The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis

By Alasdair MacIntyre | Go to book overview

2

Freud's account of the unconscious

My aim in this section is to present Freud's discovery of the unconscious in his own terms, commenting only insofar as it is necessary to bring out ambiguities in the course of his exposition. 'It is generally held, ' writes Dr. Ernest Jones, 'that Freud's greatest contribution to science … was his conception of an unconscious mind.' But Dr. Jones at once goes on to note what Freud himself asserted at his seventieth birthday celebrations. 'The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious. What I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied.' The reference to 'poets and philosophers' is not merely a vague allusion. So far as poetry is concerned we have only to remember the themes of German Romanticism; and of the philosophers in question the most notable presumably is the philosophical psychologist, Herbart. The resemblances between Freud's conception of the unconscious and Herbart's are striking but the crucial difference between them appears in the grounds they give for adopting their respective concepts. For Herbart unconscious mental activity is a simple inference from conscious states. 'Science knows more than what is actually experienced only because what is experienced is unthinkable without examining what is concealed. One must be able to recognize from what is experienced the traces of what is stirring and acting “behind the curtains!”' Freud himself sometimes speaks like this, but the considerations that led him to adopt the concept of unconscious mental activity were of course far more profound. For, taken by themselves, the workaday phenomena of consciousness—whatever we may mean by that

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The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface to the Revised Edition 1
  • Introductory and Bibliographical Note 39
  • 1 - Prolegomena 43
  • 2 - Freud's Account of the Unconscious 47
  • 3 - Mental Words and Mental Concepts 73
  • 4 - Describing and Explaining 81
  • 5 - Theory and Therapy 105
  • Index 120
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