Updated 04.07.18

The theories of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, have exercised a profound influence on thought and culture for over a hundred years. Many of Freud`s ideas, most prominently that of the 'Unconscious', have become integral to our everyday thinking about human behaviour and about our inner life. They have also exercised a significant influence on other academic disciplines, including philosophy. At the same, Freud`s claims about the nature and functioning of the human mind have always been hotly contested, and they raise many intriguing philosophical questions.

This module introduces students to the most important elements of Freud`s psychoanalytic theories, and explores some of the philosophical issues which they raise. To get an initial flavour of psychoanalysis we will begin in medias res by considering one of Freud's own most famous case histories, that of the so-called 'Rat Man'. We will then explore the theoretical background to Freud's clinical methods and style of interpretation. After considering Freud's basic distinction between `primary` and `secondary` mental processes, we will go on to examine his approach to interpreting the unconscious meaning of dreams and the conception of the unconscious which underpins this approach. We will then consider Freud's account of the formation of the gender identity and his view of sexuality and sexual difference, in the context of his conception of early psychological development, and in particular of the so-called 'Oedipus Complex'. After considering the innovations in psychoanalytic theory introduced by Melanie Klein, one of the most important psychoanalysts after Freud, we will conclude by explore the dynamics of transference and counter-transference, which are central psychoanalytic treatment.

The second part of the module will then tackle questions about the nature of the unconscious, and about the kind of knowledge of human beings which psychoanalysis purports to provide. We will consider writings by philosophers who have commented on Freudian psychoanalytic theory, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Paul Ricoeur.


The aims of the module are:

* to familiarise students with the most essential elements of Freudian theory;
* to develop students` awareness of the cultural and intellectual context within which Freud`s ideas developed;
* to consider some central issues in the development of psychoanalytic theory after Freud;
* to explore how psychoanalytic theory connects with the practice of psychoanalysis;
* to explore some of the major philosophical issues raised by psychoanalytic theory, such as:

1) What kind of evidence could count in favour of the existence of the `unconscious`?
2) What kind of reality and effectivity (if any) can be attributed to the unconscious?
3) What kind of validity can be claimed for the psychoanalytic interpretation of a dream or neurotic symptom?
4) Does psychoanalysis offer a coherent account of how human beings can behave irrationally?
5) Does psychoanalysis seek to explain or to interpret human behaviour?
6) What kind of epistemological status can be attributed psychoanalytic theories?
7) Is psychoanalytic theory necessarily entwined with an outdated or ideological conception of
of gender identity and sexual difference?

Learning Objectives:

By the end of this module students should have:

* a good understanding of the most essential elements of Freudian theory;
* a basic knowledge of some important innovations in psychoanalytic theory after Freud
* a good understanding of the intellectual and cultural context in which psychoanalysis emerged;
* insight into the close the relation between psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice;
* a sound grasp of some of the central philosophical questions raised by psychoanalytic theories, and of the range of ways in which they might be answered;
* a good understanding of debates around the psychoanalytic theory of sexuality and gender identity.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

* define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
* seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
* process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
* compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
* write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
* be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
* think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;
* maintain intellectual flexibility and think critically and constructively.