Freud Civilization and Its Discontents

Essay by lesbossUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, March 2005

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In Civilization and its Discontents Freud asks, "What does man wish for and aim to achieve in life?" The answer that he gives is; "Most immediately men strive to be happy, and their behaviour in the outside world is determined by the pleasure principle." Shortly after this statement he says man realises this is not a possible state of affairs and thereafter accepts and is regulated by the "reality principle" . This book essentially explains why man cannot ever be fully happy in civilized society and will continue to live with underlying anxiety.

In order to fully understand his reasoning why civilization causes discontent for man his argument must be followed from the beginning. Freud postulates two opposing instinctual drives: the libido and the death drive. Within each of these areas are the instinctual drives, contained within the libido the drives that we consider positive, for example love. The death drive contains the drives that society would consider negative, for example aggression.

Civilization, Freud contends, is built on harnessing the libido and sublimating the death drives. Harnessing the libido and sublimation of the death drives results in unfulfilled expression and desires within man, therefore the outcome is anxiety and discontentment for man within civilized society. Focusing on Freud's reasoning and how society exerts power over the individual to conform, causing this scarcity of happiness, is what this essay will examine.

Freud outlines three areas in which man will derive suffering and pain, "...the three sources of suffering: the superior power of nature, the frailty of our bodies, and the inadequacy of the institutions that regulate people's relations with one another in the family, the state and society." The first two are unavoidable, he says, but "Our attitude to the third source of suffering, the social source, is different. We...