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Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD020-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

Freud developed the theory and practice of psychoanalysis, one of the most influential schools of psychology and psychotherapy of the twentieth century. He established a relationship with his patients which maximized information relevant to the interpretation of their behaviour, and this enabled him to find explanations of dreams, symptoms and many other phenomena not previously related to desire. In consequence he was able radically to extend our common-sense psychology of motive.

On Freud’s account everyday actions are determined by motives which are far more numerous and complex than people realize, or than common-sense understanding takes into account. The most basic and constant motives which influence our actions are unconscious, that is, difficult to acknowledge or avow. Such motives are residues of encounters with significant persons and situations from the past, often reaching back to early childhood; and they operate not to achieve realistic satisfaction, but rather to secure a form of pacification through representation. When we interpret what others say and do we apply these patterns of satisfaction and pacification to explain their behaviour; and in so far as we succeed in understanding others in this way we support the patterns as empirical generalization. While we recognize that pacification consequent on genuine satisfaction is deeper and more lasting than that effected by representation alone, we also know that human desire outruns opportunities for satisfaction to such an extent that pacification via imagination is common. This is a view which psychoanalysis radically extends.

This understanding of the mind enabled Freud to give psychological accounts of neurosis and psychosis, and to explicate how the past gives significance to the present in normal mental functioning. Past desires, even those of infancy, are not psychologically lost; rather they are continually re-articulated through symbolism, so as to direct action towards their representational pacification throughout life. In this Freud provides both a radically holistic account of the causation of action and a naturalistic description of the generation of meaning in life. New goals acquire significance as representatives of the unremembered objects of our earliest and most visceral passions; and the depth of satisfaction we feel in present accomplishments flows from their unacknowledged pacification of unknown desires from the distant past. Thus, paradoxically, significant desires can remain forever flexible, renewable and satisfiable in their expressions, precisely because they are immutable, frustrated and unrelenting at the root.

Citing this article:
Hopkins, James. Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD020-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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