Understanding Freud: The Unconscious Mind (Understanding Western Philosophy)

Sigmund Freud (1856—1939)
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Born in in a village in what is now the Czech Republic, Freud enrolled in the University of Vienna just at the time when the sciences of the mind were gaining momentum. Although he initially planned to study law with the intention of pursuing a career in politics, and also toyed with the idea of doing a joint PhD in zoology and philosophy, he eventually found his way to neurology. In entering this field at just that moment, the young Freud launched himself into an incredibly exhilarating and dynamic intellectual milieu.

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For neuroscientific researchers, the daunting scientific challenge of figuring out how the brain works without the benefit of the sophisticated technologies available today was compounded by the equally formidable philosophical challenge of explaining the relationship between the electrochemical impulses coursing through a massively complex network of neurons and the experiential fabric of our subjective mental lives — our thoughts, values, perceptions, and choices. At around the same time that neuroscience was finding its feet, psychology was emerging as a new scientific discipline prior to about , psychology was considered to be part of philosophy.

The early psychologists were also confronted with a deep philosophical problem, albeit a methodological one. How is it possible to investigate the human mind scientifically? Mental phenomena are by their very nature subjective, but science demands an objective stance towards what is being investigated. In light of this seeming contradiction, there was a real question about whether a science of the mind was even possible — which led some to exclude the psyche from psychology, and to redefine it as the scientific study of behaviour. U nlike most scientists today, the neuroscientists and psychologists of that era understood that science is inevitably rife with philosophical assumptions.

Two components of the Cartesian intellectual tradition were especially relevant to their work. The first of these was primarily of interest to neuroscientists, while the second was mainly of interest to psychologists. With regard to the first problem, 19th-century neuroscientists mostly took the view that minds and bodies are radically different kinds of things.

Bodies are material things — flesh-and-blood machines that can be studied from a third-person perspective. With regard to the second problem, psychologists had the view that minds are transparent to themselves — in other words, that the mind is entirely conscious. Each of us has direct access only to our own mental states, and we cannot be mistaken about those states.

During the course of the 19th century, the Cartesian concept of mind-body dualism came under increasing pressure. Early on, the law of the conservation of energy — the principle that the quantity of energy in the physical universe remains constant — clashed with the notion that bodily movement is explained by a non-physical mind injecting energy into the physical world.

The study of the aphasias, disorders of speech caused by lesions to the brain, showed that the mental faculty of language was intimately bound up with particular regions of the ball of nerve tissue between our ears. At roughly the same time, research into hypnosis was challenging the idea that the mind is transparent to itself.

Hypnotic experiments demonstrated that a person could be placed in a trance and be given the instruction to perform some action upon awakening in response to a certain signal. And sure enough, upon hearing the trigger, he would do just that. When asked why he was crawling on the floor, the subject would confabulate — saying, for instance, that he had lost a key and was trying to find it. Such experiments seemed to demonstrate not only that there can be unconscious ideas — thus refuting the belief that the mind is entirely conscious — but also that such ideas can have the power to shape behaviour.

These centres of consciousness were considered akin to separate persons inhabiting a single human brain.

What are the most interesting ideas of Sigmund Freud?

Scientists of the mind responded to this sort of challenge with two explanatory strategies, both based on the assumption that nothing that is mental can be unconscious, and nothing that is unconscious can be mental. Some granted that ostensibly unconscious mental states were indeed mental but insisted that they were not really unconscious.

These hypothetical centres of consciousness were considered to be something akin to separate and distinct persons inhabiting a single human brain, each of which has direct access only to its own mental states, but without access to the mental states of the others. A second strategy was to accept that ostensibly unconscious mental states are genuinely unconscious, but to deny that they are mental. Advocates of this dispositionalist approach believed that the non-physical mind is distinct from the physical brain, and that only the brain processes behaviour.

They believed that mental states accompany these physical processes, but denied that they make any contribution to human behaviour. On this basis, parents have been accused and repudiated, and whole families have been divided or destroyed. In this way, the concept of repression, which Freud himself termed "the foundation stone upon which the structure of psychoanalysis rests," has come in for more widespread critical scrutiny than ever before. Here, the fact that, unlike some of his contemporary followers, Freud did not himself ever countenance the extension of the concept of repression to cover actual child sexual abuse, and the fact that we are not necessarily forced to choose between the views that all "recovered memories" are either veridical or falsidical are, perhaps understandably, frequently lost sight of in the extreme heat generated by this debate.

The theory upon which the use of leeches to bleed patients in eighteenth century medicine was based was quite spurious, but patients did sometimes actually benefit from the treatment! And of course even a true theory might be badly applied, leading to negative consequences. One of the problems here is that it is difficult to specify what counts as a cure for a neurotic illness as distinct, say, from a mere alleviation of the symptoms.

In general, however, the efficiency of a given method of treatment is usually clinically measured by means of a control group—the proportion of patients suffering from a given disorder who are cured by treatment X is measured by comparison with those cured by other treatments, or by no treatment at all.

Such clinical tests as have been conducted indicate that the proportion of patients who have benefited from psychoanalytic treatment does not diverge significantly from the proportion who recover spontaneously or as a result of other forms of intervention in the control groups used. So, the question of the therapeutic effectiveness of psychoanalysis remains an open and controversial one. Sigmund Freud — Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was a physiologist, medical doctor, psychologist and influential thinker of the early twentieth century.

Life Freud was born in Frieberg, Moravia in , but when he was four years old his family moved to Vienna where he was to live and work until the last years of his life.

Freud the philosopher

Backdrop to His Thought Although a highly original thinker, Freud was also deeply influenced by a number of diverse factors which overlapped and interconnected with each other to shape the development of his thought. Critical Evaluation of Freud It should be evident from the foregoing why psychoanalysis in general, and Freud in particular, have exerted such a strong influence upon the popular imagination in the Western World, and why both the theory and practice of psychoanalysis should remain the object of a great deal of controversy.

The Claim to Scientific Status This is a crucially important issue since Freud saw himself first and foremost as a pioneering scientist, and repeatedly asserted that the significance of psychoanalysis is that it is a new science , incorporating a new scientific method of dealing with the mind and with mental illness. The Coherence of the Theory A related but perhaps more serious point is that the coherence of the theory is, at the very least, questionable.

In this way, it is suggested, the theory of the Oedipus complex was generated. References and Further Reading a. Strachey with Anna Freud , 24 vols. Liberation and Its Limits: The Moral and Political Thought of Freud. From Freud to Philosophy. Harvard University Press, Reflections in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. Oxford University Press, Hackett Publishing Company, The Sources of Moral Agency: Essays in Moral Psychology and Freudian Theory. Cambridge University Press, Freud and Human Nature. Blackwell, Dilman, I. Freud and the Mind. Hypothesis and Evidence in Psychoanalysis. University of Chicago Press, Philosophical and Empirical Issues in Freudian Psychology.

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The Standing of Psychoanalysis. The Self in Transformation: Psychoanalysis, Philosophy, and the Life of the Spirit. The Story of Anna O. The Politics of Psychoanalysis: Yale University Press, Irrationality and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: University of California Press, State University Press, Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method, and Philosophy. New York University Press, Life and Work 3 vols , Basic Books, An Exploration of Essentials.

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Understanding Freud: The Unconscious Mind (Understanding Western Philosophy) - Kindle edition by Hercules Bantas. Download it once and read it on your. a novel humanistic understanding about social theory, cultural history, and “ unconsciousness” as a property of the mind cannot be determined, but the the language of advanced Western societies and reso- nating with the classical.

International Universities Press, Love and Its Place in Nature: A Philosophical Interpretation of Freudian Psychoanalysis. Working Out the Logic of the Soul. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life. Freud Among the Philosophers: A Psychoanalytic, Historical and Textual Study. The Assault on Truth: The Cambridge Companion to Freud. Freud and the Passions.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

This suggests the view that freedom of the will is, if not completely an illusion, certainly more tightly circumscribed than is commonly believed, for it follows from this that whenever we make a choice we are governed by hidden mental processes of which we are unaware and over which we have no control. Breuer discussed the case with his friend Freud. The preconscious consists of all which can be retrieved from memory. According to her cognitive problem solving view, a large amount of continuity exists between our waking thought and the thoughts that exist in dreams. Although he initially planned to study law with the intention of pursuing a career in politics, and also toyed with the idea of doing a joint PhD in zoology and philosophy, he eventually found his way to neurology. On 24 July , Freud had his own dream that was to form the basis of his theory. By what standard is this being judged?

Pennsylvania State University Press, Towards a Convergence of Psychoanalysis and Neurobiology. An Essay in Interpretation trans. Freud and His Critics. Philosophie des Unbewussten is an book by the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann. Hartmann reviews the work of many German philosophers and discusses the ideas of the Indian Vedas , [5] as well as collecting facts about perception, the association of ideas, wit, emotional life, instinct, personality traits, individual destiny, and the role of the unconscious in language, religion, history, and social life.

Will appears in suffering, idea in order and consciousness. Thus there are grounds for both pessimism and optimism, and, since the Absolute is one, these must be reconciled. As the cosmic process advances, idea prevails over will, making aesthetic and intellectual pleasures possible. Yet intellectual development increases our capacity for pain and material progress suppresses spiritual values.

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Hence ultimate happiness is unattainable on Earth or heaven, or by progress towards an earthly paradise. These illusions are ruses employed by the absolute to induce mankind to propagate itself.

We will eventually shed illusions and commit collective suicide, the final triumph of idea over will. According to Hartmann, the unconscious has three layers: Hartmann rejects the theory that dreams are wish-fulfillments, writing, "As for dreams, all the little miseries of our waking life also pass over with them into the state of sleep, but not one thing that can at least partly reconcile the cultivated person to life: In a chapter on "The unconscious in mysticism" chapter IX , Hartmann compared mysticism with philosophy, mentioning some western European authors including Molinos , Fichte , Schopenhauer and Spinoza.

He concluded that it was as difficult to distinguish a genuine inspiration of "the Unconscious" in the waking state when in a mystical mood from freaks of fancy, as to distinguish a clairvoyant dream from an ordinary one, given that, in the one case the dream only the result, and in the other the mood , only the purity and inner worth of the result, could decide between them. Philosophy of the Unconscious was translated from German into French and English, and went through many editions in all three languages, exerting a great influence on European culture and helping to make the idea of the unconscious familiar and accepted by the close of the 19th century.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described Hartmann's book as a "philosophy of unconscious irony", in his On the Use and Abuse of History for Life , one of the essays included in Untimely Meditations There are some who believe they weigh equally; for in each scale there is an evil word—and a good joke.