[Marxism] Frank Cioffi, Philosopher and Critic of Freud, Dies at 83

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 1 08:41:57 MST 2012

NY Times February 1, 2012
Frank Cioffi, Philosopher and Critic of Freud, Dies at 83

Frank Cioffi, an American philosopher whose scathing critique of 
Sigmund Freud’s work was one of the opening salvos in the bitter 
debate in recent decades over the legitimacy of psychoanalytic 
theories, died on Jan. 1 at his home in Canterbury, England. He 
was 83.

His death was confirmed by his nephew, Frank Cioffi, of New York.

Mr. Cioffi, an Oxford-trained philosopher who taught at the 
University of Essex, claimed no stake in the internecine warfare 
that divided Freudian analysts into many factions after Freud’s 
death. He said he had simply read Freud’s famous case studies with 
a logician’s eye and reached the conclusion that the master had 
manipulated his patients and fudged the evidence to suit his 
theories of the mind.

Mr. Cioffi’s first essay on Freud, “Freud and the Idea of a 
Pseudo-Science,” attracted little attention when it was published 
in 1970, partly because it appeared in a philosophy journal and 
partly because it was overshadowed by another Freud critique that 
drew a lot of attention that year: Kate Millett’s “Sexual 
Politics,” which condemned Freud (along with many others) for what 
she called his patriarchal bias against women.

But historians of science and Freud revisionists consider Mr. 
Cioffi’s early work to be seminal.

“A lot of people didn’t appreciate what he wrote until more of 
Freud’s papers came out, and you could see Cioffi had it right 
from the start,” said Frank J. Sulloway, whose 1979 book, “Freud, 
Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend,” raised 
similar issues.

Dr. Sulloway, an adjunct professor of psychology at the University 
of California, Berkeley, described Mr. Cioffi as “a Gregor Mendel 
figure” in the world of Freud debunkers, referring to the Austrian 
scientist who pioneered genetics but received no recognition until 
after his death.

“He looked at Freud’s text, and looked at what Freud said it 
supposedly showed, and found clear misrepresentations that others 
had overlooked for decades,” Dr. Sulloway said.

Freud’s reputation as a researcher and theoretician has undergone 
many ups and downs since his death in 1939. Some of his theories 
have been revised, some discarded; questions about his methods and 
findings plagued Freud throughout his career. But attacks on him 
by Mr. Cioffi, and a platoon of others who emerged in the ’70s, 
’80s and ’90s — including Dr. Sulloway; Frederick Crews, a retired 
professor of English at Berkeley; and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, a 
former editor of Freud’s letters — have been met with vigorous 
return fire in scholarly journals.

In 1995, the so-called Freud wars went public when the Library of 
Congress was forced to postpone a planned Freud exhibit in the 
face of protests from a cross section of historians, neurologists 
and psychologists who wanted the exhibit to reflect more of the 
findings of Freud detractors like Mr. Cioffi.

Mr. Cioffi’s path to becoming an influential critic of the founder 
of psychoanalysis began in the Little Italy neighborhood of 
Manhattan, where he was born on Jan. 11, 1928. His mother, Melina, 
died in childbirth; his father, Salvatore, a bookbinder, died soon 
after. Mr. Cioffi’s grandparents, who raised him, attributed his 
father’s death to “a broken heart,” his nephew, Frank, said.

He dropped out of high school, joined the Army, served with 
occupation forces in Japan and in 1949 drifted to Paris, where he 
befriended expatriate American writers, including James Baldwin, 
who encouraged him to attend college.

He went to Oxford on the G.I. Bill, graduating with a master’s 
degree in philosophy in 1954. He held teaching posts at English 
universities and then in Singapore and at Berkeley. He retired 
from the University of Essex as a professor of philosophy in 1994.

In addition to his nephew, he is survived by his wife, Nalini 
Nair, whom he met in Singapore, and a stepgrandson.

Mr. Cioffi’s first essay on Freud, in 1970, argued that Freud’s 
writing had more in common with Renaissance poetry and the 
mystical parts of the Bible than with scientific research. Freud, 
he wrote, first had inspirations and insights, then voiced them 
through the stories of patients — whether they reflected his 
patients’ real stories or not. When he decided that neurosis was 
rooted in sexual fantasies about one’s parents, for instance, 
Freud made sure his patients “remembered” such fantasies, whether 
they really remembered them or not, Mr. Cioffi wrote.

He quoted Freud’s description of the process in a passage of “The 
Life and Work of Sigmund Freud,” a three-volume biography by 
Ernest Jones that was researched and published in the 1950s with 
the support of the Freud family.

“Quite often we do not succeed in bringing the patient to 
recollect what has been repressed,” Freud said. “Instead, we 
produce in him an assured conviction of the truth of the 
construction, which achieves the same therapeutic result as a 
recaptured memory.”

What Freud described in that passage, Mr. Cioffi said, was an 
example of pseudoscience.

In 1973, he summarized his critique for a wider audience on the 
BBC’s Radio 3 culture channel, with a lecture titled “Was Freud a 

Mr. Cioffi concluded that the answer was yes and no.

Freud may have convinced himself of the veracity of the stories he 
evinced, he said. But the case histories behind his theories of 
the life of the human unconscious had “about as much historicity 
as that of George Washington and the cherry tree.”

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