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Keen, E. (1971). A Rapprochement in the Psychologies of Freud and Sartre. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(2):183-188.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(2):183-188

A Rapprochement in the Psychologies of Freud and Sartre

Ernest Keen, Ph.D.

Joseph P. Fell1a has pointed out that Sartre's publication of Words has substantially changed his psychology, and changed it at a point that has made “existential psychoanalysis” less intractable for a serious developmental psychology. From Being and Nothingness we get the picture of “character” as “just the sum total of one's free choices,” as Fell has put it.1b This view has understandably created a problem, if not a chuckle, for developmental psychologists, who clearly see that we can discern—and scientifically demonstrate—a regular relationship between the conditions of childhood and the adult character. The regularity of such findings obviously makes us think of “character” as caused by external circumstances rather than “chosen” by a consciousness, and psychologists have given little serious consideration to Sartrean thought.

It is largely the influence of Freud which inspires such out-of-hand rejections, for Freud taught us with amazing clarity that “causal” relationships exist in the process of development. Furthermore, Freud's physicalistic metaphors, his interpretation of consciousness as a mere “sense organ,”3 and his loudly proclaimed faith in psychic determinism, seem to make the gulf between mainstream developmental psychology and the Sartrean view of freedom unbridgeable. Is Sartre now moving toward the explicitly rejected Freudian view? Do we see rapprochement? “External forces shaped my flight and made me,” he writes,7a and he wonders aloud if his literary career has been executed “solely in the mad hope of pleasing my grandfather.”7b One could hardly hope for a more Freudian hypothesis.

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