[Marxism] Frank Cioffi, Philosopher and Critic of Freud, Dies at 83
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
By PAUL VITELLO
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
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
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
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.”
More information about the Marxism