Notes on Paul Meehl’s “Philosophical Psychology Session” #11

These are the notes I made whilst watching the video recording of Paul Meehl’s philosophy of science lectures. This is the tenth episode (a list of all the videos can he found here). Please note that these posts are not designed to replace or be used instead of the actual videos (I highly recommend you watch them). They are to be read alongside to help you understand what was said. I also do not include everything that he said (just the main/most complex points).


Subjectivity in Psychoanalytic inference (Meehl, 1983) how one makes inferences in the psychoanalytic session.

Most psychologists are not Freudian but many outside of the field are unaware of the controversy around it/that even other theories exist.

Despite a century of practice, no-one knows how much of Freud’s work is true.

During free association, the latent concepts are influencing the conscious thought. But the patient still intends to talk about their conscious thought rather than the conscious thought being a mere smoke-screen for the unconscious thought.

Why is there a strong divide between those who view psychoanalysis as a valid means of determining underlying psychic problems? It’s NOT: a conceptual difficulty (notion there is an unreportable set of events in the brain that indirectly controls behaviour isn’t an intrinsically flawed concept), because it’s ontologically improbable (when someone expresses disbelief at a connection between a dream and a diagnosis, they are unable to answer why it is a priori so unlikely). It’s an epistemological (evidentiary) problem: too loose a fit/too many unknowns to make a coercive argument (it has face validity but there’s too many degrees of freedom). There’s no algorithm or inductive reasoning to persuade someone who isn’t already convinced about the validity of the method (either you buy Freudian psychoanalysis or you don’t). Examples provided by Freud of its efficacy are chosen from sessions which were successful (selection bias).

Most psychoanalysis sessions are a mixture of interpretable and uninterpretable information.

Debate as to whether a clinician should always provide an interpretation or not.

Someone who is unconvinced can point to the fact there is only a limited number of motivations etc people display. Given there are so many people analysed, just by chance, there will be some positives (accurate links/explanations) even if most of the time it’s uninterpretable/a negative (misdiagnosis).

Happens to all fields that don’t use experiments or high powered statistics e.g. history, paleontology. It depends upon whether the argument appeals to a person, there’s not much one can do to persuade another who disagrees.

Personal experience is more convincing than systematic evidence for the efficacy of psychoanalysis.

Quantifying the improbability of the correct prediction would be stronger evidence.

No contradiction between saying it takes an expert to discern correct interpretations, and someone who has been trained in a certain school has biases. No logical contradiction but they produce an epistemological tension.

Low inter-rater reliability disproves veracity of measurements but high inter-rater reliability doesn’t prove the measurements are accurate or true (just they subscribe to the same school of thought).

When discussing someone’s experiences with them, the clinician is teaching them how to talk about their mind (including the researcher’s biases and school of thought).


Meehl, P. (1994) Subjectivity in Psychoanalytic Inference: The Nagging Persistence of Wilhelm Fliess’s Achensee Question. Psychoanalysis & Contemporary Thought, 17 (1), 3-82.

Yonce, J. L., 2016. Philosophical Psychology Seminar (1989) Videos & Audio, [online] (Last updated 05/25/2016) Available at: [Accessed on: 04/02/2018]

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