Chris Blattman

What do Marx, Freud, and Adler have in common?

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Preparing for my first lecture in research design, I found myself re-reading Karl Popper’s 1953 lecture on the philosophy of science. What a joy to read.

I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still ‘un-analysed’ and crying aloud for treatment.

The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which ‘verified’ the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasized by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation–which revealed the class bias of the paper–and especially of course in what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their ‘clinical observations’. As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analysing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. ‘Because of my thousandfold experience,’ he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: “And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-onefold.”

If you have not read the whole thing, you should.

3 Responses

  1. Chris – thanks for pointing me to the essay/ lecture. It was very enjoyable to read – both insightful and accessible. I especially enjoyed the critique of Wittgenstein and the “theory of meaning”. Reminded me how glad I am to be a (social) scientist and not a philosopher.

  2. I am not able to get my machine to read the pdf at this point, so I am stuck with the clipping of it…and maybe tomorrow I can read the whole thing with a machine that is OS-reinstalled.
    The dis of customer 1001 put a smile on my face…much needed lately. I wonder how it went with customer #1, the wife, who may have had a vested interest? Thinking about the construction of that thousandfold and our nearly departed President, so much depends not on a constructive audience, but a lazy, compliant, manageable one. The results are not so important as the characterization of them, the persuasiveness of that characterization.
    So surround yourself with dumbos esp in the early going…anyone who doesn’t think you are wonderful, is a threat.

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