Summary: Regardless of the type of theory or knowledge praxis one engages in, the question of the relation between theory and practice or theory and reality arises as a problematic one. To address this issue, this article explores the limits of the nominalist argument that views concepts as post res labels attached to concrete objects. Among other things, the reality to which the number zero (as a concept) corresponds constitutes a major difficulty for nominalism. Based on this difficulty, the article elaborates another epistemological view, a specific kind of rationalism or dialectical materialism that can be found in the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. This dialectical materialism emphasizes the specific ability of concepts to mark and realize negative features in reality, making it possible to effect changes in it. In this sense, both the question of the relation of theory to reality and that of change in psychoanalytic practice can be viewed from a different angle than that of a simple one-to-one correspondence. To put this view to the test, the article explores the extent to which it can get a grip on some of the slippery fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, such as the unconscious and sexuality.
This article discusses the influence of Koyré’s epistemology on Lacan’s conception of the real and more broadly on his critical examination of the relation between science and psychoanalysis. The discussion necessitates a systematic return to Koyré, whose visibility in contemporary philosophical and psychoanalytical debates is rather marginal despite his major contribution to the development of epistemology, philosophy and structural psychoanalysis in 20th century France and beyond. The article embeds Lacan’s teaching in a broader intellectual movement of French philosophy of science, which already recognised the necessity of a materialist epistemology. Following this current, Lacan openly associated his take on structuralism with dialectical materialism. Or, this positioning of psychoanalysis can hardly be understood in its overall complexity without re-examining Koyré’s philosophical and epistemological polemics and the influence of his historical examination of the foundations of modern science on mid-20th century structuralism. The latter, one could argue, repeats the modern astronomical revolution in the field of human objects (language, thought, society). Lacan’s structural psychoanalysis was undoubtedly the most radicalised version of this repetition – but precisely this would not have been possible without Koyré’s historical epistemology.