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Philosophy 3B: Culture and Hermeneutics Ms. C. F. Botha 22 August 2011
he turns to a purely psychological theory (MacIntyre. The method referred to is. his selfexaminations and observations on patients suffering from hysteria – although his method proposes to explain more than just abnormal behaviour. of course. he claims.” ~ Sigmund Freud Introduction Sigmund Freud‟s theory of psychoanalysis claims that all human behaviour is driven by desire and repressed memory. This is useful as a preliminary before I consider Ricoeur‟s engagement with Freud. I then give an overview of Ricoeur‟s project of a general theory of hermeneutics before explicating his account of language in psychoanalysis. but rather “the scientific method” by which knowledge of the unconscious may be gained. soll ich werden. which accounts for behavioural changes physiologically and as occurring within a closed system. Following this.“Wo es war. I show how Ricoeur places language as the exchange between two possible directions of interpretation. psychoanalysis. Freud initially seeks to present his theory of mental states and processes by means of a neurological theory. I argue that the possibility of teleology is indeed – although a development of Freudian interpretation – already present in Freud‟s writings. This leads to the question of whether Ricoeur‟s development of a teleological interpretation of the subject is consistent with Freud‟s own ideas. I begin by tracing Freud‟s thought on mental processes and his theory of the unconscious. 1958: 22-6). can Freud‟s texts be interpreted as containing the possibility of a progression beyond unconscious desire. is already implicit in Freud‟s writings. I argue that Ricoeur‟s development is consistent with Freud‟s own ideas. an archaeology and a teleology of the subject. In light of this. due to a lack of evidence for sustaining a physiological foundation for his model of mental processes. However. It was developed and influenced by Freud‟s background as a neurologist. without doing violence to his original ideas? Paul Ricoeur posits a dialectic counterpart to the regressive Freudian interpretation of the subject – a teleology which. With reference to Ricoeur‟s interpretation of Freud. 2 . History of the Freudian Unconscious MacIntyre (1958: 6) notes that Freud did not consider himself to have discovered the unconscious.
as well as a tendency to react in a determined manner in associated situations. it looks for other avenues for satisfaction unconsciously. This is the cause of neurotic behaviour. all behaviour is 3 . As such. However. In such a case. The first two are responsible for perception and memory respectively. one inherits a memory incapable of being recollected by normal means. At an intermediate level is the ego which operates as one‟s self-consciousness. The ego develops during one‟s childhood. There may. However. 2000: 846). It is important to note that in both cases of behaviour being „normal‟ or neurotic.Freud divides the mind into the three provinces of the conscious. the preconscious. and so this stage of life defines one‟s driving desires in adulthood. 81-2) Of particular importance is the id and its emerging desire with which the subject is constantly confronted. from consciousness. along with the corresponding desire. 2000: 48. and so the pleasure principle becomes opposed by the reality principle. it may require the subject to postpone the release of tension or to find a different means of release. the super-ego is an internalised moral voice inherited in childhood from one‟s father. according to the pleasure principle. (Thurschwell. instinctual drives cause tension which. and the unconscious. that is. If the interplay between these two principles settles with minimal conflict. arise painful situations which cause greater conflict with one‟s desires. Traumatic situations opposed to pleasure suppress our memory of an event. These take the form of desires which seek satisfaction through objects. Since the instinctual drive is not fulfilled. always seek a release according to the object of desire. Lastly. This desire is caught between the oppositional pair pleasurereality principles. the latter principle will not prevent pleasure from occurring at all. a desire‟s urge is to attain meaning through expression. while the unconscious is further comprised of different levels. This constituent provides the drive of self-preservation. with the memory remaining repressed. each exerting its own influence. halting the instinct of the Id when at variance with reality. and is comprised of instinctual drives. This will result in normal behaviour and gratification of desire (Thurschwell. I refer later to this point in my defence of Ricoeur‟s development of a teleology of the subject. however. The first level of the unconscious is the Id. as indicating to the self its situation and its distinctness from that situation. reality is not always conducive towards releasing desire‟s tension. Within the subject.
since people sacrifice the possibility of satisfying their desires in certain ways in order for more long term self-preservation (Thurschwell. while the latter is suspicious of this very assumption and seeks to decipher the hidden 4 . 1970: 175). I also draw on the ideality of sublimation and its ability to harness desire for other means in my defence of Ricoeur‟s teleology of the subject. is also the birthplace of art and culture (Pellauer. The conflict occurs inasmuch as the former approach takes for granted the transparency of consciousness. This may be done for some higher purpose. 2000: 105-7). Ricoeur’s Engagement with Freud The point is now reached where Ricoeur‟s reading and interpretation of Freud is considered. First. of which Freudian psychoanalysis is regarded as a major representative along with Nietzsche and Marx. Sublimation is the ability of the subject to turn instinctual desire into behaviour unrelated to desire. I regard one peculiar element of Freud‟s theory which does not seem to fully agree with desire as the driving force: sublimation. It is the possibility of a form of progression and. “[o]ur…behaviour is…explained in terms of the transformation of certain [unconscious] instinctual desires” (MacIntyre. for example). His aim is to retrace the “outer contours” (Ricoeur. as such. 2007: 49). This concept is central to Ricoeur‟s development of a teleology of the subject. A question Ricoeur raises on this topic is. inclusive of all the varying schools. In Freud and Philosophy. Ricoeur perceives hermeneutics as largely comprising a multitude of theories of interpretation. many of which seem in opposition to each other. In short. Freud sees sublimation as the basis of society. 1958: 267). or just redirecting desire according to the restraints of reality. though.always determined by desire. I give an account of how this is addressed under Language and its Relation to the Interpretation of Desire. The greatest opposition is found between Ricoeur's hitherto phenomenological method of proclaiming meaning. a progressive ideal (the greater good of the community. In light of the determinism of the unconscious on behaviour. a word on Ricoeur‟s project. and the method of reducing illusion (demystification). 1970: 27) of hermeneutics in order to come up with some general hermeneutics. “could it be the true meaning of sublimation is to promote new meanings by mobilizing old energies initially invested in archaic figures?” (Ricoeur.
psychoanalytic interpretation considers conscious language as harbouring hidden 5 . the semantics of desire which “can be grasped only through the interpretation of the signs wherein…desire is expressed” (Thompson. it is first necessary to understand how language can be interpreted at all. and argues that the two approaches can cooperate in their quests to find the meaning of consciousness. These approaches are both a kind of interpretation of some hidden meaning. Ricoeur proposes that what Freud‟s theory provides is one possible interpretation of human experience (Simms. these are explanations from and limited to desire. Both analyse forms of confession – psychoanalysis the confession of the patient (regarded with suspicion). Ricoeur shows how psychoanalysis and phenomenology contain similarities in their methods of interpretation. and hermeneutics “the fault in the human condition” (Simms. To solve this problem. Language and its Relation to the Interpretation of Desire In order to understand Ricoeur‟s account of language as containing two possible directions of interpretation of the subject. psychoanalysis provides particular human truths – distinct from natural scientific truth – which plausibly explain those patients‟ behaviour. Psychoanalytic theory reaches an understanding of the subject by presenting the conditions for desire to have meaningful expression. 2003: 54) in its displacement of consciousness. although he finds the lack of meaning in the Freudian subject problematic. In the following section I show how Ricoeur unites Freud‟s interpretation of the unconscious with an interpretation of the subject‟s ideality. 2003: 49) (approached with faith). In this way. Ricoeur considers Freud‟s theory “'liberating'” (Simms. Since signs do not present straight-forward meaning. Specifically. 2003: 56). In order to show how a hermeneutics of suspicion can be included in a general hermeneutics. Ricoeur develops a teleological view of selfunderstanding based on the artistic nature of language. What Ricoeur finds especially useful in psychoanalysis is its foundation on history. patients‟ cases are regarded as texts in need of interpretation. 1983: 191). Ricoeur argues that it also provides a method of reaching self-understanding. 2003: 48).meaning of consciousness (Simms.
This intersubjective relationship contains (i) the analyst interpreting the latent meaning of the analysand‟s expressions. as a hermeneutics of our origins in the form of repressed memories and childhood desires. the route to self-understanding is indirect. Construed as such. psychoanalytic interpretation occurs in a “controlled intersubjective relation (between analyst and patient)” (Ihde. 1970: 466). Due to this. since “there is no intelligibility proper to desire as such” (Ricoeur. Due to the intersubjective nature of linguistic meaning. and (iii) an overcoming of the trauma revealed (Ihde. it is not enough to only regard the unconscious in becoming self-aware. However. Freud‟s interpretation of the subject can be called regressive. desire is the origin of language in the form of “the urge to say” (Ihde. this latent meaning can be explicated and mediated by another – the psychoanalyst. and is the same meeting point as the pre-linguistic origin of desire with language. 1970: 379). 1971: 153). At the same time. one reveals the unconscious of subjectivity which constitutes its own mode of expression (Ihde. I now provide Ricoeur‟s development of the dialectic between regressive and progressive interpretations of the subject in Freudian psychoanalysis. 1971: 153). where “the spectacle is at the same time the mirage of self in the mirror of things” (Ricoeur. 6 . In this way. since it is ever directed towards the archaic below consciousness. language refers to something [pre-linguistic desire] which is unable to be represented. where the analyst is the interpreter and mediator of meaning for the analysand. interpretation is confronted with the problems of latent meaning and intersubjectivity. As for the problem of intersubjectivity.meaning in need of explication. however. 1971: 157). 1971: 153-4). This is done by regarding what is said as an indirect image of the self. (ii) cooperation by the analysand to express what is repressed. By deciphering this coded meaning. By extension. To interpret latent meaning is to understand the subject who gives expression to desire. 1970: 440). In this way. The limit of this direction of interpretation is where the unconscious intersects with consciousness. Ricoeur characterises Freud‟s kind of self-understanding as an archaeology of the unconscious. since it is only by a detour of interpretation does one arrive. all human behaviour is explained in terms of “a manifestation of the ever prior” (Ricoeur.
A teleological interpretation draws from unconscious meaning in order to reflect and reach self-understanding not by transcending desire. this way of interpretation is Hegelian in how it finds meaning developing genetically from one form to another. Ricoeur’s Consistency with Freud The question of Ricoeur‟s adherence to Freud‟s original ideas is now raised. 1970: 464). “The positing or emergence of the self is inseparable from its production through a progressive synthesis” (Ricoeur. Pirovolakis (2010: 41) asks.Ricoeur states that only when consciousness “posits itself as desire” (Ricoeur. As such. 1974: 114). the concept of the unconscious and the process of repression?” As such. The beauty of Ricoeur‟s engagement with Freud is his contribution of the role of language as being the exchange – and thereby the unifier – between desire and life. Although a symbol is a concrete expression. 1970: 466) can it make its way back to self-consciousness. By regarding language as a symbol containing two possible directions of interpretation. This progression locates the self between the appropriation of unconscious desire and the movement towards the ideality of the subject. 2007: 49). as pointing to both one‟s origins and one‟s ideals. namely. Ricoeur holds that these interpretations are internal to one another. enabling the subject with the possibility of a progressive artistic synthesis (Pellauer. and in its movement and aspiration towards true meaning (Ricoeur. 2010: 36). a symbol‟s meaning is never fixed and contains a multiplicity of possible interpretations. As such. but by recognising it as unsurpassable. an opponent of Ricoeur‟s interpretation may state that Freud‟s psychoanalysis is supposed to show the fundamentally regressive essence of human behaviour as always emanating from 7 . “To what extent does Ricoeur‟s dialectics do justice to Freud‟s supposedly major contributions to thought. so too does our imaginative exploration of adult life (Ricoeur. Ricoeur locates the unity of the archaeology-teleology dialectic in the symbol of language. it points beyond itself to what is not immediately known – both to one‟s unconscious desires and one‟s prospective living. origin and aspiration. As our childhood constantly re-emerges. 1974: 117). This way is given in the form of a Hegelian teleology of consciousness – the dialectical counterpart to Freud‟s archaeology – where the “truth of the unconscious lies in the subsequent moment of consciousness” (Pirovolakis.
I agree with Ricoeur‟s observation that the possibility of a progressive interpretation of the subject is already present in Freud‟s writings. which seek alternative modes of release if inhibited in their primary processes. but always “with forces in search of meaning” (Ricoeur. that language is not only a symbol aimed toward desire but also toward aspiration. although the two interpretations relate to each other dialectically. The latter considers the ideal aspiration of the subject as distinct from its opposed interpretation of the origin of desire. In this way. Furthermore. the unconscious exerts causal influence over behaviour. in the form of synthesising desire with life. The role of language in the interpretation of the subject is situated between this dialectic. This ideal is striven towards not directly but by an approximation of. Repressed memories in the unconscious with their attendant emotions cause neurotic human behaviour when these memories are prompted by associated situations. Ricoeur observes that psychoanalysis is not confronted with pure force alone. progressive means consistent with reality. 1970: 151). An example of this can be observed in the concept of sublimation being a creative ideal to manage unfulfilled desires (Pellauer. This points to progressive possibility from the very source of behavioural drives in the sense that. However. one‟s desire.some past desire. is present in sublimation‟s drive for meaning by way of an alternative. and functions as an exchange between the two. if ungratified. and that Ricoeur does an injustice to this by unifying this regression with a teleology by means of language. This can be seen in Freud‟s opposition of concepts and his (largely incomplete) attempt to harmonise their conflicts. Finally. he posits a counterpart to this regressive interpretation of the subject with a progressive teleological interpretation. and thus in dialectic relation to. Freud‟s theory of the unconscious explains all behaviour in terms of latent psychical energies. In response to this. Conclusion I maintain that Ricoeur‟s development of the relation between the Freudian unconscious and language is consistent with Freud‟s own ideas. I argued that the teleological direction in 8 . 2007: 50). desire still proceeds to seek expression otherwise. Ricoeur champions the displacement of the primacy of consciousness and the aim of demystifying hidden meaning.
Ricoeur‟s dialectic is also present in Freud‟s writing. 9 . Word count: 2481 (excluding references). and therefore consistent with Freud‟s own ideas.
Sigmund Freud. D. Thurschwell. (2007).Reference List Ihde. (1971). P. A. London: Continuum. K. Ricoeur. In The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics. London: Yale University Press. Consciousness and the Unconscious. London: Routledge. London: Routledge & Keagan Paul. W. D. London: Routledge. Hermeneutic Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. E. The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis. Critical Hermeneutics: A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jürgen Habermas. Translated from the French by Savage. (1970). J. B. (1983). Ricoeur. Ricoeur: A Guide for the Perplexed. Edited by Ihde. D. Simms. (2010). Translated from the French by Domingo. 10 . Pirovolakis. MacIntyre. (2003). (1958). P. C. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2000). Pellauer. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. (1974). Reading Derrida and Ricoeur: Improbable Encounters between Deconstruction and Hermeneutics. D. P. Paul Ricoeur. Albany: State University of New York Press. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Thompson.
In The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics.Bibliography Protevi. Translated from the French by Domingo. Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self. D. J. Edited by Ihde. R. Solomon. (2005). (1988). C. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. The Edinburgh Dictionary of Continental Philosophy. A Philosophical Interpretation of Freud. W. (Editor). 11 . Ricoeur. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. P. (1974).