The Ethical Dimensions of Psychoanalysis: A Dialogue

By Tahmisian, James A. | Ethics & Medicine, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

The Ethical Dimensions of Psychoanalysis: A Dialogue


Tahmisian, James A., Ethics & Medicine


The Ethical Dimensions of Psychoanalysis: A Dialogue W.W. Meissner. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7914-5690-0; 371 PAGES, PAPERBACK, $29.95

W. W. Meissner addresses the complex interaction between ethics and psychoanalysis with painstaking attention to the intricacies of Freudian thought. He takes a comprehensive approach with chapters specifically devoted to psychoanalysis and ethical systems, freedom of the will, ethical decision-making, and deception and values.

One of the difficulties in describing the interaction between psychoanalysis and ethics is the evolution of psychoanalytic theory through Freud's career as well as developments by Freud's immediate followers. Psychoanalysis takes a rather broad view of ethics as a set of rules or codes governing right and wrong behavior. Freud made little distinction between morality and ethics; he felt that morality was self-evident.

At the very outset, Meissner attempts to deal with Freud's view of ethics. Freud felt that psychoanalysis was ethically neutral and focused instead on metaethics to describe how ethical rules came into being for an individual as well as a society. Meissner quickly points out the inconsistencies in Freud's stated position and his disclaimers of the "...moral rigidities of traditional views and societal norms." (p.9)

Meissner is careful to point out some of the conflicts as well as the common ground between psychoanalysis and Christianity. Freud quickly came to a position that humans were unworthy and that psychoanalysis doesn't make for goodness. While he initially believed psychoanalysis would help people become better human beings, in due time he realized that it didn't. Common ground between psychoanalysis and Christianity is the acknowledgement of evil and a belief that it is basic to human nature

Meissner describes several places where Christianity and psychoanalysis part ways. …

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