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The Unconscious in Social Explanation

Abstract

The proper range and content of the unconscious in the human sciences should be established by reference to its conceptual relationship to the folk psychology that informs the standard form of explanation therein. A study of this relationship shows that human scientists should appeal to the unconscious only when the language of the conscious fails them, that is typically when they find a conflict between people's self-understanding and their actions. This study also shows that human scientists should adopt a broader concept of the unconscious than the one developed by Freud, that is, one free from his ahistorical concept of the instincts and his ahistorical emphasis on the sexual experiences of childhood. The unconscious, understood in this way, has an ambiguous relationship to more recent linguistic and narrativist strands of psycho-analysis.

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