Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is known for pioneering a wide range of theories for furthering our understanding of the human mind. During his career, he established the groundwork for the structure of the mind, the unconscious, dreams, child development, and defense mechanisms. His major works could be viewed as a synthesis of several ideas across different fields  (the psychic economy as a Helmholtz energy system, drive theory rooted in  Schopenhauer/Nietzsche’s blind impulse/will to power, pleasure principle/sex motivated by Darwinian evolution) but his primary contributions was their systematization in a clinical setting for treating patients. Regardless, Freud’s contributions to psychology had broad impact on ideas of sociology (critical theory, alienation, the Other, power-structures, libidinal economy), philosophy (subjecthood, Marxism), biology (neural science), and economics (public relations/marketing). Let us investigate each of his theories.

Freud map

Freud viewed the mind as a mechanized tripartite system that operated according to energy conservation laws. Conscious behavior are actually determined or could be explained by latent mental within the unconscious. This deterministic account of action renders free-will illusory as one’s choices are derived from hidden mental processes. Conscious and unconscious states are phenomena produced by a tripartite arrangement of the mind known by the id-ego-superego. The id consists of the primitive and instinctual (innate) components of humanity that can be categorized into Eros (sex, reproductive drive), Thanatos (aggressive, destructive drive) instincts. It is autonomous and operates under the so-called pleasure principle which that demands that impulses be satisfies both instantly and unconditionally. The ego is the conscious mediator between the impulses of the id and the practical means of achieving the id’s demands. It conditions the id’s instincts according to the reality principle by delaying gratification and compromising the demands according to socially responsible and normative methods in the external world.  The super-ego consists ideals from society that are internalized as to pressure the ego into both acting and assigning worth (value) according to parental influences during upbringing and by implication society; it punishes the ego with feelings of guilt for not living up to its standards.  One’s sense of agency, which derives from the conscious deliberation of action, is thus produced in the ego, driven to satisfy the id, and regularized by the superego. Such dynamics are governed by the flow of so-called libido or energy in the psyche which are conserved between the id-ego-superego; impulses have different magnitudes of excitation which are transformed into different degrees of emotional investment into mental objects (cathexis) by the ego but when blocked or withdrawn (anti-cathexis) from the object by superego ideals will cause the ego to find alternative ways to release the energy or else experience neurotic symptoms.


Development of the tripartite structure occurs in phases during the early years of a child’s life in so-called psychosexual stages where the libidinal flow is fixated. In the first year of life, the infant is in the oral stage where the first source of gratification as well as frustration is experienced in terms of sucking/breast-feeding from the mother; frustration follows from the separation of the breast where libido is blocked and reconstitutes itself in the basic ego as a separate structure from the id-nature.  Between years 1-3, the libido is fixated on the anus during potty-training where the pleasures of defecating must be delayed according the authority of the parents. The greater external demands and authority of the parents further clashes with ego, produced from the rising tension with the id. The phallic stage between ages 3-6 fixates the libido on the genitals and the child’s anatomical differences between mother and father. Erotic attraction with the opposite sex parent give rise to the so-called “Oedipus/Electra Complexes”. Boys seek to possess the mother but fears the father out of castration anxiety; the complex is resolved via identification with the father via his values/attitudes/behaviors which are adjusted according to male gender roles of the culture. Girls learn to repress their desire for father and their hatred of mother by identifying with female gender roles and the wish for a baby. For both genders, internalizing these values give rise to superego. From ages 6-puberty, the child enters into the latency stage where the libido is no longer fixated and can flow into play, developing new skills, and learning. From puberty to adulthood is the genital stage where libido is reconstituted in the pursuit of sexual intercourse with others.


The conflicting demands of both the id and super-ego on the ego produce tensions that cannot always be harmonized. Failure to harmonize would result in neurosis or experiencing different forms of mental anxiety. Thus, the ego unconsciously employs a variety of defense mechanisms that reroutes/transforms  the energetic potential of the different demands. Such mechanisms are developed during the psycho sexual fixation periods to different degrees and exhibit recurring patterns in adulthood. Defenses can thus be classified on a continuum from primary to mature:

  1. Withdrawal:  Avoiding situation by re-investing energy into fantasy.
  2. Denial: Refusing to accept or acknowledge an unpleasant reality.
  3. Disassociation: Disconnect from present experience by escaping into another representation.
  4. Splitting: Separate inter-objects into either all good/all bad without ambivalence.
  5. Projection: Misinterpret impulse from within as coming from the outside in distorted form.
  6. Regression:  Goes back to infantile behaviors for coping with stress.
  7. Reaction Formation: Adopting the opposite position of the impulse.
  8. Undoing: Taking back an unconscious behavior after the fact by doing the opposite.
  9. Repression: Blocking unacceptable impulse before it reaches consciousness.
  10. Displacement: Redirecting impulse onto another object.
  11. Intellectualization: Use thinking to create a distance from unpleasant emotions.
  12. Sublimation: Redirect impulse into socially acceptable objects for productive use.

freud-defense mechanisms


The therapeutic applications of Freud’s theories culminated in the practice of psychoanalysis to which many practical methods such as free-association and dream analysis are developed. A common thread amongst these methods is to recover energetic content that have been reconstituted in the unconscious, which is a repository of  forgotten memories and implicit knowledge. Recall that in the energy conserving id-ego-superego structure, energetic contents that have not found a release will flow back into the person and presumably remain in the unconscious. The contents retain their energetic potential and may be organized into a common themes such as complexes that exhibit a determining  factor in conscious life when the ego is weakened. Thus, psychoanalysis aims to depotentiate these contents through the recovery and reintegration of the contents into the ego. This can be done via free-association where patients effectively speak their mind without inhibition; the method tends to reveal unsaid assumptions about the patient such as transference (feelings towards one person are directed onto another), projection (feelings about self directed to another), and resistance (a mental block or gap in events that fails to be recalled).  Delving into more repressed contents required greater lessening of the ego during dreaming. Freud developed a theory of dream analysis as way to interpret manifest (dream material reported from experience) and latent contents (hidden meanings that have been transformed to protect the semi-lucid ego during dreaming).



Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that directs thought towards the service of practical uses rather than a function representation of phenomena. That is, holding thoughts and beliefs led to actions on the sensible world that may or may not have been efficacious; the veracity of such beliefs corresponds to a “cash value” or use value in the sensible world for the believer. Two major proponents of this school of thought are William James and John Dewey who the former is more concerned with the justification of moral beliefs and the latter with the justification of scientific knowledge.


In William James’s “Will to Believe”, he defends the belief in faith (religion) without evidence on the grounds that all moral beliefs entail a degree of trust prior to sensible evidence. A situation may arise where one is unable to not make a choice (non-action is also a choice) before evidence abounds. The very consequence of holding a belief may influence the outcome as in the case of “confidence”. That is, evidence may not be realized unless a prior faith is constituted. Extending this to the religious sphere, one’s may never encounter proof of God unless one has placed in  God prior faith. Curiously enough, the scientific method is not so different in the sense that it makes hypotheses (albeit more verifiable) that begs/challenges forth an answer (evidence). This is typical of the “radical empiricism” of the modern age when neither observer nor observation can be frozen in time and separated; both facts and theories condition one another.

His ontology presupposes experience from which mater and thought enter into relations with. Pure experience is  “the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories”. That is, experience isn’t reduced to the objects of experience (Hume, Locke) which is wholly scientific but rather is imbued with both meaning and intentionality structured by human thought. Such a view also treats trans-empirical entities as superfluous as naturalistic accounts of meaning/intentions are sufficient explanations in practical terms.


John Dewey applies pragmatism to scientific inquiry where theories are judged accordingly to how well they predict phenomena in their respected domains; theories are instruments of prediction (instrumentalism) rather than laws that uncover truths about nature and thus relegated to approximations of truth. However, such a notion of truth is not absolute and appears at times appear probabilistic via statistical certainties. Instead, true/false can be viewed as a mutual adjustment between an organism (more on this side) and its environment; a satisfactory adjustment promotes a belief that has significance in the way that it induces behavior. The logic of belief follows inquiry which seeks to transform an undetermined situation into  a determined set of relations or a unified whole (Hegel’s influence). In the sphere of facts, this creates complications where the external consequences in a future are used to constitute facts; for example, one believes that they woke up this morning by virtue of not sleeping at the current moment rather than by looking at regularities of sleep cycles in the past. Such is the empowering yet dangerous element in Dewey’s philosophy where man, who has become unchained from the past, is able to make greater leaps forward in his own invention whilst being blinded by his own hubris.




Bergson’s philosophy distinguishes two forms of time which provides a counter-argument to Kant’s free-will as partly subject to causality. Kant, along with most philosophers have adopted spatial or mathematical-time which borrows from our intuitions on the divisibility of space; time acquires discrete units and can be measured. Bergson argues that pure time or duration is both continuous and indivisible; events evade comparison and so there neither can be mechanistic determinism nor teleology. Duration is initially described as qualitative multiplicity (heterogeneous-temporal) as opposed to quantitative multiplicity (homogeneous-spatial);  a typical example follows the experience of interpenetrating feelings (one feeling transforming into another) which evade non-conceptual comparison (akin to the difference senses).  A lesser image is one of color gradient/spectrum where different colors are represented but do not interpenetrate. Thus, duration can be characterized by heterogeneous moments that blend or progress from one form to another; it evades conceptualization as language imposes structures that demarcate categories and would separate duration.

Intuition for Bergson is the experience of entering into oneself (sympathy); it escapes the divisioning of things into parts and then the re-synthesis into categories that only give relative knowledge (regularized by our needs). By entering into a thing (a Buddhist principle), we are able to move between others through effort by sensing differences (other durations). This movement allows extremes in heterogeneity to be connected (e.g. red to blue) and thus unify dualistic positions. The prolongation of past movement with the current moment, Bergson calls memory and equates with intuition or image. Image is a middle-ground between material in realism and representation in idealism; representation is a sectioning of the image for utility’s sake whereas material lacks the power to cause representations. The canonical example of memory follows the image of the inverted cone intersected with the plane; the apex represents the present, the base is pure memory or the unconscious, and the plane is the representation of the world (if the apex intersects with the plane, then the image of the body participates in the world).  Thinking  focuses the cone on distant memories to produce singular images; this is a movement from interpenetration into fragmentation. Action contracts the singular images so that only one is selected; the scene contracts to a single image whence a generalization can be made.


Bergson’s third principle of creative evolution reconciles the continuity/interpenetration of duration (time) with the practical utility of representation (space); the theory consists of four parts:

  1. Vital impulse: This is an all-embracing impulse at the beginning of life to explain change and the tendency towards consciousness/complexity. It is unlike mechanism which is specific enough to account (drive) all novelty from low-order parts. It is unlike finality which explains complexity in hindsight (w.r.t. final causes).
  2. Principle of divergence/differentiation: Life differentiates itself according to opposing instinct and intelligence. Within instinct are more opposites such as mobility/immobility (e.g. animals/plants). Intelligence or the production of representations in humans and lesser primates are differentiated from tool use/creation to abstract thought. Human, whose ego is the product of intelligence is at a loss from instinct which is necessary for understanding time and ultimately, vital impulse (source of change).
  3. Intelligence/Instinct: This is the claim that a shred of instinct remains within man’s being; both intelligence and instinct are tendencies that have origins in the production of change. For example, one can both read how to swim (intelligence) and actually swim by immersing oneself into water (instinct).
  4. Intuition or the process of getting in touch with things themselves within themselves  (navigating heterogeneous interpenetrating  moments) allows man to gain knowledge of the absolute.

Modern Philosophy III

Modern Philosophy III

Berkeley begins the modern idealist tradition with his complete rejection of material as metaphysical substance. Working from Locke, Berkeley’s immaterialism does not deny the existence of objects per-se, but that existence has become contingent on perceptions (of ideas or state-of-mind) by a subject. The subject, referred to as spirit, is analogous to the mind and “active” in the sense of possessing will/judgment and the aperception of ideas.  This is to say that there are no mind-independent things which leads to a fully subjective and restricted world-view; the existence of other spirits can only be known through the ideas that they incite in our minds. His moral philosophy is also contrarian to that of Locke; passive-obedience is a negative moral duty to the government without exceptions.


Hume both extended and finalized many of the issues that were contained in Locke and Hume’s empiricism. He’s most known for formulating the problem of induction or the inference of the unknown from known events. Underlying all of the induction is the assumption of uniformity or the regularity in nature; the observations that one makes thus far persists in both time and space outside that window. Such an assumption cannot be demonstrated as one can easily conceive of a world that is non-uniform. Neither can a probable argument towards its validity be meaningful as this is the very question that induction seeks to answer; logic/reason cannot be used to justify this hypothesis.

Hume’s notion of causality relates his conception of induction to man’s psychology. Here, causality is always preceded by the impressions of two conjoined events serialized in time. With repeated apprehensions, ideas or mental states of these impressions are formed such that the latter idea becomes associated with the former impression. The mind, by its necessity to determine relations, cannot help by make the leap to causation from its conditioning (Pavlov later demonstrates this in the 19th century). Related is his conception of the self as a mere bundle of perceptions; we have difficulty experiencing impressions of our self but instead have chains of perceptions that follow by necessity.

Hume’s ethics make an important distinction between reason/passion, is-ought, and moral responsibility in a compatibility view of free-will. Reason is always a slave (to serve) to passion in the sense that knowledge does not compel the will as does feelings/sentiments do. This follows from the formulation of the “is-ought” problem where no amount of descriptive statements can ever deduce a prescriptive statement. His compatablist’s free-will holds that while necessity binds actions to motives, it is the will that must have choice for otherwise the actions would be judged as only given to chance which non-regular.

hume1 hume2

Modern Philosophy III