Video Lecture - Civilization and It's Discontents
TLDR - In Civilization and It's Discontents, Freud makes a philosophical argument for prudent, rational, and pro-social ego behavior. First, he says love makes the ego happy, so the ego should strive to love. Saint Francis, for example, can make love for all living creatures into persistent happiness, but the typical person limits the scope of love, and the rational person loves only those who are worthy. Second, failure to work in cooperation with others threatens to harm or destroy the ego due to the hostile attributes of nature. Therefore, the biological ego can only become happy, to some degree, via efforts to love and work in society. Note that Freud conflates this philosophy of hedonism with medicine by describing a pattern of social drama as "sick" or "healthy" instead of mapping this to the patterns of drama that we experience in life.
My comment - Freud's theory of biological drives implies a human biological drive to become prudent, that is, a drive to govern action by the use of reason, and that this drive succeeds or fails in a context where the effort incorporates modes of autonomous and social learning. Baruch Spinoza gives a better description of the domain of drama. In this description unconscious appetite is a source of cause of conscious desire. Spinoza defines an affect or emotion as a feeling of desire, pleasure, or pain accompanied by an idea of its cause. Desire is appetite accompanied by consciousness thereof. Freud maps sources of cause to the id, the ego, reality, and the ego-superego memories. He maps the conscious and unconscious attributes to these sources of cause. If we judge the effort to govern action as rational or irrational or prudent or imprudent or healthy or sick then in this context our judgments emerge as subjective evaluations of sources of cause in the context of drama. This is not medicine - it is the folk psychology of social morality, also common in law and religion, but Freud assimilates the language of medicine to justify psychoanalysis as a profession.
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and It's Discontents, UBC Arts Online, Jan. 28, 2015
This is someone trying to impose the id, ego, and superego on the earlier conscious, preconscious, and unconscious picture. The idea being the id is entirely unconscious; and the superego and the ego both have conscious aspects and unconscious aspects. The id is a translation of actually I think Latin of the It, in German, das Es. So I think it is interesting to think of it as an It. Because id now just means the Freudian term id. But the It, is evocative to me. And one of the things that I read about Freud said that he borrowed a term from George Groddeck who wrote a book called The Book of the It. And Groddeck defines the It thus: "I hold the view that man is motivated by the unknown. That there is within him an Es, an It - some wonderous force which directs both what he himself does and what happens to him. The affirmation I live is only conditionally correct. It expresses only a small and superficial part of the fundamental principle - Man is lived by the It."
The ego, id, reality, and superego:
Quoting Freud - The poor ego then, has to struggle with three masters, he says, it has to struggle with the external world which imposes reality; it has to struggle with the id which says "I want, I want, I want, and I want pleasure all the time"; and it has to struggle with the superego which imposes, beyond reality, other rules, especially moral rules, you may not do this, I don't care what the id wants, I don't care what reality is, you may not do it.
My Interpretation of Freud's Model of the Psyche
Freud has to describe what exists (ontology) in the psyche and he maps what exists in the psyche to four distinct sources of cause recognized by the conscious ego.
When God spoke to Moses he said, "I will be what will be"; or "I am what is". Freud, who describes himself as a godless Jew, is Atheist, so he describes what exists in the consciousness or psyche as the conscious ego (I am) and the unconscious It (what is):
- the It
Although the ego is embodied as a biological function it is not always aware of this condition. The biological function of the ego is to govern action in the sensory context. We infer that the conscious ego may exist in the womb, or in the newborn mammal, independent of our knowledge of biology. This is why Freud reduces the psyche to the ego and the It because he infers that the innocent or newborn ego lacks knowledge of the It.
Hebrew scripture has the story of the first man and woman who incorporate the knowledge of good and evil by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Also, in scripture the prophet says, "He will be eating curds and honey by the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good." An old man with bad teeth might eat curds and honey and by then maybe he learns to reject the bad and choose the good.
Freud rejects Jewish storytelling in favor of Greek stories and yet he argues that the ego incorporates knowledge of the It into itself much like an explorer converts the unknown into the known. He argues that the ego function of the biological organism incorporates knowledge of the unconscious id and unconscious reality as outlined below.
Freud says the It has two attributes recognized by the conscious ego. These are the ego perceptions of the biological source of inner drives (id) and the ego perceptions of external reality (reality).
Jesus said, "Man cannot serve two masters." Freud says the newborn ego, which makes efforts to govern action in the sensory context, is weak compared to both the id and external reality. He says the newborn ego serves two harsh masters: the id and reality. Furthermore, the developing mammal ego incorporates the attributes of parents and adults into itself, via modes of social learning, which in humans forms the superego. Now Freud argues that the ego has three harsh masters: the id; reality; and incorporated life lessons stored in a source of ego-superego memories.
- ego-superego memories
Freud argues that the id drives the ego to strive to become happy in the world of human affairs. This is hedonism and rational egoism. He observes that the ego, the biological effort to govern action in the sensory context, is often unable to become happy, and for humans this is an invisible source of suffering. When reality does not seem to be the cause of suffering the ego-superego adaptations in prior life are the next logical source of cause of residual pain. The id and reality are not in control of the ego so if they cause a loss of vitality or pain then the only remedy is the ego efforts of the self and/or of other humans. But during superego development the self can associate pain and disability with other humans so it might not have confidence when asking others for help as a remedy for actual or residual pain.
Freudian psychoanalysis regards hedonistic drive as natural; but the developing ego is inherently weak or helpless in the conditions generated by the id and reality; so there is at least the possibility to suspend judgment of what is rational or irrational about the early life ego-adaptation. Freud maps the observer function to an emergent attribute of the superego. He says observation of the ego expressions is a precursor to human judgment. Jesus evokes this observer function when he says, "You justify your actions in the sight of man, but God reads your hearts. What man considers important God holds in contempt."
Webster's dictionary defines prudence as the ability to govern action by the use of reason. The common law doctrine, called the age of reason, holds that humans below age seven are unable to govern action by the use of reason. This means, in the judgment of human adults, animals and young children are unable to govern action by the use of reason. In the context of psychoanalysis this means animals and young children express ego efforts without the ability to reason. Furthermore, when resolving disputes or living life in society, human adults might hold different judgments concerning what patterns of behavior are reasonable (rational) or irrational in a particular situation.
The judgment of rational or irrational behavior applies to the psychoanalytic or therapeutic effort to adjust the ego to existing conditions of life in the present by removing obstacles that seem to be in the unconscious adaptations of the ego during prior development. If this is characterized as medical treatment, then there is the idea that the ego suffers from conditions perhaps beyond its control; but the remedy is to adapt the ego to reality; so it appears that therapy is an effort to convert irrational adaptation to a rational effort in life.
The above statements are all derived from my reading of the Bible; from my reading of Freud; and my knowledge of moral causation in the common law where a human age seven or above is expected to act with prudence - the ability to govern action by the use of reason. I have no interest in reading Lacan.