The Unconscious


Psychoanalytic theory describes a range of motives, mental states, and processes of which persons are ordinarily unaware, and which they can acknowledge, avow, and alter only with difficulty. Freud's collective term for these, and for the functional division of the mind to which he assigned them, was the unconscious. [For references and further discussion for italicized terms see Laplanche and Pointalais 1973]. The term has also been used to describe other mental states, such as hypothesized beliefs about language, taken to play a comparable role. [Fodor 1991, p 278]. In what follows, however, we shall concentrate on the psychoanalytic use.

Freud sometimes illustrated unconscious motivation by examples from hypnosis. Someone may, for example, comply with a post-hypnotic suggestion, while seeming to remember nothing about it, and citing some implausible motive of his or her own. Here, it seems, we do not accept the subject's own account, but rather suppose that the action is caused by a motive (e.g. a desire to do what the hypnotist said) of which the subject is unaware. Further hypnotic research has produced a variety of examples apparently fitting Freud's descriptions of the unconscious and its working [Erickson 1939; Luria 1976, Ch IV]. While such phenomena seem genuinely illustrative, it remains unclear how far they should be assimilated to those encountered in psychoanalytic practice. So let us begin with the clinical work of Freud and his successors, and then turn to the more abstract metapsychology based on work of this kind.

I : Clinical

Early in his career Freud discovered that dreams and symptoms could be seen as related, causally and in their contents, to motives. In particular, both could be seen as wishfulfilments, that is, as representing the satisfaction of desires or wishes which had not been subjected to the rational thought requisite for intentional action. This emerged when the dream or symptom was considered in the context of the patient's full and uncensored account of related thoughts and feelings, as obtained through the process of free association.

This can be illustrated by the example with which Freud begins The Interpretation of Dreams [Freud Vol IV Ch II], his own dream of Irma's injection. In this dream Freud met Irma, a family friend and patient, whom he had diagnosed as hysterical and treated by analysis. He told her that if she still felt pains, this was her own fault, for not accepting his solution. He became alarmed, however, that she was suffering from an organic illness which he had failed to diagnose, and this turned out to be true. His senior colleague M examined Irma, and confirmed that she was indeed organically ill; and it became manifest that her illness was caused by a toxic injection given by another of Freud's colleagues, his family doctor Otto. The dream ended with Freud censuring Otto's practice, saying that 'Injections of that kind ought not to be made so thoughtlessly' and adding 'probably the syringe had not been clean.'

On the surface this dream dealt with topics which were not pleasant to Freud, such as the continued suffering of a friend and patient, and the possibility that he had misdiagnosed an organic illness, which he described as 'a constant anxiety' to someone offering psychological treatment. Freud's associations, however, enable us to see that the treatment of these topics in the dream was in fact thoroughly wishful. The day before the dream Otto -- who had recently visited Irma and her family -- had briefly discussed Irma with Freud. Otto had said that Irma was looking 'better, but not yet well'; Freud thought he detected a reproof in this, and had been vaguely annoyed. That night, in order to justify himself, Freud had started to write up Irma's case to show to M, who was respected by both himself and Otto, and who appeared in the dream as diagnosing Irma's illness and becoming aware that it was Otto's fault. Also, as it happened, Otto had been called on to give someone an injection while at Irma's (cf the topic of the dream), and Freud had just had news indicating that another of his female patients had been given a careless injection by some other doctor, and had been contemplating his own careful practice in this respect.

In considering the dream Freud noted that his desire to justify himself in respect of Irma's case, and in particular not to be responsible for her suffering, was apparent from the beginning, in which he told Irma that her pains were now her own fault. Also, he felt that his alarm at her illness in the dream was not entirely genuine. So, Freud realized, it seemed that he was actually wishing that Irma be organically ill: for as he undertook to treat only psychological complaints, this also would mean that he could not be held responsible for her condition. This theme, indeed, seemed carried further in the rest of the dream, in which M found that Otto, not Freud, bore responsibility for Irma's illness. The whole dream, in fact, could be seen as a wishful response to Otto's remark. According to the dream, and contrary to what Freud had taken Otto to imply, Freud bore no responsibility whatever for Irma's condition. Rather, Otto was the sole cause of her suffering, and this was a result of Otto's bad practice with injections, a matter about which Freud himself was particularly careful.

To see the role of wishfulfilment here more clearly, let us consider Freud's desire that he be cleared of responsibility for Irma's suffering, as this operated, on the one hand, in his intentional action, and on the other, in his dream. Very schematically, we hold that in rational action the causal role of a desire that P is to bring about (cause) a situation that P, which both satisfies the desire and pacifies it, that is, causes the desire to cease to operate. Acting on a desire that P (that one be cleared of culpable responsibility) should ideally bring it about that P (that one is cleared of culpable responsibility), that is, should being about a situation which constitutes the satisfaction of the desire. This, in turn, should cause the belief that P (that one has been cleared...), and this, perhaps acting together with the satisfying situation, should pacify the desire that P, so that it ceases to govern action. This is approximately the sequence of results which Freud was seeking to produce, in accord with standard medical practice, in writing up Irma's case history on the night of the dream to discuss with M, his respected senior colleague. M would be able to to offer an independent, authoratative opinion on Freud's treatment of Irma; so his judgment could partly serve to clear Freud, and, we may presume, Freud's conscience.

In Freud's dream the same motive was apparently also at work, but in a different way. There it produced no rational action, but rather gave rise directly to a (dreamt) representation of a situation in which Freud was cleared of responsibility, and by M. This representation, moreover, was extravagantly wishful -- Irma was made physically ill, Freud was cleared in a great number of ways, Otto was elaborately blamed, and so on. Taking this example as typical, we can contrast the causal role of desire, as between action and wishfulfilment. In rational action a desire that P serves to bring about a situation that P, and this to cause a (justified and true) belief that P, so that the desire is pacified. In wishfulfilment, by contrast, this process is short-circuited, so as to leave a satisfying or justifying reality out. Here the desire that P causes a wishful and belief-like representation that P directly, and this serves to pacify the desire, regardless of reality, at least temporarily. In rational action we find both the real satisfaction and also the pacification of desire, with the latter a causal and rational consequence of the former. In wishfulfilment we find only pacification, via a version of wishful imagining or make-believe: that is, imaginary pacification without real satisfaction. Although Freud did not describe matters in these terms, he took this feature to be characteristic of wishfulfilment generally.

We can thus put part of Freud's conception by saying that wishfulfilment seems to be the mind's (or brain's) way of pacifying desires -- and thus stabilizing or redirecting its own functioning in a certain way -- without actually satisfying them. Still the mode of pacification seems analogous in both cases. In rational action pacification is consequent on satisfaction and veridical belief, and in wishfulfilment on belief-like representation. Belief itself, however, can be regarded as the limiting case of belief-like representation. So we can say that in general pacification proceeds via representation of this kind.

Freud also found that a given dream, symptom, or other wishfulfilment characteristically involved a range of wishes, connected in their contents. We have seen that Freud's wish to avoid responsibility for Irma went with one to blame Otto. But also his associations make clear that the dream was wishfulfilling on levels deeper than his present concern with Irma. For example in analysing his dream Freud realized that Irma was linked in his mind with two persons who had previously died as a result of his medical interventions. One of his friends had suffered from incurable nerve pain, and was addicted to the morphia he used for relief from it. Freud had suggested that his friend use cocaine instead, not grasping that it too was addictive. The friend later died from injections of cocaine. Also, Freud had himself once repeatedly prescribed a woman patient a standard medication, which, unpredictably, had killed her; and he had consulted with M about this case also.

These memories were integral to Freud's associations, and connected with many other details of the dream; so they can be seen to have influenced the dream as well. Hence the remark with which Freud ended the dream -- 'Injections of that kind ought not to be made so thoughtlessly' -- was actually one with which he might well have reproached himself, in respect of treatments he associated with Irma's. But in the dream this deeper reproach -- regarding thoughtlessness, the misuse of toxic substances, and damaging injections -- was also wishfully deflected on to Otto. In representing Otto but not himself as responsible for Irma's suffering, Freud also represented Otto but not himself as bearing precisely the kinds of responsibility involved in the deaths of his other friend and other patient. Hence this dream can also be regarded as representing the fulfilment of a wish on Freud's part not to be responsible in these cases also. But this wish, and indeed the whole topic of his own responsibility for death, was entirely kept from Freud's consciousness in the dream, and came to light only via his associations.

This also illustrates further mechanisms which Freud found to be common in dreams, and characteristic of unconscious functioning generally. In the dream the figure of Freud's friend and patient Irma also represented, or stood for, Freud's other friend and other patient who had died as a result of his therapeutic interventions. So this example shows what Freud called the condensation of several significant figures and topics from the latent content of the dream -- the thoughts and feelings uncovered by association as related to the dream, which in this case included the links between Irma and these dead others -- into one composite figure and topic appearing in the manifest content of which the dreamer was aware. This went also with a displacement of Freud's guilt, again in a way connected with all three cases, on to the figure of Otto. These processes contributed to the distortion of the manifest mental content effected by what Freud called the dream work. As noted below, Freud later found memory and conscious belief generally to be liable to similar distortion; and some of this may be visible in the material connected with this analysis, for example in Freud's own conscious inclination to regard Otto as 'thoughtless' or 'jumping to a conclusion' about Irma's case.

In light of the above we can give the following preliminary and schematic characterization of Freud's clinical method and project. In commonsense psychology we interpret actions in accord with a basic generalization about desire: the role of a desire that P is to produce a situation that P, which in turn should produce a belief that P serving, together with the situation, to pacify the desire, and so to redirect action. In our everyday understanding of persons we both tacitly use this generalization, and also sustain it inductively, bearing it out through the successful interpretation of desire in action in case after case. This generalization includes the idea that a representation (belief) that P plays a role in pacifying a desire that P. Hence we also take it as an intelligible, and indeed common, phenomenon that a desire that P should play a role in causing a belief-like imaginative representation that P, which tends to pacify the desire. This is another generalization which we both use and sustain, in understanding many forms of wishful imagining, make-believe, and so forth, with which we are familiar.

Freud's work on dreams and symptoms uses, extends, and supports this latter generalization, by finding instance after instance, and in previously unsuspected cases, such as the dream above. Such interpretive work, as Freud claimed, enables one to see dreams and symptoms as pacifying deeper desires with the same sort of regularilty as actions can be seen as satisfying them. This in turn serves also to extend and support the basic generalization about desires (above): for each interpretation of a wishfulfilment adds new values for P to the contents of the probable desires of an agent, and so gives rise to further and better interpretations of other of the agent's thoughts and actions as well. (Thus in the course of understanding Freud's interpretation of the Irma dream, we naturally frame further and deeper explanations of his annoyance at Otto's remark, his desire to justify himself, his contemplation of his own conscientiousness about injections, etc.) Such further ascriptions of desires, in turn, may make it possible to detect further wishfulfilments; and so on.

We can thus say that Freud sought to extend commonsense psychology by means internal to it: namely, the supportive extension of basic causal generalizations concerning the satisfaction and pacification of desire already employed in commonsense interpretive practice. His extension is therefore potentially sound, cumulative, and radical. Sound, because the extending interpretations can gain support from the basic generalizations, and can also support them in turn, as in commonsense psychology itself. Cumulative, because each addition to the contents of probable wishes or desires can facilitate the discovery of others. And radical, because the extension offers significantly deeper and fuller explanations of actions and wishfulfilments generally, and by reference to motives which, in the main, had not previously been contemplated.

Freud found that the unconscious motives characteristically pacified in adult dreams and symptoms could be traced back into childhood, and included sensual love for one parent combined with rivalry and jealous hatred for the other, a constellation he called the Oedipus Complex. This, as it emerged, had one version in which the child's love was for the parent of the opposite sex, and another in which the love was for the parent of the same sex (and vice-versa for the concomitant rivalry). It thus appeared that the feelings and phantasies of very young children showed remarkable plasticity, and, in particular, a degree of bisexuality. Little children were liable to intense psychic conflict, as between desires to harm or displace each parent, envied and hated as a rival for the love of the other, and desires to preserve and protect that same parent, loved sensually and also as a caretaker, helper, and model. In consequence, Freud thought, these conflicting motives were subjected to a process of repression, which removed them from thinking and planning of which the agent was aware; and concomitantly, in the course of normal development, they were both organized and modified by the child's formative identification with the parent of the same sex, that is, the child's taking that parent as a basic model for agency and the satisfaction of desire. Still, the repressed motives continued to exist in the unconscious, and to exercise their causal role in the production of dreams, symptoms, and parapraxes; and, in those cases in which conflict remained particularly extreme, in forms of neurotic or psychotic illness.

Following Freud's description of the role of belief-like representation in the pacification of desire, psychoanalysts now commonly describe the kind of representation which serves to pacify unconscious desire as phantasy. Particular phantasies, moreover, can be seen as constituting or implementing many of the unconscious mental processes, including those of both development and defense, which are described in psychoanalytic theory. Thus persons form lasting and life-shaping phantasies of themselves on the model of others, thereby establishing identifications with those others, as mentioned above. Again, persons represent others as having, and themselves as lacking, certain of their own impulses, aspects of mind, or traits of character, and thus accomplish the projection of these items onto or into others. The projection, or phantasied location, of parts of oneself in another may create a particular kind of mirror-image identification with that other, now often called projective identification. [See also Hinshelwood 1991]. Such a process can also effect the splitting of the self, for example into good and bad, with the bad located elsewhere; and likewise (the representation of) the other may by the same means be split into good and bad, as with the image of the good mother and evil (step)mother in a fairy tale. (These processes are similar to those observed in dreams and symptoms; for example, the dream above might be taken as exemplifying a phantasy in which Freud represented motives connected with lack of professional care as in Otto rather than himself, and hence as an instance of splitting and projection on Freud's part.)

Although Freud's hypotheses about childhood were mainly based on data from adults, later analysts, and in particular Anna Freud [1946, 1974] and Melanie Klein [1932, 1975] were able to extend his techniques to children. Even very small children often have symptoms and difficulties analogous to those of adults; but they characteristically cannot produce such articulate thoughts and feelings connected with these, as Freud used in analysing their elders. They do, however, spontaneously and constantly represent things in play, with, e.g., dolls, toys, clay, paints, and games of make-believe. Child analysts have been able to understand these representations as Freud understood dreams, that is, as systematically reflecting motive and mental state, and in particular as embodying wishfufilling phantasy. This has made it possible to analyze disturbed children, and hence to learn more about their mental life. Such work is now taken both as confirming and extending hypotheses based on the analysis of adults. So let us consider some material from the treatment of a little boy [Loeb 1992], in order to illustrate some of the ideas sketched above.

This little boy suffered from nightmares -- for example about 'red crayfish monsters' -- and also behaved in an exaggeratedly feminine way. From the age of two he had wished to grow up to be a 'mommy', and as a toddler he would cover his chest with a towel after his bath, as if he had breasts. When he began therapy at four and a half he liked to pretend that he had breasts, and to dress as a 'fancy lady' in women's clothes, and to walk and talk accordingly. He took female parts in his play with other children, and by himself played with Barbie dolls; and in his daydreams he imagined himself to be wonder woman.

In part this behaviour showed an identification with his father's attractive and fashionable mother, his 'fancy grandmother', with whom he had spent a lot of time as a baby. This woman both behaved seductively towards the little boy and fostered his feminine ways. Thus she took off her clothes in front of him, and also would, e.g., ask him to feel the soft leather pants she was wearing, as a result of which he got an erection and felt anxious. But also she let him wear her own high-heeled shoes, and dressed him in the make-up, jewelry, and other female finery he had come to make his own. We can see that from this seemingly contradictory behaviour one could extract a single coherent message, as to the overriding power and desirability of the grandmother's own feminine glamour; and it seems that the little boy had done so. In his first session of therapy he played with two Barbie dolls, one of which he dressed in plain clothing, the other in a 'fancy' low-cut gown. The plain doll he called 'mother', and the fancy 'queen grandmother'.

The little boy was thus able to express feelings about his parental figures -- including here, perhaps, a sense of rivalry between his mother and grandmother, and also a division in his representation of women as between plain and 'fancy' -- in terms of his play with dolls. At the same time he began the transference of these feelings on to his (female) analyst. He asked her, e.g., to undress for him as his grandmother did; and when he was upset he would attack her, saying that it was the monsters that came in his nightmares who were doing it. In one such nightmare a 'half-lady, half-pinching lobster' chased him, and ran in and out of his mother's nose. It could thus be seen that in his mind an important sort of aggression was represented by pinching, and through phantasies involving pinching figures or creatures. Such aggression could be expressed in a dream, as related to himself and his mother, or in his behaviour, as related to the analyst; and he was liable to imagine the analyst as a fearful pinching figure as well.

Later in his analysis, as the little boy began to play out the marriage of the dolls Ken and Barbie, the role of such figures emerged more vividly. After the wedding, as the boy represented things, Ken would put his penis in Barbie's vagina; and then Barbie would take the penis, leaving Ken with a vagina. The little boy would scream 'Ken lost his penis.' Often he said 'If you dress and act like a girl, nobody will think you have a penis. Then you don't have to worry that anyone will take it.' In time he was able to make one basis of these fears more clear. He talked about his (female) analyst having a 'hidden penis', and said it was 'the one that was taken from Ken -- the one women get back.' Women, he said 'steal penises because they are jealous of men...Women come to the men at night and steal their penises. They have pinchers...the press-on nails are their pinchers...But no woman will ever get mine.' It thus appeared that he likened women in general, and his grandmother in particular, to the pinching monsters of his dreams, and also likened such womens' pinching to castration, aimed at taking away men's penises so as to keep them for themselves.

This material can be seen both in light of Freud's general method, and also a number of particular claims about the unconscious, as sketched above. We can see, for example, how it might be that the little boy's wish to be a 'mommy' who had breasts (itself perhaps an indication of a natural bisexuality) was reflected even from the age of two in wishfulfilling identification with female behaviour, such as hiding his chest after a bath. Apparently such desires were later organized and represented as satisfied through identification with his 'fancy grandmother', and were expressed, elaborated, and pacified in a variety of representational activities, ranging from daydreams through play to dress, posture, and behaviour. Also we can see some of what Freud described as the sexual phantasies of children: e.g. that of the phallic woman, who has a hidden penis; or of the primal scene of parental intercourse, as one of violence and, in this particular case, danger to men.

The little boy's phantasy life thus seemed dominated by imagos -- perhaps formed partly by projection -- of fearful pinching figures, salient both in his nightmares and the underlying phantasies about women which emerged in his analysis. The material suggests that he was liable to identify himself with these phantasy figures, and that this served two connected functions, as specified by psychoanalytic theory. First, it enabled him wishfully to represent himself as the kind of powerful, glamorous, and castrating female figure he unconsciously imagined his grandmother, or again his analyst, to be. Secondly, it served to protect the masculinity which was threatened by figures of this same kind -- if he represented himself as such a woman, he might escape the castration which such women dealt to men. Thus, it would seem, through projective identification, or again, identification with the (phantasied) agressor, this little boy sought both to enjoy, and to escape, a form of aggression with which he was preoccupied. It would seem that such deep projective and identificatory phantasies were constitutive of his unconscious mental life, and hence both of his character and the conflicts he suffered, until understood and thereby altered through analysis.

II Metapsychological

In clinical work Freud described the unconscious in commonsense terms, as including wishes, beliefs, memories, and so forth. But he also sought to integrate his clinical findings with more abstract and theoretical concepts, as well as with physiological research, which was beginning to focus on the neurons composing the brain.

In his early Project for a Scientific Psychology Freud hypothesized that the working of the brain could be understood as the passage among neurons of some form of excitation, or cathexis, via connections which he called 'contact-barriers.' Information, on this hypothesis, would be stored in the brain in the form of alterations -- facilitations or inhibitions -- of these connections, and would be processed by the passage through the interconnected neurons themselves. Hence, as Freud put it, 'psychic acquisition generally', including memory, would be 'represented by the differences in the facilitations' of neural connections. [Freud Vol I, p 300] Freud thus anticipated the contemporary claim that the brain can be understood as a computational device whose 'knowledge is in the connections' among neuronal processing units [Rumelhardt et al 1988, p 75], and also the associated view of mental processes as forms of neural activation, and mental states as dispositions to these, or structures determining them. [See Glymour 1992; and also CONNECTIONISM] He sketched a model representing his early clinical findings in these terms, and seems to have framed his later discussions to be consistent with this.

On Freud's early physiological model the signaling of a bodily need, instinct, or drive -- say for nutrition in an infant -- causes a disequilbrium in neural excitation. This at first results in crying and uncoordinated bodily movements, which have at best a fleeting tendency to stabilize it. Better and more lasting equilibration requires satisfaction, e.g. by feeding; and this causes the facilitation of the neural connections involved in the satisfying events. The brain thus lays down neural records, or prototypes, of the sequences of perceptions, internal changes, bodily movements, and so on, involved in the restoration of equilibrium by satisfaction. Then when disequilibrium again occurs -- e.g. when the infant is again hungry -- the input signals engage previously facilitated pathways, so that the records of relevant past satisfactions are naturally reactivated. This, Freud hypothesized, constitutes early wishfulfilment.

Freud thus identified the wishfulfilling pacification of infantile proto-desire with what can be regarded as a form of neural prototype activation. [For a recent general account of this notion see Churchland 1989, Chs 9 and 10] He took it that this provided more stability in disequilibrium than the random ennervations it replaced, and also that it served to organize the infant's responses, e.g. to hunger, by reproducing those previously associated with satisfaction. Then as the infant continued to lay down prototype upon prototype, the original wishful stabilizations evolved towards a system of thought, while also coming to govern a growing range of behaviour, increasingly co-ordinated to the securing of satisfaction. This, however, required the brain to learn to delay the wishfulfilment-governed neural behaviour associated with past satisfaction until present circumstances were perceptibly appropriate -- that is, to come increasingly under the sway of what Freud called the reality principle.

This capacity for delay depended upon a tolerance of frustration, and of the absence of the satisfying object, which permitted reality testing, and hence the binding of the neural connections involved in the securing of satisfaction to perceptual information about the object, and later to rational thought. By this means what Freud regarded as a primary process leading to percipitate wishfulfilment was progressively overlaid and inhibited by a secondary one, which provided for the securing of satisfaction in realistic conditions. This benign development could, however, be blighted, if frustration (or intolerance of it) too much led to the overactivation of inappropriate prototypes, and this to greater frustration. Such a process could render the mind/brain increasingly vulnerable to disequilibrium and delusion, and hence increasingly reliant on earlier and more wishfulfilling modes of stabilization, in a vicious circle constitutive of mental disturbance and illness.

Freud allocated the task of fostering the sense of reality, and so providing for the satisfaction and reality-based pacification of desire, to a hypothetical neural structure, or functional part of the mind, which he called the ego. In later work Freud extended his account of the ego to include, among other things, the way it developed through identification with other persons. As noted above, the child's ego was partly formed through its identification with the parents in their role as agents, or satisfiers of their own desires. But the child also achieved self-regulation by laying down images of the parents as others in relation to the self, that is, in their role as satisfiers, or again frustrators or controllors, of its own bodily impulses and desires, and particularly the early impulses connected with feeding, defecation, and the like. The child thus introjected helpful or controlling figures, and internalized its relations with them, as these were registered in the perspective of early experience, distorted both by projection and by the extremes of infantile emotion. The resulting distorted and controlling imagos formed the basis of a distinct, self-critical part of the ego, which Freud called the super-ego. This faculty tended to be far more aggressive, threatening, and punitive than the actual parents, and so could be a source of great anxiety or guilt, and even, in the extreme, suicide.

Freud also related the development of the ego and of conscious thought to language. The earliest prototypes, he assumed, were concerned with needs and actions bearing on objects in the immediate environment, and so with what he called thing-presentations: A limited relation of symbolism might obtain among thing-presentations, in the sense that one such presentation could become activated by, or in place of, another. In learning language, however, the brain laid down a further set of facilitations, constituting a network of word-presentations, including 'sound-images', 'word-images', and a system of 'speech associations' which linked these linguistic prototypes both with one another and with (those of) the things and situations associated with words and sentences. This system, Freud hypothesized, was responsible for 'cognition' and for 'conscious observing thought'. Cognition could partly be understood in terms of the activation of connections which were mediated by linguistic prototypes, and which, therefore, might be logical or rational. The consciousness of thought could be seen as resulting from the interactivation of linguistic and objectual representations; and in consequence the unconscious could be understood as that which was not properly linked with, or was somehow cut off from, the system of thought-facilitating connections laid down with the acquisition of language.

Freud elaborated these ideas on symbolism, language, and the unconscious in his later work [see, e.g., Freud Vol I, p 365, and Vol XIV, p 209ff]. He also attempted to describe how infantile sexual and aggressive motives could undergo sublimation, and thus be re-directed towards ends which were benign, or socially valued. Subsequent psychoanalytic research, particularly with schizophrenic patients, has suggested that both the capacity for such emotional development, and that for rationally integrated thought and feeling, depend upon certain abilities to form and use symbols; and that these in turn depend upon a capacity to tolerate frustration, and in particular to bear the absence, distinctness, and separateness of the satisfying object, in ways related to Freud's original suppositions. [See Segal, 1986, Ch 4; Bion 1967, Ch 4; and Hinshelwood 1991]

III Conclusion

As sketched above, Freud's early clinical work began a systematic and potentially cogent extension of commonsense psychology, providing deeper explanations for dreams, symptoms, and also many aspects of everyday thought, feeling, and action, by reference to unconscious motives. This provided the basis for a more general and theoretical account of normal and pathological functioning and development, which has been revised and extended by relation to data gained from the analysis both of children and psychotic patients. Much of this account can be cast in terms of the concept of unconscious phantasy, and associated processes such as projection and identification; and many of the constituent hypotheses were framed to accord with a conception of the working of the brain which has recently become an independend focus of research. Psychoanalytic hypotheses about the unconscious thus provide an explanatory and unifying account of a great range of mental and behavioural phenomena, many of which are commonsensically or clinically observable, and which are addressed by no other theory. Since these hypotheses are arguably cogent, and based on data gathered by many researchers over years of systematic observation, they deserve serious philosophical attention.


Cited in the text: Bion, W., 'A Theory of Thinking' in Second Thoughts. London: Heinemann, 1967

Churchland, P., A Neurocomputational Perspective. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1989.

Erickson, M. 'Experimental Demonstrations of the Psychopathology of Everyday Life' Psychoanalytic Quarterly, vol 8, 1939; reprinted in Lee, S.G.M., and Herbert, M., eds, Freud and Psychology: Selected Readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970.

Fodor J., 'Replies', in Meaning in Mind: Fodor and his Critics, Loewer, B., and Rey, G., Eds, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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Freud, A. 'Introduction to the technique of the analysis of children' In The Psycho-analytical Treatment of Children, New York: International Universities Press, 1946.

Freud, A. 'Four Lectures on Child Analysis', The Writings of Anna Freud, Vol 1, New York: International Universities Press, 1974.

Glymour, C., 'Freud's Androids', in J Neu, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Freud, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Hinshelwood, R., A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought. London: Free Associations Books, 1991.

Klein, M., The Psychoanalysis of Children. London: Hogarth, 1932, and Volume II of The Collected Works of Melanie Klein. London: Hogarth, 1975.

Laplanche, J., and Pontalis, J.-B., Eds, The Language of Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth, 1973.

Loeb, L., 'Transsexual symptoms in a child', Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 40, Vol 2, 1992.

Luria, A., 'The Investigation of Complexes Produced During Hypnosis by Suggesion', in The Nature of Human Conflicts. New York: Liveright, 1976.

Segal, H., 'Notes on Symbol Formation' in The Work of Hanna Segal. London: Free Associations Press, 1986.

Rumelhart, D., Hinton, G., and McClelland, J., 'A General Framework for Parallel Distributed Processing' in Rumelhart, McClelland, et. al., Parallel Distributed Processing, Vol 1. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1988.

For Additional Reading:

Gardner, S. 'The Unconscious', in Neu, J., ed, The Cambridge Companion to Freud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Wollheim, R., Freud. London: Fontana 1991

Ginny Watkins Nov 1996