Thu Nov 9, 2023
Béatrice Longuenesse (NYU)
Conflicting logics of the mind: Lessons from Kant and Freud
Sigmund Freud’s conception of the structure of human mental life in cognition and in morality is surprisingly close to Kant’s. This paper examines the similarity in the case of cognition. It also addresses important objections to the proposed comparison. The similarity concerns what Kant calls the ‘transcendental unity of apperception’ and its realization in the ‘empirical unity of apperception’, on the one hand; and, on the other, what Freud calls the ‘ego’ (‘das Ich’). I defend my claim to the similarity between those structures.
I then examine two objections. The first is the contrast between Kant’s view of the unity of consciousness, which he takes to be fundamental to our mental life in general, and Freud’s conception of the insuperably divided nature of our mental life. The second is the contrast between the empirical and clinical nature of Freud’s investigation of the mind; and the transcendental and epistemological nature of Kant’s investigation. I acknowledge the force of the objections and I offer responses to them. A fuller treatment of the questions at hand would include an examination of Kant’s and Freud’s respective notions of ‘conscious’ vs ‘unconscious’ mental representations and processes. And it would involve an account of what is, for both Kant and Freud, the most radically conflicted aspect of our mental life: the conflict between instrumental motivation and moral motivation. Those topics are the matter for follow up papers. I am open to discussing them in Q&A.