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Weiss, F.A. (1952). Psychoanalysis and Moral Values. Am. J. Psychoanal., 12(1):39-49.

(1952). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 12(1):39-49

Psychoanalysis and Moral Values

Frederick A. Weiss

The Role which we assign to moral values in psychotherapy depends on our concepts of human nature, of morals and of mental illness. As long as the mentally ill were regarded as possessed by the devil, therapy could consist only in the expulsion of the devil, even though for the sake of morality the physical aspect of the patient often had to be sacrificed. As long as mental illness was equated with sin, therapy necessarily included condemnation and punishment. Such moralistic distortions had to be eliminated before constructive therapy became possible.

Psychotherapy made a decisive step forward when Freud introduced the concept of unconscious motivation. But his dualistic view of human nature led him to the postulation of an insoluble conflict between mental health and morality. He saw neurosis as the result of too much morality. “It is natural to suppose,” he wrote, “that under the domination of a ‘civilized’ morality the health and efficiency in life of the individuals may be impaired … It promotes modern nervousness …”1 Freud emphasized that psychoanalysis as a natural science had to deal only with the knowledge of facts, not with morals.

Clinical experience, however, has shown that morals themselves are important facts in psychoanalytic therapy. Schilder was aware of this when he stated:

“Freud overlooked that isolated knowledge does not exist; there does not exist any mere theoretical knowledge. Knowledge means that we have to act according to the facts as far as we can see them.

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