Posted by: Maureen Flynn-Burhoe | December 25, 2009

Scientific Approaches to Exploring the Human Soul


1641 The first modern Western philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) wrote Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations On First Philosophy) in which he provided a philosophical groundwork for the possibility of the sciences. According to Gary Gutting (2005) Foucault’s reading of Descartes’ work is central to French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) iconic book (1961) entitled Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (The History of Madness) in which he offered a textual interpretation of Descartes’ “Of the Things of Which We May Doubt” in the first section of Descartes’ Meditations On First Philosophy (1641).

1900 “From the moment of its invention, the psychoanalytic method thrilled Freud and his followers. In one stroke, it seemed, Freud had given us a technique that promised radical therapeutic results for previously untreatable illnesses, and that also offered a scientific approach to exploring the human soul. As time went on, however, questions arose about the power of the method to cure. When indications for analysis were broadened so that not only the symptom neuroses but also the character disorders were treated, the very concept of cure became increasingly vague. Eventually, even claims that symptoms could be permanently abolished seemed infused by wishful thinking. Freud himself became a therapeutic pessimist. Despite these developments, everybody could see that something happens in the consulting room that grips the human imagination. In the course of analyzing his patients, Freud evolved a vision of human nature so compelling that it shaped the intellectual life of an entire

1930 Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of existential psychology, Ludwig Binswanger (1881– 1966), published his book in German entitled 1930 : Traum und Existenz (Dream and Existence). Binswanger studied with psychologists Carl Jung, Eugen Bleuler and Sigmund Freud. Although he had fundamental differences with Freud regarding psychiatric theory, Binswanger and Freud remained friends until the latter’s death in 1939. “From 1911 to 1956, Binswanger was medical director of the santatorium in Kreuzlingen. He was influenced by existential philosophy and the works of Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Buber. Binswanger is considered the first physician to combine psychotherapy with existential ideas, a concept he expounds in his 1942 book; Grundformen und Erkenntnis menschlichen Daseins (Basic Forms and the Realization of Human “Being-in-the-World”). In this work he explains existential analysis as an empirical science that involves an anthropological approach to the individual essential character of being human.[1] In his study of existentialism, his most famous subject was Ellen West, a deeply troubled anorexia nervosa patient. (wiki).

1946 French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault (1926-1984), studied at the École Normale Supérieure during the heyday of existential phenomenology. Lectures by Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger were particularly important at that time. He was also influenced by Jean Hyppolite’s interpreations of Hegel and Louis Althusser’s structuralist reading of Marx. Michel Foucault translated the book entitled Traum und Existenz (1930) by Swiss psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of existential psychology, Ludwig Binswanger (1881– 1966) into French and also provided an essay-introduction. Foucault was influenced by both existentialism and Marxism in these early years but turned away from both.

1949 French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault (1926-1984) 1948: licence de philosophie (can teach secondary school), 1949: licence de psychologie, 1951: agrégation de philosophie (can be university lecturer), 1952: Diplôme de psycho-pathologie, Institut de psychologie, Paris

1955-1959 French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault (1926-1984) The most striking example of this mode of Foucault’s thought is his first major work, The History of Madness in the Classical Age (1961). This book originated in Foucault’s academic study of psychology (a licence de psychologie in 1949 and a diplome de psycho-pathologie in 1952) and his work in a Parisian mental hospital, but it was mainly written during his post-graduate Wanderjahren (1955-59) through a succession of diplomatic/educational posts in Sweden, Germany, and Poland. A study of the emergence of the modern concept of “mental illness” in Europe, The History of Madness is formed from both Foucault’s extensive archival work and his intense anger at what he saw as the moral hypocrisy of modern psychiatry. Standard histories saw the nineteenth-century medical treatment of madness (developed from the reforms of Pinel in France and the Tuke brothers in England) as an enlightened liberation of the mad from the ignorance and brutality of preceding ages. But, according to Foucault, the new idea that the mad were merely sick (“mentally” ill) and in need of medical treatment was not at all a clear improvement on earlier conceptions (e.g., the Renaissance idea that the mad were in contact with the mysterious forces of cosmic tragedy or the 17th-18th-century view of madness as a renouncing of reason). Moreover, he argued that the alleged scientific neutrality of modern medical treatments of insanity are in fact covers for controlling challenges to a conventional bourgeois morality. In short, Foucault argued that what was presented as an objective, incontrovertible scientific discovery (that madness is mental illness) was in fact the product of eminently questionable social and ethical commitments.

1961 French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault (1926-1984), published Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (The History of Madness). Foucault, an archaeology of discourse undertaken using a methodology of philosophical historian. Gary Gutting, the Notre Dame Chair in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, argued that Foucault “engaged in the traditional critical project of philosophy in a new historical manner. He also critically engaged with the work of traditional philosophers.” Foucault’s work influenced Giorgio Agamben, Edward Said, Pierre Bourdieu, Ian Hacking, Judith Butler, Friedrich Kittler, Arnold Davidson, Gilles Deleuze, Donna Haraway, Hubert Dreyfus, Paul Rabinow, Jacques Rancière, Hans Sluga, Nikolas Rose, Partha Chatterjee, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Felix Guattari, R. D. Laing and his relatively unknown associate David Cooper.

1967 David Cooper first used the term anti-psychiatry in his book entitled Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry (1967). Cooper was not very influential and he did not clarify how he defined this term. It may have been anti-psychiatry as ant–mainstream psychiatry or anti-soul healing.

1969-1984 Michel Foucault was Professor of the History of Systems of Thought at the ultra-prestigious Collège de France.

1984 Michel Foucault died of AIDS.

2008-07 The  Task Force on Psychoanalysis and Undergraduate Education Aka The 10, 000 Minds Project initiated by the American Psychoanalytic Association in 2004, presented their Final Report. The aim of the project was to increase awareness of psychoanalysis both as a theory of the mind and as a method of treatment among undergraduate college students (the 18-22 year old cohort). In their investigation of where psychoanalysis was being taught in the top 150 U. S. colleges and universities, graduate student, Jonathan Redmond, and his advisor,  Michael Shulman (2008-06), found that 86 percent of courses in which psychoanalysis was taught were outside of psychology departments. As well, the ‘psychoanalysis” that was being taught in the humanities and social sciences was often quite different from the “psychoanalysis” of clinical analysts—sometimes almost unrecognizable (Final Report). An article in the New York Times, journalist Patricia Cohen (2007-11-25) interviewed Chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University Dr. Alice Eagly who acknowledged that most psychology departments don’t pay as much attention to psychoanalysis because ‘psychoanalysts haven’t developed the same evidence-based grounding’ in contrast to most other disciplines in psychology where greater emphasis is placed on testing the validity of their approaches scientifically.

Who’s Who

Gary Gutting holds the Notre Dame Chair in Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author, most recently, of Foucault: A Very Short Introduction and French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, and is founder and editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Webliography and Bibliography

Cohen, Patricia. 2007-11-25. “Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department.” New York Times.

Descartes, René, (1596-1650) “Of the Things of Which We May Doubt.” Meditation I. in Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations on First Philosophy).

Greenberg, Jay. 1995. “Self-disclosure: Is It Psychoanalytic?Contemporary Psychoanalysis. 31:193.

Gutting, Gary. 2005. Ed. “The Cambridge Companion to Foucault.” Cambridge Companions to Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.

Gutting, Gary. 2008-09-17 [2002-04-02]. “Michel Foucault.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Redmond, Jonathan; Shulman, Michael. 2008-06. “Access to Psychoanalytic Ideas in American Undergraduate Institutions.” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association (JAPA).



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