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Simon, B. (1973). Plato and Freud—The Mind in Conflict and the Mind in Dialogue. Psychoanal Q., 42:91-122.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:91-122

Plato and Freud—The Mind in Conflict and the Mind in Dialogue

Bennett Simon, M.D.

In The Ego and the Id, Freud (1923) writes: 'The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions. All this falls into line with popular distinctions which we are all familiar with …' (p. 25).

The 'popular distinctions' to which Freud refers are, I believe, those which first entered and became articulated in Western thought with Plato's philosophy. My task here is to outline and expand this notion of the mind as divided into one portion that represents reason and another that represents the instincts, and to demonstrate the implications and some consequences of viewing the mind in this way. I propose that this particular division is the fundamental one in Plato, and a very important one in Freud, though for Freud it is only a first step in his theory.

The comparison between Plato and Freud has a long history. Freud, apart from a few scattered remarks about Plato in his earlier writings (particularly, The Interpretation of Dreams), did not make the comparison until 1920 in the introduction to the fourth edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (Freud, 1905).


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