Freud Versus Davidson

  • David Livingstone Smith
Part of the Studies in Cognitive Systems book series (COGS, volume 23)


Davidson offers an account of human irrationality which he also describes as providing philosophical justification for Freud’s ‘conceptual framework’. However, closely examined, how consistent is Davidson’s thesis with Freud’s position?


Propositional Attitude Mental Content Mental Causation Intentional Stance Intentionalistic Explanation 
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  1. 1.
    I do not know of any place in Davidson’s writings where he discusses the nature of consciousness.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The term ‘complex’ is frequently misattributed to Jung, an error which was even committed by Freud himself. Anzieu (1986) has noted that Freud used the term ‘complex of ideas’ at least as early as 1892, long before Jung, and used it again in the ‘Project’. Jung re-defined Freud’s essentially cognitive concept of the complex as ‘an emotionally coloured ideational content’ (Anzieu, 1986: 80). Breuer appears to attribute the term to Janet (Freud and Breuer, 1895: 231).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Although Davidson’s thesis may conceivably throw light upon Freud’s (1915b) otherwise puzzling claim that repressed ideas attract to themselves preconscious items with which they cohere semantically.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The view that unconscious mental contents possess (or at least may possess) a rational structure is surprisingly widespread amongst those attempting to underwrite philosophi- cally or derive support from Freudian theory. Fodor (1991), for example, writes in the passage alluded to in note 10, that only three things of lasting importance have happened in cognitive science, one of which is:Google Scholar
  5. Freud’s demonstration that postulating unconscious beliefs and desires allows a vast range of anomalous behavioral (and mental) phenomena to be brought within the purview of familiar forms of belief/desire explanation (of practical rationality). Freud thus anticipated, and roundly refuted, the charge that Granny-psychology is stagnant science (277).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    This is analogous to Davidson’s (e.g., 1970) claim that relations between events only instantiate causal laws under certain descriptions.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Dennett’s (1986) distinction between beliefs and opinions corresponds quite closely to the fundamental elements of Freud’s analysis. Briefly, ‘beliefs’ are non-introspectable, non-linguistic states which determine behavior and are inferred from behavior. Opinions, on the other hand, are sentences to which one assents. Dennett opines that akrasia and self-deception are made possible by the chasm between belief and opinion.Google Scholar
  8. My opinions can be relied on to predict my behavior only to the degree, normally large, that my opinions and beliefs are in rational correspondence.... It is just this feature of the distinction between opinion and belief that gives us, I think, the first steps of an acceptable account of those twin puzzles, self-deception and akrasia (306307).Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See Gardner’s (1993) discussion of how Davidson is required to exceed his bare criteria for mental division in order to make his thesis explanatory rather than just redescriptive.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • David Livingstone Smith

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