How did Freud explain the phylogenesis of mankind? I am having a hard time understanding the perpetual cycle that he speaks of.

On my most likely faulty interpretation, the most dominant male becomes the father of the primal horde, monopolizing the right to women and pleasure. His sons, forced to obey him given that he is stronger than them, do labor. This labor, perpetuated through history led to progress. Sons idolize their father and seek to acquire pleasure themselves. Eventually, they succeed in killing the father and acquire the rights to women. Now, if this was all there was I'd understand how the perpetuation happens, since sons of sons would want the same things as they did and rebel against them, which would continue repeating. However, Freud introduces guilt of the sons, since they had idolized the father they feel regret for killing him and now he lives on stronger than he was when he was alive in the form of super-ego. Does this mean that they fully enjoy the pleasure principle or not?

  • 1
    What are you reading? (It sounds like Moses and Monotheism maybe?)
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 0:01
  • 2
    Totem and Taboo I think.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 21:10

1 Answer 1


At first I didn't understand why you tacked that question onto the end about the pleasure principle, I thought your question would surely be about Freud's Oedipus complex. Then I began to see you have in all likelihood asked a more advanced question. My Freud is rusty, but I will try to give you an answer, such as it is.

No they were not able to fully express the Id (the Id is driven by the pleasure principle) in an instinctive, guilt-free way. As you show in your facts, they experienced guilt over their acts (super ego). This guilt was the impetus for the creation of religion, according to Freud. Now if Freud mentions superego, then it seems to me that the ego would have been formed as well by this time, and therefore the sons would surely have some "reasonable" rationalization for their killing of their father. Where there is Id, there will be ego. Where there is Id, ego will come along to repress it, rationalize it, and to sublimate it by creating art, and by doing other creative and productive things to constructively discharge sexual tension.

(If you have ever felt a strong sexual urge while sitting among people at church, temple etc. you may get some idea of this in action. This urge is usually repressed and converted on the spot to warm fuzzy feelings, and to praying and worshiping all the harder!)

Civilization here is in formation (Totem & Taboo) and never again will man be able to fully discharge sex and aggression free of guilt and repression, rationalization (and "constructive" sublimation by those who can turn sex urges into art or into creation of other projects) though frankly, as it so happens in our history, the richer and more powerful people are able to "get away" with certain types of sexual hanky panky, and even aggression, that the rest of us would surely suffer for. But still, society, civilization imposes limits even on the rich and powerful, unless for some reason there is a breakdown in civilization.

If you want to get an idea of a possible alternative that would allow people a more fully expressed libido, but still under civilization, then you may want to read "Eros and Civilization" by Herbert Marcuse. It's available PDF on the internet in two parts. It's not a great copy, but it is readable. The book really is a sort of bookend to Freud's "Civilization and it's Discontents".

Many would consider Marcuse's book to be dated now, but I still think it's an interesting read.

To understand Marcuse's book it is necessary to have a good grip on Freud's Oedipus "complex", and this can be found in an encyclopedia or dictionary of psychology ...the good ones like you find in the reference section of a good library would be my choice; there is also Wikipedia.

And the perpetual cycle you speak of would be Freud's Oedipus complex. I assume you are getting your material form Totem and Taboo.

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