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15 - Freud's anatomies of the self

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2009

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Summary

The philosophical knot If you study clinically the sorts of behaviour Freud dealt with, you may justifiably feel tempted to say that they manifest conflict of the individual with himself or herself. You might regard this self-conflict as a clash between forces within the person. And you might wonder, as Freud did: what items contend inside of us? What forms do their struggles take? With great originality and boldness, Freud put forth quite heterogenous theories of the mind's components, and of how their operations result in various types of normal as well as disturbed behaviour. I find many of his speculations altogether spellbinding. Yet despite my unqualified enthusiasm, I fear that none of these ingenious and suggestive partitioning explanations will turn out to be both illuminating and coherent. I plan to illustrate why it was nevertheless reasonable for him to propose such ‘dynamic’ accounts of human activity and affliction. I hope it will be instructive to see which features of behaviour threw Freud into conceptual confusion. These few deep muddles cannot possibly discredit Freud's innovative work. Our appreciation of the difficulties he seems to have encountered should advance our understanding, in philosophy of mind and action, of the person and his reflexive acts.

I realize that the doctrinal thickets I want to rummage in have been staked out by a legion of Freud experts. But I think most of the sceptical commentators have not argued their case in detail.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

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