Freud, Philosophy, Humanism and Science.(Philosophical Psychology)

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Freud’s writings over 50 years corrected themselves and changed systematically from a clinical/scientific approach in relation to the analysis of patients with mental illness to a more philosophical approach to the individual, society and culture. I use the word “systematically” to demarcate the fact that in the move from his earlier approach to his later theorising there is no contradiction. Indeed although Freud systematically moves toward a Platonic view of the psyche I would argue that Freud’s theories are more Aristotelian, i.e. in many of his comments such as the ego contains the idea of the body, the ego is composed of precipitate of lost objects, there is a hylomorphic foundation working. Now I am not sure that Freud was familiar with the works of Aristotle but we do know that he was a vociferous reader and that he was very familiar with the works of Kant and even claimed on one occasion in his later works that his Psychology would be the Psychology that Kant would have written had he interested himself in the area. We know Kant wrote a work entitled Anthropology and this work had clear Aristotelian affiliations.


Now we also know that Freud did not have much time for the philosophers of his day who were much influenced by the concept of consciousness that had been developing since Descartes “epistemological revolution” in Philosophy. Some commentators superficially believe his opposition was grounded simply in Freud’s “re-discovery” of the realm of the unconscious mind but I believe his opposition ran deeper. That is, I believe that in spite of his claim to be a “scientist” we see in his later work, if I am right, that the metaphysical hylomorphism of Aristotle was steering his choice of concepts and his famous three principles of psychology: the energy regulation principle, the pleasure/pain principle and the reality principle. From a Kantian point of view he was working in the area of the mind Kant thought of as sensibility, in the area of self -love, but Freud’s theories have a grasp of the function of understanding and reason which is also, I would argue, Kantian. His reasoning, of course, falls into the arena of practical rather than theoretical reasoning much of the time but we should really pay attention to the Freudian mechanisms which are psychologically causal, e.g. repression, identification, sublimation, projection, all of which fit very neatly into the very practical idea he has of the reality principle. There is also his unique contribution to psychology in the form of the primary and secondary processes of the mind which are intimately connected to his three principles.

His idea of “object” is clearly Aristotelian, rather than scientific in the narrow sense, and not just backwards looking to the causes of physical events but teleological, forward looking to the end which an action is striving toward. Now there are speculations in some of his later works such as Civilisation and its Discontents which seem unscientific because unverifiable, e.g. the band of brothers thesis. He sketches a Hobbesian scenario of a state of nature in which all are at war against all and even the band of brothers kill the tyrannical father but regret their action and establish a rule of law and perhaps the dawn of self-consciousness, to move civilisation forward.Now these are his “scientific speculations”: looking backward for the causes of phenomena and perhaps he does so without sufficient care for marshalling the totality of facts. I am not saying that this is necessarily so, because even today I do not believe we are anywhere near accumulating the necessary facts which would allow us to pontificate one way or the other but I do think that those commentators that fixate on the Oedipus complex and see this scenario as the blueprint of his speculations in this domain are reading Freud too narrowly.


Freud bashing in the name of science has become a professional activity for some academics and a hobby for many others who have views of science that in the urge to purge our thought of all things metaphysical and ethical would in Freudian, Kantian and Aristotelian terms be regarded as “epistemological” in a pejorative sense. The sense that has dogged Philosophy through all the modern “isms”: positivism, naturalism, materialism, pragmatism, behaviourism, utilitarianism.


Freud bashing is just of a course a part of the sport of humanist bashing and all that it requires is a very limited knowledge of a methodology which applies only to one aspect of our world and a willingness to colonise the domain of the humanist with this limited methodology and wonderful technological inventions, e.g. the invention of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, television, computers, and robots.