Adolf Grunbaum

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Grünbaum, Adolf (15 May 1923 — )

Born in Cologne, Germany, Grunbaum came to the United States in 1938 and was natualized in 1944. The son of Benjamin and Hannah (Freiwillig) Grunbaum, he married Thelma Braverman 26 June 1949, and they have one child, Barbara Susan Grunbaum.

In 1943, after receiving his B.A. from Wesleyan Univeresity in Middltown, Connecticut, he received his M.S. in Physics at Yale in 1948 and his Ph. D. in philosophy in 1951. He served with the Management Information Systems, US Army, 1944 to 1946.

Grünbaum is the Andrew Mellon Professor of Philosophy and Chairman of the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. A Humanist Laureate in the Council for Secular Humanism’s International Academy of Humanism, he is a contributing editor for Free Inquiry and Philo and a signer of Humanist Manifesto 2000.

He has written,

  • The supposition that the godless lead meaningless lives is just an ideological phantasm.

In Foundations of Psychoanalysis, A Philosophical Critique (1984), Grünbaum “argues that Freud rests his case for the theory of repression on the superior therapeutic effectiveness of psychoanalysis in treating neuroses, and that such evidence is not available,” writes Thomas Nagel in The New York Review of Books (12 May 1994). “His reading of Freud, and of the evidence, clinical and extraclinical, has been extensively criticized, notably by David Sachs, 'In Fairness to Freud,' Philosophical Review, Vol. 98, No. 3 (July 1989), and by various commentators in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 9 (June 1986). More recently he has published Validation in The Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis (1993), a further discussion of these issues, which include both new material and versions of previously published essays, some predating The Foundations of Psychoanalysis.”

Nagel, a professor of law and philosophy at New York University, contrasts the views concerning Freud which are held by Grünbaum, Richard Wollheim, and Paul Robinson. In Freud and His Critics (1993), Robinson lists three main anti-Freudians: Jeffrey Masson, who blames Freud’s phallic-centered psychology for adding to the sufferings of women and children; Frank Sulloway, a philosopher of science; and Grünbaum, whom he considers the most influential. According to a review of the Robinson book in The Economist (28 Aug 1993), Grünbaum launches a three-pronged attack:

  • His first target was the philosophers known as the hermeneutists, some of whom tried to transfer psychoanalysis from the sciences to the humanities by claiming that it was acausal. Mr. Grünbaum is understandably keen to demolish this line of intellectual retreat. It would render redundant his scientific critique of psychoanalysis. Mr. Grünbaum’s second target is Karl Popper’s claim that psychoanalysis is a pseudo-science because it is a catch-all that can explain every state of affairs. If this is true, it is immune to contradictory evidence and from being tested by Mr. Popper’s rigorous method of falsifiability. It can only pass the less rigorous inductive test of reasoning from observable data. However, Mr. Grünbaum maintains that there are many propositions in psychoanalysis that can be falsified—e.g., Freud’s theory of paranoia that sees it as a defence against active homosexuality. Mr. Grünbaum suggests that an epidemiological study carried out among active homosexuals in San Francisco could verify or falsify this theory. Mr. Grünbaum’s third target is Freud himself. He attacks the methodology used to support Freudian claims for the efficacy of psychoanalysis—i.e., evidence from the couch. This does not measure up to his inductive method of scientific testing because it is too susceptible to charges of placebo effect—i.e., suggestibility on the part of the analyst. But Mr. Grünbaum over-emphasizes cure in psychoanalysis. It is more of a journey into the self. Freud himself was not much concerned with the notion of cure. In his main case histories, only the “Rat-Man” can be seen as a therapeutic success.

However, Grünbaum is said to be an admirer of Freud and sees himself as a constructive critic of psychoanalysis, not someone “out to get psychoanalysis.” The Economist’s reviewer added that Robinson finds “the density of Mr. Grünbaum’s prose serves to make it impenetrable to the lay reader.” Grünbaum’s essay, “In Defense of Secular Humanism,” is included in Challenges to the Enlightenment, In Defense of Reason and Science (1994). His essay, “Theological Misinterpretations of Current Physical Cosmology,” appeared in the initial copy of Philo (Spring-Summer 1998). “My Exodus to Secular Humanism” (Free Inquiry, Fall 1999) tells how his reading of Schopenhauer’s essays “soon disposed me toward atheism.” By the age of thirteen, he explained, he had become a full-fledged atheist and would have declined to go through with the Bar-Mitzvah except that he did not want to embarrass his parents. He added,

  • I have remained a lifelong atheist for two reasons: I do not know of any cogent argument for the existence of God, and I think there is telling evidence against it. As to the first reason, I find no merit at all, for example, in recent attempts to invoke the Big Bang cosmogony as a basis for divine creation. (See entry for Fëodor Dostoyevsky [[1]]).

Prof. Philip L. Quinn of the University of Notre Dame, writing about Grünbaum in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995), explains that Philosophical Problems of Space and Time has as its thesis that

  • physical geometry and chronometry are, in part, matters of convention becase continuous physical space and time are metrically amorphous. His influential "The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984) contains a critique of the scientific credentials of Freudian psychoanalytic thory; it argues that there are methodological and epistemological reasons to think that some centreatl Freudian doctrines are not well supported by empirical evidence. Grünbaum's more recent studies in the philosophy of psychoanalysis treat in detail such topics as the psychoanalytic theory of transference, the viability of the single-subject case-study method, the placebo concept, and the dream theory.

Grunbaum was elected to the presidency for 2006-2007 of the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science.

In 2006 Aleksander Jokic wrote Philosophy of Religion, Physics, and Psychology: Essays in Honor of Adolf Grunbaum.


Philosophical Problems of Space and Time (1963; 1973)
Modern Science and Zeno's Paradise (1968)
Geometry and Chronometry in Philosophical Perspective (1968)
Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique (1984)
Pittsburgh Series in Philosophy and History of Science; There are German, Italian, French, Japanese, and Hungarian translations.
Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis: A Study
in the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (1993)