February 5, 2010

The Anthropology of Sigmund Freud and the Personalism of Karol Wojtyla, (Part 1)


Kyle Sanders

At the end of the Nineteenth Century and into the Twentieth Century, there emerged a revised and yet original anthropology. Sigmund Freud, focused not on the soul or body per se but psyche, inserted a new angle at which to look at man. Man is overtly sexual. His development is sexual. Man could be seen as the evolving, an image Darwin, but evolving psychically, a precursor to de Chardin. Man is also determined. Man had a tripartite psyche, an opaque mirror of Plato, with the ego, the id, and the superego. Fifteen years after Freud’s death there emerged another brilliant mind from Poland, Karol Wojtyla. Wojtyla, a Catholic priest, had a similar idea. Man is a sexual being. However, Wojtyla splits in understanding. He sees the inherent dignity of the human person. He has a traditional Catholic understanding of the unity of body and soul. Wojtyla’s anthropology is more reasonable and leads to a more positive understanding of man.

Sigmund Freud[1]

Before Freud there was a prevalent prudishness when it came to sexuality. An overt sexuality showed up mainly in literature and art. In my limited knowledge, I have not experienced an overt sexual nature in any philosophy, except for maybe Utilitarianism, but even that is only secondary, in that sex is pleasurable. However, one can see that Freud holds fast to the pleasure principle put forth by the fathers of Utilitarianism. “Further aspects are opened up when we take into consideration the fact that the sexual instinct in man does not originally serve the purposes of procreation, but has as its aim the gain of particular kinds of pleasure.”[2] Freud begins one of his seminal works Beyond the Pleasure Principle by first stating need for avoidance of pain and seeking of pleasure. He goes on later in the work move to forward from the pleasure principle. He does not abandon it; he modifies it. He introduces the reality principle, “This latter principle does not abandon the intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure, but it nevertheless demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction…and the temporary toleration of unpleasure as a step on the long indirect road to pleasure.”[3] Freud is trying to bring out that there is more to man than pleasure and pain. Because sometimes man must forego pleasure for certain reasons that go beyond the pleasure principle. The pleasure principle is just sensory. Freud wishes to delve into the psyche, the mind, the unconscious. His intention is well; he wishes to heal people of their neuroses. In formulating his developmental theory, he explicitly calls humans sexual beings. The oral stage of infants is set around the sexual pleasure gained from being at the breast. At about three, the phallic stage, children become fascinated with the male genitalia (penis envy of women). From this comes the time of the Oedipus complex, were the male child sexually desires his mother. This period moves into a latency period where sexuality is not apparent, only to be revived with puberty and matured in adulthood.[4] According to Freud, man is explicitly sexual.

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[1] As a side note, Freud does not have an explicit work of philosophical anthropology. Therefore, I had to synthesize my readings into an explicit anthropology. This is my understanding of Freud and not Freud himself because of the aforementioned reason.

[2] Sigmund Freud, “‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness” in Sexuality and the Psychology of Love ed. Philip Rieff (NY: Collier Books, 1963), 26.

[3] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle trans. James Strachey intro. Gregory Zilbourg, (NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961), 7.

[4] Leslie Forster Stevenson, Seven Theories of Human Nature (NY: Oxford University Press, 1977), 163.

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