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Civilizations and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud

Part One

Sigmund Freud presents a philosophical opinion regarding the treatment of civilization, aggression as well as super-ego in his excerpt, ‘Civilizations and Its Discontents.’ According to this piece of literature, the author asserts that the construct of civilization brings about fundamental tension with an individual. In essence, the primary cause of fiction is the quest by an individual to exercise his or her instinctive freedoms as well as civilization. Nonetheless, it is not possible to do this as it would not be conforming to the aspects of civilization, not to mention its failure in repressing instincts. Conversely, the philosopher argues that prolonging a situation desired by the pleasure principle somewhat creates the feeling of mild contentment, especially considering the primitive instincts of humankind that are likely to cause grave harm to the well-being as well as the survival of the human race. Some of the primitive instincts considered in this case include the insatiable cravings for sexual pleasure as well as the desire to murder.

Conversely, according to the author, civilization is an institution that brings to birth appropriate laws and regulations that prohibit, and to some extent, control the prevalence of these primitive instincts. In fact, many societal laws and norms prohibit people from murder, rape, adultery, as well as incest, among many other social evils. To enforce these provisions, the society has severe punishments attached to these rules in case any one of them is broken. Therefore, the possibilities of one enjoying his or her happiness have to be within the confines of the law, a fact that Freud attributes to be the causal effect of the inherent quality of civilization. As a result, this not only arouses perpetual feelings of discontent among the civilized community but also restricts them from enjoying their civilization or expressing their violent aggression as controlled by their super-ego.

The super-ego is a psychological construct relating to the personality of an individual. It is primarily a set of internalized ideals that an individual acquired from his or her parents or guardians as well as the society at large. These ideals are particularly instrumental in suppressing the urges of the id, in addition to forcing the ego to behave in a morally acceptable manner as opposed to behaving realistically. In this case, the super-ego of an individual will not allow him or her to commit any known or unknown evil regardless of the fact of whether he or she would be caught or not.

Thrasymachus, however, dispels the provisions of Freud’s philosophical analogy in which he presents a perception that an individual’s super-ego plays a critical role in determining his or her personality. As such, it is presumed from Freud’s theory of super-ego that an individual will always uphold justice at all times, in addition to refraining from violent aggressions because he or she is aware that such acts contravene the provisions of civilization. On the other hand, Thrasymachus believes that justice is only for the strong, and they take it by force. Therefore, the weak have no place or control over justice. In essence, he outlines that the common cases of injustices present in modern-day society normally arise with the sole purpose of benefiting the persons in authority. In this regard, the strong and powerful will continue having a stronghold on justice at the expense of the weak and poor in society.

The philosopher further argues from a sophist perspective that personal benefits usually take precedence over moral issues of either right or wrong. In this case, someone will do something wrong simply because he or she stands to benefit from it, such as engaging in corrupt activities such as taking bribes. Similarly, a person will also overlook an act of goodwill or righteousness simply because such an act would be disadvantageous to him or her, such as the Prime Minister opening an investigation against the corrupt officials in government, knowing well that he too is corrupt. In fact, Thrasymachus also emphasizes personal gains when choosing his deeds, and as such, appears as being conceited, boastful, as well as blusterous. As such, his mannerisms primarily present him as a schemer who always seeks to benefit from situations as opposed to upholding the public good. As such, Thrasymachus has a whole different perception of civilization and super-ego than the one held and promoted by Freud, making them two opposite ends of a philosophical divide.

Part Two

Freud argues that people develop their id at birth. Essentially, it plays a crucial role in determining the personality of the newborn by enabling it to get its basic needs satisfied. The id construct draws strongly from the principle of pleasure whereby the id usually desires what feels good at a particular time, subsequently disregarding the considerations of reality given a particular situation. For instance, a child will cry for food when it feels hungry because its id wants food to satisfy the hunger, this is regardless of whether there is food or not available.

A child develops the second part of its personality structure in three years after growing up and interacting more with the world. This second phase of personality is the ego, which draws strength from the principles of reality. According to the provisions of ego, a child understands that other people also have needs and desires that to have to be met; therefore, a selfish or impulsive approach to satisfying one’s needs or wants may end up hurting us, but also those around us, in the long run. Conversely, the premise of the ego in the personality of an individual is to meet the needs of the id while taking into consideration the prevailing realities surrounding a particular situation.

The development stage continues through to age five, where the phallic stage gives room for the child to develop his or her superego. In essence, the super-ego relates to the moral sense of an individual whereby it develops as a result of the ethical as well as the moral restraints that caregivers and other responsible adults place on the children as they play and grow. In fact, it is appropriate to compare the construct of the super-ego with a conscience in the sense that it dictates how an individual perceives right from wrong. As such, the construct of the super-ego prohibits one from undertaking anything that could be considered morally wrong or sinful because it contravenes the norms and provisions of society.

However, the teachings of super-ego usually weaken as the child grows older and goes through various experiences in life, interacting with new people, and learning to form his or her perception of things. Initially, the super-ego developed due to the teachings that the child received from caregivers. Nonetheless, as the child grows up, he or she will no longer rely on caregivers to provide him or her with a moral direction as to what is right or wrong in society. They will have to learn this on their own and make personal decisions, some of which end up being wrong. As such, selfishness is the main contributor to the erosion of the super-ego whereby an individual focuses more on personal gratification as opposed to upholding the provisions of right and wrong. Nevertheless, it is possible to strengthen the super-ego in a child by training him or her in the ways of good and righteousness at all times as opposed to leaving the child to experience and learn from the world on his or her own.

Part Three

In applying the thoughts of Freud to Thrasymachus, it is clear that the latter does not exhibit any attributes of the super-ego. The reason for this assertion is because Thrasymachus believes in getting what he wants when he wants it, inconsiderate of how this will impact others around him. This is contrary to the provisions of super-ego which maintain that the satisfaction of one’s id must be in consideration of the needs and wants of other people, who too also want to satisfy their own needs and wants. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to exercise selfishness in upholding one’s needs or wants because this would obviously affect others, probably denying them an opportunity to meet their desires and goals.

In essence, Thrasymachus flaunts all the teachings of civilization fronted by Freud in the sense that he believes that personal benefits should always take center stage in the satisfaction of ids. Therefore, the construct of the super-ego does not apply in this case. On the contrary, Thrasymachus advocates for people to gain more power and authority that would enable them to acquire what they want, as he believes that justice is for the strongest, and injustice is for the weak. In fact, he claims that all manner of injustices that occur within the community primarily result from the efforts of the people in authority, those believe to be the strongest, who slander and oppress others to get what they want and subsequently satisfy their interests.



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