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.
This paper explores how the influence of cybernetics within structuralism contributed to Lacan’s theory of the signifier as (functioning within a) structure. By examining his Freudian exploration within the broader scheme of American and French thought, the author extrapolates the link between these two theoretical paradigms and the implications that this had for his work. It is argued that in contrast to the apparent ease with which the structuralist paradigm was incorporated into Lacan’s theory, the surprise of his Seminar attendees when presented with cybernetics in 1954 was not altogether warranted. By exploring the close interaction between Jakobson and Lévi-Strauss during the 1940s, the author shows that the structuralist paradigm was already quite heavily invested by cybernetics. In commenting on two slightly different translations of an intervention that Lacan makes during the Bonneval Colloquium with Jean Hyppolite, the author pinpoints a likely turning point within Lacan’s work, within the context of his thesis on the temporality of the signifier and its relationship to the Freudian notion of repetition.
This paper begins by outlining the debate at the beginning of the twentieth century between structuralist and functionalist psychology. We examine some of the consequences of emphasizing either the functional or the structural properties of the mental apparatus. The functional explanation finds its most extreme example in Watson’s behaviorism. Then we examine Freud’s notion of the mental apparatus. We find that in the metapsychology of 1915 Freud gives priority to a structural explanation of mental phenomena, while in the metapsychology of 1923 he constructs the mental apparatus as being divided into functional units.