This essay will discuss the argument whether Freud’s theory of psycho-analysis is falsifiable or not. The ways in which Freud himself tried to view his theory as errorless are going to be explained and Karl Popper’s approach to the pseudo-science is going to be discussed. Contradict opinions to Popper’s theory are going to be referred to also.
Sigmund’s Freud psycho-analytic theory had been very influential in the course of psychology. His ideas had been generally considered as correct and fundamental for newer theories. Many assumed so because it was always able to provide explanation to any state and therefore thought of psycho-analysis as unfalsifiable. Webster (1995) mentions that what theorists firstly considered as an advantage of Freud’s theory was the fact that he discovered a way of proposing his own hypothesis and therefore finding theoretical solutions on a pseudo-empirical basis. In fact, Freud firstly made assumptions about phenomena which were not previously observed and then suggested that he is the only person capable of investigating this entity.
Karl Popper (1963) stated that in order for a theory to be scientific, it has to be testable. This can be a problem for the psycho- analysis. Popper assumed that this theory provides explanations for any possible situations and cases and therefore it is, especially by its supporters, considered as flawless. It is important to note that, by Popper, this is not seen as an advantage of Freud’s theory. He disagreed with such opinions and supported these ideas by stating that Freud’s theory, or psycho-analysis as whole, is not refutable. However, he thought that this makes the theory not stronger, but much weaker, as it does not take any unpredictable scenarios into consideration. Popper’s suggestion was to test the theories while one gets to a point when this theory is viewed as refuted. He also mentioned that psycho-analysts suppose they can explain every case in terms of their theory. It is also necessary to say that Popper did not consider those theories, which were found to be non-scientific as not valid or insignificant. He simply supposed that such theories cannot be supported empirically but only can be outcomes of observation.
When it comes to the theories of personality or also other hypothesis, every one of them is always tested in a process of acceptance. If it does not provide a satisfying explanation, newer and different solutions are looked for and tested again. A prove of such testability is that the theory offers explanations for unexpected finding and it does not only adjust the findings to itself. But Popper’s idea might have been slightly different from this. Although he should get credit for reasonable doubting of Freud’s theory, in general, he thought that everything needs to be testable in order to be scientific. And this might conclude in testing and therefore refuting and rejecting every idea which is not scientific. Constant testing of theories does not bring them closer to being proven right, by contrast, many might provide proofs of being falsifiable, but this won’t be noticed as further tests of falsification will follow.This would most probably conclude in rejecting most of the psychological theories. However, Webster (1995) emphasised that this is something Popper was aware of.
Many theorists, mistakenly, supposed that the way how to show that the psycho-analysis is not a pseudo-science is to prove that is it testable (Cioffi, 1998). Grunbaum (1986) disagreed with Popper and he supported his opinion by saying that Freud was open to provide explanations to situations which were not predicted by his theory, but no such instances were found. Grunbaum therefore stated that psycho-analysis is a testable theory. He supported his arguments by using an example from Freud’s 1925 paper in which he admits finding of an individual who contradicts his theoretical assumptions. But what Grunbaum had not predicted was that Freud did not admit the failure of his theory to describe such situation and later explained also this unexpected finding (Robinson, 1993). This fact proves that Popper’s statements about the unfalsifiability of psycho-analysis as relevant. But Grunbaum also stated that the Popper’s criterion is not relevant as there are many different and more appropriate ways to test the differences between pseudo-sciences and real sciences (Eysenck, 1985).
Eysenck (1985), have also disagreed with Popper’s statements by pronouncing that the criterion of falsifiability is irrelevant. In order to support his opinion, he provided some instances in which it is clearly showed that Freud’s theory can be proven false and therefore is testable, despite thinking that such criterion is not decisive.
Freud’s ideas have been widely accepted in the twentieth century. It is surprising that there are still many supporters of Freud’s theory among the psychologists as his assumptions have not been scientifically proven and are often compared to the myths. As one of a very few theories, psycho-analysis is still very favoured, although many valid criticisms have been found. Those, who support this theory, will find its ideas always relevant, even if it can conclude in lowering its status among other theories. Although this finding should be, according to Popper (1963), perceived as weakness, it could be also noted that the psycho-analysis is always going to be viewed as very influential, regardless of criticisms.
Cioffi, F. (1998). Freud and the Question of Pseudoscience. USA: Carus Publishing Company.
Eysenck, H. J. (1985). Decline and Fall of Freudian Empire. United Kingdom: Harmondworth
Grunbaum, A. (1986). Precis of The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 9, 217-284.
Popper, K. (1963). Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge and Keagan Paul.
Robinson, P. (1993). Freud and His Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Webster, R. (1995). Why Freud was wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis. United Kingdom: Harper Collins Publishers
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