Sartre's Freid and the Future of Sartren Psychoanalysis
Schuster, Shlomit C., The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences
Abstract: I describe Sartre's analysis of Freud as an exemplary case study in existential psychoanalysis, a kind of anti-psychiatric analysis; in addition Sartre's analysis of Freud is a practical critique of the latter's theory. Sartre's overall aim is revolutionary, not primarily concerned with healing people; his method transcends the traditional aims of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. The paper is divided into four sections: 1) Sartrean Existential Psychoanalysis: An explanation of the basic understandings of Sartre's Existentialism and Psychoanalysis. 2) Sartre and Anti-psychiatry: An analysis of the relation and influence of Sartre's philosophy on R. D. Laing's anti-psychiatry, and a review of the contemporary anti-psychiatric practice of the Philadelphia Association. 3) Sartre's Case-study of Freud: An exemplary application of Sartrean psychoanalysis and a critique of traditional psychoanalysis. 4) Transcending the Boundaries of Therapy: A proposal for a radical application of Sartre's philosophy that extends beyond the aims of clinical approaches.
Sartrean Existential Psychoanalysis
To demonstrate Sartre's analysis of Freud as a revolutionary and as an anti-psychiatric study as it were of the founder of psychoanalysis, I shall first explain some of the essential concepts informing Sartre's method of psychoanalysis.
Sartrean psychoanalysis is often mistakenly confused with what has become known as existential analysis or existential psychotherapy, a mixture of psychotherapeutic approaches with existentialist philosophy ranging from Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Nietzsche to Sartre and other existentialist thinkers. Though, as a philosopher, I respect and encourage the interest in and use of philosophy by mental health specialists, nevertheless I find that the application of philosophy to psychotherapy can be a strain on the real intentions of both philosophers and psychotherapists. Recently, the psychotherapist Cannon demonstrated such a tense relation between the Sartrean legacy and the Freudian heritage when she wrote explicitly of the "compatibility-incompatibility between Sartrean Existential psychoanalysis and traditional Freudian and post-Freudian psychoanalysis" (1, p.314).
In this paper, however, I do not discuss the application of Sartre's philosophy to psychotherapy - except for the anti-psychiatric practices of R. D. Laing and the Philadelphia Association-but rather his own philosophy, and his practice of existential psychoanalysis in the literary form of biographical novels. (For a critical evaluation of the application of Sartre's thought to existential analysis and existential psychotherapy, see 2).
Sartre's philosophical approach to understanding human beings is evident in his early writings The Psychology of Imagination and Being and Nothingness. Sartre considered experimental psychology to be the only true psychology, whereas he considered non-experimental attempts to explain human behavior as pseudo-scientific, or philosophy. In Being and Nothingness, for example, he describes desire as "anything but the consciousness of... objects as desirable" (3, p. 682). His view of desire is different from that of the empirical psychologist, who considers "desire as being in man by virtue of being 'contained' by his consciousness, and [who] believes that the meaning of the desire is inherent in the desire itself" (3, p. 682). This difference in the understanding of desire makes all the difference in Sartre's view of human beings as the subject of philosophical investigation: "fundamentally man is the desire to be, and the existence of this desire is not to be established by an empirical induction...." (3, p. 692). Instead of considering human beings defined by desires originating in a Freudian libido - drives and tendencies that are claimed to exist empirically - he considers persons defined by the conscious pursuit of particular ends, i.e. the "original project" which is determined by "original choices. …