Plato is considered the father of western philosophy. Having founded the Academy in Athens, he is considered the teacher of all the great philosophers of western history. He was born around 428 B.C. and lived to be 80. As a student of Socrates, he was a key figure in the development of western philosophy and political theory. Indeed, Socrates’ death at the hands of his fellow Athenians was one of the primary reasons Plato wrote his famous dialogue, The Apology. In this work, he elucidates many of Socrates’ teachings. In addition, he outlines his own theories about the state, the ideas of justice, and the soul.

But the foundation of philosophy as we know it today was laid by philosophers and scholars such as Rene Descartes, Hegel, and Immanuel Kant, and although these philosophers were born almost a century apart from each other, their contribution was huge. The rationalist tradition started by Descartes when he said, ”I think therefore I am” continued unless Kierkegaard came up with the idea of existentialism which was further popularized by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Be it Nihilism, Existentialism, Rationalism, or Stoicism, all of these schools of thought have one thing in common and that is all of them are trying to figure out the nature of reality and how to organize their life around it. All of them are trying to find the place of the individual in the universe. But the most fundamental thing about understanding the nature of reality is to understand oneself. This is where psychology comes into play.

Psychology provides one scientific ability to examine one’s own psychic capabilities and drawbacks. When Sigmund Freud came up with the idea of psychoanalysis, he was both criticized and welcomed but this polarity in his acceptance could not stop him from becoming one of the key figures of the intellectual tradition at that time.

His theory of psychoanalysis did not only have a great impact on psychology but on the philosophical circles as well. Philosophy started enquiring about the unconscious a long time ago but they thought unconscious as something divine and beyond human understanding and thus they started seeing the mind as a unity of the conscious and psyche.

This is why the major difference between psychoanalysis and philosophy is that philosophy is more concerned with the conscious while psychoanalysis is more concerned with the unconscious.

Psychoanalysis has offered major help to philosophy and vice versa. If you examine the works of Sigmund Freud, you will see the similarities in some of his ideas with Arthur Schopenhauer’s work in “The World as Will and Representation”. Schopenhauer has also written about sexuality that Freud would consider a significant part of his theory.

Arthur Schopenhauer’s work in “The World as Will and Representation” sets up the foundational work that it needs to understand the unconscious.

Schopenhauer’s will is Freud’s unconscious. Schopenhauer portrays will as the most fundamental instinct of human behavior. For him, the conscious comes under the will and even the intellect comes under the will.

“For what the bridle and the bit are to an unmanageable horse, the intellect is to the will in man; it must be led by this bridle by means of instruction, exhortation, training, and so on; for in itself the will is as wild and impetuous an impulse as is the force appearing in the plunging waterfall; in fact, it is, as we know, ultimately identical therewith”

Arthur Schopenhauer in “The World as Will and Representation” [1844, 2, p. 213].

Schopenhauer also talks about the sexual impulses in detail long before Freud developed the psychoanalytic perspective of looking at everything as the manifestation of sexual impulses.

Have a look at this paragraph:

To all this corresponds the important role which the sex-relation plays in the world of mankind, where it is really the invisible central point of all action and conduct and peeps up everywhere in spite of all the veils thrown over it. It is the cause of war and the aim and object of peace, the basis of the serious and the aim of the joke, the inexhaustible source of wit, the key to all allusions, and the meaning of all mysterious hints, of all unspoken offers and all stolen glances; it is the daily meditation of the young and often the old as well, the hourly thought of the unchaste, and even against their will the constantly recurring imagination of the chaste, the ever-ready material for a joke, just because the profound seriousness lies at its root.

Arthur Schopenhauer in “The World as Will and Representation” [1844, 2, p. 513].

Freud only much later in life accepted that he had read Schopenhauer and whether he was directly influenced by his writing or not is debatable but both of their approach towards their respective field is quite remarkable.

While Schopenhauer made a significant contribution to the romanticism movement at that time, Freud used scientific measures to help fuel scientific empiricism at that time.

Freud had evidence to back his claims because he was a scientist while Schopenhauer who was celebrated as an intellectual hero in Germany still had a tough time dealing with his readers who found his theory quite overwhelming and incredible to a certain degree.

It will be a wise decision in my opinion to read Schopenhauer before studying psychoanalysis but it is also quite true that having a psychological perspective while studying philosophy will be very helpful.


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