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A Reconstruction of the Freudian Unconscious

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A Reconstruction of the Freudian Unconscious ABSTRACT: This paper sketches a reconstruction of the Freudian unconscious, as well as an argument for its existence. The strategy followed sidesteps the extended debates about the validity of Freud's methods and conclusions. People are argued to have, as ideal types, two fundamental modes of fulfilling their desires: engagement with reality and wishful thinking. The first mode acknowledges the constraints reality imposes on the satisfaction of desires, while the second mode ignores or denies these constraints, inasmuch as they threaten to make such satisfaction impossible or unfeasible. The more aware one is that wishful thinking is just that, the less effective it becomes. Wishful thinking thus requires an unconscious; it is inimical to a clear, complete and unambiguous acknowledgment of its own status. The unconscious is subsequently reconceptualized in non-Cartesian terms; it is largely constituted by semantic phenomena: forms of representation which would conceal their meaning even if the full light of 'attention,' Cartesian 'consciousness' or 'introspection' were cast upon them. If wishful thinking is an integral part of mental life, philosophers and others wishing to "educate humanity" will have to proceed very differently from what would have been appropriate had rational thought and action been the only available option for satisfying desires. "Mankind cannot bear too much reality": sketch for a reconstruction of the Freudian unconscious. Freud and his legacy remain controversial. Though often pronounced dead, they refuse to die. This paper is not meant as a wholesale defence of Freud. Its aim is limited: to show that any adequate theory of mind will have to posit something approximately like Freud's notion of the unconscious. It can also be read as a schematic statement of what I think must minimally be salvaged from Freud's notion of the unconscious. (1) Though Freud may need revision — radical revision, even — a wholesale rejection of his thought would cripple our ability to understand ourselves and each other. If philosophy would needs educate humanity, it should first let itself be educated, among others, by Freud and his legacy. 'The wish is father to the thought.' It is commonly acknowledged that when people cannot satisfy their desires by controlling reality, they engage in wishful thinking. In this paper I try to systematise the distinction between the two modes of dealing with desires: 'the realistic mode' and (for lack of a better term) 'wishful thinking'. They form the two ends of a continuum, not a dichotomy:
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