I am surprised that Frederick Crews acknowledges Freud’s suggestiveness and persuasiveness and his brilliant transmutation of late-Romantic literary culture into “science,” for nothing in his article “The Unknown Freud” (New York Review of Books, November 18, 1993) grants Freud’s work any value. He asks us to completely dismiss Freud’s ideas about the Oedipus complex, repression, and resistance. He disparages Freud as a storyteller whose stories have no relation to the truth of our psychological experience. Nothing is left in the wake of his all-out assault.
I agree with Crews that Freud’s work doesn’t meet contemporary standards of scientific achievement. The same could be said for the work of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Tocqueville. Truth is not the exclusive property of science, so it doesn’t follow that Freud’s narrative power and theoretical gifts can’t be the source of truths. Moreover, I would like to know what Crews understands to be scientific truth and its “permanent value.” In a recent seminar the historian of science Frank Sulloway, who is also critical of Freud’s scientific status, admitted that there were no stable truths in science, which was best understood as a process of testing. The question of what is truth and where it is to be found is more difficult than Crews’s easy scientism recognizes. My view of Freud’s scientific status is well expressed by Jacques Bouveresse in Wittgenstein Reads Freud: The Myth of the Unconscious, a book Crews admires: “What is not so clear is how [Wittgenstein] might determine whether a scientific treatment of the phenomena concerned is possible and under what conditions, or whether, as some would have it, psychoanalysis may not be scientific, but nonetheless constitutes the most scientific, or at any rate the most convincing thing we have, given the nature of the phenomena in question.”