Freud

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.

freud

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.

freud-infantile

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).

Freud

Sartre

Sartre

Sartre, the well known existentialist of the 20th century, radicalizes human freedom by returning to the ontology of “being”. Human existence lies within a condition of nothingness (no-thing-ness) where things are characterized by what they are not or namely their negation or nihilation (e.g. fragile things lack stable unity). Subjectivity or human experience is divided into pre-reflective and reflective consciousnesses of objects. Pre-reflective consciousness is directed towards the transcendent object without configuring a notion of the “I”; such acts are spontaneous, transparent to the self, and engaged with the phenomenon as a starting point (first-order). Reflective consciousness negates pre-reflective consciousness and so the unity of the negation contains  a duality between some regular agent “I” from memory, and the object. i.e. Consciousness becomes aware of itself. Thus, ego is borne out of reflective consciousness that is imposed upon pre-reflective consciousness. The Other is borne from ego recognizing that is an object of another being’s gaze.

Being can be posited in two way: Things may be in-itself or existing without justification in relation to other things (it is fully determinate). Examples include inert things such as rocks, air,  and bottle. This differs from human beings whose identity is not in relation to things within but always to something else; being for-itself negates being in-itself and can be imagined as a lack of a being. For-itself, through nothingness, is thus able to form attitudes to other beings by seeing what it is not. This desire or project for being gives for-itself a radical freedom to make itself from nothingness. However, the tendency of for-itself to run away from its freedom, to become an in-itself or an absolute (God) is a common way people fall into “bad faith”. This can be applied to the many social roles (waiter, father, lover) that people adopt in their every-day lives; when such roles are no longer functional personas but have been adopted as essences of being (using such roles as excuses for example), than the person is rejecting the task of determining what these roles are not.

sartre im

The rejection of human nature (existence precedes essence, no essences and priors w.r.t. existence) places agency/freedom is a difficult claim to follow. In Sartre’s day, he rejected the Freudian notions of the unconscious and psychological repression as having an influence on behavior. A priori models such as Jungian archetypes were obviously ignored. Modern advances in genetics and evolutionary biology (our behavior similarities with primates and other hierarchy building animals) would have supplied evidence in the other direction. Here, Sartre’s hedges a bit with his concepts of facticity and transcendence. Facticity is a set of facts viewed from a third person or objectifying stance (e.g. my skin color). Being can be aware of its own facticity but to adopt these facts as determining what I am would once again be in bad faith. The solution is to transcend these facts into what the space of possibilities conditioning upon these facts (e.g. the fact that one is short can be transcended by the behaviors and attitudes on has in light of being short such as humor).

Sartre

Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, equates the human responsibility of achieving self-hood (subjectivity) with truth. Kierkegaard’s notion of self is the union of acts that relate between dualities such as finite/infinite, necessity/possibility, and temporal/timeless. This is a negative space of the Hegelian synthesis of duals that moves from descriptive to prescriptive ethics. Truth or the realization of the self is known through the active choice of relating between duals without identifying too closely with either poles (failure results in forms of despair). An important case concerns the religious duality between sin/faith which is powered by the tension between Christianity’s paradox to reason and the necessity of a leap to faith. Although Kierkegaard’s process of individuation (achieving selfhood) occurred predominantly along religious lines, he introduced a number of general concepts that speaks to the human condition.

Kierkegaard

The responsibility of achieving selfhood compels one to make conscious choices at every moment. Each moment entails a great number of choices, and their multiplicity of consequences to consider lead the subject to experience a “dizziness of freedom” or angst/dread. This paralysis by analysis, or the anticipation of consequences render one immobile and unable to make a choice for fear of sin. Conversely, it is the experience of anxiety that allows one to move away from unconscious ignorance and into one’s potential for action, self-recognition, and identity.

Kierkegaard posits three existential stages of life along the way of becoming a true self:

  1. The aesthetic (the hedonist) lives for sensory experience and pleasure as a way to combat boredom; Boredom is characterized as “the root of all evil-the despairing refusal to be oneself” as it is an undifferentiated or an undirected state of consciousness. The aesthetes who avoid boredom through the pursuit of novelty also avoids commitments as it requires repetition. Common techniques to suspend boredom is through anticipation which delays gratification, and the so-called “rotation method” where one cycles between activities so that no one activity’s novelty is exhausted.  However, the mode of living is self-serving and ultimately meaningless as it ignores the dimension of other individuals or society.
  2. The ethical is the antithesis of the aesthetic where one lives a life according to well-defined rules for the good of society rather than for the self. In the process acting according to higher principles, new pleasures may be realized that could not by the aesthetic. For example, while the novelty of marriage wears off, the act of giving to your spouse and children is rewarding.
  3. The religious is the final stage of the true self which requires a commitment to the moral absolutes of God. Such absolutes are communicated not through social institutions such as the church, but through a personal relation or revelation of God. Such absolutes require a “teleological suspension of the ethical” as they may contradict that of social norms; one may have to sacrifice pleasures of both the aesthetic and the ethical to reach this. Thus, one can consider revelation (disclosure of divine moral absolutes) as the synthesis of the pursuit of novelty (now the spiritual sphere) and the repetition of commitment (now in the subjective sphere).

 

kierkegaard im

 

Kierkegaard describes the experience along these stages of life in terms of despair that arise from an unbalanced identification with poles of duals (lack of  finitude/infinitude, necessity/possibility). Three levels are given:

  1. The lowest level is the ignorance of one being in despair or of having a self (unconscious of self). One may be unable to realize one’s potential in life as he/she is fully in pursuit of novelty or of sensuous dichotomies of agreeable/disagreeable. He/she imagines himself happy but is actually dependent on the various objects of pleasure (materialist). Conversely, the system-builder who lives inside abstractions is divorced from experience. The system is merely a scaffold over an abyss from which the self’s relation to the concrete is  hidden.
  2. The next level is conscious despair where one understands the condition of having to relate to duals but not the specific causes. One may despair against becoming oneself and run away by becoming someone else; he/she may refuse to become a self through feelings of unworthiness. The person may even be able to identify his weaknesses but become identified with the weaknesses themselves and refuse help by God.
  3. The final level is demonic despair against the eternal itself where one is hardened by suffering and so defies any help; the person identifies with despair itself as suffering lifts him/her in uniqueness above everyone else.
Kierkegaard

Marxism

capital

Marxism provides a description of history as a dialectic between class relations in terms of modes of production. Following Hegel, Marx inverts the primacy of ideas into the primacy of material conditions necessary for survival; such conditions are summarized by relations of productions where members of a society must engage in social relationships as a means towards life. While Hegel’s lord-bondsman is a dialectic of reaching self-consciousness (freedom of will), Marx’s aristocrat-slave, lord-serf, and capitalist-proletariat are dialectics of reaching economic equality (freedom of realization or means of production). Throughout history, the antagonisms between the prevailing class (those who control the means of production) and the under class (those who do not)  have created conflicts that have resulted in the overthrowing of the former by the latter and the synthesis of a new class (class struggle). For example, small tribal societies originally held property in the commons but would eventually acquire slaves to work the lands after the agricultural revolution. Tribes banded together and formed villages that grew into cities where the ruling families became Aristocrats. The growing expanse of territory had to be cultivated by an ever-increasing slave population that exceeded their replenishment; this phase culminated in the fall of the Roman empire which grew too large to be maintained (Barbarians completed the revolution with the sacking of Rome). From the remains emerged local lords who owned land that were occupied by serfs (once freeman); serfs subsist off the land but were required to give a fraction of their produce back to the lord as well as to work on the lord’s other properties. Over time (and land shortage), the freemen were able to urbanize and create a middle-class that became independently wealthy from trade/commerce; this marked the end of feudalism and gave rise to the capitalist class who could hire freemen on a wage to do work.

 

marx

The analysis of modes of production in its most recent form (capitalism) requires a short discourse in commodities. A commodity is a good/service produced from labor to be sold in a market. The value of a product can be expressed in terms of use-value or the utility that it serves, but also in terms of an exchange value for other products. According to Marx’s labor theory of value, the product’s market value ought to be regulated in terms of the average socially necessary labor time required to produce it; a chair is worth more than the wood that it was made from as it contains both the labor of construction and chopping of wood from tree. To mediate the exchange of various types and quantities of products (as to establish an equivalence between the labor of two different things), a third entity (money) is synthesized as to objectivize labor; here begins the disassociation of use-value from exchange value through the advancement of money (capital) and its power to command social labor. For example, money lent on interest produces more money without an antecedent product (and labor).  Money spent on a commodity to be sold at a higher price yields a profit. How capitalism accomplishes this feat is via the exploitation of workers (laborers).

In capitalism, the means of productions (e.g. machinery, material, land) are privately owned by the capitalists who employ workers to labor and produce commodities; workers relinquish their ownership of their product (labor) and given a wage (money). To maximize profit, the capitalist seeks to minimize the wage given the worker (enough that the worker can subsist on as to continue working the next day) and the reap the surplus of labor (anything produced beyond the fixed costs) to be sold on the market. Such relations between capitalist-worker and capitalist-capitalist are obscured by the perceived value of objects on the market which are mistaken for their intrinsic value (commodity fetishism); a laptop has a price tag but it hides the cost of production and those engaged in its transactions. The economic consequence is the appearance of an autonomous market that ascribes prices (and thus labor value) to commodities that are independent of the consumers (use-value).The far-reaching consequences are the pursuit of new markets in different territories (globalization), the development of  new technologies (subjugation of creativity) to more efficiently extract resources (enframing/challenge nature to produce something for standing reserve, Heidegger later) and replace labor, and the alienation between workers.

The social alienation through labor is manifested in several forms. The first form occurs between workers and the products which he/she have no control over the prices of; workers are given little input as to the design of their products (inventions are patented) and  receive little or no share of the profits. Second, Workers through the divisioning of their labor (sake of efficiency), are given repetitive/assembly line tasks that alienates him the total product; this differs from craftsman and serfs from the middle-ages and the Renaissance who produced their products from start to finish. Third in the psychological dimension, the worker loses his ability to objectify his will/intentions; his will is subordinated to the external demands of others for stretches of time. Last, the final form of alienation occurs between workers who are reduced to relations of competition for higher wages; the unemployed for example can threaten to take your jobs at a lower wage.

While alienation is a socially damaging effect of capitalism, Marx stressed that it is the economic contradictions within the capitalist’s mode of production that would be responsible for the next revolution. His immiseration thesis theorized that the worker’s economic impoverishment would deteriorate through the capitalist’s exploitation and greater accumulation of capital (inequality). The thesis is debatable as capitalism, through reforms (government minimum wage, unions) and its drive for new technologies have improved the standard of living (creation of the middle class that benefits the most) for workers; conversely, the average wage has hardly changed in the last forty years. Regardless, such a revolution proscribes to wrest and redistribute private ownership of the means of production back to the workers (socialism) which progresses towards a stateless society without economic classes (communism). Many authors have expounded on the many contradictions inherent to capitalism in more recent times (I recommend David Harvey) and so I’ll leave this discussion for a later time and conclude this blog entry.

Marxism

Utilitarianism

Utilitarians

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist approach to ethics that attempts to objectivize worth in terms of “utility” (happiness, negation of suffering, pleasure) rather than adherence to universalizing laws (deontology) and motives (virtue-ethics). Classical utilitarianism adopts the Epicurean valuation of pleasure as a fundamental principle sought by all members of a society; pain, aside from masochist/sadist dichotomies, constitutes the opposite or undesirable. The English combined these concepts with the empiricst/Humean principles of cause & effects where the latter is considered social utility.

The two major proponents of this school of thought, Bentham and Mill, equate pleasure with happiness but differ as to how social utility is measured. Bentham quantified the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” as the determination of right/wrong; Mill qualified the determination as the “greatest aggregate happiness among sentient beings” which ranked happiness according to intellectual/moral pursuits higher than that of the physical/body. Mill justifies the assertion with the claim that one would choose the former over the latter if both are experienced; this can be be obviously attacked on the grounds of cognitive biases / variations of temperaments in later history. Intrinsic or not, the valuation implies an inequality amongst “moral goods” and subsequently the individuals who pursue them; such effects would be case-sensitive in the sense that worth is never absolute (for example, fur coat production in Siberia would be worth more than production in Egypt). Thus, codifying such a book of laws on social utility tends to intermingle many practical spheres such as economics and politics.

bentham_mill

Liberty is a central trade-off one makes in the pursuit of personal happiness and the concern with social utility; the “tyranny of the majority” may decree a law that increases their sense of securities whilst marginalizing your freedom (for example, the negation of liberty can be realized in incarceration). The limits of such acts are bounded by the “harm principle” which circumscribes all coercion by the state on an individual to actions that would prevent harm to its other members; one’s incarceration is evaluated by your danger to the public. As for the positive definition of liberty, Mill makes three claims (freedom of speech, taste, and union). Freedom of opinion (truth, half-truths, and falsehoods) in valued in so much that their expressions are necessary in the production of effects to which their moral statuses can be continually re-evaluated. Taste or individuality appeals to the biased ranking of different pleasures which must be experienced to be apprehended. Union is encouraged for the many can obtain greater pleasure for the whole than otherwise the singleton (for example, the shift from artisan crafts to mass-industrialization produces greater material wealth, the social costs are another story). Co-operatives are encouraged as profit-sharing increases the awareness of the common goods (satisfaction from participation with the whole) that counteracts the growing alienation of industrialized labor. Taxation becomes an instrument by the state to evaluate and manipulate social good.

Utilitarianism

Introducing Philosophy Maps

Philosophy, as a field of study from a modern lens, is the evolution of thought that has shaped how history is both recorded, interpreted, and organized. While thoughts are largely linguistic in their formulation and communication, many mental imagery and associations from symbols & graphic art to concept & mind maps are omitted. Perhaps these omissions are due to a cognitive bias of the individuals who partake in this field inquiry. Another possibility is that mere perception is inadequate to capture the various nuances of argument. Regardless, it may be useful for myself and others that thought be structured in a visual-intuitive manner for both future retention and understanding.

I will begin with Bertrand Russel’s The History of Philosophy as I find his work comprehensive in scope and well-organized into chronological schools of thoughts. For each reading, I’ll be producing concept maps (Xmind) and drawing any visual imagery that stirs the imagination.

Introducing Philosophy Maps