Xavier University Blog

Sept 23 lecture: Why Freud (Still) Matters

Posted Friday, October 08, 2010

 Why Freud (Still) Matters

CTE Staff Lecture

E. Paul Colella

Thursday, September 23, 2010

 If you think that the title of this talk announces an attempt on my part to locate Freud within contemporary debates in the field of psychology, you will be disappointed.  I have no credential in that field other than an undergraduate psychology major that I completed more than 35 years ago.  The expiration date on that knowledge has long since passed, I assure you.  But the class that I am currently teaching actually owes its origins to those days in the early 1970’s when I was an undergraduate student at Boston College.  I was, at that time, a psychology major satisfying a university core requirement in philosophy with a course entitled “Freud and Existential Psychology”.  The course content intrigued me and it was nothing like the material I encountered in my major courses in psychology.  I recall meeting with the psychology department chair, Dr. Leonard Berkowitz, who also served as my major’s advisor.  I shared my enthusiasm for this course with him and asked him to direct me to more classes like it in the department of psychology. At that point, he removed the pipe that he always had in his mouth and said, “I think that you ought to become a philosophy major.”  It was the best bit of academic advising I have ever received.

Looking back, I realize that I took more away from that advising appointment than merely a signed change of major form. In fact, it is the event that would lead to my offering a course on Freud & Philosophy here at Xavier University and my speaking with you today.  My fascination with Freud as a thinker of  great imagination, together with my recognition of the unique light that his ideas cast on the central problems of philosophy, first nurtured back in 1971 provide the energy behind the class I offer this semester and what I will say to you today.  Late in life, Freud was to remark that it seemed his unique destiny to “disturb the sleep of mankind”.  This admission has an air of the pun about it.  After all, one of the central tenets of psychoanalysis is his revolutionary theory of dream interpretation in which dreams are shown to be disguised narratives that conceal the fulfillment of a repressed wish.  But there is a second meaning at work in Freud’s comment; one that provides a window on why he still matters for my students.  This is what I shall share with you this afternoon; a series of loose observations as to why undergraduate students should read Freud’s books with care and why they should reflect upon his ideas deeply.  Freud awakens us to the obvious, and he challenges us to re-think the commonplace in a manner that arouses a renewed awareness of the mystery that resides there.  I can only sketch these ideas today, I will look at them more closely in the talks to follow this fall.

Freud invites comparison with another great “disturber of sleep” whose place in the philosophical education of our students is unassailable.  I am speaking of Socrates.  Socrates’ life (and death) was dedicated to the philosophical questioning of beliefs that had become secured commonplaces in the lives of his contemporaries. In a sense, his fellow Athenians had developed a web of illusions about their lives and their shared experiences that, to Socrates’ mind, resulted in their living a kind of shadowy existence rather than a fully self-conscious, fully human life.  Still claiming belief in the traditional gods and religion, these beliefs seemed to make little connection with the routine affairs of their daily lives.  Traditional beliefs no longer applicable to a radically altered world received respectful lip service, but no real living commitment.  People accepted a confusing hodge-podge of  ideas about themselves and their world which formed a contradictory mass  in their heads.  Socrates took it upon himself to ask the so-called “stupid question”; meaning the question which everyone else felt was settled belief.  “What is justice?”, “Can virtue be taught?”, “What is the fully human life and how does one go about living it?”  These questions made him seem so odd; after all, no one ever thought of questioning things that were so obvious to everyone.  At his trial, Socrates attempted to defend himself as a kind of “gadfly”; and likens his fellow citizens to …

… a great and noble horse who is lazy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life … all day long and in all places I am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you … you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead … then you would sleep on for the remainder of your lives …  (Apology, 30e)


Socrates’ educational mission was to shine the light of criticism on the most cherished illusions of his countrymen; their beliefs in religion, political notions and what is ultimately valuable. His goal was to cultivate in them a renewed self-knowledge that would make possible a more fully human mode of life for themselves and for their city.  My suggestion is that Freud is very much like Socrates, and that the benefit he offers to our students is comparable to that provided by the hero of Plato’s Republic.  Curiously enough, Freud’s similarity to Socrates goes further than my foregoing remarks suggest.  You may recall how things ended up for Socrates.  Not well. Accused of corrupting the youth and belief in gods different from those accepted by the city, he was put on trial, found guilty and put to death.  Freud shares a similar, if rather analogous fate.  The “corrupting” character of his own ideas with regard to human nature, together with his questioning not only of the God of institutional religion, but also the many divinities that his contemporaries declared to be “sacred” made him a similar kind of outsider and nuisance to his own contemporaries.  If he was not put to death by official authority (although hounded by the Nazis who visited his home when Austria was swallowed up in 1938), he was the target of vilification, rebuke, or perhaps worse, condemned to irrelevance.

Let me take a moment to paint a fuller picture for you. It seems that it is not flattering to Freud.  Of course, let us acknowledge that fact that some of Freud’s theoretical vocabulary has entered our everyday speech and sits quite comfortably there, often without our awareness.  We are all familiar with the phenomenon of the “Freudian slip”, for example, and we oftentimes complain about certain stubborn friends as being overly “anal” about their obsessions.  The plausibility of his seemingly bizarre theories about the development of young children haunt every parent who is familiar with them, and who then undertakes the challenging task of toilet-training a child.  Nevertheless, many of his ideas – both the outlandish and the mild – seem to have been swept aside in the profession. Feminist psychologists castigate him for his negative view of women, the religiously committed reader will attack him for his uncompromising atheism, those who are convinced of the ultimate validity of modern democratic ideals will chafe at the authoritarian and aggressive underpinnings that Freud suggests lie at their heart.  Virtually all of my students, being young and hopeful, find it difficult to embrace his pessimistic outlook for humankind’s future.

Freud had his detractors from the beginning.  In an early professional lecture to physicians, he was ridiculed for proposing that hysteria was not an exclusively female disorder resulting from a “wandering womb” but was actually psychological in origin and a disorder affecting men and women alike.  In the period of international tension leading up to the Great War, British scientists condemned his theories as an outgrowth of his own obsessive preoccupation with sexuality, which, they added, was so typical of the Germanic mind.  In Austria’s poisonous atmosphere of anti-Semitism, Psychoanalysis was vilified as “Jewish science”, and in an ironic about-face, Jewish writers condemned Freud for his demythologizing of Moses and Judaism in the final book he would complete before cancer took his life in 1939.  

Above all, Freud has been all but banished from the psychology curriculum on offer today in the American university.  On this point, it seems, Xavier is no exception. The psychology majors who take my course tell me that if Freud is mentioned at all in their major courses, it is fortunate if it is as an historical figure only. In a 2007 article in the New York Times, Patricia Cohen reported that an “analysis of course descriptions at 150 public and private institutions that are highly ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s college survey … found that of the 1,175 courses that referenced psychoanalysis, more than 86 percent were offered outside psychology departments.”[1]

Much of the recent critical literature attacks Freud as “unscientific”.  Citing a veritable avalanche of commentaries on Freud’s ideas, Frederick Crewes  concludes that whether we are speaking therapeutically or theoretically, “there is literally nothing to be said”, for “the entire Freudian system or any of its component dogmas.”[2]  Several authors are referenced, each with their own reason for condemning Freud.  His crimes include guilt as an “ingenious plagiarist”, a tireless self-promoter, and a life-long devotee “of crackpot ideas and premature conclusions.”  The final verdict, to which the title of Crewe’s paper alludes, is clear: “we cannot be amazed” he writes, “that the products of his efforts proved to be pseudoscience”.[3]  On this theme of being unscientific, there seems to be much agreement. Indeed, Anthony Derksen argues that there are no fewer than seven different strategies that are usually employed by the pseudo-scientist, and that Freud employs all seven!  Derksen implies that Freud was a “sophisticated” pseudo-scientist who engaged in a wide range of deliberate acts of intellectual deception in an effort to make himself appear as a legitimate scientist.[4]  In this view, Freud is, using word-play, nothing but a fraud.

We could go on and it would be more of the same.  I must confess that nothing I can say today will save him from these detractors.  My purpose, rather, is to make a more modest case for Freud, to sketch the case that he still matters – and matters greatly – for our students.  Even if the majority of his theories prove false, Freud still has much to teach us about ourselves and the world that we are making. What is more, he has much to teach to our students who endeavor to cultivate the habits of mind associated with the life of an educated person.  First, there is his undoubted place in the history of ideas.  His challenge to so many commonplace beliefs shook the intellectual establishment of the last century.  It was no longer possible to be smugly confident in many popular beliefs ranging from humanity’s inherent goodness and natural aversion to violence, to the existence of a benevolent God who is ever available to human petition and prayer, as it might have been prior to his career.  The insignificant yet routine experiences that we all share – dreams for example, or the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon where we are momentarily unable to recall a name, or even our undeniable enjoyment of jokes which make light of real aggressive attitudes towards others (such as the Lawyer joke or ethnic jokes) can no longer be dismissed as insignificant and meaningless, and without a hidden violence. 

Freud teaches us that our all too frequent diagnosis of cruelty and violence as the result of moral failure on the part of those who engage in such acts must be tempered as well.  Such a view may make us feel better about ourselves as morally superior to those who do such things, but this too may only be a strategy on our part to convince ourselves of something we might prefer to believe in the place of what we suspect may actually be the truth.   Freud may have overstated his views on these matters, but we can ill afford to dismiss them as a whole given the realities of the world that we experience on a daily basis. 

Freud also models the attitude of the fearless pursuer of new insight and truth, regardless of the cost to old belief and to personal reputation.  His 1905 book on the role of sexuality in human psychology begins with an essay that challenges the most mundane accepted beliefs about the most taboo of topics.  Two years later, in a short essay he draws disturbing connections between the ritual behaviors of religious believers and the obsessive behavior of neurotics.  Just in case his observations about the Oedipus Complex in human beings were not unsettling enough, he employs recent anthropological research to suggest that this universal episode in developmental psychology may owe its existence to a profoundly traumatic event in humankind’s remote and barbaric past.  This event, the murder of the primal father, will serve to explain the rise of civilization itself, along with moral customs and the pivotal role of political authority.  It will not stop there.  The instinct for aggression, violence and even death is as primitive in human nature as the instinct for sexuality, and this same impulse to violence becomes, through a complicated transformation, the energy upon which moral conscience will be built.  There is still more that we could identify, but, I believe, our point is made.  Freud’s intellectual fearlessness, coupled with his intellectual imagination, indicate to our students what might be achieved if only we be bold enough to think it.

This latter point may be the most important lesson that Freud offers to our undergraduates. As a consequence of this intellectual imagination, he encourages them to think beyond the narrow, disciplinary categories that the academic establishment may impose.  Freud’s theoretical life began with a very narrow set of problems surrounding the affliction then known as hysteria.  As noted earlier, it was thought to be an illness affecting women only.  Some believed it to be hereditary, others the result of a childhood trauma the memory of which was repressed but could not be erased.  As a medical student in 1881-82, the young Freud observed his mentor, Dr. Josef Breuer, as he treated a young woman of twenty years of age - known to us as “Anna O,” – who was suffering from that disorder.  Her symptoms were puzzling enough; migraine, temporary paralysis of her limbs, disturbances in her vision and in her speech, periods of time when she seemed to fall into trance-like absences, and other times when she found it impossible to drink water, her tormenting thirst notwithstanding.  Quite by chance, Breuer discovered that if Anna could be made to talk about her symptoms, putting them into the form of a story, the symptoms would lessen dramatically, and for a time, would even disappear.  This was the origin of what became “the talking cure”, and in a 1909 address Freud would look back to this case and identify it as the true origin of psychoanalysis.

What he learned there began a process of discovery that would not keep itself within the boundaries of the psychology of hysteria, but rather would soon expand out to encircle the entire field of human experience.  In his book on Freud, Phillip Rieff argues that in psychoanalysis, “Freud found a way of being the philosopher he desired to be, and of applying his philosophy to himself, humanity, the cosmos – to everything, visible and invisible, which as a scientist and physician he observed.” If it is true that human beings stand at the center of knowledge, then all that is knowable will bear the imprint of the human knower.  The Self-knowledge extolled by the ancient Greeks must necessarily inform all that we touch; our knowledge of everything else, and our knowledge of everything else becomes material for expanding our awareness of what it means to be human. 

Finally, there is a very sobering lesson that Freud offers our students.  It can be found in concentrated form in his book Civilization & Its Discontents. Written in late 1929 as the world was about to plunge into the chaos of world economic Depression, with the destructiveness of World War I still a fresh memory, and with the rise of fascism very clearly on the European horizon, Freud offers what is perhaps his most pessimistic argument. Evil is real, and we have a hand in it.  The evils recorded in history, and those that still plague us today, are not simply reducible to the moral failure of the perpetrators, be they individuals or nations. Rather, the capacity, and yes, the need, for such misdeeds lie at the very core of human psychology. Aggression and violence are integral parts of what we are. This realization is magnified by the awareness that our technology of destruction, so clearly on display in the War, have made it possible for human conflict to put an end to humanity once and for all.  The awareness of this disturbing fact is the root cause of a persistent malaise among human beings in the twentieth century. The struggle before us, writes Freud in the closing lines of that book, is the struggle to master ourselves.  Freud did not live to see the twin horrors of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, but these events seem to add credence to the depressing prophecy of his 1929 book.

In closing, I would like to soften that last point a bit.  I suspect that the reason why Freud matters to us is that we must confront it – Jesuit ideal for education, becoming men and women for others, is a very real challenge.  In many ways, the case of the hysteric “Anna O.”, that awakened the initial insights of psychoanalysis in the early 1880’s is a metaphor for how we would like our students to approach their world.  Like Anna’s symptoms, that world and their experience within it presents them with a confusing array of material that must be woven into some sort of comprehensible whole.  Like Anna’s hysterical symptoms, the world that our students engage will bewilder and confound, but ultimately it must be understood.  They must be bold and adventurous in their efforts – perhaps intellectually fearless like Freud – if they are to penetrate into its innermost workings and act within it in an effective way. The vocation to which we summon these young people – to be “men and women for others” - is difficult. The root causes of this fractured world may indeed be found to lie within us, deep, and concealed. The response these young people are called to make to the challenges of that imperfect world must begin with a clear awareness of what it means to be human, and it will require nothing less of them than boldness of imagination and intellectual fearlessness in discovering who they are as human beings.  Insofar as this is the case, then, yes, Freud still matters, and matters much.

[1] Patricia Cohen, “Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department”, New York Times,  November 25, 2007 http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/weekinreview/25cohen.html?_r=1&ref=sigmund_freudTop of Form

[2] Federick Crewes, “The Verdict on Freud”, Psychological Science, Vol. 7, No. 2, March 1996: 63.

[3] Ibid., p. 67.

[4] Anthony A. Derksen, “The Seven Strategies of the Sophisticated Pseudo-Scientist: A Look into Freud’s Rhetorical Tool Box”, Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Dec. 2001): 330.


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Sept. 24 class: Jokes and more

Posted Thursday, September 23, 2010

With today’s class, we bring the first thematic part of our course to a conclusion.  We have been focusing on Freud’s efforts during the decade from 1895 to 1905 to articulate a mechanism for accessing the unconscious and for mapping its structural “logic”.  His inquiry begins narrowly enough, i.e., with the puzzling array of symptoms displayed by patients suffering from hysteria, and includes several false starts and dead ends which we had identified.[1]  A systemic parallelism emerges that connects these symptoms with the structure of dreams, parapraxes (slips), screen memories, and finally humor.  The phenomena of condensation and displacement first discovered in his analysis of dreams and so central to his theory of Dream-work, become universal mechanisms in the operations of the unconscious.  Our next reading will be The Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905).

My intention today is to finish the material with a short overview of Freud’s treatment of humor from Jokes & Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905).  We will then attempt an evaluative discussion of Freud’s accomplishments to this point.  The course is philosophical rather than psychological in aim; it is concerned less with the status of Freud’s ideas among professional psychologists and more with examining their profound philosophical implications.  I have asked the students to concentrate on Freud’s revolutionary ideas about human nature at this point, as I shall rely on them when our attention turns to his more cultural writings of the 1920’s.

[1] The class read and discussed the following texts: “The Case of ‘Anna O.’” from Studies in Hysteria (1895) contained in Freud, Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1909), On Dreams (1901), and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).  The dates indicate the original year of publication as the readings progress chronologically.



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course syllabus

Posted Thursday, September 23, 2010


PHIL 388.01



Fall 2010

Dr. E. Paul Colella

Hinkle Hall 210


Tel: 745-3629 (o)                               841-1912 (h)







Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo.

(“If I cannot move Heaven, I shall stir up the Infernal Regions”)

from Virgil, Aeneid, VII, 312


hillip Rieff begins his excellent study of Freud with the assertion that in psychoanalysis, “Freud found a way of being the philosopher he desired to be, and of applying his philosophy to himself, humanity, the cosmos – to everything, visible and invisible, which as a scientist and physician he observed.”[1]  Freud’s revolution was by no means confined to psychology.  As is the case with other great intellectual innovators like Darwin, Marx, or Galileo, Freud’s ideas stimulate a radical rethinking of some of the deepest assumptions we make about the human condition. This course aims to develop Rieff’s insight through a careful reading and study of some of Freud’s major works.  Drawing from the full range of his career in psychoanalysis from the 1890’s to the early 1930’s, we shall investigate the manner in which Freud reworks some fundamental problems of philosophy. Beginning with the issue of human nature, we shall discuss tha manner in which Freud reconfigures such problems as the origin and expression of moral ideals, as well as the nature of social, cultural, and religious experience.  Additional topics include the complex nature of consciousness, the possibility of human rationality, the inevitability of aggression and violence in group life, and the status of psychoanalysis as providing scientific knowledge. Freud’s thought is so fundamental to these problems that it easily overflows the disciplinary boundaries of psychology to become a revolutionary world-view, influencing just about every area of human intellectual inquiry.

The image above depicts the Myth of Oedipus solving the Riddle of the Sphinx.  That is, the cleverest of men solving the most vexing of riddles.  Oedipus goes on to become King of Thebes, unwittingly acting out the horrible prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother.  His realization that this dreaded fate had actually come to pass leads him to blind himself in guilt, after which he is transformed into something of a talismanic, semi-divine figure. This myth that belongs to an age far more ancient than that of the Homeric poems, exercised a powerful influence over Freud’s scientific imagination, and his closest followers awarded Freud a medal on which this scene was engraved.  In their minds, Psychoanalysis had succeeded in solving the riddle of human nature! We shall explore the roots of this myth in Totem & Taboo.

PLEASE NOTE: Any study of Freud’s work necessitates a frank and explicit discussion of topics that deal with the full range of human sexuality.  If you think that such a discussion will make you uncomfortable, then you may want to substitute another course for your 300 level philosophy requirement.


The following Freud texts are the REQUIRED for this course and are presented in the order in which we shall discuss them. 


Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis                                    (1909-10)

On Dreams                                                                            (1901)

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life                          (1901)

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality                        (1905)

Totem & Taboo                                                                    (1912-13)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle                                         (1920)

The Ego and the Id                                                              (1923)

The Future of an Illusion                                                   (1927)

Civilization & Its Discontents                                          (1929)



Class time will be devoted largely to our discussion of Freud’s texts.  There will be times when I must present background material in order to insure a more intelligent reading and discussion of the books.  At these times, I will have no choice but to lecture. The vast majority of class meetings will be discussion-based in approach. Everyone is expected to share in the identification of discussion topics in class. To a great degree, what aspects we discuss will depend on you.  YOUR ACTIVE PARTICIPATION IN CLASS DISCUSSION ON A DAILY BASIS IS IMPERATIVE FOR THE SUCCESS OF OUR CLASS.  In order to earn the highest grade in this class, you must be a regular and active contributor to class discussion.

I am pleased to add that our class has been selected by Xavier University’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to be made available to visitors who wish to observe our classroom procedure.  You should anticipate that we will have other professors observing us at any given time.  Just as they are observing me in what I do in the classroom, they are observing you too.  I will try my best to conduct our class meetings as if they are not there with us.


WRITTEN JOURNAL PROJECT:  The main written project for the course is a journal record of your ongoing reflections on the readings and the class discussions.  In the early texts we will be looking at, Freud lays the foundation for a new view of human nature that stands in opposition to the view inherited from previous culture.  The model of the human being as a rational being takes us all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and the view of the human being as a responsible moral agent who can be held to account for the choices made and the actions committed is central to the Judeo-Christian view of humanity.  The conclusions that he reaches on the issue of human nature become the basis for the positions that he takes on a host of specific issues that have been part of philosophical reflection since the classical world.

  1. The first part of this assignment will be the ongoing reflection on the early texts concerning Freud’s novel view of human nature.  What are the revolutionary ideas that Freud introduces into this topic of human nature?  How do they depart from the more traditional views of human nature? What is your assessment of them?  The goal of this first part of the assignment is to create a profile of the Freudian view of human nature that can be applied to one of the more special topics listed below.
  1. Choose one of the following special topics to become the theme of your subsequent reflections:
    1. Freud and the reconfiguration of the human mind
    2. Freud and the myth of rationality
    3. Freud and ethical life of human beings
    4. Freud and religious life of human beings
    5. Freud and the political world
    6. Freud and violence
    7. Freud on forgetting and remembering: A Freudian view of history

3.       We will discuss the nature of this project at greater length in class.


Keep in mind that philosophy classes thrive on conversation, especially with material such as this.  Freud is a challenging and provocative writer.  It is difficult to remain neutral to the astonishing insights that he offers his reader. In addition, the journal project is dependent upon your own critical reactions to the readings and class discussions.  Consequently, regular attendance and active engagement in class discussion is a necessity.  Your reading and your regular journaling should serve as a rich storehouse of ideas to share in class. Share them – questions, observations, evaluations, frustrations – all are useful to our collective project this semester!

It is difficult to contribute to, let alone benefit from, such conversation if you are not here. I do not regularly take attendance, yet I expect you to be in class unless you are ill or have some other valid reason for missing.  Professors are keenly aware of students who miss an excessive number of classes. If I notice frequent absences (and I will) without any explanation made to me, this will be reflected in your final grade. It is my policy to reserve the right to lower your final grade for excessive non-attendance and /or excessive lateness to class. 


GRADING SCALE & ACADEMIC HONESTY: THE PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENT GRADING STANDARDS: The standards for grading in the Department of Philosophy are as follows:

A = Exceptional
B = Good
C = Satisfactory
D = Minimum Passing
F = Failure

“The Philosophy Department further agrees that these letter grades signify the following level of accomplishment by students when given for discursive, written work:

A = work that not merely fully and accurately reproduces class discussion, the main thread in an argument or the main philosophical significance of a text under discussion, but which, having considered arguments and counter-arguments, goes beyond these and indicates a contribution of the student herself or himself, giving evidence of an individual and hence deeper understanding of the material in question.

B = work that shows a more or less complete and exact understanding of the issues, texts, and/or arguments as explained in class, clearly and logically formulated without going beyond such explanations.

C = work that shows basic understanding of the material but with errors, omissions and confusions of either a formal or material nature.

D = work that shows a minimal acquaintance with the material or serious logical and conceptual flaws in formulating responses to the question raised, the argument at issue, or to the philosophical text under discussion.

F = work that shows inadequate acquaintance with texts, issues, or ideas with little or no valid logical argumentation; or, the work is a plagiarism.  Cases of plagiarism, which involve the use of published or others’ written work without giving credit, must be given F.

Using a paper that is substantially identical to one used by the student in another class is considered academic dishonesty and penalties for submitting such a paper will be the same as those for plagiarism. The department does not mandate grade distributions or curves.  The final goal of all of our grading must be fairness to all students and the encouragement of the highest level of achievement possible in each student.”

Approved: April 15, 2002; Revised:  March 20, 2006

Your final grade will be based upon the quality of your essays as well as the regular and consistent contributions that you make to daily discussion.

The Xavier University policy on academic honesty as it appears on Xavier’s website is in effect for this course:

The pursuit of truth demands high standards of personal honesty. Academic and professional life requires a trust based upon integrity of the written and spoken word. Accordingly, violations of certain standards of ethical behavior will not be tolerated at Xavier University. These include theft, cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized assistance in assignments and tests, unauthorized copying of computer software, the falsification of results and material submitted in reports or admission and registration documents, and the falsification of any academic record including letters of recommendation. All work submitted for academic evaluation must be the student's own. Certainly, the activities of other scholars will influence all students. However, the direct and unattributed use of another's efforts is prohibited as is the use of any work untruthfully submitted as one's own. Penalties for violations of this policy may include one or more of the following: a zero for that assignment or test, an "F" in the course, and expulsion from the University. The dean of the college in which the student is enrolled is to be informed in writing of all such incidents, though the teacher has full authority to assign the grade for the assignment, test, or course. If disputes of interpretation arise, the student, faculty member, and chair should attempt to resolve the difficulty. If this is unsatisfactory, the dean will rule in the matter. As a final appeal, the academic vice president will call a committee of tenured faculty for the purpose of making a final determination. 





 My office hours are listed below.  If you cannot get there when they are listed, you can always make an appointment.  Office hours mean that I am in my office waiting to see students for reasons that pertain to our class.  You also have my phone numbers and my email address provided at the top of the syllabus.  Please use them! 

Office Hours -- Hinkle Hall 210

Tuesday & Thursday, 12:30 – 3:00

And by appointment


Calendar of Readings for the Semester


Aug 25:                                           Introduction to the course


Aug. 27/Sept. 1                              Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1910) In 1909, Freud made his one trip to the United States and gave a series of lectures at Clark University in Massachusetts.  Clark was then (and still is) noted for the strength of its psychology program, and Freud took the invitation as indicative of the growing importance of psychoanalysis as an international movement.  These five lectures offer a concise introduction to what psychoanalysis stands for up to that time, and we will read and discuss them as introductory to the semester.

Sept. 3/8/10                                On Dreams (1901) This is Freud’s own popularization of his monumental The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).  The latter work is considered to be one of Freud’s masterpieces and represents the first of his psychoanalytic books.  In it, Freud establishes the psychological as well as epistemological importance of dreams as the mechanism by which the unconscious can be rendered accessible. In so doing, he jettisons conceptions dating back to the Enlightenment and  begins his reconfiguration of human nature.

 Sept. 15/17/22/24                      The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) – Freud’s famous treatment of the slips of tongue, pen, bungled actions and momentary forgetfulness – the well known “Freudian Slip” – are treated exhaustively in an attempt to show that the workings of consciousness are far from random and chaotic.                                                        

Sept. 29/Oct. 1/6/8                      The Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) – Usually thought of (together with the dream book) as Freud’s most revolutionary contribution to science, these essays shatter traditional views of sexuality and its place in human experience.  The provocative second essay on infantile sexuality was sufficient to win a negative public reputation for Freud and psychoanalysis. The reader is reminded that this book contains an explicit discussion of the full range of human sexuality.  Freud himself counted this book, together with The Interpretation of Dreams as his greatest literary achievement.

 Oct. 13/20/22/27                       Totem & Taboo (1912-1913) – This work finds Freud’s mind at its most speculative as he generalizes from psychology to anthropology.  The condition of pre-civilized humanity is discussed following the lead of Darwin and other scientific sources available to him.  The famous Oedipus Complex, so essential to individual psychology, is now traced back through the totem meals of primitive peoples to the murder of the primal father by his sons.  Freud speculates that this event marked the passage to civilization and brought with it the beginnings of social customs, morality and religion.   

Oct. 29/Nov. 3                               Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) – The immense dislocation caused by the First World War led Freud to modify his theory of the instincts in this important book.  Building on themes he developed in “Thoughts for the Times on War & Death” (1915), Freud argues for the existence of the death instinct alongside the erotic instinct, thereby placing impulses for violence and aggression deep within the human personality.

 Nov.  5/10/12                              The Ego & the Id (1923) Dr. Karl Stukenberg from our department of psychology will lead these classes on Freud’s famous reconstruction of the psychical apparatus into its classic division of Id, Ego and Superego.

Nov. 17/19/Dec. 1                       The Future of an Illusion (1927) – Several times during his career, Freud turned his attention to the phenomenon of religion.  A militant atheist his entire adult life, Freud  attempts to explain the complex of religious experience in terms of the fundamental themes of psychoanalysis.

Dec. 3/8/10                                  Civilization & Its Discontents (1929-30) – Freud argues the case for his cultural and historical pessimism in what is perhaps his most disturbing book.  Written as the Western nations were about to plunge into the economic ruin of the Great Depression, and with Hitler on the not too distant horizon in European politics, this book is remarkable for its unvarnished consideration of humankind’s bleak prospects.  Quite simply, the erotic instinct may no longer be able to restrain the instinct for aggression and destruction.  World War I had already demonstrated that weapons technology could possibly eliminate humanity from the globe once and for all. This technology, combined with the uncontrollable death instinct, has placed the very future of humankind in jeopardy. All this some fifteen years before Hiroshima and Auschwitz! The final sentence added in the second edition gives voice to Freud’s pessimistic appraisal of what the 1930’s may possibly hold in store.

[1] Phillip Rieff, Freud: The Mind of a Moralist, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977),  p.3.


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My rationale for this course

Posted Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Freud and Philosophy is a 300 level elective course in Xavier’s core. Typically, the students are in their third year. As such, they would have completed most of their core requirements by the time that they enroll in this class. In terms of their background in philosophy, they would have had their PHIL 100 and PHIL 290 Theory of Knowledge classes done. This means that they would have studied Plato’s Republic (ca. 390 BCE) and Descartes’ Discourse on Method (1637). In addition, many of these students will be majors in Psychology, as the Psychology Department requires its majors to take an additional 300 level philosophy course. Consequently, there is much that I will assume as familiar to my students as we read and discuss Freud. Since both Plato and Descartes discuss human nature, I will use these ideas from previous core classes as a foil for the construction of Freud’s view. I want the students to experience psychoanalysis as a world-view that engages the perennial philosophical questions surrounding human nature and human experience. I hope, as much as possible, that they will bring to bear their own studies -- in the core and in the case of the psychology students, in their major -- to the material that we have under consideration. Freud will demand that they stretch their intellectual imagination; he challenges many fundamental beliefs that lie at the heart of our own psychological, religious, and political commitments. Of all the writers I teach, I admire Freud most for his theoretical imagination and his intellectual fearlessness. My hope is that my students will come to appreciate these qualities in him, and in themselves.

Paul Colella


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