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The Freud EncyclopediaReview - The Freud Encyclopedia
Theory, Therapy and Culture
by Edward Erwin (Editor)
Routledge, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Nov 11th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 46)

The Freud Encyclopedia is a physically large book with 641 pages.  I have had it on my bookshelf for the past year, planning to use it as the need arose.  However, in that time, I never had occasion to use it, and that is indicative of the state of psychoanalysis today.  It is a collection of theories and practices that are increasingly irrelevant to not just ordinary life but most forms of academic inquiry.  Those who are scholars of psychoanalysis will already be familiar with most of the information the book contains.  So it is far from clear who might need The Freud Encyclopedia.  It will probably be most useful as a reference work available in college and public libraries -- maybe graduate students in psychology, literature, cultural studies and philosophy will find it a helpful resource when working on some papers. 

Nevertheless, The Freud Encyclopedia displays excellent work by its editor, Edwin Erwin, professor of philosophy at the University of Miami at Coral Gables.  Erwin has collected some of the most outstanding scholars in the field.  The notable entries in this work include:

·        Morris Eagle on Repression

·        Edward Erwin on a wide range of topics, including Experimental Evidence; Free Will; Meaning and Psychoanalysis; Mind and Body; Pseudoscience and Psychoanalysis.

·        Seymour Fisher and Roger Greenberg on Scientific Tests of Freud's Theories and Therapy

·        Clark Glymour on Philosophy and Psychoanalysis

·        Adolf Grunbaum on Critique of Psychoanalysis

·        Robert Holt on Metapsychology

·        Judith Kegan Gardiner on Feminism and Psychoanalysis

·        Patricia Kitcher on Cognitive Psychology and Psychoanalysis

·        Donald Spence on Interpretation

Some entries are so short they are more like extended glossary explanations.  There are some well-known authors whose entries are very short or whose entries are not on topics on for which they are known as experts, which seems like a mis-use of resources.  These include:

·        Ilham Dilman on Infantile Sexuality

·        Jerome Neu on Perversions

·        Melvin Sabshin on Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis

·        Louis Sass on Modernism, Postmodernism, and Freudianism

Some of the historical entries are particularly interesting.  Malcolm Macmillan's article on Pierre Janet is very welcome, since this is part of psychoanalytic history that deserves greater attention.  Marcel Zentner does an excellent job in setting out Nineteenth-Century Precursor's of Freud.  Allen Esterson's piece on Freud's abandonment of the Seduction Theory presents an important reevaluation of the standard history.  The encyclopedia is not exhaustive and it is patchy when it comes to post-Freudian theory.  There is comparatively little on the work of Heinz Kohut or Roy Schafer, for instance.  There are some small problems with links to entries too.  For example, if one looks under K for Kohut, one finds "Kohut's Psychology of Narcissism: See Narcissism" but in fact Burness Moore's article only has half a page on Kohut.  One needs to go to the useful index to find other articles discussing Kohut, and one can discover that Ernest Wolf's article on "Self Psychology" in fact has more substantial discussion of Kohut.

Given the current crisis of psychoanalysis, the central issue behind a project such as this encyclopedia is why anyone should take the theory or form of psychotherapy seriously.  These days, with managed care controlling most talk therapy, very few can afford to engage in traditional psychoanalysis meeting four or fives times a week with an analyst.  Furthermore, there seems to be no good evidence that such therapy is any more helpful than far more minimal forms of talk therapy.  Many of the empirical claims of psychoanalytic theory have not been confirmed and some, especially concerning psychosexual development, are highly implausible.  Other parts of psychoanalytic theory seem to defy any empirical testing, and thus are open to a change of being unscientific.  Even in the history of ideas, Freud's importance is under attack, and that of post-Freudians is especially in doubt.  Adrian Johnston makes a surprising claim in his article on Lacan, that the French psychoanalyst is a thinker "no one interested in the history of ideas in the twentieth century can avoid."  Clark Glymour's assessment seems more accurate when he points out that "major philosophical work in the twentieth century has little traceable debt to psychoanalysis or to Freud." 

As one would expect, Adolf Grunbaum has a negative assessment of psychoanalytic explanation, building on his considerable body of work in which he has previously set out his critique.  Erwin presents a more positive account of the evidential status of psychoanalysis, balancing different views on both sides, and also pointing out that the problems facing psychoanalysis also concern many other cognitive and behavioral theories.  Fisher and Greenberg argue that the scientific evidence shows that Freud was right about some things and wrong about others.  Robert Holt recognizes that both psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice are deeply flawed, but he suggests that progress has been made on reformulating and systematizing the clinical theory.  As editor, Erwin has done a good job at collecting a balanced range of views of psychoanalysis, and among them are some plausible arguments defending Freudian approaches. 

Overall then, The Freud Encyclopedia serves as an excellent resource for those interested in learning about the scientific and cultural status of psychoanalysis.  It provides a sampling of some of the best recent scholarship in the area, and it has been edited with great intelligence.  With its frank admission of the epistemic problems facing the theory, it brings credibility to its otherwise sympathetic attitude toward psychoanalysis.  It remains hard to be see how psychoanalysis can survive as an independent tradition, but this work does help one envisage how Freud could still provide inspiration in the formulation of new interdisciplinary work on the emotions and developmental theory.  


© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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