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Sigmund Freud’s Perspective on Culture and Civilization

Culture and civilization have been popular topics of research and study in sociology and social psychology due to their perceived influence on people’s behavior, perspectives, and beliefs. Over the years, these two concepts have been seen to mold and affect the way people live and behave in different ways. Thus, a lot of psychologists and sociologists have also explored the topics and revealed very interesting views. One of these bright minds whose ideas have been renowned in this field is Sigmund Freud.

His views on the nature of humans in the context of culture and civilization have been well valued in the field of social psychology and are being widely studied. This only implies the significance of his views on the effects of culture and civilization on human nature. Freud’s Perspective of Human Nature in the Context of Culture and Civilization Most of the psychologists who proposed their own theories and definitions on the concept of civilization have associated it with the medieval ideology of modernity (Assoun & Collier, 2006, p.

157). This because of the eternal impression the society has established that civilization has something to do with building more contemporary infrastructures and believing in non-traditional ideologies. However, Freud has a rather different perspective. He recognizes the established notion about civilization being connected to modernity, but aside from this thought, he also perceives civilization as a dilemma instead of a positive thing. Nietzsche shares the same perspective as Freud.

These two prominent figures in their respective fields (with Nietzsche in philosophy) believe that civilization is a predicament which hinders men from achieving their natural desires and instincts (Assoun & Collier, 2006, p. 157). Similarly, Freud also sees culture to be a central problem rather than a venue of development in societies. He believes that just like civilization, culture, or what he calls kultur, creates a barrier between instincts and their satisfaction (Assoun & Collier, 2006).

Thus, this implies that for Freud, instead of being equated to growth and development, culture and civilization appear to be illnesses that prevent men from realizing their instincts and achieving their ultimate desires. This also suggests that the more men strive for civilization, the more difficult it will be for them to satisfy their utmost desires. In Freud’s work, Civilization and Its Discontents, he further explains how civilization hinders in man’s attainment of happiness and content.

He regards neuroses as interventions that “threaten to undermine what little happiness has been acquired by the civilize man” (Freud, 1929 cited in Assoun & Collier, 2006, p. 160). Thus, it can be said that Freud (1929) believes the thought that humans, in the process of adapting to the modern standards of their culture (in the process of civilization), tend to sacrifice their instincts and desires (cited in Assoun & Collier, 2006). Furthermore, humans become neurotics once they cannot cope up with the standards of civilization anymore.

However, Freud (1929) emphasizes that civilization will nevertheless be the ultimate product of organization which will part humans from their animal state while serving two purposes: (1) to protect man from nature and (2) to regulate the relations among men (cited in Assoun & Collier, 2006, p. 160). Value of Culture and Civilization The aforementioned ideas clearly show that Freud sees civilization as a mere hindrance to humans’ search for happiness and pleasure which he also considers as a natural and animalistic instinct.

With this thought, it can be inferred that he values civilization as the society’s way of protecting men from their animalistic tendencies which the society itself has labeled as inappropriate. However, these animalistic tendencies are at the nature and core of every human being. Thus, as civilization hinders the attainment of such natural desires, it can be regarded as a huge obstruction to human nature. Freud (2007) describes humans’ general attitude towards civilization as rather negative.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, he says that “if civilization requires such sacrifices, not only of sexuality but also of the aggressive tendencies in mankind, we can better understand why it should be so hard for men to feel happy in it” (Freud, 2007, n. p. ). Nonetheless, although Freud put civilization in a rather negative light, he considers it as a valuable protection which shields men from the aggressive and uncontrollable tendencies that their animalistic nature may urge them to do (Freud, 2007).

The Impact of Religion and Science on Human Nature Although Freud was a self-professed atheist, he believed that religion serves an important purpose in humans’ realization of morality as doctrine and as part of themselves. However, he regarded religion to have a rather psychological purpose than a philosophical one (Davidson, 2002). He believed that religion is an important institution in the society which shall enforce ethical codes and laws in order to attain morality.

On the other hand, Freud considered science, which is an equally important institution in the society today, as the extreme opposite of religion. According to him, science provides explanations and answers to people’s queries about their existence that their religion is unable provide. Also, as an atheist, he preferred to believe the idea that humans’ predisposition to their animalistic instincts roots and originates from their physical and psychological make-up, which is the idea taught by science, instead of their lack in spiritual devoutness (Davidson, 2002).

Considering these views, it appears that Freud sees religion and science as two contrasting institutions which dissect human’s beliefs. Hence, this as well goes to show that for Freud, it can be nearly impossible for religion and science to support each other, as both are established on polarized foundations. In general, Freud’s perspectives on culture and civilization as well as in science and religion appear to be products of in-depth thought and analysis of human behavior over the years.

I would have to say that in some ways, I agree with Freud’s idea about civilization, as I also believe while civilization is a mark of society’s progress, it lays down several restrictions and sacrifices which make it difficult for people to attain some of their desires. In one way or another, I also concur with his idea that science is such a strong and reliable body of knowledge which gives explanations and answers to almost all queries humans have about their existence. Also, I support his thoughts on the significance of the role played by religion in maintaining and preserving the moral stability of humans.

However, I would have to disagree with his claim that religion, as compared to science, must not be used as a reliable and credible source of explanation with regard to human existence. Then again, I find it difficult to share his opinion on religion considering that he was an atheist. Nevertheless, Sigmund Freud made a good analysis and interpretation of his observations about human nature and human tendencies, and his contributions to various fields of study, especially in psychology and sociology, are still highly influential today. References

Assoun, P. L. & Collier, R. L. (2006). Freud and Nietzsche. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. Davidson, A. L. (2002). Sigmund Freud: Civilization and its discontents. Essortment. com. Retrieved April 21, 2009, from http://www. essortment. com/all/sigmundfreudci_rmew. htm. Freud, Sigmund. (2007, May 31). Civilization and its discontents (J. Riviere, Trans. ). Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved April 21, 2009, from http://www. writing. upenn. edu/~afilreis/50s/freud-civ. html.

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