For Lacan, modern science is defined by two concomitant foreclosures: the foreclosure of the subject and the foreclosure of truth as cause. A scientific text is enounced from a desubjectivized “empty” location, it allows for no references to its subject of enunciation, it is supposed to deliver the impersonal truth which can be repeatedly demonstrated, “anyone can see and say it,” i.e., the truth should be in no way affected by its place of enunciation. We can already see the link with the Cartesian cogito: is not the “empty” enunciator of scientific statements the subject of thought reduced to a vanishing punctuality, deprived of all its properties? This same feature also accounts for the foreclosure of truth as cause: when I commit a slip of the tongue and say something other than what I wanted to say, and this other message tells a truth about me that I am often not ready to recognize, then one can also say that in my slips the truth itself spoke, subverting what I wanted to say. There is truth (a truth about my desire) in such slips, even if they contain factual inexactitude—to take an extremely simple example, when the moderator of a debate, instead of saying “I am thereby opening the session!” says “I am thereby closing the session!” he obviously indicates that he is bored and considers the debate worthless. “Truth” (of my subjective position) is the cause of such slips; when it operates, the subject is directly inscribed into its speech, disturbing the smooth flow of “objective” knowledge.
How, then, can Lacan claim that the subject of psychoanalysis—the divided subject, the subject traversed by negativity—is the subject of modern science (and the Cartesian cogito)? Is it not that, by foreclosing truth and subject, modern science also ignores negativity? Is science not a radical attempt to construct a (literally) truthless discourse of knowledge? Modern science breaks with the traditional universe held together by a deeper meaning (like a harmony of cosmic principles—yin and yang, etc.), a universe which forms a teleologically ordered Whole of a multiplicity of hierarchically ordered spheres, a Whole in which everything serves a higher purpose. In the philosophical tradition, the major vestige of the traditional view is Aristotle: Aristotelian Reason is organic-teleological, in clear contrast to the radical contingency of modern science. No wonder today’s Catholic Church attacks Darwinism as “irrational” in comparison with the Aristotelian notion of Reason: the “reason” of which the Church speaks is a Reason for which Darwin’s theory of evolution (and, ultimately, modern science itself, for which the assertion of the contingency of the universe, the break with Aristotelian teleology, is a constitutive axiom) is “irrational.”
Freud’s arch-opponent Jung is on the side of this traditional universe: his approach to psychic phenomena is effectively that of “depth psychology,” his vision is that of a closed world sustained by deeper archetypal meanings, a world permeated by spiritual forces which operate at a level “deeper” than that of “mechanical” sciences, a level at which there are no contingencies, where ordinary occurrences partake in a profound spiritual meaning to be unearthed by self-exploration; life has a spiritual purpose beyond material goals, and our task is to discover and fulfill our deep innate potential by embarking on a journey of inner transformation which brings us in contact with the mystical heart of all religions, a journey to meet the self and at the same time to meet the Divine. Rejecting (what he perceived as) Freud’s scientific objectivism, Jung thus advocates a version of pantheism which identifies individual human life with the universe as a whole.
In clear contrast to Jung, Freud emphasizes the lack of any harmony between a human being and its environs, any correspondence between human microcosm and natural macrocosm, accepting without any reserve the fact of a contingent meaningless universe. That is Freud’s achievement: psychoanalysis is not a return to a new kind of premodern hermeneutics in search of the unknown deep layers of meaning which regulate the apparently meaningless flow of our lives, it is not a new version of the ancient interpretation of dreams searching for deeper messages hidden in them; our psychic life is thoroughly open to unexpected traumatic encounters, its unconscious processes are a domain of contingent signifying displacements; there is no inner truth at the core of our being, only a cobweb of proton pseudos, primordial lies called “fundamental fantasies”; the task of the psychoanalytic process is not to reconcile ourselves with the fantasmatic core of our being but to “traverse” it, to acquire a distance toward it. This brief description explains how psychoanalysis relates to modern science: it tries to resubjectivize the universe of science, to discern the contours of a subject that fits modern science, a subject that fully participates in the contingent and meaningless “gray world” of the sciences. The question that arises here is: how does capitalism fit into this passage to modern science? “Capitalism then needs to be thought of as the restoration of pre-modernity within modernity, a counter-revolution that neutralizes the emancipatory political potential of scientific revolution.”
Although capitalism is intimately linked to the rise of modern science, its ideologico-political and economic organization (liberal egotist individuals pursuing their interests, their messy interaction secretly regulated by the big Other of the Market) signals a return to the premodern universe—but does this mean that Communism extends the logic of modern science also to the ethico-political sphere? Kant’s goal was to do exactly this, to elaborate an ethico-political edifice that would be on the level of modern science—but did he in fact achieve this, or is his theoretical edifice a compromise? Did he not openly say that his goal was to limit knowledge in order to make space for belief? And are not Habermasians doing the same when they exempt intersubjectivity from the domain of objective science? (And, in this vein, does not Hegel stand for a return to the Aristotelian organic-teleological view of reality as a rational Whole? Is his thought not marked by a rejection of the universe of modern science characterized by meaningless contingency?) Which, then, is the ethico-political space that fits modern science, Kant’s or a new one to be invented (for example, the one proposed by brain scientists like Patricia and Paul Churchland)? What if the two are necessarily nonsynchronous, i.e., what if modernity itself needs a premodern ethico-political foundation, what if it cannot stand on its own, what if fully actualized modernity is an exemplary ideological myth?