Freud and Philosophy in Stanley Cavell


  • Raffaele Ariano Vita-Salute San Raffaele University of Milan



Cavell, Freud, Wittgenstein, psychoanalysis, Lionel Trilling


This article offers a philosophical and historical assessment of the reception of Sigmund Freud in the work of Stanley Cavell. In the first half, I argue that every major theme in Cavell’s philosophy entails a dialogue, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, with the Freudian model. To this end, I analyse the psychoanalytical motives in Cavell’s therapeutic and later perfectionist understanding of philosophy, reframing of the problem of scepticism, and literary and film criticism. The second half of the article is devoted to the sources and interlocutors in Cavell’s engagement with psychoanalysis, the most important of which are shown to be non-analytic and even non-philosophical, and in particular literary. Cavell, as I recount, had become a committed reader of Freud in 1947, well before beginning his training in professional philosophy. I thus contend that, in spite of the indifference or even hostility towards Freud that Cavell found in the academic circles in which he was educated and then taught, his reflections on psychoanalysis received their nourishment, outside the philosophy departments of American universities, in figures such as the literary and cultural critic Lionel Trilling.