You are here: Home / Synopses / Jean-Claude Milner: ‘Avertissement: Qu’est-ce que la psychologie?’

This project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research grant and is supported by the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) and Kingston University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

AHRC logo

CRMEP logo

Synopsis of Jean-Claude Milner, ‘Avertissement: Qu’est-ce que la psychologie?’

[‘Foreword: What is Psychology?’]

CpA 2.Introduction:73–74

Jean-Claude Milner introduces the second volume of the Cahiers, entitled ‘What is Psychology?’ The general thrust of the Cahiers’ approach to psychology, and in particular ‘experimental psychology’, is consistent with Lacan’s critique of ‘ego-psychology’ – the version of psychoanalysis, dominant in the contemporary United States, concerned with strengthening the ‘autonomous’ ego and its defences, with enhancing its capacity to adapt to its circumstances, and so on.1 Such a psychology cannot grasp unconscious desires or drives. Since ‘consciousness constitutes itself in excluding desire from its field’, so then experimental psychology is a paradoxical discipline insofar as it tries to grasp what it excludes, ‘in order to submit it to the very laws that cut it off’. Psychology effectively reduces the subject to the status of thing or ‘tool’, in order to put the speaking subject in the position of ‘a thing that responds’ to questions, rather than raise them.

What is at stake, Milner suggests, evoking Canguilhem and then Grosrichard’s contributions to the volume, is the reduction of the subject to the manipulation of a ‘rationalised political system, one regulated according to a grid of needs and capacities’ – i.e. subjection to the self-mastery which underlies ‘all instrumental servitudes’. In order that people be reduced to the status of things or tools who ‘freely’ sell their labour-power, Marx showed, they must first be made ‘master of themselves.’ In this way ‘the subject of science’ itself becomes the object of a science which believes that it can know everything about the subject – in other words, a science which believes that there is nothing it cannot know about that which (the unconscious subject of desire) it excludes.

In relation to this psychology, genuine (i.e. Lacanian) psychoanalysis strips the conscious ego of its apparent mastery and awareness, and reconceives it as a ‘function of misunderstanding and mirage, ransom of the imaginary that science, returning to its own subjectum, must pay as the price of the exclusion with which it encircles it [the subject].’ As with Leclaire’s work included in this and subsequent issues, psychoanalysis will thus dedicate itself to an analysis of those drives that the subject can only access via the bar of repression. By the same token (as Herbert will show), psychology itself silences (i.e. represses) that ‘social psychology’ on which it is founded. To analyse psychology as a discourse (in the sense introduced by Miller in the first volume, CpA 1.Introduction) is thus to ‘delimitate in it the element that induces silence’ and misunderstanding, and ‘to specify this element as the self or ego [moi] of synthesis and mastery.’

English translation:


1. See for instance E, 245/204; 393-394/328. ‘The dimension discovered by analysis is the opposite of anything which progresses through adaptation’ (S2, 86; cf. S2, 11), and as far as analysis of a ‘beautiful soul’ is concerned, ‘the point is not to adapt him to [reality], but to show him that he is only too well adapted to it, since he assists in its very fabrication’ (E, 596/498).