A2 Philosophy

  • Created by: jenny
  • Created on: 20-02-22 22:38

Sigmund Freud

  • Reductionist- reduce everything to one single cause
  • Determinist- we are determined by our own experiences
  • He believed religion was a symptom of neuroses and immaturity
  • Religion was the mistaken projection of the sexual material in the unconscious mind

‘Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desire’ – Freud

  • He claimed two major discoveries:
  • The Unconscious Mind
  • The Oedipus Complex
  • He believed that he had come to a deep understanding of the human mind and of the workings of human sexuality via these insights.
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Sigmund Freud Psyche Iceberg Idea

Above- conscious mind

Below- what you can’t see

ID- the unconscious self: Below. repressed desires and memories. It is amoral, has no concern about right and wrong and is only concerned with itself. Developed from birth- 2/3. ‘I want chocolate’. Instant urges + reliefs, primative and impulsive response to instincts.

Ego- the conscious self: the obvious everyday personality, seen by the outside world. Developed from 3-5/6. ‘Eat a small bar of chocolate’. Observe and decide. Dynamic tension and interaction between ego and Id reconciling their conflicting demands.

Superego- the set of moral controls given to us by outside influences. It is our moral code or conscience and is often in conflict with the id. Developed from 5+. ‘you’re on a diet’.

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Religion as Neurosis: Primal Horde Theory (1)

Freud observed that guilt plays a fundamental role in the psyche. Guilt must have an original cause. At one point there must have been a violation of law which created this inherent sense of guilt.

Freud traced this event back when human society organised into tribes known as hordes.

Darwin discovered that primitive men mirror those of apes- people live in small groups of hordes,

In a primal horde, one male was dominant. This gave him first pick of the breeding females.

The younger male becomes resentful but has been taught to respect the position of dominance. Their view of the dominant male becomes ambivalent.

The younger male kills the dominant 

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Religion as Neurosis: Primal Horde Theory (2)

Overwhelmed with guilt with killing the dominant male they put a totem in place of father figure and two rules 

1)    No one may kill the totem- by worshipping the former dominant male as a totem the horde atones for its guilt

2)    No one may commit incest (this act is the beginning of religion for Freud)

As the horde evolves into a more civilised society, religion is created.

In the religious phase, the slaughtered father’s reputation grows to divine proportions.

Freud gives the example of the Mass to illustrate his theory. During the mass, the slaughter of God is repeated and representative of the original horde eat the symbolic body. In this way, the feeling of guilt have been dealt with. 

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Freud and Sexuality

  •  According to freud, childhood traumas are often sexual in nature
  •  Infantile sexuality is real, children are sexual beings
  •  Sexuality is basic to personality. It refers to affection, love and sensuality in the widest sense. ‘libido’ is his term for ‘sexual’ drives.
  • The conscience is clearly connected with our sense of guilt. Primal Hord.
  • Conscience is a thought process that leads us to do things out of guilt and embarrassment.
  • It stems from Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex.
  • Oedipus complex = male child’s desire for sexual involvement with his mother.
  • Electra complex = female child’s desire for sexual involvement with father.
  • Both lead to a deep-seated feeling of guilt starting at a very young age.
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Freud and Sexuality (2)

  • Conscience develops from this early guilt.
  • Child knows its wrong to remove one parent and to sexually desire the other.
  • Yet this wish develops from the physical needs of the child for love and affection.
  • The stage ends when the child represses its sexual instincts and identifies with the parent of the same sex.
  • This resolution of the Oedipus complex is the origin for moral development and the conscience.
  • No absolute moral law – all our moral codes (and consciences) are shaped by our experiences.
  • Culturally dependent.
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Strengths and Weaknesses of Freud's view

Strengths of Freud’s view

  • Gives a significant role to conscience in decision-making.
  • The conscience or super-ego directs us towards a higher moral standard.
  • Guilt does play a part in our decision-making, even if it is not based on sex.
  • Stresses importance of parents in developing our morality.



  • It is relativist. 
  • Everyone’s mind is unique so conscience will vary from person to person.
  • This could mean that conscience is a meaningless concept.
  • It is subjective.
  • It does not accept the role of God.
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An amended view on Freud

  • Humans may have a mature or an immature conscience.
  • Mature conscience = the ego’s reflection about the best way of achieving integrity. Concerned with right and wrong, dynamic, responsive and focused on the future.
  • Immature conscience = super-ego, identified with mass of feelings of guilt put there at an early pre-rational stage. It’s concerned with feelings, is backward looking and blindly obeys.
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Religion as neurosis: The Oedipus Complex

·      Neurotic behaviour is determined 

·      Trauma supressed in unconscious mind and comes out as neurotic behaviour – religion

·      Sexual jealousy is the cause of the trauma

·      Neurosis- a result of repression. Neurosis results from repressed sexuality

·      One reason religion exists is due to what Freud called the Oedipus complex

·      Oedipus complex is what is repressed.

Male children compete for mother’s affection and see fathers as rivals for mothers love.

This results in repressed feelings of jealousy, fear and guilt. These surface in puberty.

The feeling of antipathy for our father is TRAUMA.

All jealous/ hostile towards our fathers, all have ****** feelings towards put mothers- this is a universal trauma.

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Freud view Summary

1)    Kill your father, marry your mother

-       But Oedipus married his mother accidentally and blinded himself in remorse

-       Oedipus as a failed hero

2)    The Primal Horde theory: Freuds anthropology

-       Dad has all the women, kill him, and feel eternal guilt

·      How to solve it: worship your father (totem) don’t have sex with relations (taboo)

·      Religion is therefore a guilt trip for wanting to kill father 

·      Religion is the result of a sexual trauma suppressed into the unconscious.

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Religion as an illusion: Wish Fulfilment

In future of an illusion 1927, freud outlinred ideas influened by philosopher ludwig feuerbach who saw God as a 'projection' of the human mind based on human longings and desires. 

Freud proposed that the origin of religion lies in our deepest wishes such as the desire for justice and the desire to eascape death. For eg, each attribute of god can be interpreted to be an expression of an aspect of the hope human beings have to be free from their limitations.    (eg, gods holiness- our desire to be free from sin)

Freud argued that the individuals who invented the religious doctrines did so because the doctrines fulfilled their wishes, equally the same goes for those who embrace religion. such things as a desire for justice and to escape death and common in all cultures. Therefore it is clear why God has all of these qualities. 

'religion is a dream of the human mind' - Feuerbach

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Religion as an illusion: helpless reaction

Freud  connected religious ideas to a persons helplessness in the face of the forces of nature. confronted by defencelessness = source of security needed

religion creates this sense of security that natural forces are no longer impersonal

forces of nature may be turned into gods/ godesses who can be worshipped and controlled

religious devotion = we are no longer powerless becuase we believe we can control them

equally, we struggle with iternal conflict ie aggression, basic instinct

religious teachings seek to limit war and violence, but protect weak and love enemies

sexual drive can be conrolled through religious laws. Those who obey will be rewarded. Just as a father protects a child, religion provides a father figure to protect the adult. Therefore, freud viewed religion as a childish delusion whilst athiesm was a grown up realism.

'religion is a mere illsuion derived from human wishes' - Freud

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Religion as collective Neurosis

In 1907 paper freud noted that people who suffered from obessional neurosis involving compulsive repeated behaviour exhibited similar patterns of behaviour to religious people who felt uneasy if they neglect repeated actions such as saying the rosary. Both are also meticulous about the detail in which the actions must be carried out.

at least one significant difference- people suffering from ON did not understand the meaning of their actions whilst religious people did. Freud argued that ON did have meaning which was caused by unconcious motives derived from past events of the patient in their intimate life and these repressed instinctual impulses which led to a sense of guilt. These repeated actions were interpreted by freud to be a measure against the temptation to give way to these instinctual impulses .

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