7 Chapters
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Chapter Four: Two Types of Morality

Reddish, Elizabeth Karnac Books ePub

Freud's pre- and post-1923 thinking about the origins of conscience and morality

Notwithstanding the conceptual power of Freud's concept of the oedipal superego, his formulation of the evolution of conscience and morality is opaque. This is evidenced, according to the literature, in the lack of clarity about conceptual differences between the ego ideal and the superego and about whether mature ego development is marked by the ethics of the superego or of the ego, as it cannot be both. In tying the development of morality to sexual development and gender identification, the formulation of the 1923 superego theory has remained problematic—as evidenced in the criticisms of the theory by classical and post-Freudians—ever since its formulation (Arlow, 1982; Finkelstein, 1991; Jones, 1926; Sandler, 1960; Schafer, 1960; Shecter, 1979; Stephen, K., 1946; Westen, 1986). “The theory [of the superego] confuses gender identification with moral internalization” (Westen, 1986, p. 180) and “…moral development may dovetail with, but not be reducible to, psychosexual development and in particular the resolution of the Oedipus complex” (Westen, 1986, p. 199).

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Chapter Seven: Concluding Remarks

Reddish, Elizabeth Karnac Books ePub

In the introduction to this book, I put forward the case that in everyday life, judgment as to what is right or wrong, that is to say, the taking up of a “moral position”, is as frequently made by individuals on the basis of what is perceived to be personally safe or threatening as it is through appeal to any other principle. I have argued, with reference to his earliest understanding of the roots of conscience that this was also Freud's belief. His view was that conscience originates in the relationship between the individual and the primary protective object: the totem. I have shown that notwithstanding this, his 1923 formulation of the oedipal superego neglected the idea that the superego had its origin in the survival instinct. I have argued for, and formulated, its reinstatement, and in so doing, have found that augmentation of the concept of the superego along these lines yields two distinct stages to superego development: an archaic superego that, in healthy development gives rise to a superego negotiated by the ego. Research of clinical material, predominantly from the past half-century and analysis of clinical material from my own practice suggests that mature superego functioning is distinguished by the way in which “moral evaluations”, about both individuals and society, are made by an ego that is forged through challenge to archaic superego dominance. I found that the differentiation of these two stages of superego development implies two types of morality. I have taken care to emphasise that attainment of the second does not mean that the first is somehow dispensed with. On the contrary, ego-negotiated morality defines itself in reference to survival morality. In cases of immature superego functioning, we find that a petrified embryonic ego has become trapped in a state of deference to survival morality.

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Chapter Three: “Totem and Taboo” Revisited

Reddish, Elizabeth Karnac Books ePub

In Chapter Two, I mapped out evidence for the protective function of the superego gathered from both Freudian and independently oriented clinical and theoretical work over the decades since Freud's formulation of the concept. Freud's 1923 definition centres on “prohibition”, whereas his earlier thinking identified its primary function as protective. In a paper written almost thirty years before his formulation of the superego—“Project for a Scientific Psychology”—he stated that the first trigger for morality lies in the fact of dependence on others for our survival: “[the] initial helplessness of human beings…is the primal source of all moral motives” (Freud, 1895, p. 317). That is to say, our sense of morality originates in the (unconscious) knowledge that we are dependent upon external protection: this knowledge is the source of conscience.

In this chapter I turn to Freud's work “Totem and Taboo” and show that his undeveloped lines of thinking about the earliest manifestation of conscience (i.e., in totem morality) identify a protective, adaptive function, which clinical work by practitioners, working after his time, has proven to be the case.

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Chapter Six: A New Theory of Conscience

Reddish, Elizabeth Karnac Books ePub

The archaic superego is the founding structure of the psyche: the phylogenetic legacy of the survival instinct. It is the founding structure upon which rests—at the higher individual level of psychic functioning—the capacity for the more neutralised energies and abstract values concomitant with mature ego functioning. It is realised in the infant through corporeal experience, which gives rise to a sense of boundary. With regard to the external environment, this will principally be via the eyes and ears (through light and sound) and through the skin (via physical constraint); with regard to the internal environment, through bodily sensations, principally the workings of organs such as the bowel and bladder. Although in essence structural and therefore neutral as to morality, the infant's experience of the archaic superego will be coloured by affective and instinctive responses to these external and internal sensations as either “safe” or “threatening” to his survival. Experiences that engender constancy, coherence and integration will be “safe”. Experiences that evoke anxiety will be “threatening”. In time, the primary experience of boundary facilitates the capacity for differentiating sensory from mental experience and as such is, in a psychoanalytic sense, the cornerstone of the psyche: a prerequisite of the capacity for symbolisation and thinking.

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Chapter Two: The Protective Superego

Reddish, Elizabeth Karnac Books ePub

This chapter is divided into two sections; the first reviews literature that documents the historical development of Freud's concept of the superego in an attempt to capture the broadest sense in which it is still held to be viable “currency” and if not, why not. This review throws up two recurring dissatisfactions with the 1923 theory: the first dissatisfaction is that the dropping of the protective function of the ego ideal, defined in “On Narcissism”, was a critical omission in the original definition of the oedipal superego. The second dissatisfaction is that the formulation is contradictory in stating that both the values of the superego and of the ego are dominant. A review of clinical material constitutes the second section of the chapter. The existence of so much clinical data since the formulation was made, makes it possible to test this formulation to see whether the protective function of the superego is, in fact, in evidence and if so, what exactly is being protected and why. Further, a review of clinical data throws some light on the issue of whether in the emotionally mature individual, it is superego or ego values that are dominant.

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