European Intellectual History Syllabus


Study Questions on Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)

Chapter 1.

How, according to Freud, do we come to realize that there are things outside of our selves (or ego)?

How does he use this idea to explain the "feelings" of religion?

What is the point of Freud's discussion of the archeology of Rome?

How does the survival of past states of mind and memory help him explain the "oceanic" feelings of religion?

So why does Freud think people "need" religion?


Chapter 2.

What does Freud mean when he says that ordinary people's understanding of religion is "infantile"?

What does Freud say about how the need for religion has been discussed in the past?

What does Freud mean by "the pleasure-principle"?  How does this relate to the idea of "happiness"?

What does he mean by "libido-displacement" and what does this have to do with the pleasure principle?  What does this have to do with art and culture?  Religion?  Love?

What is Freud's main point in this chapter?


Chapter 3. 

What does Freud consider the three sources of human suffering? 

Why does Freud say that civilization has been a cause of human misery?  Why is modern man hostile to civilization?

What does Freud mean by culture?  What does he consider achievements of culture and why?

Why do these achievements not bring happiness?

Why does civilization also require beauty, cleanliness, and order?

Why does Freud say that individual liberty is not a benefit of culture?

Why does Freud say that we should not confuse civilization with progress towards perfection?

How does Freud link the idea of libidinal sublimation {displacement-see above} to civilized activities?


Chapter 4. 

Describe the "primitive family."  Why was it not civilized?

How does Freud explain the evolution of the first laws (totems)?

How does Freud use the need for physical love (eroticism) to explain the emergence of culture?

How does "inhibited" love (friendliness) bind society together?

Why is there a rift (a contradiction) between love and culture?  The family and society?

Why does Freud say that women become antithetical to culture?

Why must culture set restrictions upon sexual life?  What is the result?


Chapter 5. 

How does Freud explain the conflict between sexuality and civilization?

Why does Freud have difficulty with the proposition "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"?

Why are we inclined towards aggression, and how does this require us to be cultured?

What does Freud mean by saying that "Civilized society is perpetually menaced with disintegration through this primary hostility of men towards one another"?

What is Freud's criticism of Communism?

Why does Freud say that "civilization requires sacrifices"?  and how does this help explain why civilized man is unhappy?


Chapter 6. 

How does Freud use the idea that hunger and love make the world go round to derive the idea of a "death instinct"?

How does Freud derive from the idea of a death instinct the idea that a tendency towards aggression is innate and instinctual?

How does this chapter help Freud explain "the riddle" of the evolution of culture?


Chapter 7. 

What question is Freud trying to answer in this chapter?

How does Freud define "guilt," and where does guilt come from?

Why does he say that "bad conscience" is the dread of loosing love?

What does he mean by super-ego, and how and why does it create guilt?  What about the dread of authority?  (He goes over these issues twice, so bear with him.)

What does Freud mean by saying that man's guilt goes back to the murder of the father?

Why does Freud consider it a necessary conclusion that civilization brings the intensification of the felling of guilt?


Chapter 8. 

Why does Freud consider the sense of guilt the most important problem in the evolution of culture?  What is the price of progress?  Why?

Why, according to this chapter, has civilization led to greater aggression?


NOW, think of this work in the context of things we have already read and discussed.

1) What similarities do you see between the ideas of Freud and Marx?

2) What similarities do you see between the ideas of Nietzsche, Dostoevskii, and Freud?

3)  Is it correct to say that Freud's ideas embraced both the rationalist and irrationalist legacies of the nineteenth century?  How would you link these ideas to the Enlightenment and to Romanticism?

4) In what way might Freud's ideas have reflected a) the decline of certainty in progress that marked intellectual life on the eve of WW1; and b) the intellectual response to WW1?