The Foundations of Psychiatry

By Silvano Arieti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 45

PSYCHIATRY
AND MORAL VALUES

Paul Ricœur

ANY INVESTIGATION that would undertake to cover the entire field of problems posed by psychiatry with regard to ethics would unavoidably lose itself in generalities—not only because the problem and the schools of thought that claim to be part of psychiatry are innumerable, but also because the ethical implications themselves are of such a diverse nature that they are practically incomparable. This is why we have deliberately chosen to limit this chapter to one branch of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and to one author, Freud. There are two reasons for this: first, it is Freud's work that exercises the greatest influence on contemporary culture at the popular as well as the scientific level of discussion; second, his work permits us to pose the problem of the relations between psychiatry and ethics in the most radical terms. At first glance the Freudian analysis of morality appears to be a traumatic negation of traditional moral beliefs. But the real problems, those that surpass ordinary banality, only take shape beyond this first shock. When we no longer resist, when we no longer seek to justify ourselves, we discover what is essential—namely, that we must not ask psychiatry and psychoanalysis for an alternative answer to unchanged questions, but for a new manner of asking moral questions.

A preliminary question is worth consideration : is psychiatry, and, above all, Freudian psychoanalysis, competent to deal with ethics? Someone might object that Freud's writings on art, morals, and religion constitute the extension of individual psychology to collective psychology and, beyond psychological phenomena, to a domain where psychiatry is no longer competent, the highest realm of human existence. Certainly it was during the last part of his life that Freud's great texts about culture accumulated: The Future of an Illusion (1927); Civilization and Its Discontents (1930); Moses and Monotheism (1937-1939). But it is not a question of a belated extension from analytic experience to a general theory of culture. Already in 1908 Freud had written "Creative Writers and Daydreaming." Delu

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