Practical Philosophy
Gibbs A. Williams, Ph.D.

Selected Philosophical Quotations and Commentary
Relevant to Significant Psychological Change

Part 3

Abraham Kaplan: Freud and Modern Philosophy
An epistemology which takes into account of the depth psychology of Freud and his successors is yet to be written.

Psychoanalysis shares with philosophy the point of view which poses the problem of the theory of knowledge: a distrust of what people think they know. Much of what presents itself as known is projected onto the object from the depths of subjectivity. But an important element even of what is sound in knowledge is contributed by the knower. What Nietzsche called the dogma of immaculate perception must now be recognized as psychological heresy.

{The psychoanalytic method} is self- knowledge its aim is self-mastery. Man is free when his choices are the product of full awareness of operative needs and actual constraints. Such needs and constraints, so far as they lie in the self, owe their being to a history of fulfillments and frustrations. But it is a history buried in the unconscious and what irrationalities it engenders remain invulnerable behind masks of rationality. To remove their masks is not thereby to destroy them but only to reveal them for what they are. To know what he truly wants and what he can truly have - this truth does not make man free, but makes freedom possible. Self-mastery is not antecedently guaranteed, but is something to be achieved.

Freud is not so much a pessimist as a realist, possibly the most thoroughgoing realist in Western thought. The noblest enterprise of philosophic antiquity Kant saw in the attempt to distinguish appearance from reality. At bottom, this remains the philosophical task. Freud was occupied with its most basic part: to dispel man's illusions about himself.What is remarkable is that he dispelled illusion without falling into cynicism or groping for new illusions to replace the old. He bows to the reproach that he has no consolation to offer. But he is not himself inconsolable; he remains always a yea-sayer to life. His aim is only ''to transform neurotic despair into the general unhappiness which is the usual lot of mankind.''

The process of education in general does not consist in replacing one set of beliefs by another, but rather in transforming our reasons for believing. Cured of his neurosis, a man may espouse the same values as before; only now, he knows what he is doing, he is prepared to accept the consequences, and above all, he accepts himself as the man he knows himself to be.

Gibbs' Commentary
What Freud adds to philosophical discourse is the fact of the reality and the undeniable revolutionary implications of the wondrous power and logic and workings of the personal unconscious. An excellent example of this is in the following description of R.D.Laings who implies that for most intelligent people their life difficulties often spring less from that which they see and know than from that which they are blind and or ignorant.

Says Laings '' The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to see, and because we fail to see, that we fail to see, there is little we can do to change, until we see how failing to see shapes our every thought, feeling and deed.''

The acknowledgment and acceptance of the personal unconscious in our lives brings us back again to the beginnings of speculative philosophy. Making a conscious connection {cathexis} with our personal unconscious puts us in the company of the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Spinoza, seeking like them, our own answers to the biggest questions of our lives on this earth. What is really real and how do we know it; who am I and what do I really want; what is the meaning of my existence; do I discover or create ultimate meaning; how do I know what is of ultimate significance.

All these real life issues are the daily concern of a thorough going psychoanalytic experience. Far from seeming endless chatter - the systematic investigation of what makes a given individual tick is indeed serious business.

Bertrand Russell's, “A Free Man's Worship”

...But the beauty of Tragedy does but make visible a quality which, in more or less obvious shapes, is present always and everywhere in life.In the spectacle of Death, in the endurance of intolerable pain, and in the irrevocableness of a vanished past, there is a sacredness, an overpowering awe, a feeling of the vastness, the depth, the inexhaustible mystery of existence, in which, as by some strange marriage of pain, the sufferer is bound to the world by bonds of sorrow. In these moments of insight, we lose all eagerness of temporary desire, all struggling and striving for petty ends, all care for the little trivial things that, to a superficial view, make up the common life of day by day; we see, surrounding the narrow raft illumined by the flickering light of human comradeship, the dark ocean on whose rolling waves we toss for a brief hour; from the great night without, a chill blast breaks in upon our refuge; all the loneliness of humanity amid hostile forces is concentrated upon the individual soul, which must struggle alone, with what of courage it can command, against the whole weight of a universe that cares nothing for its hopes and fears. Victory, in this struggle with the powers of darkness, is the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes, the true initiation into the overmastering beauty of human existence. From that awful encounter of the soul with the outer world, emancipation, wisdom, and charity are born; and with their birth a new life begins. To take into the inmost shrine of the soul the irresistible forces whose puppets we seem to be--Death and change, the irrevocableness of the past, and the powerlessness of Man before the blind hurry of the universe from vanity to vanity--to feel these things and know them is to conquer them.

This is the reason why the Past has such magical power. The beauty of its motionless and silent pictures is like the enchanted purity of late autumn, when the leaves, though one breath would make them fall, still glow against the sky in golden glory. The Past does not change or strive; like Duncan, after life's fitful fever it sleeps well; what was eager and grasping, what was petty and transitory, has faded away, the things that were beautiful and eternal shine out of it like stars in the night. Its beauty, to a soul not worthy of it, is unendurable; but to a soul which has conquered Fate it is the key of religion.

The life of Man, viewed outwardly, is but a small thing in comparison with the forces of Nature. The slave is doomed to worship Time and Fate and Death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour. But, great as they are, to think of them greatly, to feel their passionless splendor, is greater still. And such thought makes us free men; we no longer bow before the inevitable in Oriental subjection, but we absorb it, and make it a part of ourselves. To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things--this is emancipation, and this is the free man's worship. And this liberation is effected by a contemplation of Fate; for Fate itself is subdued by the mind which leaves nothing to be purged by the purifying fire of Time.

United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need--of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy as ourselves. And so, when their day is over, when their good and their evil have become eternal by the immortality of the past, be it ours to feel that, where they suffered, where they failed, no deed of ours was the cause; but wherever a spark of the divine fire kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed.

Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power.

Gibbs' Commentary
Russell seems to have the soul of a classical Freudian analyst. He is a quintessential realist. To illustrate this point, compare the following perspectives of Jung and Freud concerning the fundamental meaning of life.

Jung, decidedly anti earthly mundanity, states: ''My whole being was seeking for something still unknown which might confer meaning upon the banality of life. To me it was a profound disappointment that all the efforts of the probing mind had apparently succeeded in finding nothing more in the depths of the psyche than the all too familiar and ‘all too human limitations.'' {Memories, Dreams and Reflections}

Freud, ever the uncompromising realist, states: {paraphrase} The end of a successful analysis enables the patient to convert neurotic suffering into an acceptance of everyday common misery.

Russell eloquently affirms the Freudian ethic that the beginning and the end of life are crystal clear facts - it is what is in between that challenges each of us to carve out of our existence a path to walking and living the good life.

No matter how much we find it objectionable, none of us can escape the inevitability of realistic limitations such as death, and change. But by accepting the awesome responsibility that each of us is his own final authority, one transforms blind faith into a grounded self-generated faith born of stuggling with struggle.

By acknowledging the dark side, the forces of destruction, normal ambivalence (love and hate) and striving to channel its tremendous power into everyday existence, there can be the actuality of freedom from a life of reactivity to freedom to choose and to act from within. Freud said it well: ''Where id and superego are, ego {the voice of reason} will be.

'' Russell said it well too: ''I cannot believe ... that there can ever be any good excuse for refusing to face the evidence in favor of something unwelcome. It is not by delusion, however exalted, that mankind can prosper, but only by unswerving courage in the pursuit of truth. "{Fact and Fiction, p.46}


Preface | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Gibbs A.Williams Ph.D.© 1999-2000