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Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 42, 2018

Philosophy and Psychoanalysis

Ching-wa Wong
Pages 91-95

Is Freud a Moral Deflationist?

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of morality is often regarded as a deflationist one, to the effect that it takes morality ‘s authority as a sheer product of human irrationality originating in the formation of the superego, and that it should be discarded on pain of its harmful effects on human life. In this paper, I shall discuss three views on this deflationist reading of Freud: that he is right in holding the alleged moral deflationism; that he is wrong in holding it; and that this deflationism is wrong, but he may not actually hold it at all. I attribute the first two views to the philosophers Richard Wollheim and Samuel Scheffler, and argue that both accounts of psychoanalytic moral psychology are inadequate, because they fail to appreciate the role of irrationality in a person’s search for the good life. I then propose a non-deflationist reading of Freud, according to which both the loving and authoritative aspects of morality are deeply rooted in our human nature, and a truly fulfilling life requires more a balancing between the two than an elimination of irrationality. The appreciation of Freud’s moral naturalism, in effect, will require us to drop the presumption that rationality is the only source of goodness.

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