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Civilization And Its Discontents, By Sigmeund Freud

923 words - 4 pages

“Civilization and Its Discontents” is a book written by Sigmund Freud in 1929 (originally titled “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur” or The Uneasiness in Culture.) This is considered to be one of Freud’s most important and widely read works. In this book, Freud explains his perspective by enumerating what he sees as fundamental tensions between civilization and the individual. He asserts that this tension stems from the individual’s quest for freedom and non-conformity and civilization’s quest for uniformity and instinctual repression. Most of humankind’s primitive instincts are clearly destructive to the health and well-being of a human community (such as the desire to kill.) As a direct result, civilization creates laws designed to prohibit killing, rape, and adultery, and has severe consequences for those that break these laws. Freud argues that this process is an inherent quality of civilization that instills perpetual feelings of discontent in its citizens. This theory is based on the idea that humans have characteristic instincts that are immutable. The most notable of these are the desires for sex, and the predisposition to violent aggression towards authoritative figures as well as sexual competitors. Both of these obstruct the gratification of a person’s instincts. Freud also believes that humans are governed by the pleasure principle, and that they will do whatever satisfies or pleasures them. He also believes that fulfilling these instincts satisfies the pleasure principle.
In the first two chapter of the book, Freud explores a possible source of religious feeling. He describes an “oceanic feeling of wholeness, limitlessness, and eternity.” Freud himself is unable to experience such a feeling, but notes that there do indeed exist different pathological and healthy states (e.g. love) where the boundary between ego and object is lost, blurred, or distorted. Freud theorizes that this oceanic feeling is a regression into an earlier state of consciousness before the ego had differentiated itself from the world of objects. Freud also theorizes that the religious oceanic feeling arises from “the infant's helplessness and the longing for the father” and “imagine[s] that the oceanic feeling became connected with religion later on.” In other words, the oceanic feeling is not a genuine religious experience, though people experience it that way.
Throughout the rest of the book, Freud addresses the conflict between civilization and the individual. He starts with the fundamental paradox of civilization: we created civilization as a tool to protect ourselves from unhappiness; however it is our largest source of unhappiness. He also points out that contemporary technological advances have been a mixed blessing for human happiness. He also asks what the purpose of civilization is if it is not to satisfy the pleasure principal. He later concedes that civilization has to make compromises of happiness to fulfill its...

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