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by Rick Lewis
“Know yourself!” has been a motto and an ideal for philosophers from Socrates onwards. Guiding people on the path to self-knowledge was also the aim of a thinker not generally seen as a philosopher, namely Sigmund Freud. He developed a whole range of revolutionary theories about human psychology including the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, repression, and transference. These formed the basis for psychoanalysis, which is a system of theories about the workings of the mind, an approach to treating psychological illnesses and a set of techniques for trying to find out more about ourselves through a dialogue between a patient and a therapist. Perhaps helped by the frenetic insecurity of modern urban life, Freud’s psychoanalytic movement spread from his native Vienna right around the world. Now many of his technical terms have become part of our everyday language. Can any recent philosopher claim as much?
Freud was the ‘father’ of psychoanalysis, so presumably according to his own theories he was always likely to have a fairly fraught relationship with it, and so it turned out. The movement has splintered into at least a dozen competing theoretical approaches and these days Sigmund is rather out of vogue, even among psychiatrists. It is pointed out that he actually treated very few patients, and even fewer of those showed any long-term improvement as a result. His theories have been criticised for overemphasizing sex as if it were the only force in our lives. As Freud himself admitted, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!” Still, surely he was right that many of our own motivations and mental processes are hidden from us, and surely philosophers should take an interest in theories which say so much about the nature of our conscious and unconscious motivations? Freud doesn’t seem to have liked philosophers much, but two of our contributors, psychiatrist Eva Cybulska and philosopher Cathal Horan, argue that his connections with philosophy went way beyond the mere fact that he was dealing with one of philosophy’s central questions. According to them, several of Freud’s central ideas were anticipated by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche or Hegel. Are these philosophical giants indirectly responsible for the emergence of psychoanalysis? In any case, the illuminating parallels may help us to get a handle on Freud’s fascinating ideas.
Continuing our exploration of the links between psychology and philosophy, we’ll also be pondering the nature of happiness and the psychology of shopping, and we’ll even apply psychoanalysis to understand the subterranean forces at work in a game of soccer. In fact, this issue is a rather introspective one all round, for it also contains three very different examples of philosophers reflecting on their own lives and work. The first is an article about Rousseau’s alarmingly frank Confessions, a courageous piece of deep psychological self-examination conducted more than a century before Freud. Used by his detractors mainly as a handy guide to Rousseau’s various perversions, betrayals and humans failings, Peter Abbs argues that it also demonstrates Rousseau’s genius as he anticipates much later theories on how childhood experiences can influence psychological development.
One of the best-known living philosophers is Daniel C. Dennett. His writings have had a profound influence on contemporary debates on consciousness, cognitive science, evolution and a host of other philosophical hot topics. We asked him to explain how exactly he came to develop the ideas which have made him famous, and he kindly wrote us an intellectual autobiography which we are honoured to be publishing now as a two-part serial. This is a completely different kind of autobiography to Rousseau’s famous shocker, because although in some ways it is just as intimate (what could be more intimate than to narrate your intellectual development?), Dennett barely mentions the emotional dimensions of his life, whereas for Rousseau that was the main point.
Our third example of autobiography is in a lighter vein as Kalynne Pudner reports on her own experiences as a philosopher-mom, explaining what it is like to be a full-time academic with nine children and how philosophy (sometimes) helps.