Freud, Economics and Salvation

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939

One of the great contributions of Freud and later psychoanalytic theorists is that they taught us to look sideways at ourselves. Sometimes what seems clear and straightforward is, on closer analysis, muddy and frustratingly complex.

This is one of the reasons why in recent years, I’ve found myself more and more interested in economic issues. Like psychoanalytic theory, economics brings a healthy dose of skepticism to any conversation about human action. Unlike Freud and his disciples, however, economic analysis is scientific in the sense that it offers for consideration hypotheses and theories that are empirically and logically falsifiable. Put another way, when Freud is right about our dark, unacknowledged motives, he is as right as any of the Church fathers are about the pervasive and corrupting consequences of sin.

And when Freud is wrong? Well this is where I think intellectual honest requires me to part company with him. Not so much because he and his followers are wrong but because how they respond to the shortcomings of their own work. There is a tendency in their theorizing not simply to resist but actively and even aggressively reject criticism and so correction. This is done by the use of a clever rhetoric device that allows them to take disagreement as evidence not of their own error but of their critics’ bad faith and resistance to the illuminating insight of psychoanalysis.  In a word, psychoanalysis lends itself to bullying.

So why my interest in economic issues? Continue reading

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A Christian Application of Ludwig von Mises: The Limits of Profits

For the past several weeks I’ve been reading Ludwig von MisesBureaucracy. Mindful of the fact that economics is not moral theology, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t objectionable anthropological presuppositions in von Mises. Chief among these is his methodological individualism. He assumes that all relationships are simply and exclusively matters of utilitarian exchange. As I pointed out in an earlier post, while mutually profitable exchange is not morally wrong, neither is it a morally (or has Mueller, 2010 argues, empirically) sufficient basis for understanding economics much less human relationships in their distinctiveness. Continue reading

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Virtue, Economics and Our Life Together

What I want to focus on with you the distinction Jennifer Roback Morse made in her lecture (“Economic Way of Thinking”) between two different, though I think related, approaches to the study of economic. We can understand our economic life in terms of scarcity or in terms of exchange.

The former is typically the way economics is taught and researched. Especially in a postlapsarian world, that is the creation as it has been marred by Adam’s sin, such scarcity is a given. The latter model, economics as the study of exchange or trade, is less common approach at least among contemporary scholars.  Morse argues that we make ourselves better by mutual exchange and that if exchange doesn’t make me better off I won’t (absent compulsion) make the trade. From this she draws the conclusion that profit, at least from free mutual exchange, is not only not unjust it is morally good. Continue reading

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The Human Limits of Empirical Research

The Human Limits of Empirical Research

Neuroskeptic has an interesting post on the “decline effect.”  In a nutshell, replication is a key to empirical research in both the natural and social sciences.  In the latter however what we are seeing is that often it is not possible for later researches to replicate the findings of earlier studies published in referred journal.  This leads to, for example, what appears to be the declining effectiveness of a psychiatric medication over time.  While early published studies show the drug to be effective, later studies don’t.

One suggested reason for this is that more often than not the studies that get published (at least initially) are the ones that show positive results.  What the research doesn’t submit or what doesn’t get published are studies without any results.  So, how does this happens and why does this matter?

As for the first

The problem is that there are so many ways to statistically analyze any given body of data that it’s easy to test and retest it until you find a “positive result” – and then publish that, without saying (or only saying in the small print) that your original tests all came out negative. Combine this with selective publication of only the best data, and other scientific sins, and you can pull positive results out the hat of mere random noise.

In other words, intentionally or not, the fix is in.  Contrary to the popular understanding, if empirical research is trustworthy at all, it is only so when it is the fruit of virtuous researchers and reviewers who are truthful about ALL their findings.

So why does this matter? Continue reading

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Adrian van Kaam and Christian Psychology

Later this year, I’m writing a series of posts for the Society of Christian Psychology’s blog. I’m also editing a special issue of their journal, Edifications, that will look at what has come to be called “Orthodox Pyschotherapy” by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna and others. My own contribution for the blog will focus on the work of the late Adrian van Kaam a thinker whose work in convergence of contemporary psychology and Christian spirituality has been sadly neglected. Anyway, here’s the first of what will be a series of four posts.  Posts on the SCP blog will included the references to van Kaam’s work that I have not included here.  As always, I’m interested in your thoughts on what I’ve written.

Writing primarily in the area of personality theory, the Roman Catholic priest/psychologist Adrian van Kaam offers us an interesting critical but appreciative understanding of contemporary psychology based on the intuition that human beings both give and receive form or shape to their lives. He called his personality theory formation science. He argues that this human propensity to give and receive form participates in a larger, universal process of formation that embraces the whole of existence. This mystery of formation is possible because being is not static but a process of dialogical unfolding. Continue reading

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Personality Theory and the Small Details of Daily Life

Where Freud is wrong, he is spectacularly wrong; where he is right however, he is as right as any thinker I’ve read.  This all came to mind recently when I read a post by the personality theorist and president of Hogan Assessment Systems Robert Hogan.  He writes that while it has become “very popular” for its ability to help us understand “how people behave in specific situations—for example, as members of a jury panel or eye witnesses to a mugging” social psychology only tells us “how people behave in carefully defined contexts. “  To be sure, especially if I am concerned with people in these social contexts, this information is of great interest to me and may even be very helpful. Continue reading

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The Ascetical Character of Psychotherapy

Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) ...

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The relative success of psychotherapy requires that the client learn to integrate his suffering in to his own life.  This may at first sound odd—after all, isn’t the alleviation of suffering that motivates the client to seek help.  Yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that it is the pain that drives the client—often unwillingly—to seek professional help.  But for all that it can become a moment of liberation for the client, to the degree that it is motivated by suffering, the client’s entrance into a therapeutic relationship is not freely chosen.  Again this may sound odd but think for a moment what it means existentially to do something because you are in pain.  It is not you who decide, it is rather the pain that pushes you as if by an outside force.  Indeed one can say that the client who initially seeks out a therapist (or for that matter, the sinner who seeks out a priest for confession) is under the (relative) control of his symptoms.  Or to put the matter differently, the client’s symptoms aren’t so much his as he is theirs.  The client suffering is, again existentially, a loss of freedom in the face of hopes and fears, sorrows and joys, of his own life. Continue reading

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