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Title page for ETD etd-12092009-213151

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Zeman, Scott
Author's Email Address scottzeman2@gmail.com
URN etd-12092009-213151
Title Placebos of Development: A Critique of Modern Health Objectivity in Kant, Marx, and Psychoanalysis
Degree PhD
Department Philosophy
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dr. John Lachs Committee Chair
Dr. Gregg Horowitz Committee Member
Dr. Idit Dobbs-Weinstein Committee Member
Dr. Volney Gay Committee Member
  • subreption
  • magic
  • theory of history
  • Winnicott
  • symbolism
  • human development
  • trauma studies
  • glyphics
  • Capital
  • Critique of Judgment
  • beauty
  • commodity
  • fetishism
  • money
  • aesthetics
  • nocebo
  • Freud
  • mourning
  • value
Date of Defense 2009-07-10
Availability unrestricted
In my dissertation, I critically examine the relationship between health, development, and the unconscious conditions of our symbolic use of objects of value. If we look at the average biomedical and cognitive-behavioral models of health, for instance, we find a guiding assumption about therapeutic causality, namely, that health and illness are produced through knowable, mechanically efficient causes, through what a Kantian might call empirical causes. Critiquing this assumption, my thesis is that while we are right to understand health and illness as empirically produced, our knowledge would be greater, more scientific, and capable of producing wiser and more social forms of health if we expanded our notion of causality to include the influence of primitively wishful, or what I call “placeboic,” mechanisms. Human health and illness are not just cultural phenomena steeped in various lines of history but, much more deeply, they are rooted in, and so conditioned by, our relatively unexplored prehistories. Philosophy should therefore become more “archaeological,” I suggest, in our task of understanding and bettering society. One of the basic lessons I draw from these insights is that, despite appearances, social and individual health and illness are largely indexes of the development of culture. They are marks of regression and progression in tension. To defend these points, I develop three interrelated tactics. First, I look to psychoanalysis, especially to Freud’s examination of the fort/da game in children and to D.W. Winnicott’s theory of the transitional object, to show how human development pivots on what might be called the preverbal differentiation of subject and object in and as symbolized objects of value (e.g., a pacifier, then a teddy bear, etc). Objects of value defend against illness to the degree that value sustains the bi-directional (im)permeability of self and world. Second, I trace the psychoanalytic account of the relation between health and development to its scientific heritage in Kant’s critical aesthetics of valuation and in Marx’s theory of fetishized values. Third, I ask larger questions about the relation between individual and socio-historical development. Does individual development recapitulate socio-historical development, and vice versa? I suggest that they do and that they do so through the necessary disavowal of archaic but persistent wishes and forces.
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