Thursday, April 6, 2017

Freud: The Pleasure Principle

Sigmund Freud
Civilization and Its Discontents
Translated by James Strachey
WW Norton and Company, NY, 1961

We will therefore turn to the less ambitious question of what men themselves show by their behavior to be the purpose and intention of their lives.  What do they demand of life and wish to achieve in it?  The answer to this can hardly be in doubt.  They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so . . . As we see, what decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle.  this principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the start.  There can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its programme is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as the microcosm.  There is no possibility at all of its being carried through; all the regulations of the universe run counter to it.  One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be 'happy' is not included in the plan of 'Creation.'  What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon.  When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, i only produces a feeling of mild contentment.  We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only form a contrast and a very little from a state of things. (25)

Religion restricts this play of choice and adaptation, since it imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering.  Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner--which presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence.  At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantalism and by drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. (36)

Study questions:
1.  For Freud, what is happiness?  What is the pleasure principle?
2.  What must be true about human nature for Freud's view of pleasure and happiness to also be true?
3.  Why does Freud think there is suffering?  What other explanations could account for suffering?
4.  What role does religion play in the pleasure principle? Is this true of all religion, some religion, the best examples, superficial examples?
5.  What is the distinction between the real world, delusion, and otherworldliness, in Freud's thought?