chapter  5
19 Pages

Psychology and human behaviour: is there a limit to psychological explanation?

Much of the popular attraction of, as well as hostility to, psychoanalysis, as represented in Freud’s ideas, come from its iconoclastic, debunking character. What we regard as the higher things of life are, or seem to be, lowered; much of what passes as the normalities of human life is so represented as to appear under a disturbing aspect. Love is reduced to sex, human freedom is represented as an illusion, the human psyche is pictured as forever divided into warring factions with the poor ego trying to keep peace by appeasements, compromises and, where these fail, by evasions and defensive manoeuvres, but without a will or convictions of its own beyond its own preservation. Moral conscience is said to be the internalized voice of a repressive authority in perpetual conflict with unruly instincts. Freud, who named it the super-ego, said that it was ‘the representative of all moral restrictions, the advocate of the impulse towards perfection’. He added that it was ‘as much as we have been able to apprehend psychologically of what people call the “higher” things in human life’ (Freud 1933: 95).