Problem 2: Failure of Tally Argument

Freud stated, "After all, his [the patient's] conflicts will only be successfully solved and his resistances overcome if the anticipatory ideas he is given [by the analyst] tally with what is real in him. Whatever in the doctor's conjectures is inaccurate drops out in the course of the analysis..." (Freud, 1917, p. 452). This has been called Freud's tally argument (Grünbaum, 1984), and has the following premises:

(1) Only psychoanalytic interpretation and treatment can yield correct insight into the unconscious causes of a patient's neurosis.
(2) Only the patient's correct insight into the unconscious causes of the patient's neurosis can cause a durable cure of this neurosis.

Using simple logic, these premises can be reduced to the following form:

(1) IF NOT Psychoanalytic interpretation, THEN NOT Correct insight.
(2) IF NOT Correct insight, THEN NOT Durable cure.

Logically, these premises can be further reduced, and a conclusion drawn:

(2) IF Cure, THEN Insight.
(1) IF Insight, THEN Psychoanalysis.
(3) IF Cure, THEN Psychoanalysis.

This conclusion (3) is called the Necessary Condition Thesis (NCT), or "Freud's Master Proposition": Psychoanalysis is necessary for a durable cure of psychoneurosis. (A psychoneurosis is a mental disorder caused by repressed infantile experiences.) The consequences of the NCT can be deduced as follows:

(3) IF Cure, THEN Psychoanalysis.
(4) NOT Psychoanalysis.
(5) NOT Cure.

The NCT could potentially be falsified if a durable cure of psychoneurosis occured in the absence of psychoanalysis, e.g., if another form of therapy (or simple suggestion, or spontaneous remission) were shown durably to cure psychoneurosis.

The weakness of the tally argument is that, as Freud admits, patients are subject to suggestion (transference). Transference affects all clinical data. Therefore, all clincial data are suspect, including the insight that supposedly intervenes between psychoanalysis and cure.

The figure below (Von Eckardt, 1986) represents epistemological problems in Freud's use of clinical data as discussed by Grünbaum (1984) (circled numbers correspond to numbered problems at left; arrows represent the relation "is considered evidence for").



  1. suggestibility (pp. 130-135);
  2. failure of tally argument (pp. 135-172);
  3. weakness of consilience argument (pp. 273-278);
  4. Nisbett and Wilson findings (pp. 147-148);
  5. problems with Breuer-Freud argument (pp. 177-189);
  6. problems with extrapolation to slips and dreams (pp. 190-239);
  7. problems with establishing causal claims by retrospective testing (pp. 177-189).


Freud, S. (1917). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. In J. Strachey (Ed.), The standard edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud, Vols. 17 and 16. London: Hogarth Press.

Grünbaum, A. (1984). The foundations of psychoanalysis: A philosophical critique. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Von Eckardt, B. (1986). Grünbaum's challenge to Freud's logic of argumentation: A reconstruction and an addendum. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9, 262-263.

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