It's not hard to imagine that Freud, slowly dying from the cancer of the mouth that had been diagnosed in , and in great pain, felt more and more anxious about his life, and about the fate of his work.
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Perhaps it's this despairing frame of mind that leads Freud into sharp contradictions and intellectual lapses in "Civilization and Its Discontents. He describes the sacred injunction as being "undoubtedly older than Christianity," and then catches himself, as if realizing that the idea of universal love was unique to Christianity, and adds, "yet it is certainly not very old; even in historical times it was still strange to mankind.
The book should have been called "Christian Society and Its Discontents. And then there is the aggressive instinct, a universal impulse that Freud claims presents the sole impediment to Christian love and civilized society, but which he cannot quite bring in line with his earlier theories.
Lawrencian Echoes in Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents
It's as if he were, understandably, sublimating into theory his own feelings about the Christian civilization that, even before Hitler's formal ascension to power in , seemed about to devour him and his family. Certainly, Freud's rage against the dark forces gathering against him has something to do with his repeated references, throughout the book, to great men in history who go to their deaths vilified and ignored. In one weird, remarkable moment, Freud introduces the idea of "the superego of an epoch of civilization," thus supplanting even Jesus Christ with a Freudian concept -- thus supplanting Christ with Freud.
But the most enigmatic, or maybe just incoherent, element of "Civilization and Its Discontents" is Freud's contention -- fancifully laid in , in "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" -- that every individual wishes, on some level, to die.
Kindling the fire of knowledge
In "Civilization and Its Discontents," he does not account for this outrageously counterintuitive idea, explain his application of it to history or even elaborate on it. The notion appears toward the end of the book and then does not occur again. Nine years later, in exile in England, weak and ill, Freud committed physician-assisted suicide, asking his doctor to give him a lethal dose of morphine. For all Freud's stern kindness toward humanity, for all his efforts to lessen the burden of human suffering, Thanatos seems to be the embittered way in which he universalized his parlous inner state.
It hampers the understanding to read "Civilization and Its Discontents" without taking into consideration all these circumstances. If Freud has taught us anything, it's that any evaluation of authority has to examine the condition of those who stand behind it.
Civilization, its Discontent & Guilt Pleasure Essay Examples & Outline
As for repairing to "Civilization and Its Discontents" to gain essential elucidation of our own condition, the work seems as severely circumscribed by its time as by its author's situation. Today, Freud's stress on the formative effect of the family romance seems less and less relevant amid endless deconstructions and permutations of the traditional family.
His argument that society's repressions create unbearable suffering seems implausible in a society where permissiveness is creating new forms of suffering. His fearless candor about sex appears quaint in a culture that won't stop talking about sex. And a great many people with faith in the inherent goodness of humankind believe that they are living according to ideal sentiments, universal principles or sacred commandments, unhampered by Freudian skepticism.
Yet there are, unquestionably, people for whom Freud's immensely powerful ideas are a permanent condition of their lives.
Behind the declaration of ideal sentiments, universal principles and sacred commandments, they see a craven sham concealing self-interest, greed and the wish to do harm. No one can be certain about the moral standards of a people at a certain time in the past, let alone the present Free Essays words 3.
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International and domestic tensions are high when both works are written; Sigmund Freud adopts a pessimistic tone throughout the work, while Primo Levi evolves from a despairing approach to a more optimistic view during his time at Auschwitz Along with his idea of what the root of happiness is, he also describes multiple ways this happiness can be attained. Freud states that love and beauty are both means of achieving happiness. Although love and beauty cannot completely prevent all worldly suffering, they both offer a powerful explanation that can help an individual determine the true meaning of their life Better Essays words 5.
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Sadness is the opposite of this. These emotions have a plethora of biological, psychological, and religious ties to the influence, source, and need for these emotions. Happiness and sadness have a codependent relationship, without one the other can never grow or diminish exponentially. In order to experience happiness, one has to experience sadness so that they can understand the contrast and make a personal emotion spectrum Better Essays words 2.
These men are seen in both actual history, and in fictional accounts of that history. Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, and even Freud laid the framework in their fields, with revolutionary ideas whose shockwaves are still felt today. Freud emphasizes medicine, hygiene, transportation and communications.
But that is ridiculous. Civilization may not bring liberty, freedom or happiness, but it does restrain primitive impulses in the human psyche. Civilization may not solve all problems, but it does prevent many problems.
Science provides the only route to understanding how the irremediable aggressive instincts of humans can be restrained in civilization. Civilization creates an environment in which primitive libidinous impulses can be sublimated. But civilization exacts its own particular price. Freud earlier established that the unrestrained libidinous life did not work to bring happiness.
Now we learn that restraint too has its costs. Libido love, genital love, strives for objects, and suffers if restricted. The strong find substitutes for the natural fixation on aggressive genital satisfaction. As a result, their neighbor is for them a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homini lupus [Humans are wolves to fellow humans -- an ignorant slander of wolves, by the way -SAC ed.
Who, in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counterforces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.
And there appears to be nothing we can do about it. Communism, for example, aims to abolish private property as the source of all human evil. Anyone who knows anything about poverty and great disparities of wealth can understand this, but the communist system is doomed to failure.
Humans have many ways of venting their aggressions on one another. How about abolition of the family and introduction of free love? Surely that would remove the whole problem of sexual aggression. Even the early Christian communities based on brotherly love soon drew strict and intolerant lines between them and others. Where will the communists turn next once they have eradicated the bourgeoisie?
In fact primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct. To counterbalance this [however], his prospects for enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender.