Sigmund Freud Vs Rene Descartes Essay Research

Sigmund Freud Vs Rene Descartes Essay, Research Paper

In Civilization and its discontents the philosopher Sigmund Freud suggests that from both the point of view of the individual and the species, the ego is not an original feature of the human psyche but a result of a long process of development. According to Freud the only part that is present at birth is the id and at this stage in life the infant doesn?t understand how the actions that one commits affect the environment in which they live. The ego is the agency by which we connect the id with the external world. Thus the ego emerges from the id and the unconscious. There is nothing more certain than the feeling of one?s own self, of being a self-conscious and self-transparent human being. The ego originally includes everything, it is a feeling of unity and autonomy that is developed when no distinction is made between the inside and outside but later it separates from itself to the external world. When the ego is formed the person realizes that there is an outside world and that their actions have to fit in the boundaries set by society. Sometimes the boundaries of the ego are not maintained and it tends to break down when one falls in love. ?A man who falls in love declares that I and you are one and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact?(pg.13). To love someone is to give entirely oneself to a special someone, to love myself in him and the ideal of my own self in him.

The ego is formed through the reality and pleasure principles. The goal for everyone is to be happy and to avoid pain and suffering. Happiness is understood as pleasure and it can never be completely fulfilled due to bodily pain and suffering, from the external world and our relations with others. Everyone has to adjust to the physical environment and come to understand that they can?t always get the object that they want for pleasure. The ego also has to balance the id with the super-ego. ?The tension between the harsh super-ego and the ego that is subject to it, is called by us the sense of guilt; it expresses itself as a need for punishment?(pg.84). Therefore the super-ego is the feeling of guilt because one knows that a bad action has been done. Something that is bad is not necessarily dangerous or harmful but something that the ego desires and enjoys. The ego is most commonly known as our conscience, which has the ability to distinguish between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. The ego comes from some external source given that it has the capacity to distinguish between what is beneficial and what is harmful. The super-ego enhances the reality principle so that it becomes internally integrated within us. The super-ego knows everything and not even our thoughts can be hidden from it. When an individual falls into misfortune he or she is particularly plagued by a bad conscience and feels a consciousness of guilt. The sense of guilt is the perception the ego has being watched and the aggression that has been repressed is not carried out. After the action has been done comes the remorse, which is the response to the sense of guilt and can include a need for punishment. There are two origins to the sense of guilt and these are the fear of authority, which insists on a renunciation of instinctual satisfactions and the fear of the super-ego, which also insists on renunciation and presses for punishment. The desire to do the forbidden thing may persist, but the super-ego is always aware of its presence. The humans are never satisfied with what they have and are in constant conflict with themselves because they want more. The reality principle makes us realize that we cannot have everything we desire; nevertheless the feeling of wanting more is going to stay inside you.

On the other hand the philosopher Rene Descartes claims that the most essential characteristic of a human being is to be the subject (an I) and that the only possible basis for secure knowledge is the immediate self-certainty of a being that is capable of knowing herself completely. Descartes wants to know all the ideas and powers that he has, all the principles that determine his character. The human beings occupy the position of the ?I?, in other words if you are a human being you are a thinking thing, who is a self-conscious being capable of deciding between what is right and wrong. Having the knowledge of thinking, the subject is a being that is completely self-identical and self-aware. He believes that everything that thinks exists. ?Thus, after everything has been most carefully weighted, it must finally be established that this pronouncement ?I am, I exist? is necessarily true every time I utter it or conceive it in my mind?(Descartes 64). What exists is the act of thinking an event. To get anywhere is not just the event of thinking but rather a rational, self-conscious and self-identical subject.

The human being is a composite of mind and body. The mind is the essence of who we are and the body is just an addition. For Descartes the body cannot be trusted and he wants to find something that won?t deceive him like the body. The mind will not deceive him because it is a thing that he can build on. He says that if something is clear and distinct, like the mind, it cannot be doubted or argued. The essence of the mind is understanding, intellect, and perception, while the essence of the body is imagination. ?I consider that this power of imagining that is in me, insofar as it differs from the power of understanding, is not required for my own essence, that is, the essence of my mind?(Descartes 48). Therefore we do not need the imagination for self-understanding, we can continue thinking and living without it. What is essential to Descartes is the mind because you are not just your body. To be a thinking thing you don?t need an imagination (body) but they are powers of thought that depend on the thinking thing. A human being only needs the powers of thought to comprehend the physical world in which they live. What really is essential to the thinking thing or the res-cogitons are the concepts of doubting and understanding, affirming and denying, willing and refusing. ?But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, and that also imagines and senses?(Descartes 66). We are also aware of the powers of imagining and sensing but they are not essential because they make reference to all things that go away with the dreamer. Clear and distinct perceptions are the ideas of knowing something and avoiding error. Clear perception understands what belongs to an object in other words what is essential to it. Distinct perception is to separate out what is not essential to a thing. Although they can never be raised to levels of knowledge they are the limits to understanding the forms.

Descartes says that he cannot come into existence from nothing and he found the idea of God within himself, that a supremely perfect being existed and that he is the creator of everything that exists. There is no doubt about the existence of God and that he is the only omnipotent being. The Evil Deceiver is a malicious being that wants to deceive the truth and it is impossible that he is omnipotent because there cannot exist two omnipotent beings.

I personally prefer Descartes argument. He emphasizes the claim that human beings are responsible for the actions of their free will and I totally agree with that. If we have been given knowledge then we are capable of distinguishing the things that can be affirmed as true and the ones that cannot. I also agree that if God gave us the gift of deciding what is good and what is bad then we are responsible for everything that we do and the consequences that come about for our actions. Also Rene Descartes proves the existence of God and I as a Catholic person believe that there is only one God and that he is not only omnipotent but also the creator of everything that exists.


Descartes Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. Trans.Donald A.Cress. Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company,1998.

Freud Sigmund. Civilization and its discontents. Trans. James Srachey. New York: W.W.Norton and Company,1961


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