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Friedman, M. (1966). The Philosophical Aspect. Am. J. Psychoanal., 26:138-145.

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(1966). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 26:138-145

The Philosophical Aspect

Maurice Friedman, Ph.D. Author Information

If the divergent schools of contemporary philosophy are united on little else, they do at least join in rejecting the notion that man has some fixed, identifiable, universal essence. We look to contemporary philosophy, therefore, not so much for new definitions of human nature as for a new critical awareness of the issues that surround this term. This critical awareness is of particular significance for psychoanalytic theory since the latter has often taken over quite uncritically many of the formulations of classic philosophy.

In the “Philosophy of Life” chapter of his New Introductory Lectures Freud writes, “The spirit and the mind are the subject of scientific investigation in exactly the same way as any non-human entities.” This is to reduce man to an object. This is consistent with Freud's treatment of man in The Ego and the Id. Freud goes from the divided, sick man that he sees before him—a man that is very typical of our age—to a definition of human nature as such. In extrapolating from what his patient is, to what man is, Freud is neither realistic nor scientific. One may question, in fact, the very conception of “human nature” which is so important for Freud that, like the social theoreticians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he feels compelled (in Totem and Tabu) to project it backward to primitive man. Man is not given to us in the universal, outside of history, social context, and the particularity of given situations and persons.

Before the Nazi exterminations and the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Freud had the courage to point out that the view of man as an essentially good, rational creature who will gladly co-operate with others in his own self-interest, is no longer a live option. Since we cannot know either instinct or human nature outside of an historical context, we cannot categorically assert, as Freud does in Civilization and Its Discontents, that the desire for aggression is a part of man's instinctual nature. It would be equally possible to say with Erich Fromm that the destructiveness which man vents on other men is the product of an authoritarian character structure which is, in turn, the product of one or another type of authoritarian

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