Philosophy and Psycho-Analysis Essay - Philosophy in Relation to Psychoanalysis

John Wisdom

Philosophy in Relation to Psychoanalysis

Finally, Wisdom attempts to show in what sense philosophical difficulties are like psychopathic difficulties. Wittgenstein said that he held no opinions in philosophy but tried to remove “a feeling of puzzlement, to cure a sort of mental cramp” associated with philosophical problems. Wisdom gives an example in which an individual wrestles with the problem of whether he can or cannot know what other creatures are thinking about. He points out that such an individual, first skeptical about the minds of other people, is led inevitably into skepticism about his senses, and finally into a skepticism about everything. This is obviously an absurd position, however, and he develops a stress that is quite analogous to that of the businessperson who is trying to meet financial obligations and becomes neurotic as a result. In what respects are these stresses alike, and in what respect is the cure that the philosopher might administer to the puzzled thinker like the cure that the psychoanalyst might administer to the neurotic businessperson?

Philosophy has never been a purely psychogenic disorder, and it is not ordinarily considered to be a therapy. When philosophers proceed by trying to show “not new things but old things anew,” however, they are adopting procedures much like those of the psychoanalyst. Philosophical discussion aims to bring out latent opposing forces, and not to teach what is behind closed doors or whether 235 times 6 equals 1,410. Philosophy often shows that behind the latent linguistic sources of confusion there are much more deeply hidden nonlinguistic forces, and that a purely linguistic treatment of philosophy therefore cannot be adequate. Philosophy also shows that the nonlinguistic sources are the same as those that trouble people elsewhere in their lives and therefore that the philosophical riddles are the true “riddles of the Sphinx.”

Philosophy is concerned with what is paradoxical and unconventional. Such matters are not settled by experiment and observation. Many philosophers have said that questions that cannot be settled by experiment and observation are questions merely of words. In saying this, they are speaking wildly; however, so are those “scientists, philosophers, or poets who say one cannot stir a flower without troubling of a star. What they say is mad but there’s method in it.”