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Freud & Nietzsche. Freud On Violence The Conscience Freud’s Solution Critique of Freud Nietzsche Nietzsche, Plato and Aristotle Natural vs. Supernatural Values. Sigmund Freud. I. Freud and Rousseau II. Freud's Methods and Models III. Freud on Sex IV. Freud on Violence

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freud nietzsche
Freud & Nietzsche
  • Freud
    • On Violence
    • The Conscience
    • Freud’s Solution
    • Critique of Freud
  • Nietzsche
    • Nietzsche, Plato and Aristotle
    • Natural vs. Supernatural Values
sigmund freud
Sigmund Freud

I. Freud and Rousseau

II. Freud's Methods and Models

III. Freud on Sex

IV. Freud on Violence

V. The Conscience (Superego)

VI. Freud's Influence

VII. Critique

freud rousseau
Freud & Rousseau
  • Like Rousseau, Freud sees the root of all problems in a mismatch between our anti-social natures and the impositions of society.
  • Unlike Rousseau, he is ambivalent about whether society is worth the cost.
  • Sees the value of technology, improved nutrition and health.
the unnaturalness of society
The Unnaturalness of Society
  • Socialization is an unnatural imposition -- results in "discontents".
  • Although he talks about "civilization", the characteristics he mentions (taboos on sex and violence) are universal.
  • Freud contrasts humans with social insects, who seem well-adapted to a communal existence. An “evolutionary lag”.
freud s methods and models
Freud's Methods and Models
  • Freud: the essence of a thing is to be found by tracing its beginnings.
  • Contrast Aristotle, according to whom the essence of a thing is found in its final state, its telos.
  • Examples: our sense of beauty (essentially sexual) and our conscience (essentially parental).
universal hedonism
Universal Hedonism
  • Much of Freud's theory is designed to explain apparent counter-examples to this, such as religious asceticism, devotion to artistic or intellectual ideals, neurotic and psychotic behavior.
  • In each case, the apparently non-hedonistic behavior is simply a way of avoiding hidden pains, or receiving displaced gratification.
three part model of the mind
Three-part model of the mind
  • Id -- pleasure principle, libido
  • Ego -- reality principle, reason
  • Superego -- conscience, internal authority

Much that goes on in the mind is unconscious. Conflicts between id and superego are managed through "secret code" of symbols, both in dreams and in neurotic behavior.

freud on sex
Freud On Sex
  • In state of nature, humans gratified themselves without restriction, in a great variety of ways.
  • Civilization attempts to confine us to permanent monogamy. This involves a net loss of pleasure.
  • The "sublimation" (diversion) of erotic attraction yields "aim-inhibited" eros = friendship. This sublimated eros is the glue that holds society together.
freud on violence
Freud On Violence
  • Humans have a built-in need to act out a certain quantity of violence.
  • Society controls this by: (1) providing scapegoats, (2) by internalizing the violence, directing back at the self, resulting in a conscience (superego).
  • Compare E. O. Wilson's account of aggression in On Human Nature, pp. 101-120.
the conscience
The Conscience
  • Suppression and internalization of aggression leads to a vicious cycle:
    • The more outward violence the conscience suppresses, the more aggression is channeled into the conscience, making the conscience still more stringent and exacting.
    • Society tends to over-develop the conscience, resulting in impossible and overly-costly demands. E.g., the ethic of universal love.
freud s influence
Freud’s Influence
  • Despite Freud's ambivalence, the major influence of Freud's work has been to motivate an attempt to eliminate sexual repression and guilt.
  • This is ironic, since if it were successful, the result would be (according to Freud's theory) the destruction of society.
freud s tragedy of the commons
Freud’s Tragedy of the Commons
  • Tragedy of the commons: what is best for each of us individually is disastrous for society collectively.
  • Problem: once we've unmasked the conscience, revealing it to be nothing more than an internalized mechanism of social control, how do we restore its authority?
freud s solution
Freud’s Solution
  • He doesn't offer one.
  • Psychotherapy can help ameliorate the discontents, by moderating the superego, but this is only a partial victory.
critique of freud
Critique of Freud

A. Problem of the origin and durability of society.

  • The mismatch between an anti-social nature and social organization is unprecedented in the biological world.
  • How could social organization have moved so far beyond biological function?
  • E.g, chimps vs. orangutans
  • Inconsistencies between Freud’s ethical reductionism and his own ethical commitments.
  • Justice:
    • (1) Freud appeals to a transcendent standard, as grounds for faulting traditional sexual morality.
    • (2) Yet, Freud argues that nature is unfair, and that justice is nothing but a social construction.
    • (1) Love is merely aim-inhibited sexuality. The sex drive is only one of many drives, including the death drive.
    • (2) Yet Freud clearly pictures (at the end of the book) the conflict between Love and Death as a conflict between Good and Evil.
  • Isn't the instinct for death (violence) just as much a part of human nature, so equally good? What's the basis for the distinction?
  • Nietzshe, Plato and Aristotle
  • Natural vs. Supernatural Values
  • Nietzsche’s Critique of Faith, Hope & Love
nietzsche plato and aristotle
Nietzsche, Plato and Aristotle

A. Teleology in Nietzsche

  • Nietzsche, like Plato and Aristotle, has a teleological conception of human nature.
  • The final cause, natural end = a complete life, lived according to instinct & natural wisdom
evidences of teleology
Evidences of teleology

1. Contrast between health and sickness, advancing life and decadence.

  • Applied to our mental, spiritual life, as well as to ordinary physiology.
  • Compare Plato's use of the same metaphor in the Gorgias.

2. Human life is guided by instincts, drives, whose purpose is to move us toward a complete, fully human existence.

nietzsche on the classical virtues
Nietzsche on the Classical Virtues
  • The word virtue in Greek (arete) and Latin has a meaning that isn't limited to morality. Any kind of strength or competency (like intelligence, wit, strength, endurance) would count as a "virtue".
  • Moral virtues are those virtues that concern one's character, one's capacity for rational choice and action.
seven cardinal virtues
Seven "cardinal virtues"


  • Courage
  • Temperance (self-control, moderation)
  • Practical wisdom (prudence)
  • Justice


  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Love (charity)
nietzsche s attitude
Nietzsche’s Attitude
  • Nietzsche says nothing against the natural virtues. In fact, he repeatedly affirms them.
    • Example: N.'s attitude toward marriage (p. 104). The essence of marriage is the indissoluble bond between man & woman.
  • His attack is restricted to the supernatural (Christian) virtues.
faith hope charity
Faith, Hope & Charity
  • Faith = unreason, dogmatism
  • Hope = otherworldiness, denial of senses, body
  • Love = equality, pity, rejection of distinction, hierarchy & authority
  • N. sees the discipline of faith as being destructive of reason & science.
  • Trains us to believe things we cannot verify or understand.
  • The scientific mind is based in doubt, in independence from tradition and authority.
  • The hope for eternal life causes a devaluation of this life.
  • Necessarily results in hostility to pleasure, especially sexual pleasure.
  • The fiction of eternal life is rooted in a hatred of the actual world.
consequences of otherworldiness
Consequences of Otherworldiness

Health and earthly life are denied, denigrated:

  • Deny yourself
  • Take up your cross
  • Crucify the flesh and its desires
  • If your eye offends you, pluck it out
  • Unconditional, universal love obliterates all distinctions. Nullifies all principles of selectivity: "integrity, intelligence, manliness, pride, beauty and liberality of heart"
  • This leads to the political ideals of democracy and equality, by which the strong are hobbled by the masses.
  • Pity enables the weak and sickly to survive, and makes their weakness contagious.