Freud is famous for offering a psychoanalytic critique of morality and religious belief. It is as though he puts Western civilization itself on the couch. His aim is ‘to make the unconscious conscious’ – that is, he wants to show that morality and religious belief have different origins and serve different purposes than they claim. These are grand reflections about the meaning of civilization. In my opinion, they are – or, more accurately, they have become – the least valuable aspect of Freud’s work. Perhaps in their time they served as a moment of critique. They do show ways that people can make use of moral or religious systems to gratify unconscious needs. But it is quite a stretch from that claim to the claim that this is the hidden meaning of religion and morality. To justify this latter claim, Freud would need an argument that the possibilities he uncovers are all the possibilities there are when it comes to morality and religion. Freud gives no such argument. Rather, he puts forward two paradigms – and invites readers to join him in thinking that this is all morality and religion amount to. The problem is not just a flaw in Freud’s argument. There have been terrible human costs in going along with him. For generations, psychoanalytic institutes refused to train people who admitted to religious belief, on the grounds that they were fixated on unresolved infantile wishes. We do not know how many religiously oriented people – who might otherwise have benefited from psychoanalytic treatment – stayed away because they

feared that analysts would try to talk them out of their commitments. We have reports from analysts that analysands found it difficult to talk about their religious beliefs, assuming ahead of time that their analysts must be atheists. They also report that analysands who were atheists assumed a kind of ‘knowing alliance’ with the analyst – and one can only wonder how often that went unanalyzed.1 But the harm is not just what these individuals have suffered. As a result, the psychoanalytic profession deprived itself of a nuanced understanding of what the analysis of religiously committed individuals might look like. In a similar vein, it deprived itself of an opportunity to contribute to a robust conception of a flourishing ethical life – because it assumed that morality must be a system of repression and discontent. The aim of this chapter is ground-clearing. In introducing the reader to Freud’s critiques of morality and

religion, I will show the limits of their validity. Seeing how Freud’s arguments fall short will, I hope, open up possibilities for a deeper psychoanalytic understanding of the meanings of moral and ethical commitments in human life. This ought to make possible a more robust moral psychology. Freud’s critiques of morality and religious belief have the form of a

genealogy. In general, genealogies are stories of origins that are meant to have evaluative force. There are two dimensions along which a genealogy can be classified. First, genealogies can be either legitimating or delegitimating in intent.2 That is, a genealogy can seek either to valorize or to undermine via its account of how something comes to be. Second, the account can be broadly naturalistic or supernatural. Either it limits itself to an account of how something could come to be as a phenomenon of nature; or it draws on a source transcending nature as part of the account of origin. In principle, a legitimating genealogy could be either naturalistic or supernatural, and similarly for a de-legitimating one. But the original genealogies tended to be legitimating and supernatural. So, for example, the first recorded use in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1300: ‘Tuix Abraham and king daui, Yee herken nov be geneologi.’3 This genealogy is intended as a pedigree that reveals divine sanction. It valorizes Daui, and legitimates his reign, by claiming that he descends from Abraham. And Abraham is chosen by God. By contrast, Freud’s argument claims to be naturalistic and de-

legitimating: if we come to understand how morality arises as a

natural phenomenon – as a set of institutions and practices in which human beings come to participate – we shall see that its own claims to legitimacy are false. Even worse, we shall discover that morality’s actual aims run counter to its purported aims, and that morality is actually inimical to human well-being. As was said at the beginning of this book, Freud was not a philosopher. He seems ignorant of the ancient Greek approaches to ethics, in which the virtues – or excellences of character – are seen as contributing to a happy life.4 And although he does mention Kant’s categorical imperative, he is not concerned with its place in the overall Kantian approach to practical reason. It is cited more as a moral dictum, along the lines of the golden rule. Freud is concerned with morality as it is lived in society – or, as it was lived in early twentiethcentury Europe. These were a normatively governed set of practices and understandings of how one ought to behave with respect to others. Insofar as justification was invoked, it was by appeal to the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus – in particular, his teaching to love thy neighbor as thyself. In Freud’s view, society’s justification for its moral practices is a legitimating, supernatural genealogy. In response, Freud is going to offer a naturalistic, delegitimating genealogy of those same practices. Freud’s account of the rise of a moral capacity in humans is broadly Darwinian in structure: he gives an account of how the moral capacity comes to be selected in humans. Such an account shows how a phenomenon – such as the capacity for morality – can arise even though no one chose or designed it. As we saw in the last chapter, Freud thinks the human capacity

for morality arises largely as a solution to the problem of aggression. On the one hand, aggression has been selected in humans: our nonaggressive predecessors tended to get killed off before they could reproduce. On the other hand, if humans were merely aggressive animals, they would kill but they would also be under constant threat of being killed. A better solution to the problem of survival is that humans should be able to form societies that can protect their members from the aggression of other societies as well as from the menaces of nature. Society thus needs to be a way of minimizing the aggressive impulses of members of society against each other. So far, Freud’s genealogy is similar to various accounts that have

been given in the philosophical tradition.5 What makes Freud’s case distinctive is his account of how human aggression is deployed in the service of curbing aggression. For what happens to the inhibited aggression?