Thursday, December 28, 2017

Masters of Suspicion Part II - Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is also considered one of the Masters of Suspicion.  Freud’s psychoanalytic theory revolutionized psychology in his day, even if it is not so attractive to many now.  Freud’s basic idea was that besides our conscious mind (which is the place philosophy believes it can answer all questions of truth, beauty and goodness), we have an unconscious mind where in fact most of our “reasoning” goes on.  Freud, like Nietzsche, saw our “reasoning” as rationalizations.

Freud saw the unconscious as the place of base urges, sexual urges.  Sexuality is what drives humans to do what they do.  He did many case studies on mentally ill patients, who were suffering from symptoms or disorders like neurosis, which could be explained by finding a primal root.

In one study Freud focused on a young woman named Emma Eckstein (  Emma seemed generally to be a normal young woman. However, when she went into a shop alone she became abnormally agitated and rushed out.  Through a long series of counseling sessions Freud brought to Emma’s conscious mind an incident which she was repressing (not suppressing - which is conscious; but repressing - unconsciously keeping buried from her conscious mind).  Emma finally recalled consciously that she had been groped by a shop keeper when she was a young girl.  The trauma of the event caused her to repress the memory.  Only through a long series of sessions of psychotherapy was she able to surface the hidden spring of her odd behavior (and supposedly find healing).

Freud developed other theories of behavior based on sexuality.  One of the most famous is the Oedipus Complex.  Oedipus was a character in a play by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles.  In the story at Oedipus’ birth it is prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  This was his fate. To prevent this fate, he is sent away and not raised by his parents.  Later, however, he returns and in fact kills his father (of course not knowing that he is his father) and marries his mother (not realizing that she was his mother).  Freud theorized that all boys go through a period of hating their fathers and desiring to “possess” their mothers (not necessarily sexual possession, but having her undivided attention and affection).  Freud also wrote an article about this concept called “Dostoevsky and Parricide”, (, in which he explained the behavior of the Karamazov brothers by use of his theory.  They were driven by the Oedipus Complex.

While Freud is not so popular in psychology circles these days, his theories and ideas can give us pause before we act.  We need to ask: Just what is driving us?  Are we in fact being rational?  Are our reasons really rational or just rationalizations? When we say that we believe in Christian morals and then are unfaithful to our marital promises and justify ourselves using logic like “She never really loved me.” or “We grew apart.”, are being honest or are we merely justifying our desires? One heir of Freud among Postmodern thinkers was Jacques Lacan.  Lacan aims his sharp arrows at our “inmost parts” questioning our motives, asking whether we even know what they are or even what we want.

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