Despite the revisions of his views over time, did not Freud insist doggedly that psychoanalysis was a science? Doesn’t the task amount, then, to the rather banal ascertainment of whether Freud considered science to be an empirical or rational endeavour? It is quite possible to marshal numerous passages illustrating Freud’s conflation of psychoanalysis and science, but two will suffice. Right at the start of his career, Freud famously declares in the opening passage of the Project for a Scientific Psychology, that his ‘intention is to furnish a psychology that shall be a natural science’ (S.E. 1: 295), whilst at the very end of his career Freud thinks this intention has been realised, stating that psychoanalysis ‘is a part of the mental science of psychology….Psychology, too, is a natural science. What else can it be?’ (S.E. 23: 282). Unambiguous remarks, to be sure; however, our task is far from simple since quite aside from the general problem in the philosophy of science as to whether the so-called ‘natural sciences’ are to be classed as rationalisms or empiricisms, one theme characteristic of the entire trajectory of Freud’s work is the complex interplay between the rational and the empirical he establishes in psychoanalysis. And, as we are about to see, it is just this interplay that frames the interlacing of the universal and the singular. Of course, Freud’s work was always clinical work; the issue, however, is the change in approach he took towards what happened clinically. 

At the start of his psychoanalytic endeavours, it appears Freud was of the view that it is the rational deduction of universal categories which was of greatest importance in the genesis of science, over and above the observation and description of singularities: theories are first constructed and then applied and tested in practice. Consider this passage from a letter to Fleiss dated the 25 May 1895, concerning the Project: 

It is in fact impossible to form a satisfactory general view of neuro-psychotic disorders unless they can be linked to clear hypotheses upon normal psychical processes. I have devoted every free minute of the last few weeks to work like this; I have spent the night hours from eleven till two with imaginings, transpositions and guesses like these; and I have never stopped till I came up against some absurdity or till I had truly and seriously overworked, so that I found I had no interest left for my daily medical activity. You will have to wait a long time yet for any results (S.E. 1: 282).

Freud here is explicit that a ‘satisfactory’ view of psychological disorders can only be arrived at through the construction of ‘clear hypotheses’, which are formed in an operation of thought halting only when they butt up against ‘some absurdity’. Moreover, it is not from the praxis of his medical or therapeutic endeavours that these hypotheses will be forged, but rather from the remove of nocturnal ‘imaginings, transpositions and guesses’.