The Psychoanalytic das Ich

Lost in Translation

Authored by: Alfred I. Tauber

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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When Freud’s ‘das Ich’ – ‘the I’ – is translated in English to ‘the ego,’ a semantic distortion introduces a host of philosophical issues. Who or what is das Ich? In the Western philosophical tradition, ego refers to ‘the self,’ a construction subject to much debate and unresolved ambiguity. Freud avoids this imbroglio. Das Ich does not mean ‘ego’ and, moreover, Freud does not use the word Selbst (self). This semantic distinction highlights how psychoanalytic theory, in its radical reconfiguration of the mental, eschews the metaphysics of Enlightenment notions of selfhood: a dominant consciousness with its conceits of reasoned deliberation has been replaced with the hegemony of the unconscious. Accordingly, self-awareness in the Freudian construction can offer only limited insight into the repressive mechanisms employed to combat unconscious fantasy and desire. And, given the autonomy and dominance of das Es, das Ich – delimited in its rationality and understanding – has been stripped of the free will underlying modernity’s basic conception of personal identity. With the rejection of epistemological and moral autonomy, Freud joined 20th-century philosophers in dismissing modernity’s attempts to define the self. How subjectivity, sui generis, serves in this reconfiguration of agency remains Freud’s abiding contribution.

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