Freud and Philosophy

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Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation
Freud and Philosophy, French edition.jpg
The 1965 French edition
Author Paul Ricœur
Original title De l'interprétation. Essai sur Sigmund Freud
Translator Denis Savage
Country France
Language French
Subject Philosophy
  • 1965 (Le Seuil, in French)
  • 1970 (Yale University Press, in English)
Media type Print
Pages 573
ISBN 0-300-02189-5 (Yale edition)

Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation (French: De l'interprétation. Essai sur Sigmund Freud) is a 1965 book about Sigmund Freud by philosopher Paul Ricœur.


Ricœur argues that psychoanalysis is not a science but a language, a "semantics of desire." He seeks to bring Freud's ideas into conformity with the linguistic turn - the "effort to understand virtually all aspects of human behavior in terms of language."[1]

For Ricœur, all interpretation partakes of a double hermeneutic. Psychoanalysis involves an "archaeology" of meanings, motives and desires, an attempt to delve into the unconscious layers of repressed or sublimated memory. Yet it also points a way through and beyond that condition by offering the patient renewed possibilities of self-knowledge and creative fulfillment.[2]

Scholarly reception[edit]

Ricœur's work has been grouped with Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization (1955), Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death (1959), Philip Rieff's Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959), and Jürgen Habermas's Knowledge and Human Interests (1968) by Jeffrey Abramson, who writes that they jointly placed Sigmund Freud at the center of moral and philosophical inquiry.[3]

Freud and Philosophy was described as "monumental" by literary critic Frank Kermode,[4] while historian Paul Robinson called it the locus classicus of the "portrait of Freud as a hermeneutician and philosopher - a figure on the model not of Darwin but of Nietzsche", which has "dominated the largely literary and philosophical representations of Freud in recent scholarship."[5] Psychoanalyst Joel Kovel sees Freud and Philosophy as an important demonstration that Freud was a post-Hegelian thinker, though he notes that Freud himself would have rejected any association with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.[6]

Adolf Grünbaum, in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984), has criticized Ricœur's hermeneutic interpretation of Freud. Grünbaum denounces Ricœur's attempt to limit the proper subject of psychoanalysis to the verbal communications of the patient in analysis as "ideological surgery" and "mutilation" of psychoanalysis. Grünbaum argues that Freud could not have accepted such a limited conception of the proper domain of psychoanalysis, since he often considered the nonverbal behavior of patients, speculated about the psychological meaning of artifacts such as statues and paintings, and most importantly believed that his discoveries held true for people who had never been analyzed and therefore never had to produce a narrative account of their symptoms.[7] Jonathan Lear criticizes Ricœur's work, blaming it, along with Habermas's Knowledge and Human Interests, for convincing some psychoanalysts that reasons cannot be causes, a view Lear considers part of a mistaken philosophical tradition.[8]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Robinson 1993. p. 195.
  2. ^ Norris 2005. p. 818.
  3. ^ Abramson 1986. p. ix.
  4. ^ Kermode 1989. p. 147.
  5. ^ Robinson 1993. p. 73.
  6. ^ Kovel 1991. pp. 5, 240.
  7. ^ Robinson 1993. pp. 195-196, 198.
  8. ^ Lear 1992. p. 49.


  • Abramson, Jeffrey B. (1986). Liberation and Its Limits: The Moral and Political Thought of Freud. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-2913-0. 
  • Kermode, Frank (1989). An Appetite for Poetry: Essays in Literary Interpretation. London: William Collins Sons & Co. ISBN 0-00-215388-2. 
  • Kovel, Joel (1991). History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-2916-5. 
  • Lear, Jonathan (1992). Love and its Place in Nature: A Philosophical Interpretation of Freudian Psychoanalysis. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-16641-5. 
  • Norris, Christopher (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926479-1. 
  • Robinson, Paul (1993). Freud and His Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08029-7.