Philosophy 224 Farrell, “A Reconstruction of Freud’s Mature Theory”
Sigmund Freud • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian born neurologist who founded the field of psychoanalysis (a therapy and a theory that investigates and addresses the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind). • Though psychoanalysis is no longer a focus of much work in psychology, Freud made important contributions to the field and remains very influential.
A Few Presuppositions • Metaphysics • The metaphysics Freud assumes is essentially that of modern science. He rejected all speculative metaphysical claims and assumed that every event, including human activity, could be explained by reference to natural laws. • Ontology • Materialism: Freud rejected all dualistic interpretations of mental phenomenon, insisting that there was a physiological basis for all mental states. • Determinism: Freud insisted that even the most casual and apparently meaningless behaviors have antecedent causes. • Unconscious: Perhaps Freud's most important contribution to our thinking is the insistence that aspects of our mentality are in principle incapable of being brought to consciousness. Freud offers a tri-partite division of consciousness: Consciousness, Pre-consciousness and the Unconscious. According to this model, the mind is like an iceberg (the surface (consciousness) is only a small part of the whole). • Drives: The drives are instinctual forces. They are the active principle of Freud's theory. He typically described them in essentially hydraulic terms. • Developmental: Expanding on the common recognition that the human personality develops over time, Freud argues that the first years of a child's life determine the type of personality that they will have as adults.
“A Reconstruction” • Farrell explains the various features of Freud's mature theory of human nature by detailing the genesis of a typical human personality. • At birth, the mentality of the child is dominated by two instinctual drives: Eros (Life) and Thanatos (Death). • Eros is further distinguished into two drives/instincts: sexuality and self-preservation.
It’s a matter of Principles • Initially, nothing inhibits the expression of these instincts. The child acts to satisfy its instinctual drives. At this stage the mind operates according to the pleasure principle. • Very quickly, however, the child learns that he needs to balance his instincts against the demands of the world. This is the introduction of the mind to the reality principle. • With the introduction of the reality principle, we see the development of the initial structure of the personality: the differentiation of the mind into the id (the instincts) and the ego (which mediates between the id and the world).
Sexuality • At around the same time as the development of the ego-structure, the child's sexuality begins to develop. Child sexuality is organized around the various erotogenic zones. • According to Freud, all children follow the same developmental trajectory, with first one and then another zone becoming dominant (oral, anal, phallic). • At the phallic stage, the development of the child's sexuality become sex specific.
A Specific Difference • At the same time as the child is going through this stage, they are increasingly investing their instinctual energies in external objects. • A primary one, early on, is the mother. • Children of different sexes have very different relationships to this investment.
The Boy Child • The boy child experiences this investment as a sexual attraction to the mother and a corresponding jealousy of the father. • When he recognizes that his mother lacks a penis, he interprets this absence as the castrating power of the father. • This encourages the repression of the instinctual investment, a repression which is accomplished by adopting the perspective of the father. • This in turn leads to the development of yet another mental structure, the super-ego, which serves as an internal, conscious constraint on the id (sort of like a conscience).
The Girl Child • The girl child also experiences this investment as a sexual attraction to the mother. • However, when she comes to recognize that neither she nor her mother have a penis, she interprets this absence as the fault of her mother. • She then shifts her investment to her father, seeking in him the penis that she lacks (penis-envy). • As a result of this shift, the girl child does not develop a personality that is as strongly distinguished as the boy child. In particular, her super-ego is relatively undeveloped.
The Moral of the Story • The story of the development of the personality has revealed the presence of three parts or structures of the mind: the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego. • Id: the Id just does what it does. The instincts function automatically. • Ego: The ego functions by counteracting the instinctual impulses of the id. In effect, the ego exerts a counter energy in the form of repression or regression, what Freud calls Mechanisms of Defense. These mechanisms function by inhibiting the transmission of information from the unconscious to the preconscious. However, this inhibition is not perfect, quite a bit slips through. • Super-Ego: The super-ego too functions by counteracting the id, but in this case, the inhibition is conscious. As a result, the inhibition sometimes assists and sometimes conflicts with the operation of the ego.
Diagnosis • In order for a person to function normally, all the elements of their mentality have to be harmoniously arranged and connected appropriately to the world. • As you might expect, there are endless ways in which this could all go wrong. • There are a number of ways that human beings deal with these failures. Two prominent ones are: • Repressionis the suppression of instinctual responses that are in conflict with other elements of a person's mentality. • Regressionis the return to a pre-traumatic stage.
A ‘Normal’ Person • ‘Normal’ personality development is characterized by strong ego development. • The energies belonging to the ego are available for use. • And they are needed, because even ‘normal’ adults are not free from psychic conflict. • Their ‘normality’ is predicated on the repressions required by civilization, and maintenance of these repressions, bolstered intersubjectively by the civilization, produce id-ego conflict. • Because they have available ego energy, ‘normal’ people can handle the conflict without destabilizing repression or regression.
‘Non-Normal’ • In the ‘non-normal’ members of the population ego development has been compromised. • Typically, by some early developmental trauma that required the ego to direct the bulk of its energies to ‘primal repression.’ • This primal repression limits the ego energy available to address current crises. In the face of an overwhelming psychic demand, the Ego can’t handle the forces emerging from the Id. At best it can displace them into phenomenon/behaviors that aren’t so threatening to the personality of the individual.
Prescription • Perfect harmony is an ideal that is never realized. At best we can achieve a normal or functional imbalance. • The key to correcting pathological imbalances is self-understanding. Freud advocated psychoanalysis, the talking cure. • The goal is to bring the traumatic, unbalancing event(s) to consciousness so that the can be dealt with, rather than covered over.