Wish-fulfilment as a singular means of satisfying ineluctable desire is a pivotal concept in classical psychoanalysis. Freud argued that it was the thread that united dreams, daydreams, phantasy, omnipotent thinking, neurotic and some psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions, art, myth, and religious illusions. The concept's theoretical exploration has been largely neglected within psychoanalysis since, but contemporary philosophers have recognised it as providing an explanatory model for much of the kind of irrational behaviour so problematic for psychiatry, social psychology and the philosophy of mind.


Although critically neglected in contemporary psychological and psychoanalytic thought, the concept remains clinically fundamental, under different labels: it encompasses the processes of omnipotent phantasy, symbolic or substitutive satisfaction, actualisation in transference and acting out, symptom formation and defenses such as projective identification. Wish-fulfilment can be shown to be a specifically psychoanalytic compartment of a common-sense psychological theory of action that illuminates not just clinical material but also the paradoxes of irrationality – such as weakness of will and self-deception – that preoccupy philosophers.


The first half of this book develops a comprehensive and novel theory of wish-fulfilment, explores its radical implications for the structure of mind, and locates it against the backdrop of both contemporary psychoanalytic and philosophical thought. In the second half, the book applies the theory to illuminate important features of self-deception and delusion, religion, insanity defences, creative writing and the exclusion of mind and intention in the biological drift of modern psychiatry.


The book will be essential to philosophers of mind, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, psychologists, social theorists, and students in these disciplines; as well as readers interested in understanding how the mind works in mental illness, self-deception, religion, and creative writing.

PART 1. THEORY. 1. Wish and wish-fulfilment. Introduction: wish and wish-fulfilment. The singularity of Freudian wish-fulfilment. A very brief history of our subject with polemical remarks. Some basic concepts for the philosophy of psychoanalysis. Four aporia and the outline of an argument. The psychoanalysis of philosophy. Notes. 2. Freud’s conception of wish-fulfilment. Freud’s originality. Drive and wish. The basic model of Freudian wish-fulfilment. Engrossment and belief. An aside on belief. Belief and phantasy.Some grounds for intentionalism. Notes. 3. Problems with non-intentionalism. Reprise. Some general problems with non-intentionalism. More problems for non-intentionalism. Wish-fulfilment without belief. Wish-fulfilment and ‘belief-like’ representations. Increasing complexity: enactment. The omnipotence of thought. Wish-fulfilment restricted. Wish-fulfilment declined. Notes. 4. Intention and deliberation in Freudian wish-fulfilment. Towards intentionalism. Unconscious intention. Unconscious deliberation. Unconscious deliberation and dissociation. Unconscious deliberation and symbolism. Dissociation again. Sartre’s censor argument resolved. Notes. 5. The self in self-solicitude. Reprise. A very brief history of the divided self. Freud and the structure of mind. Indulging in metaphor, hypostatising phantasy? Fairbairn. Egos, selves and personations. Personation, self-solicitude and Freudian wish-fulfilment. Notes. PART 2. APPLICATIONS. 6. Self-deception and delusion. Self-deception. Subintentionalism again. Self-deception and Freudian wish-fulfilment. Delusion. Delusion as Freudian wish-fulfilment. Notes. 7. Religion. Freud on religion. Distinctions. The religious and the religiose. Fundamentalism and the religiose. The religiose mind. Religion as Freudian wish-fulfilment. Notes. 8. Writing as redemption. Exhibits of loss. Some psychoanalytic approaches to loss in art. Illusion and the internal audience. Notes. 9. The insanity defence. Intention and excuse. Mental illness and excuse. A very brief history of intention in insanity. McNaughtan. Intention in madness. Notes. A word on psychiatry.