What Is the Unconscious?

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It’s been 100 years since the publication of The Unconscious—Sigmund Freud’s classic on what goes on behind the scenes. It remains influential, though it has come in for some serious criticism. We meet a philosopher on a mission to restore clarity to Freud’s concept; to let it do its work in explaining behaviours that otherwise seem peculiar, and free it from both magic and science.

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode on The Unconscious

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Short Article of the Day

Despite Freud’s renown, several approaches to the unconscious had already been established before the advent of psychoanalysis. According to the Canadian psychiatrist and historian Henri Ellenberger, Freud & Co were merely the latest representatives of the ‘mythopoetic’, who sought reality in dreams and fantasies. Earlier theorists had regarded the unconscious as a secret recorder of impressions and sensations that lay beyond the narrow beam of consciousness, an incubator for creative, innovative and inspirational insights, and a gateway to the secondary or submerged personalities linked to somnambulism, hypnotism, hysteria and fugue states...

Continue reading Antonio Melechi's article: Every school of psychological thought has its own theory of the unconscious

Further Reading

Freud’s theory of the unconscious, then, is highly deterministic—a fact which, given the nature of nineteenth century science, should not be surprising. Freud was arguably the first thinker to apply deterministic principles systematically to the sphere of the mental, and to hold that the broad spectrum of human behavior is explicable only in terms of the (usually hidden) mental processes or states which determine it. Thus, instead of treating the behavior of the neurotic as being causally inexplicable—which had been the prevailing approach for centuries—Freud insisted, on the contrary, on treating it as behavior for which it is meaningful to seek an explanation by searching for causes in terms of the mental states of the individual concerned. Hence the significance which he attributed to slips of the tongue or pen, obsessive behavior and dreams—all these, he held, are determined by hidden causes in the person’s mind, and so they reveal in covert form what would otherwise not be known at all. This suggests the view that freedom of the will is, if not completely an illusion, certainly more tightly circumscribed than is commonly believed, for it follows from this that whenever we make a choice we are governed by hidden mental processes of which we are unaware and over which we have no control...

Continue reading the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Sigmund Freud by Stephen P. Thornton

Related Topics

If you’re interested in the unconscious, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

CognitionConsciousness | FreudNeuroscience | Nietzsche | Psychology

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