Although, in the history of psychoanalysis, the problem of reconciling tensions between universality and singularity is evidenced across the spectrum of psychoanalytic thinking, space here prohibits a thoroughgoing analysis of the reception and development of this issue in post-Freudian thought. If, however, we are casting around for an example of how this confusion between the universal and the singular plays itself out in psychoanalysis, then we could do far worse than to consider an observation of Paul Verhaeghe’s (2006: 72–76). Verhaeghe notes how every psychoanalytic innovator brings in their wake a series of ‘star patients’ who come, in the absolute singularity of their case histories, to substantiate the universality of their analyst’s theories, the stories of their treatment forever being rehearsed in the circles surrounding the particular ‘celebrity’ analyst that treated them. Freud of course famously has his five case studies, which are frequently bandied about as if they constituted the (quint)essence of the psychoneuroses. But Freud is far from alone. Mary Barnes performed this function for Laing and Burke, the mythology of her treatment embodying the potency of ‘anti-psychiatric’ ideas for the therapeutic communities which sprung up around Kingsley Hall; Richard and Dick have stood as paradigmatic testament for the disciples of Klein as to the veracity of her theories; and, let us not forget, the patient Jung studied for his doctoral thesis, his cousin and (blatantly fraudulent) medium Hélène Preiswerk, has proven a touchstone case in the Analytical Psychology movement. Such elevation of a certain number of an analyst’s key patients, by both the analyst and their acolytes, serves only to mask the fact that, behind the singularity of the patients being held up to represent putatively ubiquitous theories there lies another, more fundamental, singularity being universalised: that of the analyst themselves. In the final resort, psychoanalytic theories remain the universalisation of the singular pathology of one person: the therapist-theorist to whom they owe their genesis. As we will argue later, the analyst has to be careful to resist, as much as this is actually possible, the egological lure of fashioning their patients after the image of their own ego, as this is frequently what patients transferentially solicit their analyst to do, in order to sure-up their own ego, to sidestep their non-(self)-coincidence. Psychoanalytic treatment ought, however, to move in the other (non-egological) direction, bringing the patient to a confrontation with the anxiety engendered by their non-(self)-coincidence. 

So far, we have proposed that the relationship between the universal and the singular is axiomatic for any field of research, proposing that the manner in which a given discipline responds to this problem determines its epistemic and ontological blueprint: whether the operation of the deduction of universals (idealism) or the collation of singularities (materialism) is accorded priority, will largely determine whether a discipline is epistemologically rational or empirical. But which of these is psychoanalysis? Is psychoanalysis a rationalism or an empiricism?

At first blush, the Freudian response to this question appears clear.