Anything that can be made to look reasonable

From Richard Webster’s Why Freud Was Wrong:

…although Freud had initially reacted skeptically to Jung’s interest in the occult, he had eventually come to regard this aspect of his work with almost exactly the same credulity he once bestowed on the ideas of Fliess. “In matters of occultism,” he replies, “I have grown humble since the great lesson Ferenczi’s experiences gave me; I promise to believe anything that can be made to look reasonable.” Freud’s words, “I promise to believe anything that can be made to look reasonable,” might well be used to summarize the intellectual ethos of psychoanalysis itself. For his most enduring achievement was, as has already been argued, to take a fundamentally superstitious and irrational view of the world, deriving directly from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and re-present it in the vocabulary of modern science. As a result of the extraordinary skill with which he did this, psychoanalysis has continued to offer to intellectuals what it also gave to its founder – a means of using science (or rather the rhetoric of science) in order to fortify traditional religious doctrines against the skepticism of science. [pp 385-6]

Interesting, I think.

I don’t find Webster’s arguments for the direct derivation of Freud’s view of the world from “the Judaeo-Christian tradition” all that convincing, just as I don’t find claims that ideas such as equality or human rights derive from that tradition convincing. The point about the appearance as opposed to reality, however, I think is spot-on.


  1. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Making the unreasonable look reasonable* sounds like a fairly accurate description of pseudoscience and religious apologetics in general: Start with a desired conclusion, use motivated reasoning to construct rationalizations**, use special pleading to patch over the gaping holes in your arguments, apply the tools of skepticism selectively to dismiss counterarguments and inconvenient facts, dress it all up in “scientific” sounding language or “philosophese”, add some figures, footnotes, quotes, and subheadings (1, 1.1, 1.1.1 etc.), and voila! Your very own pseudoscience/religious apology!
    * Especially if you don’t really understand the concepts involved.
    ** They don’t have to be good since your target audience are those who already want to believe and will grab on to any excuse to suspend disbelief.

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