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.
It is argued that what is at stake in psychoanalytic theory, is first of all psychoanalytic practice, i.e. the endeavour to guide the psychoanalyst in bringing his conception of his experience above the level of common sense knowledge. Secondly, psychoanalytic theory must be constructed in such a way that it holds out from a scientific point of view. More specifically, Lacanian theory is a theory on the subject, on desire and on jouissance and must be situated in the intersection of cognitivism (the symbolic) and ethology (the imaginary), while it introduces a third dimension, that of the jouissance (the real). Furthermore, it is argued that psychoanalysis discovered that in the human animal language has emancipated itself from its operational function in that it parasitizes and transforms animal jouissance.
By means of two short cases taken from a practice with “special” youngsters, the author illustrates the resilience of the signifier. Fundamental and epistemological problems of psychoanalysis are constantly surfacing in that sort of clinical material and this applies even to trivial examples. It raises questions such as what is the unconscious? How can one know it? Time and again one is confronted with the duplicity of the signi¬fier, in practice as well as in theory. This can make it particularly difficult to maintain one’s intervention as psychoanalytic. Despite the failing symbolic, which can never bring about a complete effect in the real, the analyst is obliged to operate with the signifier. More so, the unconscious only gains the right to exist through the speech of a subject to a sujet supposé savoir, and only there, in the desire of the “patient” that talks to the analyst (who is a former “patient” himself), can psychoanalysis attempt to restrict the duplicity (amongst it the deceit of its own decay).
On the objectification of the psyche as a living structure: An epistemological study of Freud’s public and private writings 1890-1900
In this doctoral defence on the objectification of the psyche as a living structure the author writes a transcendental history of psychoanalysis, i.e., a history which implies that an epistemological questioning of the psyche must be situated on a libidinal level.