Conscious Thought in Kant and Freud (Abstract)
This paper will look and similarities between Freudian and Kantian characterisations of mental functions: I hope to show that an appreciation of the Kantian themes in Freud’s theory is helpful in understanding the role of unconscious and conscious processes in Freudian metapsychology.
The extent to which Freud’s models are Kantian has been briefly sketched by Andrew Brook in “Kant and Freud” (Brook, 2002). One of Brook’s central arguments is that “For Kant as for Freud something can be or become conscious only if it is described, captured in language”. This is a fairly common interpretation of Freud’s metapsychological model but may not be entirely consistent with Freud’s own comments on the matter. Freud claims in the Ego and the Id that, unlike ideas, emotions do not need to be connected to a word presentation in order to become conscious. They are transmitted “directly” and do not tolerate the preconscious/ conscious distinction. This point could be taken in conjunction with Freud’s claim that pictorial modes of thinking are “less conscious” than verbal forms of thinking.
Freud seems to be allowing that there are forms of conscious experience that are not subject to the secondary process. What would these be like? Would they be accessible to secondary process functions of reportability and rational inference, and if so to what degree? I will argue that Freud’s characterisation of consciousness, like Kant’s, is too limited to fully characterise the phenomenology of conscious experience. As such, Freud faces many of the same problems of internal logic that face philosophers who try to explain the relationship between the mind and the world: something is lost when mental activity is represented in the secondary process in virtue of the secondary process being highly structured.
I am a PhD student in the Psychoanalysis Unit at University College London researching the theoretical relationship between Freud and Kant’s characterisation of the mind. I came to the unit after completing an undergraduate degree in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh (where I spent one year on exchange at the University of Chicago) and an MSc in Psychoanalytic Theory at University College London.