are bound by the present, the immediacy of the historiography.

When we read we translate; our inner world, or psyche, translating the written words on the page. This hermeneutic process is promote by our own subjective inner world. If we accept Freud’s notion of the Ucs., repression, splitting, condensation and displacement, the mind, or psyche, serves as a redactor, collating and translating information. In Freud & Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, Ricoeur investigates the difference between motive and cause, comparing the distinction between theoretical explanation and historical explanation.

If motive is defined as a relation of the type if…then (in certain kinds of situations a given group of persons will respond in certain typical ways), and if cause is defined as a relation of the type this…because (the glass broke because it was dropped), the difference between motive and cause is only one of degree; it reduces to the distinction between general laws and initial conditions, between theoretical explanation and historical explanation (Popper), between systematic explanation and historico-geographical (Levin). Psychoanalysis, by reason of its complex structure, contains both kinds of propositions: general propositions, when for example it assigns a character trait (thrift) to an early libidinal disposition (that of the anal stage); and also historical propositions, when it operates “detectively”

One is drawn to Ricoeur’s use of the word “detectively”. In this manner it might be suggested that the historian, much like the psychoanalyst, is doing detective work, searching for the underlying motives and causes of past actions and events. What did these people do and why did they respond the way they did to certain situations, or propositions? I am using ‘do’ in the inflective form ‘did’, as the historian is working in the present, not the past. If the historian, as I am suggesting, is working from his or her psyche, what is hidden, and from cognition, thinking outwardly, motives and causes will likely map out what they are looking for and why. In this way theoretical and historical explanations seem to intersect, the two working to produce motive, cause and explanation. A historiography of effects without cause, actions without motive or intention, tells us very little; it gives us dates, places and occurrences, but is lacking in the reasons why such and such occurred at such and such a time and was done by such and such a person. A history based on ‘open concepts’ allows for competing historiographies, interpretations and translations.

There is much conjecture as to whether Nero set Rome ablaze July 18, 64 AD. If he did, what were his motives and intentions? Can we say for sure why Nero did what he did? Does the historian simply collect the facts, the evidence, and conjecturing as to why Nero set Rome on fire? Or does her or she dig deeper into the psyche of Nero, his childhood, his likes and dislikes etc? Different historians might come up with competing reasons, or motives—evidence---for explaining why Nero burned Rome, each with a differing set of propositions and theories.

As long as concepts are open, competing explanations are welcome, allowing for a broader scope of inquiry. The narrative conception of history does just that, encouraging competing and or differing explanations. As with the analysand and the analyst, the truth is not in the finding, but in the release of psychical energy; the abreaction and catharsis that a historiography of the self allows for. It is not a matter of whether this or that actually occurred, but how it is understood, interpreted and translated into the patient’s now, the present. The childhood memory, or trace, is understood in the ‘now’, experiencing the emotional impact of the event as an adult, not as a child. This is were the analytic work is carried out, not in a past that may or may not have occurred, and if it did, not always in the exact way it was recalled.

Reconstruction plays a principal role in historiography and psychoanalysis. Carlos Strenger explains the differences and similarities between the two in the following quote from his book, Between Hermeneutics And Science,

My view of the epistemology of reconstruction can be put in a nutshell: every patient comes to therapy with a stock of memories from the past. This stock of memories can be called his chronicle of his life. He also has a narrative of his history. This I will call his autobiography. The psychoanalytic reconstruction of his development is a critically retold history based on the patient’s chronicle of his life and the patient’s present mental functioning as manifested in the therapeutic interaction. The criteria for the acceptability of the analytical reconstruction are the same as for any historical account: the reconstruction must explain as many as possible of the available data; it should be inconsistent with as little as possible of the data; it should be coherent, elegant, and contain as few as possible assumptions inconsistent with accepted background knowledge. With regard to the chronicle, a historian bases his work on data which have survived into the present. These include documents of all sorts: eye witness accounts, correspondences, legal contracts, chronicles, works of art, and so on. The historian has a huge amount of implicit and explicit presuppositions of how these documents are related to the events, persons, and processes he is about to describe. He also has heuristic rules to deal with conflicting data, e.g., inconsistent accounts of the same event. This does not mean that he has a full-fledged general theory about how documents are related to the historical reality they reflect. Such a theory would have to be a general theory of human behaviour and social processes, something which nobody has or ever is likely to have.

Strenger’s account of reconstruction has implications for truth in both psychoanalytic interpretation and historical interpretation and explanation. The notion of reconstruction, translation and interpretation, carries with it a nonplus stance towards truth and the commensurability of historical veracity. Reconstruction does not entail a necessary and or universal construction; but rather one that follows from the available data. It would seem impossible, incommensurable at best, that every inconsistency can be identified and removed from the data, as a reconstruction of the past, memories, events, etc., does not lend itself easily to universal agreement. In saying this, we might suggest a ‘best’ or ‘least best’ reconstruction (translation, interpretation and explanation) of the available data. As in the therapeutic alliance between analyst and analysand, the truth of the interpretation is of less importance than the release of psychical tension or energy. The historian, in his or her reconstruction of the past, can hope for a ‘best of’ translation or explanation, a commensurable narrative that is open to further inquiry. In keeping with the ‘open’ nature of narrative, this allows for a less restrictive non-totalitarian explanation or interpretation.

Leslie Armour, in his book The Concept of Truth, says the following about historical facts and explanation,

The number of historical “facts” is indefinitely large and we have no means of knowing what proportion of them we have before us at any one time. In part, we take what we get by way of records and so and, in part, we search out others because those which we have do not enable us to “understand” what is going on. There must, however, be some limit to the searching process and we stop when we are able to construct some “intelligible” account. What makes an intelligible account depends, however, on the principles of explanation which we choose.

Professor Armour goes on to discuss the competing explanations for facts, the coherence theory of truth, the correspondence theory of truth and the pragmatic theory of truth, all of which have implications, and are attached to, explanation. The notion of “intelligibility” lends itself to historical truth as communicable, and how the historian, the analyst, too, go about choosing their principles of explanation. Allowing for competing, or ‘best of’ explanations, we are not encumbered with the universality of truth, which leads one astray into proving that such and such a proposition fits such and such an explanation. In this manner ‘truth’ is that which ‘fits best’, and as such, encompasses the data and evidence that has thus far been collected. In some future time competing evidence and data may arise, whereby the historian is fitted with additional material from which to work. Much like the analytic concept of what is and what is not taken as ‘truth’ or ‘factual’, historical ‘truths’ are those which best fit the current and prevailing data, allowing for competing evidence and explanation.

Professor Armour suggests that if there are “real facts” about the past, which persist through time and are producible, they must in some way be “intelligible”, and the correspondence truth, if it is to carry any weight, must stand up to this proof.
[17] For truth to be meaningful at all, it must meet certain criteria, one of which is the possibilities of and limits of intelligibility. In returning to Freud’s notion of the Ucs., we can see how interpretation and facticity do not necessarily rule one another out, but rather are tools or means to a therapeutic catharsis. For history to have such a catharsis, should it have a cathartic effect at all, it need be in some way therapeutic, i.e., intelligible and communicable. Those things, memories, past events, data and evidence, that by their very nature are unintelligible, are of little necessity, they serve no other purpose than to further muddle interpretation.

In comparing history and psychoanalysis we are drawn to the intelligibility of both, the capacity of each to meet certain criteria. As with the historical documentation of Nero and the burning of Rome, or the therapeutic effect of psychoanalytic interpretation, truth, if there be truth at all, lies in the intelligibility of the accounts, the capacity to communicate a narrative and or biography. In the therapeutic alliance between analysand and the analyst the analysand communicates narratives, thoughts, memories, and in many cases, phantasies, the analyst interpreting and encouraging self-interpretation. The intelligibility lies in the effect the interpretations has on the analysand, a lessening or release of psychical energy and a better therapeutic understanding of one’s life history. If history is narrative, the narrator, the historian, must search out, assemble and present intelligible data and evidence. What does the historical narrative say to us, how does it speak and communicate history? If we accept a more pragmatic view of history, one that gives us a ‘fitting’ or ‘more intelligible’ narrative, then facticity matters only when history is used prescriptively, as a means of social restraint or control. If history is prescriptive, regulatory and authoritarian, then the narrative need not be factual, it simple need be accepted or impelled upon those to whom it is prescribed. In this manner history becomes rigid and dogmatic, a means to social control and behavioral change or sameness. One need look no further than Michel Foucault’s work on knowledge as social constraint,

In effect, between a relationship of power and a strategy of struggle there is a reciprocal appeal, a perpetual linking and a perpetual reversal. At every moment the relationship of power may become a confrontation between two adversaries. Equally, the relationship between adversaries in society may, at every moment, give place to the putting into operation of mechanisms of power. The consequence of this instability is the ability to decipher the same events and the same transformations either from inside the history of struggle or from the standpoint of the power relationships. The interpretations which result will not consist of the same elements of meaning or the same links or the same types of intelligibility, although they refer to the same historical fabric, and each of the two analyses must have reference to the other. In fact, it is precisely the disparities between the two readings which make visible those fundamental phenomena of "domination" which are present in a large number of human societies.

Knowledge is the property of those that manufacture knowledge and truth, and is used as a mechanism of social control and subjugation. Competing theories, or narratives of truth, are undermined by those with the power to enforce their theory. In this manner truth, whether historical or immanent, in the present or reconstructed from the past, is authoritative rather than shared intelligibility. I raise this problem so as to further reinforce the responsibility of the historian, for it is to they that history is revealed, reconstructed and assembled, and with this comes a great deal of social and humanistic responsibility. This again draws us back to Stephen Dedalus’ presentment, "'History,' Stephen said, 'is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

In keeping with the narrative concept of history, a historiography not of universality or authority, but one of ‘open concepts’, we can see with more clarity the similarities between history and psychoanalysis. The truth is in the narrative, the presentments and intelligibility. Truth in this sense is ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’, open to competing narratives and ‘best of’ explanations. If we are to use the concept of truth at all, we must be wary of its inconsistencies, mindful that what is truth today may not reveal itself to be so tomorrow. Like everyday concepts, ones by which we conduct our day-to-day lives, narratives are as ‘fitting’ as they are commensurable with our desires, ambitions and intentions, our self-history. We often hear the statement ‘you are witnessing history’, an odd yet intriguing premonition. If history is in the ‘now’, experienced, felt and understood in the present, then history is nothing more than an account, a propositional statement with neither a past or future. I am not suggesting that historical accounts are atemporal, but rather that they are an intelligible ‘best fit’ narrative account of a past. In this way history can be understood and read as a narrative presentment of the past in the present. Like the analysand who searches through the Ucs. looking for connections, repetitions, repressed memories and events in the present moment working towards an interpretation, a ‘best fit’ analysis of a past trauma or event, the historian is working from a similar frame, one that allows for the collection of data and evidence that allows for a ‘best fit’ intelligible account of the past in the present. Taking into account the incommensurability of much evidence, Nero’s burning of Rome, as but one example, the historian and analyst alike work towards interpretations and explanations framed by the criteria of intelligibility and communicability.

Freud refers to the process unconscious as timeless,

The processes of the system Ucs, are timeless, i.e. they are not ordered temporally, are not altered by the passage of time; they have no reference to time at all. Reference to time is bound up, once again, with the work of the system Cs.

This leads one to consider the timelessness of historical accounts or narratives. If we allow for the timelessness of the Ucs., might we not consider timelessness as it applies to history? Let us consider the past in comparison and similarity to the system Ucs. The Ucs. is bound to time only when considered in the work of consciousness. Through memory, recollection, dreams, fragmentation, reconstruction etc., the Ucs, is retrieved and thereafter bound by time, the present. Time is introduced when explanation and narrative begin; things once repressed are now immediate, in the present thoughts and speech of the analysand and analyst’s interpretations. What was once timeless is now situated in the present moment of the analysis. It’s intelligibility and coherence are bound by the interpretation and or explanation carried out in the present.

As with the psychoanalytic process, the historical process is carried out in the present, reconstructed from data, evidence, etc., harbored in the past. Once the past is made present, through historical narrative, it can be said to be immediate, in the moment of the present. This moment of the present is the past reconstructed, and through reconstruction or narrative the past is made intelligible and coherent. In this manner both the historian and the analyst/analysand are carrying out a historical reconstruction made possible in the present narrative. Both historical narrative and psychoanalytic narrative are bound by time; historical, by the collection of evidence and data from the past, psychoanalysis, through the retrieval of the past through the process of analysis. In this manner they share in a timelessness that is overcome only in and through narrative, explanation and interpretation.

In conclusion let us look back to the beginning of the paper. According to Collingwood history is not a spectacle, but an experience to be lived through. With Atkinson, historical explanation should add to the story. And with Freud, what is unconscious is made conscious through the process of analysis. Historical explanation must ‘fit’, it need be intelligible and coherent. As with psychoanalysis, history is a retelling or reconstruction of past events, evidence and data. With history, as with psychoanalysis, a scrupulous responsibility is required, one that allows for a ‘best fit’ or commensurable narrative. History is best understood as narrative, an explanatory method not unlike psychoanalysis. Thus, it seems reasonable to acknowledge the similarities between the psychoanalytic method and the historical method, basing intelligibility and coherence on reconstructing and explaining the past, be it Nero’s burning of Rome or Sergei Pankejeff’s fear of wolves.

-Works Cited-

Leslie Armour, The Concept of Truth, Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Comp. N.V., 1969

R.F. Atkinson, Knowledge and Explanation in History, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978

R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, New York: Oxford University Press, 1956

Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982

Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, London: The Hogarth Press, 1949

Patrick Gardiner, The Nature of Historical Explanation, London: Oxford University Press, 1961

James Joyce, Ulysses, London: Penguin Books, 1992

Jean Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, New York: Routledge, 1999

Paul Ricoeur, Freud, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970

Donald P. Spence, Narrative Truth and Historical Truth, New York: Norton, 1982

Carlo Strenger, Between Hermeneutics And Science, Connecticut: International Universities Press, 1991

[1] R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, New York: Oxford University Press, 1956 p. 218
[2] Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 167
[3] R.F. Atkinson, Knowledge and Explanation in History, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978, p. 128
[4] R.F. Atkinson, Knowledge and Explanation in History, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978p. 132
[5] Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 170
[6] R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, New York: Oxford University Press, 1956
[7] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, London: The Hogarth Press, 1949
[8] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, London: The Hogarth Press, 1949, pp. 18-19
[9] R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, New York: Oxford University Press, 1956 p. 218
[10] Abreaction refers to the emotional discharge whereby the subject liberates him or herself from the affect attached to the memory of a traumatic event; Catharsis refers to the method in which the therapeutic effect sought is ‘purgative’, discharging pathogenic affects. (J.L. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, New York: Norton, 1973).
[11] Aron Yakovlevich Gurevich, Russian medievalist historian; European culture of the Middle Ages.[12] An important movement in historical discipline founded by Lucien Febvre & Marc Bloch; 1929.
[13] Jean Laplanche, Essays on Otherness, New York: Routledge, 1999, p. 142
[14] Paul Ricoeur, Freud, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970, pp. 362-63
[15] Carlo Strenger, Between Hermeneutics and Science, Connecticut: International Universities Press, 1991, 124.
[16] Leslie Armour, The Concept of Truth, Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum & Comp. N.V., 1969, p. 184
[17] Ibid. p. 18
[18] Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 208.
[19] James Joyce, Ulysses, London: Penguin Books, 1992
[20] Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 191

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lonergan and Freud: the Unconscious and Intersubjectivity

Every philosophical system requires a hermeneutic, a way of understanding and sharing premises and ideas. Lonergan’s system is no exception. Inter-communication requires a communicable language or system, a shared language of ideas and theorems. Lonergan’s dialectic allows for just such a sharing (or hermeneutic); a shared system of ideas that encourages a dialectic understanding. For Lonergan the notion of insight has a specific meaning and use; a normative (prescriptive) model couched not only in the concept of insight, but in intersubjectivity, a shared language of dialectic; a hermeneutic.

Freud’s model of the psyche (topography of inner-life) also has a hermeneutic, a hermeneutic of conflict and homogeneity (or stasis), a lessening of tension through abreaction and catharsis. Freud’s model stresses the importance of the unconscious as a constituent part of the tripartite model of the psyche: Ego, Id and Super-ego. Lonergan’s four-level dialectic and Freud’s unconscious both work within intersubjectivity. Lonergan’s use of the unconscious seems to differ from Freud’s, and if this is so, then Lonergan’s four-level system does not account for the unconscious in a true Freudian manner.

Lonergan uses the term scotosis to explain the blind spots in the transcendent insight experience.

Let us name such an aberration of understanding a scotosis, and let us call the resultant blind spot a scotoma. Fundamentally, the scotosis is an unconscious process. It arises, no in conscious acts, but in the censorship that governs the emergence of psychic contents. Nonetheless, the whole process is not hidden from us, for the mere spontaneous exclusion of unwanted insights is not equal to the total range of eventualities.[1]

He uses the term in conjunction with the notion of a censor or censorship; suggesting that scotosis creates an impasse or blockage where and when insights are concerned. He appears to appropriate the psychoanalytic concept of repression as a function of scotosis, a looking away from or censoring of unwanted thoughts that may or may not lead to an insight. In this manner the function of repression, or scotosis, is to censor or block access and or transcendence to insights, principally insights that are unwanted. It is unclear whether these scotosis’ are volitional or simply a function of the transcendent working-through experience. In the Freudian dynamic repression serves a similar but different function, it holds-back or prevents memories and thoughts from gaining access to conscious thought.

Now let us call ‘conscious’ the conception which is present to our consciousness and of which we are aware, and let this be the only meaning of the term ‘conscious’. As for latent conceptions, if we have any reason to suppose that they exist in the mind—as we had in the case of memory—let them be denoted by the term ‘unconscious’. Thus an unconscious conception is one of which we are not aware, but the existence of which we are nevertheless ready to admit on account of other proofs and signs.

In Lonergan’s dynamic (or dialectic) they seem to act as diversions or blocks to the transcendent working-through process. In this manner they appear to be a function of consciousness not unconscious.

Repression and scotosis are functions of the censor, not unconscious mechanisms in the Freudian sense of repression and the unconscious. In the analytic setting the analysand expresses his or her unconscious in and through free-association and transference. Both the analysand and the analyst are operating at an unconscious level; it is the work of the analyst to allow for a safe therapeutic environment that allows for the transference of emotional energy onto the analyst as transferential object. The analyst uses his or her unconscious to interpret and translate the analysand’s unconscious, and in so doing develops what is referred to as a therapeutic alliance between analysand and analyst. This alliance allows for a shared intersubjectivity on an unconscious level, an unconscious alliance or therapeutic dialectic.

Lonergan does not seem to be referring to the Freudian dialectic when he uses the terms repression and censor, but rather to an epistemological function of the four-levels of insight. The scotosis serves to block or prevent insights, creating a blind spot in cognition. The Freudian unconscious is a storehouse of repressed and or censored memories and or thoughts that manifest themselves as symptomology. Lonergan’s blind spots create a negation or repression of the General Empirical Method (GEM). In this manner it might be suggested Lonergan sees the unconscious as a negative process as it interferes or blocks the transcendental method (or has little if anything to offer it). The Freudian model of the unconscious is timeless, meaning it has neither a past nor future but is always situated in the present moment, the moment of the analysis or interpretation. Lonergan’s GEM is a temporal process, requiring a systematic dialectic that moves in a vertical projection. In this manner there is an inherent teleology to Lonergan’s dialectic. Lonergan says the following about scotosis,

Contrary insights do emerge. But they may be accepted as correct, only to suffer the eclipse that the bias brings about by excluding the relevant further questions. Again, they may be rejected as incorrect, as mere bright ideas without a solid foundation in fact; and this reject tends to be connected with rationalization of the scotosis and with an effort to accumulate evidence in its favour. Again, consideration of the contrary insight may not reach the level of reflective and critical consciousness; it may occur only to be brushed aside in an emotional reaction of disgust, pride, dread, horror, revulsion. Again, there are the inverse phenomena. Insights that expand the scotosis can appear to lack plausibility; they will be subjected to scrutiny; and as the subject shifts to and from his sounder viewpoint, they will oscillate wildly between an appearance of nonsense and an appearance of truth. Thus, in a variety of manners, the scotosis can remain fundamentally unconscious yet suffer the attacks and crises that generate in the mind a mist of obscurity and bewilderment, of suspicion and reassurance, of doubt and rationalization, of insecurity and disquiet.[3]

What we see here is a suspicion of the unconscious, its content and the unconscious process. The scotosis, as Lonergan says, can remain fundamentally unconscious yet still have an effect or affect on consciousness. These crises, as Lonergan refers to them, are the troubling and repressed thoughts and memories (and in some sense insights) in the unconscious that are trying to obtain access to consciousness. In the Freudian dynamic these are manifested as symptoms and unwanted thoughts and feelings. Unlike Lonergan’s unconscious the Freudian dynamic sees the act of repression and censoring as clues or traces of greater unresolved conflict; and the interpretation and unravelling of these allow for an abreaction or catharsis of negative psychic tension. Freud works towards a stasis or lessening of tension, Lonergan towards a systematic dialectic that leads to insights. If these scotosis’ cause an impasse or block to the four-level dialectic, they are seen as impediments to insight not enhancements. The censor in the Freudian dynamic is used as a tool to further exploration, as are repression and symptomology. In Lonergan anything that has the propensity to impede or sully the insight process is to be discarded, as they are challenges to the dialectic of the GEM. Lonergan goes on to say that,

The scotosis is an aberration, not only of the understanding, but also of the censorship. Just as wanting an insight penetrates below the surface to bring forth schematic images that give rise to the insight, so not wanting an insight has the opposite effect of repressing from consciousness a scheme that would suggest the insight. Now this aberration of the censorship is inverse to it. Primarily, the censorship is constructive, it selects and arranges materials that emerge in consciousness in a perspective that gives rise to an insight; this positive activity has by implication a negative aspect, for other materials are left behind, and other perspectives are not brought to light; still, this negative aspect of positive activity does not introduce any arrangement or perspective into the unconscious demand functions of neural patterns and processes.[4]

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Lonergan is referring to here, whether he means that the unconscious enhances or provides for insights, or whether it impedes or muddles them. If it provides for them, then it has a positive non-aberrant effect on consciousness; if it impedes or muddles them, it has a negative effect on not only perspective, but how one gains and collects insights. He seems to be using censor as a selector, a systemic that weeds out unwanted or aberrant aspects, perspectives and thoughts that lead to insights.

In Freud the job of the censor is to prevent or displace unwanted thoughts and memories from gaining access to preconscious or conscious thought. It maintains a stasis of psychic energy and tension, and the lessening or enhancing of tension or energy should it find access to preconscious or conscious thought. In On Metapsychology Freud writes,

…we may say in general that a psychical act goes through two phases as regards its state, between which is interposed a kind of testing (censorship). In the first phase the psychical act is unconscious and belongs to the system Ucs., if, on testing, it is rejected by the censorship, it is not allowed to pass into the second phase; it is then said to be ‘repressed’ and must remain unconscious. If, however, it passes this testing, it enters the second phase and thenceforth belongs to the second system, which we will call the system Cs.[5]

Freud’s unconscious functions at a different level and with a different process than Lonergan’s use of the term or function unconscious. Censorship for Lonergan is a conscious process that inhibits or rejects those thoughts or perspectives that would not lead to or add to insight; Freud’s censorship is less an epistemic tool than a psychical one; meaning, it functions to prevent anxiety and displeasure, not as a means to insight in the manner in which Lonergan uses the term insight in his General Epistemological Method (GEM).

Both Freud and Lonergan, however, have an intersubjectivity in mind, a sharing of inner-thoughts, and in Lonergan’s sense, the conception and sharing of insights. Freud’s system is topographical, it is a process that operates in psychical activity; Lonergan’s system is epistemic, operating at and on the four-levels of insight: (1) experience, (2) understanding, (3) judgment, and (4) decision. If we look back to the analytic process we see that both the analysand and the analyst are functioning or operating on an unconscious level; in Lonergan this type of intersubjectivity would be impossible, aberrant at best. Interpretation in Freudian psychoanalysis is all but missing in Lonergan’s method, as it creates a dissonance or an aberration in thinking. It is easy to underline the mathematical/economic influence in Lonergan’s method, a systematic, orderly functional dialectic.

So we have come to see how Lonergan’s scotosis and notions of repression and the unconscious differ from the traditional Freudian models. Lonergan is concerned with a methodological line of thinking, the four-levels of the GEM that lead one or draw one to insights; Freud is concerned with the lessening of psychical tension and the abreaction or catharsis of unwanted or conflicting tension. Both seek out a release, in Lonergan that release comes by way of insight, in Freud in the lessening or resolution of psychical conflict and tension. Lonergan seeks out knowledge, Freud psychical homeostasis. Lonergan’s intentionality, or intending to reality, is a basic human activity. His four-level method allows for an intentionality that works through (1) experience, (2) understanding, (3) judgment, and (4) decision. Freud’s tripartite model of the psyche, though not intentional in the way Lonergan’s is, has an intending as a functional element or process of its dialectic, the release of tension and conflict.

With unrepressed derivatives of the unconscious the fate of a particular idea is often decided by the degree of its activity or catharsis. It is an everyday occurrence that such a derivative remains unrepressed as long as it represents only a small amount of energy, although its content would be calculated to give rise to a conflict with what is dominant in consciousness. The qualitative factor proves decisive for this conflict: as soon as the basically obnoxious idea exceeds a certain degree of strength, the conflict becomes a real one, and it is precisely this activation that leads to repression. So that, where repression is concerned an increase of energic cathexis operates in the same sense as an approach to the unconscious, while a decrease of that cathexis operates in the same sense as remoteness from the unconscious or distortion. We see that the repressive trends may find a substitute for repression in a weakening of what is distasteful.[6]

Freud’s model of repression concerns conflict, and the resolution or discharge of tension and or distasteful psychical energy. Lonergan’s repression is epistemic, not psychical. In Understanding and Being Lonergan writes,

Human communication is a process that stands on a series of levels. Suppose you are seated in your room working and someone comes in. There is a change in you by the mere fact that someone has entered, and the change differs with the person who enters. There is an intersubjectivity that is basically on the sensitive level, and it is perhaps most intense in mother and child. There is a sensitive basis for communication by the mere fact of the presence of another, and still more so by the presence of another who is known and is the object of affection, and so on.[7]

The notion of intersubjectivity, or human communication, implies a series of standoffs to understanding and the communication of ideas, feelings and meaning. Lacan’s famous (or infamous) proclamation that we never say what we mean merits consideration. I will not go into a Lacanian exegesis here, as that would cause too much confusion and raise far too many questions, especially ones of authenticity, but suffice it to say that intersubjectivity has both a conscious and unconscious process and engagement. This also raises queries as to the level at which, and place, that intersubjectivity occurs. It would seem that Lonergan would not allow for or acknowledge an unconscious intersubjectivity like we find in Freud, as it would place impediments on his four-level dialectic. The Freudian dialect, however, allows for and encourages intersubjectivity at an unconscious level; in fact this is the basis on which psychoanalytic practice is founded. Insights at an unconscious level, of course, require a conscious interpretation and translation; however they begin they’re formation at the level of unconscious ideation where they go through a series of displacements, changes, attachments and reattachments. Laplanche and Pontalis, in The Language of Psychoanalysis, refer to interpretation as,

Procedure which, by means of analytic investigation, brings out the latent meaning in what the subject says or does. Interpretation reveals the modes of the defensive conflict and its ultimate aim is to identify the wish that is expressed by every product of the unconscious.[8]

I introduce this as a means to a better understand of the notion of an unconscious intersubjectivity. If we allow for interpretation, translation of thoughts, feelings, etc., we are in a better position to grasp the Freudian dynamic of unconscious intersubjectivity. This addresses the notion of a hermeneutic that each philosophical system has as a function of its dialectic. Lonergan’s systematic is no different, as it requires a hermeneutic that is present at each of the four-levels of insight. By the mere fact that intersubjectivity occurs between two subjects (as Lonergan points out in the aforementioned quote) each with they’re own history and subjectivity, a hermeneutic or translation is always part of or at work in intersubjective communication.

What I am suggestion is that much of what goes on intersubjectively between two subjects is carried out at the unconscious level, thereby pressing the issue of miscommunication and not saying what we mean. I think that had Lonergan paid more attention to this his four-level dialect would have included a Freudian notion of the unconscious. His inclusion of scotosis and repression are but hints of a far deeper Freudian dynamic. As it stands Lonergan uses the concepts unconscious, repression and scotosis epistemologically, not psychically. Lonergan’s method is epistemic, including a horizon and a purposeful dialect.

In concluding I would like to draw our attention to Lonergan’s understanding of the unconscious in Method In Theology. On page 34, endnote 6, Lonergan says the following,

This twilight of what is conscious but not objectified seems to be the meaning of what some psychiatrists call the unconscious.[9]

He is referring to feelings that remain hidden or concealed in the unconscious. Lonergan goes on to say that these feelings, or affects, are not cognizant, meaning they are in the twilight of consciousness. They only become conscious feelings and affectations when they are made cognizant or brought forth into consciousness; and in keeping with his transcendental method, as tools for deliberation, meaning inflections of the movement to insight. Lonergan sees these hidden or twilight feelings as obstacles to understanding and insight. They push one away from understanding and insight. Lonergan goes on to say,

On the other hand, not to take cognizance of them is to leave them in the twilight of what is conscious but not objectified. In the long run there results a conflict between the self as conscious and, on the other hand, the self as objectified. This alienation from oneself leads to the adoption of misguided remedies, and they in their turn still further mistakes until, in desperation, the neurotic turns to the analyst or counsellor.[10]

It is interesting to note that Lonergan is willing to concede the existence of the unconscious, even though he seems to be referring more to the preconscious than the unconscious, but in a way that discards the importance of it for insight, understanding and intersubjectivity. If Lonergan had been less inhibited to see the unconscious in a more psychoanalytic way, his method (GEM) would have and or offer far more reaching ends.
[1] Lonergan, Bernard, Insight, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1992, p.215
[2] Freud, Sigmund, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin, 1976, pp.50-51

[3]Lonergan, Bernard, Insight, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1992, p.215
[4] Lonergan, Bernard, Insight, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1992, pp.215-16

[5] Freud, Sigmund, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin, 1976, p.175
[5] Freud, Sigmund, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin, 1976, p.151-52

[7] Lonergan, Bernard, Understanding and Being, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1990, p.89
[8] Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, New York: Norton, 1973, p.227
[9] Lonergan, Bernard, Method In Theology, Toronto: the University of Toronto Press, 1973, p.34
[10] Ibid, p.34


Freud, Sigmund, On Metapsychology, London: Penguin, 1976

Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, New York: Norton, 1973

Lonergan, Bernard, Insight, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1992

Lonergan, Bernard, Method In Theology, Toronto: the University of Toronto Press, 1973

Lonergan, Bernard, Understanding and Being, Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1990

About Me

My photo
"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz