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Weltanschauung

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The term Weltanschauung, literally, "view of the world," had a very specific meaning for Freud, who defined it in the New Introductory Lecture as follows: "A Weltanschauung is an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place" (1933a [1932], p. 158). Indeed Freud had already used this concept as a stick with which to beat philosophies and religions—both lambasted, for example, in his Future of an Illusion (1927c). In 1933, however, he broadened the notion, bringing science too under its aegis; this with the proviso, though, that "the Weltanschauung of science already departs noticeably from our definition. It is true that it too assumes the uniformity of the explanation of the universe; but it does so only as a programme, the fulfillment of which is relegated to the future." (pp. 158-159). The fact was that the notion of Weltanschauung usefully supplemented that of culture, for it helped specify culture's different spheres and point up their underlying emotional raisons d'être. Freud extolled and defended the virtues of an intolerance that refused, in the name of "truth," to consider all domains of human intellectual activity to be of equal value: "It is simply a fact that the truth cannot be tolerant, that it admits of no compromises or limitations, that research regards every sphere of human activity as belonging to it and that it must be relentlessly critical if any other power tries to take over any part of it" (p. 160). It has to be said, therefore, that Freud's views on religion and especially on philosophy were rather narrow—judging, as he did, that they were totally closed to doubt. On the other hand, his opposition to dogmatism is much easier to comprehend if one bears in mind that dogmatism constitutes the major temptation for any theoretician, and no doubt for Freud himself with respect to psychoanalysis. And it was certainly for the sake of psychoanalysis that he defended the ideal of scientific ascesis. Apropos of the religious Weltanschauung, in 1933 Freud articulated ideas he had expressed in Totem and Taboo (1912-13a) on the formation of religions, while restating, in essence, some themes of The Future of an Illusion concerning the way religion panders to humanity's "desire for knowledge" and to its infantile need for protection. To emphasize how risky a religious view of the world is to thought, which it limits through its interdictions, he also revisited the ideas expressed in "Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness" (1908d). Most of Freud's observations on the notion of Weltanschauung were in fact concerned with religion, but he did also mention art, which for him was "almost always harmless and beneficent; it does not seek to be anything but an illusion" (1933a [1932], p. 160), and philosophy, about which he wrote: "Philosophy is not opposed to science, it behaves like a science and works in part by the same methods; it departs from it, however, by clinging to the illusion of being able to present a picture of the universe which is without gaps and is coherent" (p. 160). Another kind of Weltanschauung, about which Freud usually had very little to say, save for his considerations on war, was politics, and specifically Marxism, to which he opposed a conception of the evolution of societies that was just as materialist as Marx's, but without any real discussion of Marx's theories, which seemed to him to be derived from "the obscure Hegelian philosophy, in whose school Marx graduated" (p. 177). Nihilism of the anarchist variety he denounced as pure sophistry; it nevertheless constituted an attack on the very core of scientific ideals, since it abolished the criterion of truth. Finally, Freud's reflections on the notion of Weltanschauung were generally conflated with an earnest and vibrant pleading of the case of science, as when he said about the common man: "Truth seems to him no more capable of comparative degrees than death" (p. 172). His conclusion was a real rallying cry: "A Weltanschauung erected upon science has, apart from its emphasis on the real external world, mainly negative traits, such as submission to the truth and rejection of illusions. Any of our fellow-men who is dissatisfied with this state of things, who calls for more than this for his momentary consolation, may look for it where he can find it. We shall not grudge it him, we cannot help him, but nor can we on his account think differently" (p. 182).

Freudian Dictionary

"Weltanschauung" is, I am afraid, a specifically German notion, which it would be difficult to translate into a foreign language. If I attempt to give you a definition of the word, it can hardly fail to strike you as inept. By Weltanschauung, then, I mean an intellectual construction, which gives a unified solution of all the problems of our existence in virtue of a comprehensive hypothesis, a construction, therefore, in which no question is left open and in which everything in which we are interested finds a place. It is easy to see that the possession of such a Weltanshchauung is one of the ideal wishes of mankind. When one believes in such a thing, one feels secure in life, one knows what one ought to strive after, and how one ought to organise one's emotions and interests to the best purpose.[1]

See Also

References

  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1908d). "Civilized" sexual morality and modern nervous illness. SE, 9: 177-204.
  2. ——. (1912-13a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13.
  3. ——. (1927c). The future of an illusion. SE, 21: 1-56.
  4. ——. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.