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We are all animals – Freud



Week 4 of Know Thyself focused on Freud and psychoanalysis. The study question I chose was

Freud claims that, “…civilization is to a large extent being constantly created anew.” (p.12 of the Scribed version of his Introductory Lectures). Please explain this remark and its significance for Freud’s view of the unconscious as it relates to human action.

Freud believed that humans are essentially driven by their instincts in particular sexual and violent ones.

Men are more moral than they think and far more immoral than they can imagine

In his book Civilisation and its Discontents (1930), he describes a tension between civilisation and the individual. The individual, left to his own devices, would follow his baser instincts, and civilisation is concerned with curbing and harnessing those instincts, eg creating laws and punishments for when the laws are broken.

He describes an irony, where civilisation is created to ensure the happiness and bringing together of people but by doing this it makes the individuals unhappy because of the rules and restrictions it imposes on them.

In his introductory lecture he goes on to say that civilisation is constantly being renewed as each time a human enters civilisation he is repeating the sacrifices (in terms of human instincts) that his forefathers did. This sacrifice is made for the good of civilisation as a whole.

However, these instincts don’t go away they are simply redirected, or as Freud calls it sublimated.

to divert the expression of (an instinctual desire or impulse) from its unacceptable form to one that is considered more socially or culturally acceptable

The problem with being human is that our impulses (he believed that the sexual impulses were the strongest of the human instincts) can’t be fully repressed and they have a habit of showing themselves through dreams or “Freudian slips” (known as parapraxes by Freud). He understands that some of these mistakes or ‘slips’ are down to genuine reasons, illness or tiredness for example. Maybe we weren’t paying attention and this is the reason for forgetting.

However, it’s not that simple. Freud also argues that we do many things without paying attention, walking or playing the piano, and not make a mistake. Also, when we forget a name, why is it so difficult to remember when we focus all our attention on it, it’s on the tip of our tongue and we remember it as soon as someone says it. We also make the same mistake over and over. In his lecture Freud uses the example of “forgetting” an appointment. Then missing it a second time because you wrote down the wrong time. Freud listed a number of different types of parapraxes, including a mishearing or a misreading. He thought that these slips were some repressed thought, wish or desire rearing its ugly head through the conscious. In his lectures he says that they are not

chance events but serious mental acts

According to Wikipedia

the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralising role; and the ego is the organised, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego can stop you from doing certain things that your id may want you to do.

If you believe what Freud says it would appear that there is an continuous battle going on in our minds which we are not aware of. Occasionally this spills out in what appear to be innocent “slips” and strange dreams.

I don’t think that Freud had much faith in humanity and seemed to think that we were only a step away from rape and murder. I only hope, based on some of the weird dreams I have, that my super-ego manages to control my id!



  1. Maybe Freud just did too much cocaine-:)

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