Rubinstein, Benjamin B. (1905-1989)

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American physician Benjamin B. Rubinstein was born on December 3, 1905, in Helsinki and died on December 7, 1989, in New York City. He grew up in a warm, moderately affluent family of Finnish Jews. After attending a gymnasium in Copenhagen, he graduated from the University of Helsinki Medical School in 1936. He worked as an undergraduate research assistant to the neurophysiologist Ragnar Granit, gaining a lasting appreciation of scientific research and neurophysiology. His residency in psychiatry and neurology, begun in London, was interrupted by military service in the Finno-Russian wars, and completed at the University Hospital, Helsinki, in 1947.

In 1940 he married Dinorah Rosenthal (who later became a well-known photographer). David Rapaport recruited him as a psychiatric research fellow at the Menninger Foundation (Topeka, Kansas) in 1947. From 1948 to 1953, he was a staff psychiatrist and received psychoanalytic training. On graduating he moved to New York, where he remained in private practice until his death. He and his wife became American citizens in 1957; they had no children.

Rubinstein had strong interest and talents in music, poetry, and the theater, having been an actor and composer, principally of songs. He held teaching positions at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and at Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, and served as a consultant to the Research Center for Mental Health, NYU. For several years, with Hartvig Dahl, he led a research seminar on clinical inference at the New York Psychoanalytic Society.

Because of the traumatic reception of his first psychoanalytic paper in 1952 ( on the psychoanalytic concept of sexuality), he was slow to attempt other publication. He began with a paper on "Psychoanalytic Theory and the Mind-Body Problem" (chapter 1 of the Collected Papers of Benjamin B. Rubinstein ; 1997). His final published work was "The Experience of Tragedy, Expectations, and the Moral Order" (chapter 17). All but a few discussions of papers were collected in a posthumous volume, plus several previously unpublished manuscripts.

Rubinstein had no peer among working clinical psychoanalysts in his expert grasp of the philosophy of science and his ability to apply it to psychoanalysis. His contributions to the juncture of these disciplines were warmly appreciated by such outstanding philosophers of science as Adolf Grunbaum (University of Pittsburgh) and Robert Cohen (Boston University). He contributed to the training and inspired the work of philosophers (Robert Shope), psychoanalysts (Hartvig Dahl, Emanuel Peterfreund), and psychologists (Morris N. Eagle, Robert R. Holt) alike, though his works and via informal seminars on psychoanalytic theory. His unpublished first paper anticipated many of the most cogent criticisms of Freud's metapsychology that have appeared in the past four decades. His clarification of the clinical theory, its basic assumptions, and its hierarchical organization makes it more easily convertible into a workable, cumulative, and testable scientific theory. Rubinstein was first to demonstrate the probabilistic nature of the theory's propositions, with profound implications for its verificationfor example, Karl Popper's model of testability is shown to be inapplicable. It is difficult to predict the eventual impact of his work, but if psychoanalysis makes major progress toward becoming a true science it will have been made possible as much by his work as by that of anyone else.

Robert R. Holt

See also: Psychoanalytic epistemology; Science and psychoanalysis.


Rubinstein, Benjamin B. (1997). Psychoanalysis and the philosophy of science. In Robert R. Holt (Ed.), Collected papers of Benjamin B. Rubinstein, M.D. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

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Rubinstein, Benjamin B. (1905-1989)

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