Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Austria. He’s mainly known for founding the practice of psychoanalysis and his redefinition of sexuality (his version included the infantile forms). Freud was considered a romantic and had somewhat of a celebrity status. He was addicted to cocaine, was extremely ambitious and was an atheist.
Freud believed in the ‘all encompassing theory’ which is the theory of everything. This was targeted to a problem – the misery of the human condition. He believed that we are unhappy because we are divided as humans and that we are alienated from ourselves. He had the same starting point as Marx.
It doesn’t matter if you believe or don’t believe in psychoanalysis, but it;s influence has been outstanding. Freudian language has entered into the mainstream and it’s evident that we “all speak Freud now”. Whether we like it or not, we live in a totally Freudian world. He believed that he discovered the archaeology of the human mind through psychoanalysis and by doing this, excavating the secrets of the unconscious. This includes things such as Freudian slips, dreams and neurotic symptoms.
He was seen as a sexual renegade and challenged the enlightenment. He agreed with Rousseau’s teachings that all answers come from ourselves and that “man is the measure of all things”. He damaged the idea of ourselves as noble creatures. Freud was a self proclaimed pessimist and said to think of the artist Rembrandt when you think of him. A little light, but a lot of darkness. This came from this personal experiences. His theories are a dark vision of humanity.
Plato (427 BC) had a theory of the tripartite self. This was made up of reason, spirit and desire which is outlines in the allegory of the chariot. There, however, is one key difference between Plato and Freud. Plato believed that reason was in control of the two others but Freud thought that reason was the weakest of the three as people are irrational and driven by desires that are beyond our control and our concious mind. The idea of a tripartite self was taken on further by Freud, who constructed ideas of the id, ego and super-ego.
Marx (1818) is also similar in his beliefs of the tripartite self but with different titles – natural, alienated and species self. The needs of the species self would become dominate if we lived in a communist society. In a teleological perspective, humanity would finally access its true expression. Marx believed that human nature has an infinite potential to develop and evolve. Freud however rejects this as believed it was too idealistic and that our basic needs are not benign. He thought are deepest needs are aggression and the desire to hurt others and ultimately seek our own destruction in the Death Wish. This is very similar to Hobbes and Machiavelli’s views on human nature.
Freud said that the mind is divided into three distinct processes that are in conflict. The first is the id which is from birth. This is a bundle of instincts aimed at gaining pleasure and avoiding pain. Sex and aggression are combined by the id and they dominate the personality. Excitations are always bubbling away under the surface and demanding to be fulfilled but we are not aware of its dominance. The second is the ego which is the reality principle. This is the least powerful and is the voice of reason/common sense. It’s turned towards the real world. The third and final process is the super-ego which are the internalised rules of society. The Reich is irrational (the same as id) and develops after birth through socialisation. The super-ego has unrealistic standards of perfection and punishes with guilt.
Freud believed that society is full of suffering because life is full of pain. Our own body is decaying, as is nature, and our everyday interactions with people cause the most pain. He thought people are only out to get us and to hurt us. His answer to this is psychoanalysis which is needed to strengthen the ego. He outlines some coping mechanisms but he doesn’t recommend them – intoxication, isolation, religion and sublimation. Freud claimed he had found a way to deal directly with the unconscious, the id. Hypnosis, the pressure method, free association and dreams are all ways of tapping into the unconscious. Dreams are a way for the id to show itself. However, Freud believed that aggression would never be eliminated
There are many people who try to dispute Freud’s beliefs such as Popper. He thought all scientific predictions could be proven wrong, but Freud was so vague with his ideas that it can’t be tested. There is also no proof that psychoanalysis works. Even though Freud thought he was, he was not the discoverer of the unconscious. That, along with repression, childhood and regression were discussed in academic circles in the 19th century, before Freud. Schopenhauer believed man was an irrational being guided by internal forces. Reich believed that sexuality and politics were interlinked. He thought sexual repression was a weapon of political domination. Followers of Reich encouraged their patients to express their feelings openly, which was a direct attack on the Freudians who taught people to control their feelings.