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Philosophy and Freud
Freud regarded "philosophy" as one of the great cultural institutions, alongside art and religion - the mark of a highly developed state of civilization. However, he viewed the relationship between philosophy and psychoanalysis in ambiguous terms. On the one hand, he credited certain philosophers (such as Empedocles and Nietzsche) with having anticipated purely by intuition what psychoanalysts discovered only by laborious investigation.. On the other hand, he repeatedly criticised philosophers for equating the psyche with consciousness and thus excluding the unconscious on purely a priori grounds, and likened philosophical systems to paranoiac delusions.
Philosophy and Lacan
In Lacan's work too there is an ambivalent relationship between psychoanalysis and philosophy. On the one hand, Lacan opposes psychoanalysis to the totalising explanations of philosophical systems, and links philosophy with the discourse of the master, the reverse of psychoanalysis. On the other hand, Lacan's work is full of philosophical references; indeed, this is often regarded as one of the features that distinguishes Lacan from other psychoanalytic thinkers. The philosophers most frequently referred to by Lacan are the following:
Lacan often compares the psychoanalytic method to the Socratic dialogue. He also refers specifically to a number of Plato's works, especially The Symposium, to which he dedicates a large part of his 1960-1 seminar.
References to Descartes abound in Lacan's work, since he sees the philosophy of the cogito as summing up the very heart of the psychology of modern man. The Lacanian concept of the subject is both the Cartesian subject (in its quest to move from doubt to certainty) and the subversion of the Cartesian subject.
It is Kant's moral philosophy (the Critique of Practical Reason) which most interests Lacan, and he discusses this at length both in his seminar on ethics (1959-60) and his essay on 'Kant with Sade' (1962). Lacan uses Kant's categorical imperative to throw light on the Freudian concept of the superego.
Lacan attended a series of lectures on Hegel given by Alexandre Kojeve in 1933-9 at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes. The influence of these lectures on his work, especially his earlier work, is immense, and whenever Lacan refers to Hegel it is Kojeve's reading of Hegel that he has in mind. From Hegel Lacan takes (among other things) an emphasis on dialectical modes of thought, the concept of the beautiful soul, the dialectic of the master and the slave, and a distinction between animal and human desire.
Lacan established a personal friendship with Heidegger, visiting him and translating some of his works. Heidegger's influence on Lacan's work can be seen in Lacan's metaphysical discussions of being, and in the distinction between full speech and empty speech. These are only the philosophers to whom Lacan refers most frequently; he also discusses the work of many other philosophers such as St Augustine, Spinoza, Sartre, and others. Lacan's work engages with many philosophical schools and areas of enquiry. In his early work he shows a bent towards phenomenology, even presenting a "phenomenological description of the psychoanalytic experience" in 1936, but he later becomes quite opposed to phenomenology, and in 1964 presents a critique of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. Insofar as psychoanalysis engages with ontological questions, Lacan aligns psychoanalysis with materialism, against all forms of idealism. Lacan also engages with epistemology and the philosophy of science, where his constant approach is rationalist rather than empiricist.
- Freud, Sigmund. 1914d: SE XIV, 15-16
- Freud, Sigmund. 1925e : SE XIX, 216-17
- Freud, Sigmund. 1912-13: SE XIII, 73
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book I. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54. Trans. John Forrester. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. p.118-19; Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p.77
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XX. Encore, 1972-73. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1975. p. 33
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 6
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. pp. 82-5
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. pp. 71-6