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Open Minded

Open Minded

Working Out the Logic of the Soul

Jonathan Lear

ISBN 9780674455344

Publication date: 09/01/1999

Jonathan Lear

Freud is discredited, so we don’t have to think about the darker strains of unconscious motivation anymore. We know what moves our political leaders, so we don’t have to look too closely at their thinking either. In fact, everywhere we look in contemporary culture, knowingness has taken the place of thought. This book is a spirited assault on that deadening trend, especially as it affects our deepest attempts to understand the human psyche—in philosophy and psychoanalysis. It explodes the widespread notion that we already know the problems and proper methods in these fields and so no longer need to ask crucial questions about the structure of human subjectivity.
“What is psychology?” Open Minded is not so much an answer to this question as an attempt to understand what is being asked. The inquiry leads , a philosopher and psychoanalyst, back to Plato and Aristotle, to Freud and psychoanalysis, and to Wittgenstein. Lear argues that Freud and, more generally, psychoanalysis are the worthy inheritors of the Greek attempt to put our mindedness on display. There are also, he contends, deep affinities running through the works of Freud and Wittgenstein, despite their obvious differences. Both are concerned with how fantasy shapes our self-understanding; both reveal how life’s activities show more than we are able to say.
The philosophical tradition has portrayed the mind as more rational than it is, even when trying to account for irrationality. Psychoanalysis shows us the mind as inherently restless, tending to disrupt its own functioning. And empirical psychology, for its part, ignores those aspects of human subjectivity that elude objective description. By triangulating between the Greeks, Freud, and Wittgenstein, Lear helps us recover a sense of what it is to be open-minded in our inquiries into the human soul.


  • Our capacity to mean more than we say is the common thread of all the essays here, which explore philosophically the phenomenon of transference in psychotherapy, the nature of the unconscious mind and the role of Eros in Freud's thinking… In the chapter 'Knowingness and Abandonment: An Oedipus for Our Time,' Mr. Lear reinterprets Sophocles's Oedipus Tyrannus…[arguing] that Oedipus's flaw was to have understood the Delphic oracle too easily, to have assumed that 'meaning is transparent to human reason' and to have ignored 'unconscious meaning'… Mr. Lear offers similarly astute and original readings of Aristotle's Poetics, Plato's Symposium and Republic and Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. He feels free to range so widely because he sees the work of these writers as related; each in its own way was 'working out the logic of the soul.' Each knew 'that one of the most important truths about us is that we have the capacity to be open minded: the capacity to live nondefensively with the question of how to live'… The critical essays will prove of value to anyone seriously engaged by literature. And the chapters on Freud and Oedipus are worth the price of admission alone… Mr. Lear concludes [that] 'What matters, as Freud himself well understood, is what we are able to do with the meanings we make'… These essays prompt us to examine those meanings, which activity, as Plato famously said, is what makes life worth living.

    —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times


  • Jonathan Lear is John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor on the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago. His works include Wisdom Won from Illness, Radical Hope, A Case for Irony, and Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life.

Book Details

  • 356 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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