Wittgenstein was one of Freud’s big critics, but he was a huge fanboy as well. He loved his book on dreams, and his one on jokes (although he basically said the last one wasn’t funny enough). Part of the reason has to be that Wittgenstein himself is pretty susceptible to Freudian analysis. He had well-known daddy issues. He was undoubtedly repressed. Politically he was a vaguely culturally conservative cynic, but personally and relationally he was a complete idealist (which has to partly explain why he annoyed and alienated so many of the people who knew him personally.)

Wittgenstein’s only real problem with psychoanalysis was that Freud thought he was doing hard science. Wittgenstein’s entire ethical position could be simplified as ‘don’t try and fix human (i.e. social) problems with the methods of natural science.’ Natural scientists can test their theories against objects in the natural world. Human scientists have to deal with actual human beings who typically don’t appreciate being objectified and are usually averse to acute psychological trauma. (This probably isn’t the place to mention that the Milgram and Stanford prison experiments hugely advanced research in behaviourism, psychology and sociology, right?) What’s the actual purpose of understanding people scientifically; what does this kind of knowledge do to the people it aims to understand? Sure, technocratically organised societies work great in terms of semi-regular public transportation and well-researched evidence-based public spending initiatives. But then the holocaust can happen, and personally I find that objectionable.

Natural sciences can forget their ancestors. If you learn chemistry you don’t need to learn Lavoisier. If you study physics nobody is arguing about Galileo or Newton. In semi-sciences that want a piece of the power and credibility of the natural sciences they try to kill off their ancestors. So understandably in psychology lots of energy gets invested in forgetting that phrenology and Freud existed.

Kuhn says that normal science is defined by an absence of disagreement about fundamentals. Scientists get to bury their ancestors because that’s how science works: a new scientific paradigm invalidates and replaces the old one (like quantum physics vs. Newtonian mechanics.) In the social sciences though we can never forget our ancestors: the shitfights of Hobbes, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud etc are our shitfights too. And it doesn’t actually matter that much if they were wrong about a whole slot of stuff: they stay relevant as long as their world is basically still our world.

Excellent news though if you like philosophy. We can’t have paradigms! Some try-hard positivists might try to say different, but really we are here because we know that arguing about fundamentals is great. In conclusion, Stephen Hawkins should go fuck a badger for saying that science has solved all the problems of philosophy.

– Matt

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