Freud and the Unconscious

Authored by: Marcia Cavell

The Routledge International Handbook of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy

Print publication date:  November  2022
Online publication date:  November  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367276454
eBook ISBN: 9780429297076
Adobe ISBN:


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Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) created and developed psychoanalysis, which is at once a body of data, a theory of mind, a form of therapy, and a theory of therapy. Thus in its triadic aspect, psychoanalysis as a body of data might be correct though both the theory of the data and the theory of mind be incorrect, and vice versa. This chapter will concentrate on Freud’s theory of mind with its central concepts of the unconscious and repression. The Freudian unconscious is not to be confused with the mundane concept of the subconscious, which ordinarily refers to mental contents that are temporarily out of awareness but subject to voluntary control. On the contrary, unconscious mental contents can only be retrieved under special circumstances, of which hypnosis, Freud’s earliest therapeutic modality, is a prime example. Such contents, which typically lead to self-deception and irrationality of various kinds, include desires, memories, intentions, wishes, and ideals. A subsidiary section of the chapter will address Freud’s account of how, in part through repression, ideals, and conscience are formed. In closing, we will consider two of Freud’s most trenchant critics, Adolf Grünbaum and Frederic Crews.

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