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Reflections on Sigmund Freud

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RonPrice View Drop Down

Joined: 13 Aug 2004
Location: George Town Tas
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    Posted: 06 Jun 2012 at 18:30


Philip Rieff(1922-2006) was an American sociologist and cultural critic who taught sociology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1961 until 1992.  I was only beginning my study of sociology when Rieff started his teaching career. He was the author of a number of books on Sigmund Freud including Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959).  In that book Rieff argued that the father of psychoanalysis was also a moralist, and a conservative one at that: conservative in both his personal mores and in his deep seated conviction that self-restraint is essential to civilization. In his science, Freud prescribed a vision of the good life and in that regard he was, for all his sneering at philosophy, a member of the Socrates guild. I did not come to know about Rieff until I had retired from the world of jobs, endless meetings, social and community responsibilities, as well as the demands of being a father and a husband in the first decade of the 21st century.

Socrates’s was famous for many ideas of which  “know thyself” was, arguably, the most well-known. It may come as a surprise to some philosophers that self-knowledge requires more than intellectual self-examination. It demands knowing something about one’s feelings. In my experience philosophers are, in general, not the most emotionally attuned individuals. Many are prone to treat the ebb and flow of feelings as though one’s passions were nothing but impediments to reason. Freud, more than the sage of Athens, grasped the moral importance of emotional self-transparency. Like the Greek tragedians, but in a language that did not require an ear for poetry, he reminded us of how difficult it is to own kinship with a whole range of emotions.

If there is one wisp of wisdom that we could pluck from the mind of Freud it might be this: those who are unaware of their feelings risk becoming puppets of those feelings. We need to recognize the possibility that our commitments might not be based as much upon reason as on unacknowledged emotions and desires. No group has appropriated this fundamental Freudian point more than the advertising industry.

Like Kierkegaard(1813-1855), that 19th century philosopher and fountainhead of existentialism, Freud endlessly mucked around in the morass of anxiety and depression and, like many other great explorers of the mind, was often accused of being too depressing. Yet, when pressed to provide some positive vision of health, Freud more than once implied that what is fundamental to happiness is the ability to love and work; that is, to be able to invest in something other than yourself. In an age often daubed in Freudian terms as “narcissistic” and which, in part thanks to Freud, has come to deify the self, getting outside of one’s own orbit might be a wise and practical ideal.-Ron Price with thanks to Gordon Marino, Freud as Philosopher, 9 October 2011, The New York Times.

Freud had been gone for 20 years

when your book was published;1 &

I had just joined the Baha’i Faith in

the midst of my world of sport, and

a small town smugness that saw truth

only to be found in that holy trinity of:

Catholic, Protestant, and Jew.  


Looking back at my 70 years in these

towns & cities, houses & relationships,

I am convinced that Freud was right in

relation to the subject of restraint. And

that religion I joined back in the 1950s

has helped me acquire and maintain the

restraint without which my life would

have been one long & endless confusion.

1 Philip Rieff, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, 1959.

Ron Price

5 June 2012


married for 47 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer and editor for 15 and a Baha'i for 55(in 2014)
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