Some utilitarian influences in Freud's early writings.

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The author argues that (1) the utilitarian ideas of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill were an important source for Freud's early metapsychology and (2) the two theories are radically different in many aspects. The facts that link Freud with the British utilitarian school are described in the first part. These include Freud's translation of three of Mill's essays, a course Freud took on utilitarianism as a student and a book written by Mill which Freud cited and held in his library. By stripping Freud's language of its biological connotations the author claims in the second part that utilitarianism ideas are ubiquitous in Freud's early thought especially in his "pleasure principle" and in the hedonistic side of the human psyche. The third part describes how Freudian theory breaks with utilitarianism along three lines: the quality of pleasure, conflict and irrationality. These breaks are demonstrated through concepts such as the quantity-quality dilemma, constancy principle, repression, conflict and hallucination. Although there is a strong basic philosophical affinity (certainly with regard to human motivation) between Freudian thought and utilitarianism the theories should not be compared on the same level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-21
Number of pages17
JournalPsychoanalysis and history
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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