Cover: Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul, from Harvard University PressCover: Open Minded in PAPERBACK

Open Minded

Working Out the Logic of the Soul

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$49.50 • £39.95 • €44.50

ISBN 9780674455344

Publication Date: 09/01/1999


356 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


Both a philosopher and a psychoanalyst, Jonathan Lear has an exploratory conversational turn of mind… In the course of 300 pages, he has moved you from the hostile vision of psychoanalysis which he confronts at the outset—that it is, after all, a waste of money better spent on Prozac—to a prospect of fertile ground, so immediate that you feel you can reach down and touch it. Set side by side, you discover anew, [that] psychoanalysis and the philosophy of mind stand in a relation to one another which is inherently bountiful.—Liam Hudson, The Times Literary Supplement

[This] collection of essays on psychoanalysis and philosophy…demonstrates the compatibilities between philosophy at its best and Freud’s psychoanalysis, and argues for the continuing cultural need for Freud’s influence… [Lear] is singularly well suited for the defense of Freud. He is deeply versed in the major works of Western philosophy and knows Freud in and out. As an active therapist he can refer to the exigencies of actual analyses to buttress, and refine, his points. More than that, Lear is a fine writer, clear, rigorous, good-humored, in command of a humane irony. Lear’s essay proceeds in the spirit of Freud’s own best work. It is shot through with common sense, while also being remarkably provocative… Lear sees deeply into the current war over Freud, much more so than Freud’s programmatic attackers… The kind of writing that [he] offers…[is] forceful, original, questing and open, [and] far from standard academic prose… Open Minded is a remarkable book—highly articulate, learned, thoughtful and fresh… Jonathan Lear is one of the most independent and perceptive analysts of contemporary intellectual culture currently at work.—Mark Edmundson, The New York Times Book Review

It is through his consistent challenging of our taken-for-granted views of the world that Lear holds true to his book’s title. In our explorations of consciousness, how easy is it to fall prey to the assumptions of knowingness that subtly preclude open mindedness? How often are we willing to challenge our fundamental assumptions in order to be open to the possibility of learning something truly unknown to us? Lear shows us how being open minded can lead to asking new questions that open up new possibilities for understanding.—Jonathan Reams, Journal of Consciousness Studies

Jonathan Lear explores what is at stake in our willingness to submit to inquiry, and the danger in positing that we already know the end of an inquiry… Lear masterfully chronicles the most basic claim of psychoanalysis: human behavior is an activity that is meaning-seeking and meaning-forming… Throughout Open Minded Lear presents his reader with a textured reading of familiar figures. In connecting the fields of philosophy and psychoanalysis, Lear does more than ask us to see these disciplines as coincidental in their modes of inquiry… Lear leaves his readers with a finely crafted example of that activity.—Jeannie Ridings, JPCS: Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society

These essays reveal Lear to be counterintuitive, playful, empathetic—oh, yes, and funny too. He may be the world’s perfect analyst… Lear reminds us that Freud’s great achievement was to locate meaning and conflict squarely within the human psyche, rather than in the realm of what the ancients called fate and the religious call divine.—Susie Linfield, The Los Angeles Times

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, The New York Times

A wise defense of Freud by a psychoanalyst and philosopher who argues that without Freud’s insights, citizens in a democratic polity are apt to believe that whatever they think and whatever they want make some kind of rational sense.The New York Times Book Review

Philosopher and psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear [believes that] Freud’s work, however flawed, still affords the best map to our layered, often irrational mental landscape. In his new book, Open Minded, he offers a rousing defense of Freud, discarding the egregious errors like penis envy and castration complex, while reassessing Freud’s broader conception of the unconscious as a repository of repressed meaning. ‘There’s been a tremendous need to trim the sails in the claims of what psychoanalysis can do,’ he admits. But still, ‘when we see the irrational behavior of Lewinsky and Clinton and Starr, we want to know not what their serotonin levels were or what evolutionary imperative they were following. We want to know what was going through their minds.’ For this, he argues, we still rely on Freud. Without him, after all, a cigar would be just a cigar.—John Leland and Claudia Kalb, Newsweek

This is a rich, imaginative and subtle book. It has an intricate structure, and though clearly written it requires concentration to read. Lear is a philosopher writing on psycho-analysis from inside, himself being a practising psycho-analyst. He also brings his insight, as a psycho-analyst, to bear on the philosophy he discusses. The parallels he sees and develops between different philosophers, between philosophers and psycho-analysts, what he has to say about Sophocles’ Oedipus, about Freud and modernity’s response to his ideas, about Plato’s Republic and Symposium, about Wittgenstein and Kant make this book interesting and well worth reading.—Ilham Dilman, Philosophical Investigations

Whatever one may think of its transcendental claims for psychoanalysis in particular, this is certainly an important book, drawing together classical and modern philosophy in support of a view of the mind that has been excluded from contemporary psychology. Of course, no philosophical system can succeed unquestionably in an attempt to justify itself. But if the nature of Mr. Lear’s claims makes him vulnerable, this also demonstrates his point: It’s only by being open to question that a system of philosophy can stay alive. So bring on the critics. Jonathan Lear is waiting to meet them.—Matthew Belmonte, The Washington Times

Jonathan Lear persuasively brings together aspects of Plato, Freud, and Wittgenstein in showing how they sometimes work together in illuminating the psyche. Open Minded is a lucid and humane blend of philosophy and psychoanalysis, learned and perceptive. At a time when Freud is besieged by ignorant armies, Lear’s work helps to remind us how absurd it is to undervalue the greatest moral essayist of our century, the era’s Montaigne.—Harold Bloom

Jonathan Lear is a superb writer. By playing back and forth between discussions of Plato, Aristotle, classic tragedy, on the one hand, Freud and the psychoanalytic process on the other, Lear has said some of the most illuminating things I have read about a number of the most difficult topics in psychoanalysis—the nature of transference, why it has the central role it does in the process of change and therapy, the relation between the public (the public language and world that analyst and patient share) and the private (the patient’s idiolect, her peculiar associative web, her unconscious fantasies).—Marcia Cavell, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley

Based upon a fresh understanding of the Freudian unconscious, Lear presents a startling, new, and profound view of human nature and society, which allows him to move between the intrapsychic and the ‘object’ world in just the way we have desperately needed. It explains the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis in a clinically convincing fashion. It solves the riddle of what is new and what is old in the transference, and how the two are mediated. It makes practical use of Freud’s larger, frequently dismissed, metapsychological hypothesis. Most exciting of all, it stands along as a Freudian alternative to what has come to be known as ‘the social construction of reality,’ doing equal justice to the public and the private, and showing how Man’s creativity implies its own tragic, biological and psychoanalytic constraints. As sophisticated philosophically as it is psychoanalytically, this book offers analysts an extremely rare opportunity to see their concerns in the light of the great philosophical tradition rather than simply as challenged by momentary philosophical fashions (though the recent ‘linguistic turn’ is also incorporated in Lear’s broad sweep.) It is a revelation to watch Lear bring out the psychoanalytically relevant meaning of the classics. Lear’s combined macroscopic and microscopic portrait of Man is in the great tradition of Loewald and Ricoeur.—Lawrence Friedman, M.D., Cornell University Medical College

When this book’s second chapter—a defense of psychoanalysis against its recent critics—appeared in The New Republic in 1995, there was an almost audible sigh of relief among those who had found the attacks preposterous, but had figured out no way to answer them. Jonathan Lear’s brilliant examination of the radical character of psychoanalysis provided the answer required. Since his essay appeared, talk about ‘the death of psychoanalysis’ has noticeably subsided.—Janet Malcolm

Imagine a dialogue between Freud and Sophocles, and then add Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Loewald. It is wondrous to imagine, but it wouldn’t work. They could not understand each other, their theories are based on different assumptions, they start by asking different questions, and they often seem to be talking at cross purposes. But then add Jonathan Lear, a philosopher and psychoanalyst who is familiar with each of them, has studied their ideas, can understand and challenge their conclusions, and can identify the themes that reverberate through their work. Even more, he is someone who can explain to us as he translates for them, and can allow us to join and participate in this remarkable dialogue. We will learn about Oedipus and the contemporary critics of psychoanalysis, who alike in that they need to know so desperately that they cannot tolerate discovering. We will discuss whether love is essential for personal growth, is its greatest obstacle, or both. We will explore what Aristotle meant by catharsis, why Plato discusses both the individual and the state in The Republic, and how psychoanalysis helps us to understand each of these. Most of all, we will be infected by Lear’s delight in wonder, in learning and in thinking, and will taste the joyous fascination that comes from the study of questions that link the mind and the soul. This book will bring pleasure to anyone who loves to think and to look again at what they thought they already knew.—Robert Michels, M.D., Walsh McDermott University Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research

An understanding, it has been said, is a place where the mind comes to rest. In this remarkable exciting and incisive book, Jonathan Lear confronts accepted understandings of how a mind works, observes that ‘we have been living on a restricted diet of questions,’ and teases into the open the restlessness at the core of a soul. His passion for inquiry plus his lively style pull the reader into the midst of a thoughtful discussion with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Freud, and Wittgenstein, an engaging debate which Lear not only brilliantly and lucidly moderates but to which he offers his own original contributions. Indeed, his consideration of Oedipus—man, myth, drama, and complex—is wise enough to integrate the irony of Sophocles’ theme of fate’s dire inevitability with Freud’s recognition of an individual’s unconscious responsibility and broad enough to expose the farce that accompanies the tragedy. How uncommon and how pleasing to open a volume and find oneself engaged in a conversation. For Lear is a professor of philosophy, practitioner of psychoanalysis, exemplar of clear thinking, and master of lucid writing. He has given us a volume rare for its genre, one which we regret coming to an end.—Warren S. Poland, M.D.

Jonathan Lear seeks—through rich and imaginative readings not only of ancient tragedy but also of Plato, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, and Freud—to restore the soul, and with it life, to contemporary philosophy and psychology.—Jennifer Whiting, Department of Philosophy, Cornell University

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