An Essay Evolves / The argument - new and improved
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The argument - new and improved

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 10 months ago
  1. Personality comprises mask, social lubricant, public and private. To Freud it is a composite enabling love and work but also underpinned by the id, a primal motivating force. We are capable of high cultural achievement and refinement, but this is the result of the transformation of the baseness of our twin sexual and aggressive instincts, through the intervention of the ego and by sublimation. This transformation operates largely outside the realm of consciousness. 
  2. Freud’s theory has always been an outsider theory from the get-go, because of his status as a Jew. It didn’t help that his idea that we are inherently base (and sexual!) was unwelcome, not to say scandalous. He extended an existing concept of unconscious processes to the notion of a dynamic unconscious, which was notable to him chiefly by its nuisance value. Feelings, ideas and drives are defended against. If repressed, they may re-intrude. His concept of the unconscious sounded quite pessimistic, as it was derived from psychopathology. This also can’t have helped its popularity. His theory has always been criticized very harshly, perhaps unfairly so. It is important to separate queasiness about the content of what is being said from an objective assessment of its validity.
  3. Critics suggest that Freud’s observations were artefact based on a small sample of people in a uniquely repressed culture, and so have no cross-cultural validity. This is possibly true, but is it really reasonable to suggest that today’s citizens are wholly rational when we can observe irrational behaviour at every turn? There still exists a need for a psychology of the irrational, and Freud’s is so far the most comprehensive candidate.
  4. Freud based his theory on observable phenomena. However, he apparently failed to generate falsifiable hypotheses from his theory, which has been a major factor in its lack of acceptance by scientific psychology. This has been a strength as well as a weakness, and has served to ensure that his ideas were not completely dismissed. Actually, though, it isn’t quite accurate that he didn’t generate falsifiable hypotheses. He did; he was the first person to state that early experience had an impact on adult personality, and he stated it in quite specific ways – see later point about potty training and anality.
  5. Psychoanalysis is not unique in failing to do the above. The notion of the falsifiable hypothesis comes from the natural sciences, and as such has only been systematically applied to medicine in the last 20 years. Before the current era of evidence based practice, this was a characteristic of medicine as a whole. In fact Freud’s approach was more scientific than that of many doctors since. He actually hoped that future scientists would use their advanced tools to test his ideas. So, it’s hardly a real weakness of his theory if nobody has actually done it. But in fact we find that increasing numbers of researchers are accepting this challenge, and finding that it is possible to scientifically appraise Freud’s theory of personality. The most notable follow.
  6. Psychoanalysis was sidelined after drug treatments revolutionised the treatment of emotional illness. This is ironic as there is evidence to suggest that Freud was in favour of drug therapy. However, the pharmaceutical approach hasn’t yet yielded a definitive account of personality. Clinical neuroscience does support the idea that we are driven by base urges, although 4 mechanisms (instead of Freud’s 2) have been identified. So far, a specifically sexual instinct is notable by its absence, so Freud does seem to have been wrong about that.
  7. Freud proposed a causal link between aspects of upbringing (eg toilet training) and personality characteristics (eg ‘anality’) in adult life. Ethics mean that this cannot be definitively tested. This is perhaps the greatest bone of contention in Freudian theory. Ironically, the view that early experience shapes adult characteristics is now widely accepted by developmental psychologists. And although, as said previously, a definitive experimental assessment of Freud’s ideas about his stages and their contribution to adult personality is not possible, other, less stringent tests are (see Simon Baron - Cohen’s article).
  8. Trait theory supports the concept that there are ‘oral’ and ‘anal’ personalities. Interestingly, it too has been accused of failing to give a comprehensive account of personality as a whole. Repression has been conceptualised as a personality trait, supporting not only the idea of a repression mechanism, but also the dynamic unconscious and the return of the repressed. This work also brings together the scientific utility of trait theory with a unified explanation of the deep and surface workings of personality.






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