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What is psychology?
Let me say that I don't think we should try to define psychology as a science but perhaps as a cultural form. It fits into a whole
series of phenomena with which Western culture has been familiar
for a long time, and in which there emerged such things as confession, casuistry, dialogues, discourses, and argumentations that could
be articulated in certain milieus of the Middle Ages, love courtships or
whatnot in the mannered circles of the seventeenth century.
A.B. Are there internal or external relations between psychology
as a cultural form and philosophy as a cultural form? And is philosophy a cultural form?
M.F. You're asking two questions:
1. Is philosophy a cultural form? I have to say that I'm not much of
a philosopher, so I'm not really in a position to know. I think that's the
great problem being debated now; perhaps philosophy is in fact the
most general cultural form in which we might be able to reflect on the
reality of the West.
2. Now, what are the relations between psychology as a cultural
form and philosophy? Well, I believe that we are looking at a point of
conflict that for five hundred years has set philosophers and psychologists against one another, a problem that is given a new pertinence by all the questions that revolve around educational reform.


"'This interview, conducted by Alain Badiou, appeared in Dossiers p'edagogiques de la

radio~tetevision scolaire (27 Feb. 1965), pp. 65-71. Robert Hurley's translation.

Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology

I think we can say this: first, that psychology and, through psychology, the human sciences have indeed been in a very tangled relationship with philosophy since the nineteenth century. What is one to
make of this entanglement of philosophy and the human sciences?
One can tell himself that philosophy in the Western world delimited a
domain, blindly and in the void as it were, in darkness, in the obscurity of its own consciousness and its methods-the domain that it
called the "soul" or "thought,'' and that now serves as a legacy that the
human sciences have to cultivate in a clear, lucid, and positive manner. So the human sciences would be legitimately occupying that
rather vague domain which was marked off but left fallow by philosophy.
That is what one might reply. I think it is what would be said,
rather willingly, by people who can be thought of as the defenders of
the human sciences, people who consider that the ancient philosophical task, which originated in the West with Greek thought, should
now be resumed using the tools of the human sciences. I don't think
that defines the exact dimensions of the problem. It seems to me that
such a way of analyzing things is clearly tied to a philosophical perspective, which is positivism.
One might also say something else- the contrary. It may be part of
the destiny of Western philosophy that, since the nineteenth century,
something like an anthropology became possible; when I say "anthropology" I am not referring to the particular science called anthropology, which is the study of cultures exterior to our own; by
"anthropology" I mean the strictly philosophical structure responsible
for the fact that the problems of philosophy are now all lodged within
the domain that can be called that of human finitude.
If one can no longer philosophize about anything but man insofar
as he is a Homo natura, or insofar as he is a finite being, to that extent
isn't every philosophy at bottom an anthropology? This being the
case, philosophy becomes the cultural form within which all the sciences of man in general are possible.
That is what could be said, and it would be, if you will, the opposite
analysis to the one I outlined a moment ago, so that in the great destiny of Western philosophy it could co-opt the human sciences, just as
previously one could co-opt philosophy as a kind of blank program of
what the human sciences should be. That is the entanglement, which

Philosophy and Psychology

is what we have to think through, both now, here where we are, and
generally in the coming years.
A.B. You said in the first perspective that, on the whole, philosophy was conceived as prescribing its domain to a positive science that
would later ensure its actual elucidation. In this perspective what can
ensure the specificity of psychology, in comparison with other types of
investigation? Can positivism, by its own means, ensure that specificity and does it intend to do so?
M.F. Well, at a time when the human sciences did in fact receive
their problematic, their domain, and their concepts from a philosophy
that was mainly that of the eighteenth century, I think that psychology
could be defined either as a science, let's say, of the soul, or as a
science of the individual. To that extent, I think the differentiation
from the other human sciences that existed then, and that was already
possible, could be made in a rather clear manner: one could oppose
psychology to the sciences of the physiological order, just as one opposed the soul to the body; one could oppose psychology to sociology,
just as on,e opposed the individual to the collectivity or the group, and
if one defines psychology as the science of consciousness, to what is
one going to oppose it? Well, for a period extending roughly from
Arthur Schopenhauer to Nietzsche, it could be said that psychology
was opposed to philosophy, just as consciousness was opposed to the
unconscious. I think, moreover, that it was precisely around the elucidation of the nature of the unconscious that the reorganization and
the repartitioning of the human sciences were carried out, essentially
around Freud, and the positive definition, inherited from the eighteenth century, of psychology as a science of consciousness and of the
individual can no longer stand, now that Freud has existed.
A.B. Now let's place ourselves in the other perspective: the problematic of the unconscious, which you see as the source of the restructuring of the domain of the human sciences. What meaning do
you assign to it, given that the human sciences are regarded as a
moment in the destiny of Western philosophy?
M.F. This problem of the unconscious is really very difficult, because apparently one can say that psychoanalysis is a form of psychology that is added to the psychology of consciousness, doubling
the psychology of consciousness with a supplementary layer that
would, be that of the unconscious. And, as a matter of fact, it was
realized immediately that by discovering the unconscious one pulled

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Philosophy and Psychology

in at the same time a lot of problems that no longer involved either the
individual, exactly, or the soul opposed to the body; but that one
brought back inside the strictly psychological problematic what had
previously been excluded from it, either on the grounds that it was
physiology, reintroducing the problem of the body, or sociology, reintroducing the problem of the individual with his milieu, the group to
which he belongs, the society in which he is caught, the culture in
which he and his ancestors have always thought. With the result that
the simple discovery of the unconscious is not an addition of domains:
it is not an extension of psychology, it is actually the appropriation, by
psychology, of most of the domains that the human sciences
covered- so that one can say that, starting with Freud, all the human
sciences became, in one way or another, sciences of the psyche. And
the old realism a Ia Emile Durkbeim- conceiving of society as a substance in opposition to the individual who is also a kind of substance
incorporated into society-appears to me to be unthinkable now. In
the same way, the old distinction of the soul and the body, which was
still valid even for the psychophysiology of the nineteenth century,
that old opposition no longer exists, now that we know that our body
forms part of our psyche, or forms part of that experience, conscious
and unconscious at once, which psychology addresses-so that all
there is now, basically, is psychology.
A.B. This restructuring, which culminates in a sort of psychological totalitarianism, is carried out around the theme of the discovery of
the unconscious, to repeat your expression. Now, the word discovery
is usually linked to a scientific context. How do you understand the
discovery of the unconscious, then? Wbat type of discovery is involved?
M.F. Well, the unconscious was literally discovered by Freud as a
thing; he perceived it as a certain number of mechanisms that existed
at the same time in man in general and in a given particular man.
Did Freud thereby commit psychology to a radical concretification
[chosification], against which the entire subsequent history of modem
psychology never ceased to react, up to Maurice Merleau-Ponty; up to
contemporary thinkers? Possibly so; but it may be precisely in that
absolute horizon of things that psychology was made possible, if only
as criticism.
Then again, for Freud the unconscious has a languagelike structure; but one should bear in mind that Freud is an exegete and not a

semiologist; he is an interpreter and not a grammarian. His problem,

finally, is not a problem oflinguistics, it is a problem of decipherment.
Now, what is it to interpret, what is it to treat a language not as a
linguist does but as an exegete or hermeneut does- if not in fact to
grant that there exists a kind of absolute graphy that we will have to
discover in its very materiality- and go on to recognize that this materiality is meaningful, a second discovery; and then to find out what it
means, a third discovery; and finally, fourthly, to discover the laws
according to which these signs mean what they do. It is then, and only
then, that one encounters the layer of semiology, that is, for example,
the problem of metaphor and metonymy, that is, the ways in which a
group of signs may be able to say something. But this fourth discovery
is fourth only in relation to three more fundamental ones, and these
three primary discoveries are the discovery of something that is there
in front of us, the discovery of a text to be interpreted- the discovery of
a kind of absolute ground for a possible hermeneutic.
A.B. The specialists of decipherment of texts distinguish decipherment and decoding: decipherment consisting in deciphering a text to
which one has the key, and decoding, a text to which one doesn't have
the key, the very structure of the message. Would psychological methods be in the category of decipherment or that of decoding?
M.F. I'll say that it's decoding, and yet not entirely, because there
again the concepts of decipherment and decoding are concepts that
linguists have essentially defined in order to co-opt what is, in my
view, unco-optable for any linguistics-that is, hermeneutics, interpretation. Let us accept, if you will, the notion of decoding: I would
say that Freud in effect decodes, which is to say, he recognizes that
there is a message there. He doesn't know what that message means;
he doesn't know the laws according to which the signs can mean
what they mean. So he has to discover at one go both what the message means and what the laws are by which the message means what
it means. In other words, the unconscious must convey not only what
it says but the key to what it says. And it is for that reason, moreover,
that psychoanalysis, the experience of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic
language have always intrigued literature. There is a kind offascination of contemporary literature, not only with psychoanalysis but with
all the phenomena that are connected with madness: because what is
madness now, in the contemporary world, if not a message, if not
language, signs that one hopes-because it would be too dreadful


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otherwise-mean something, signs whose meaning is not known and

whose means of conveying it is not known. And, consequently, madness must be treated as a message that would have its. own key within
itself. That is what Freud does when he's faced with a hysterical
symptom; that is what is done by people who are now trying to address the problem of psychosis.
And, after all, what is literature if not a certain language about
which we know very well that it does not say what it says. For if
literature meant to say what it says, it would simply say: "The marquise went out at five o'clock. . . ."We know very well that literature
doesn't say that, so we know that it is a second-order language, folded
back on itself, which means something other than what it says. We
don't know what that other language is that's underneath; we know
just that, at the end of our reading of the novel, we should have discovered what it means and in terms of what, of what laws the author
was able to say what he meant. We need to have done both an exegesis and a semiology of the text.
Hence there is a kind of symmetrical structure of literature arid
madness that consists in the fact that one cannot do their semiology
except by doing their exegesis, their exegesis except by doing their
semiology, and this reciprocal tie absolutely cannot be undone, I
think. Let us say simply that up to 195~ it had merely been understood,
very poorly moreover, very approximately, with regard to psychoanalysis or literary criticism, that something like an interpretation
was at issue. It had not been seen that there was a whole dimension of
semiology, of analysis of the very structure of signs. This semiological
dimension is now being uncovered and, consequently, the interpretive dimension is being hidden -and, in point of fact, it is the structure
of envelopment, of wrapping, which characterizes the language of
madness and the language of literature, and that is why we would
arrive at a situation where not only all the human sciences are psychologized, but even literary criticism and literature are psychologized.
A.B. If the unconscious presents itself on the whole as a textobject, to preserve your concretist [chosiste) perspective, in which the
message is discovered as always adhering to a code-so that there is
no general code within which the message might disclose its meaning
in an a priori fashion, as it were-then a psychology cannot be a general science: it never deals with anything but texts that are radically
singular, being the bearers of their own specific code. And psychology

is, therefore, a science of the individual, not only by virtue ofits object
but ultimately by virtue of its method. Or is there a general hermeneutic?
M.F. One needs to distinguish, in this instance and elsewhere, between the general and the absolute; there is no absolute hermeneutic,
in the sense that one can never be sure that one has obtained the final
text, that what one has obtained doesn't mean something else behind
what it means. And one can never be sure, on the other hand, of doing
an absolute linguistics. So, whatever the approach, one is never sure
of reaching either the absolutely general form or the absolutely primary text.
That being said, I still think that there are relatively large generalized structures, and that, for example, there may be among several
individuals a certain number of identical processes [procedes] that
may be encountered in all of them alike; and there is no reason why
structures you have discovered for one would not apply to the other.
A.B. Will psychology be, in the last instance, the science of these
structures or knowledge of the individual text?
M.F. Psychology will be the knowledge of structures; and the
eventual therapeutics, which cannot fail to be tied to psychology, will
be knowledge of the individual text-that is, I don't think psychology
can ever dissociate itself from a certain normative program. Psychology may well be, like philosophy itself, a medicine and a therapeutics-actually, there is no doubt that it's a medicine and a
therapeutics. And the fact that in its most positive forms psychology
happens to be separated into two subsciences, which would be psychology and pedagogy for example, or psychopathology and psychiatry, separated into two moments as isolated as these, is really nothing
but the sign that they must be brought together. Every psychology is a
pedagogy, all decipherment is a therapeutics: you cannot know without transforming [sans tran,iformerj.
A.B. Several times you have seemed to say that psychology is not
satisfied with establishing relations, structures, no matter how rigorous and complex, between given elements, but that it always involves
interpretations-and that the other sciences, on the contrary, when
they encountered data to be interpreted, were no longer adequate to
the task. And you seem to be saying that psychology had to appear on
the scene. If that is the case, does the word "psychology" seem to you

Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology

to have the same meaning in expressions like "human psychology"
and "animal psychology?"
M.F. I'm glad you've asked that question, because as a matter of
fact I'm responsible for a shift. First, I said that the general articulation
of the human sciences had been completely remodeled by the discovery of the unconscious, and that psychology had paradoxically assumed a kind of imperative over the other sciences; and then I started
talking about psychology in a strictly Freudian perspective-as if all
psychology could only be Freudian. There was a general repartitioning of the human sciences starting with Freud; that's an undeniable
fact, I believe, one that even the most positivist psychologists couldn't
deny. This doesn't mean that all psychology, in its most positive developments, became a psychology of the unconscious or a psychology of
the relations of consciousness to the unconscious. There remained a
certain physiological psychology; there remained a certain experimental psychology. After all, the laws of memory, as they were established by my namesake fifty, sixty years ago, have absolutely nothing
to do with Freudian forgetting. That remains what it is, and I don't
think that at the level of positive, quotidian knowledge the presence of
Freudianism has really changed the observations that can be made
either about animals, or even about certain aspects of human behavior. Freudianism involves, a kind of archaeological transformation; it
is not a general metamorphosis of all psychological knowledge.
A.B. But then, if the term "psychology" encompasses aspects that
are so different, what meaning do these aspects share? Is there a unity
of psychology?
M.F. Yes, if we grant that when a psychologist studies the behavior
of a rat in a maze, what he is trying to define is the general form of
behavior that might be true for a man as well as a rat; it is always a
question of what can be known about man.
A.B. Then would you agree with the statement that the object of
psychology is knowledge of man, and the different "psychologies" are
so many ways of gaining that knowledge?
M.F. Yes, basically, I would agree with that- but I wouldn't want to
repeat it too often, because it sounds too simple ... But it's much
less simple if one considers that, at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, there appeared the very curious project of knowing man.
That is probably one of the fundamental facts in the history of European culture- because even though there were, in the seventeenth

Philosophy and Psychology

and eighteenth centuries, books titled Traite de l'hommr? or A Treatise
qf Human Nature, 2 they absolutely did not treat of man in the way that
we do when we do psychology. Until the end of the eighteenth
century-that is, until Kant-every reflection on man is a secondary
reflection with respect to a thought that is primary, and that is, let's
say, the thought of the infinite. It was always a matter of answering
questions like these: Given that the truth is what it is, or that mathematics or physics have taught this thing or that, why is it that we
perceive in the way that we perceive, that we know in the way that we
know, that we are wrong in the way that we are wrong?
Starting with Kant, there is a reversal: the problem of man will be
raised as a kind of cast shadow, but this will not be in terms of the
infinite or the truth. Since Kant, the infinite is no longer given, there is
no longer anything but finitude; and it's in that sense that the Kantian
critique carried the possibility-or the peril-of an anthropology.
A.B. During a certain period, in our classes, much was made of the
distinction between "explain" and "understand" in the human sciences. Does that distinction have any meaning in your view?
M.F. I'm afraid to say yes, but it does seem to me that the first time
"explain" and "understand" were distinguished and put forward in
that way- as radical, absolute, and mutually incompatible epistemological forms-it was by Wilhelm Dilthey. Now, all the same, it is
something very important, and it was precisely Dilthey who wrote, to
my knowledge, the only history of hermeneutics in Western history, a
work that was a bit rough but extremely interesting. Now, I think
what is profound in him is the feeling he had that hermeneutics represented a quite particular mode of reflection, whose meaning and
value risked being hidden by different modes of knowledge more or
less borrowed from the natural sciences. And he had a strong feeling
that the epistemological model of the natural sciences was going to be
imposed as a norm of rationality on the human sciences, whereas
these same sciences were probably just one of the avatars of the
hermeneutic techniques that had always existed in the Western
world, since the first Greek grammarians, in the exegetes of Alexandria, in the Christian and modern exegetes. And I think tha,t Dilthey
intuited the historically general context that psychology and the human sciences in general belonged to in our culture. That is what he
defined, in a rather mystical way, by understanding as opposed to
explanation. Explanation would be the bad epistemological model;


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Philosophy and Psychology

understanding is the mythical figure of a human science restored to

its radical meaning as exegesis.
A.B. Do you think that what is said of the exact and rigorous sciences can be said of psychology as a science and a technique-that it
carries out its own critique of its methods, its concepts, and so on?
M.F. I beiieve that what is currently taking place in psychoanalysis and in certain other sciences such as anthropology is something
similar to that. The fact that after Freud's analysis something like
Jacques Lacan's analysis is possible, that after Durkheim something
like Claude Levi-Strauss is possible-all of that proves, in fact, that the
human sciences are establishing in and for themselves a certain critical relationship that calls to mind the relationship that physics or
mathematics maintain towards themselves. The same is true of linguistics.
A.B. But not of experimental psychology?
M.F. Well, no, not up to now. But, after all, when psychologists do
studies on learning and they look at the data, determining the extent
to which their informational analyses may enable them to formalize
the results obtained, that is also a kind of reflexive and generalizingand foundational- relationship that psychology establishes for itself.
Now, it cannot be said that cybernetics or information theory is the
philosophy or the psychology oflearning, just as it cannot be said that
what Lacan is doing, or what Levi-Strauss is doing, is the philosophy
of psychoanalysis or of anthropology. It is instead a certain reflexive
relationship of science with itself.
A.B. If you were in a philosophy class, the kind that we have now,
what would you teach on the subject of psychology?
M.F. The first precaution I would take, if! were a philosophy professor and I had to teach psychology, would be to buy myself the most
realistic mask I can imagine and the one farthest from my normal
face, so that my students would not recognize me. I would try, like
Anthony Perkins in Psycho, to adopt another voice so that none of my
speech patterns would appear. That is the first precaution I would
take. Next I would try, as far as possible, to introduce the students to
the techniques that are currently being used by psychologists, laboratory methods, social psychology methods. I would try to explain to
them what psychoanalysis consists in. And then, the following hour, I
would remove my mask, I would take up my own voice again, and we
would do philosophy, even if this meant reencountering psychology,

at that moment, as a kind of absolutely unavoidable and inevitable

impasse that Western thought entered into in the nineteenth century.
But when I would say that it's an absolutely unavoidable and inevitable impasse, I would not criticize it as a science; I would not say that
it is not really a positive science; I wouldn't say that it's something that
ought to be more philosophical or less philosophical. I would say simply that there was a kind of anthropological slumber in which philosophy and the human sciences were enchanted, as it were, and put
to sleep by one another- and that we need to awake from this anthropological slumber, just as in the past people awoke from the dogmatic

1 Rene Descartes, Traite de l'homme (Paris: Clerselier, 1664), in Oeuvres et lettres, ed. A. Bridoux
(Paris: Gallimard, 1955), pp. 8o5-73 [lreatise qf Man, trans. Thomas Steele Hall (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972)].

David Hume, A Treatise Q[ Human Nature, Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental
Method qf Reasoning into Moral Subjects (London: J. Noon, 1739-1740), 5 vols., trans. by A.
Leroy as Traite de lii nature humaine: essai pour introduire la mk.thode experimentale dans le.s

sujets morau.x (Paris: Aubier~Montagne, 19T3), 2 vols.