Was Freud a philospher?

Sigmund_Freud_LIFE copy

Photo from Life Magazine.

I note that Frederick Coplestone doesn’t seem to include Freud in his 11 volumes of the History of Western Philosophy and I wondered why.  Here is what the internet tells me.

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)

Was Freud a Philosopher?

Sigmund Freud and the philosopher’s stone.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes:

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was a physiologist, medical doctor, psychologist and influential thinker of the early twentieth century.

It’s reasonable to equate “thinker” with “philosopher”. Any meaningful and honest pursuit of knowledge requires the ability to discern it.

Ibid:

Freud elaborated the theory that the mind is a complex energy-system, the structural investigation of which is the proper province of psychology. He articulated and refined the concepts of the unconscious.

Freud’s innovative treatment of human actions, dreams, and indeed of cultural artifacts as invariably possessing implicit symbolic significance has proven to be extraordinarily fruitful, and has had massive implications for a wide variety of fields including psychology, anthropology, semiotics, and artistic creativity and appreciation.

[Freud was] a highly original thinker.

[He] was arguably the first thinker to apply deterministic principles systematically to the sphere of the mental.

Deeply associated with this view of the mind is Freud’s account of instincts or drives. Instincts, for Freud, are the principal motivating forces in the mental realm, and as such they ‘energise’ the mind in all of its functions. There are, he held, an indefinitely large number of such instincts, but these can be reduced to a small number of basic ones, which he grouped into two broad generic categories, Eros (the life instinct), which covers all the self-preserving and erotic instincts, and Thanatos (the death instinct), which covers all the instincts towards aggression, self-destruction, and cruelty.

Freud’s account of the unconscious, and the psychoanalytic therapy associated with it, is best illustrated by his famous tripartite model of the structure of the mind or personality… This model has many points of similarity with the account of the mind offered by Plato over 2,000 years earlier. The theory is termed ‘tripartite’ simply because, again like Plato, Freud distinguished three structural elements within the mind, which he called id, ego, and super-ego.

The id is that part of the mind in which are situated the instinctual sexual drives which require satisfaction; the super-ego is that part which contains the “conscience,” namely, socially-acquired control mechanisms which have been internalized, and which are usually imparted in the first instance by the parents; while the ego is the conscious self that is created by the dynamic tensions and interactions between the id and the super-ego and has the task of reconciling their conflicting demands with the requirements of external reality. It is in this sense that the mind is to be understood as a dynamic energy-system.

All objects of consciousness reside in the ego; the contents of the id belong permanently to the unconscious mind; while the super-ego is an unconscious screening-mechanism which seeks to limit the blind pleasure-seeking drives of the id by the imposition of restrictive rules.

Freud also followed Plato in his account of the nature of mental health or psychological well-being, which he saw as the establishment of a harmonious relationship between the three elements which constitute the mind. If the external world offers no scope for the satisfaction of the id’s pleasure drives, or more commonly, if the satisfaction of some or all of these drives would indeed transgress the moral sanctions laid down by the super-ego, then an inner conflict occurs in the mind between its constituent parts or elements. Failure to resolve this can lead to later neurosis. A key concept introduced here by Freud is that the mind possesses a number of ‘defense mechanisms’ to attempt to prevent conflicts from becoming too acute, such as repression (pushing conflicts back into the unconscious), sublimation (channeling the sexual drives into the achievement socially acceptable goals, in art, science, poetry, and so forth), fixation (the failure to progress beyond one of the developmental stages), and regression (a return to the behavior characteristic of one of the stages).

 

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In a New York Times opinion piece (“Freud as Philosopher”, the following case is made:

Sigmund Freud, that seer of the psyche, taught that you could be angry and not know it. You can also be a philosopher and not know it. And Freud was just that, an unconscious philosopher of the unconscious — one who had nary a positive word to say about philosophy. Just listen to him grouse in 1933:

Philosophy is not opposed to science, it behaves itself as if it were a science, and to a certain extent it makes use of the same methods; but it parts company with science, in that it clings to the illusion that it can produce a complete and coherent picture of the universe. Its methodological error lies in the fact that it over-estimates the epistemological value of our logical operations… But philosophy has no immediate influence on the great majority of mankind; it interests only a small number even of the thin upper stratum of intellectuals, while all the rest find it beyond them. (New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, Lecture xxxv)

Still, as Philip Rieff observed in his classic 1959 book, “Freud: The Mind of the Moralist,” the father of psychoanalysis was also a moralist, and a conservative one at that — conservative in both his personal mores and in his deep seated conviction that repression and self-restraint are essential to civilization. In his science, Freud prescribed a vision of the good life and in that regard he was, for all his sneering at philosophy, a member of the Socrates guild.

For all his sneering at philosophy, Freud was a member of the Socrates guild.

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