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The previous post on Rieff may be found here. 

Therapy as Re-Education

Rieff has a useful understanding of therapy in contrast religion (which in the case of Freud would be Christianity of Judaism) which Rieff refers to as “older moral pedagogies.” (45) The prior moral system required one “concentrating on the life of trying to order the warring parts of the personality into a hierarchy.” (45).

This ordering of one’s competing demands and impulses is done in accord with the requires of a “positive community” which promised “a kind of salvation” for such accord. (43).

Freud and therapy provide a completely different manner of understanding one’s self. Rather looking at the various “impulses” as a matter of good or bad, higher or lower, one should consider demands as “a jostling democracy of contending predispositions”. (46-47)

Freud realized that this new means of understanding the various “impulses” would result in a subversions of the expectations of life. In particular, the position of the “father” would be particularly subverted, because the position of father takes the position of maintaining of “repressive command”. (47).

Now it may be thought that Freud encourages immorality. But the understanding of the impulses as there does not necessarily result in the encouragement of acting on such impulses.  What Freud did do was seek to exhaust a sense of guilt built upon these moralities.

At this point, Reiff makes a rather self-contradicting argument. Freud’s analysis:

Help[s] us distinguish between guilt on one hand and a sense of guilt on the other, between responsibility for an offense committed and fantasies about offenses intended or merely imagined, seems a moral as a well as a therapeutic aim.

This argument seems to be that the older moral orders merely imposed a “fantasy” of moral order in exchange for a promise of salvation as contrasted one making a conscious decision based upon “responsibility.”  Upon what moral basis could one determine concern for “responsibility”?

There is not any rational basis for responsibility. You could say I would like to avoid whatever I might see as a negative consequence (like avoiding imprisonment) was rational – but seeing a connection between the consequence and the result does not determine whether I should not engage in the conduct. The decision to avoid the behavior to avoid the consequence is a moral decision. Granted it is a very limited morality (I want to avoid negative consequence), but it is still a moral decision.

If the negative consequence is less than imprisonment or death, than what do we mean by “responsibility”? Does he that I could care about what my behavior would do to another? That would be a moral decision.

The only sort of amoral decision would be one where I see the consequence and have not concern for the consequence.

Perhaps the concept is that I can decide whether I wish to abide by the moral code I see raised by my “impulse”. But one still must made a decision to be moral; that decision may have a very habitual basis, but it is not a reflex in the sense of blinking an eye.

Indeed the decision to forgo an “older moral paradigm” is itself a moral decision.

Freud may make one explicitly conscious of the moral decision. Freud also grants a certain sort of sanction to forgo moral decisions (this is an evil desire, it is just a desire – evil is what I have been taught to call this desire; but the desire is not in itself evil). All Freud has done lay the basis for a new morality where personal desire is necessarily good.

Thus, therapy is a matter of “re-education” into a new basis for morality.