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What assumptions does [Freud’s theory of the unconscious] make about the nature of mind, and are those assumptions philosophically justifiable?

by Martin Kinyua
What assumptions does [Freud’s theory of the unconscious] make about the nature of mind, and are those assumptions philosophically justifiable?

Freud’s Theory of the Unconscious

Freud’s theory of the unconscious: What assumptions does [Freud’s theory of the unconscious] make about the nature of mind, and are those assumptions philosophically justifiable?

  • Understand some of the psychological forces underlying human behaviour.
  • Identify levels of consciousness.
  • Critically discuss What assumptions does [Freud’s theory of the unconscious] make about the nature of mind
  • Understand the concept of psychological types and identify whether the assumptions are philosophically justifiable?

Martin Kinyua, 2021


According to Sigmund Freud Biography, Sigmund was born in Austria but grew up in Vienna. He loved reading from a young age and later attended medical school, where he gained his medical accolades in 1881. Although Sigmund Freud was not the inventor of conscious and unconscious thoughts, he popularized it, making it his major psychology contribution, (Joel, 2017). Freud came up with the mind’s topographical depiction, which shows the brain’s features and functionality. He used the iceberg analogy to show the three mind levels. He illustrated the conscious mind as all the brain processes that humans were aware of, which resembles an iceberg’s tip, for instance, the craving for water after feeling thirsty. Thoughts that we might be unaware of are first stored in the precocious and easily brought to consciousness. The preconscious acts like the brain’s waiting room in which thoughts are stored before they attract the conscious (Jennifer, 2014). Darwin’s work showed the continuity of all living species, making Freud reaffirm his contention that both man and beasts were driven by instinct instead of reason. Freud notes that our inner desire from sex and aggressive behavior drives personality and needs to be inhibited partially in a civilized world.

Sigmund Freud assumptions on the unconscious

The unconscious mind is the determiner of human behavior, resembling the iceberg’s analogy where the best part is the submerged part that one cannot see. Freud claims that human motives, feelings, and decisions are a product of their past encounters and are kept unconscious. Freud used the id, ego, and superego systems to his personality or psyche structure. He termed the id as purely unconscious while the ego and superego have preconscious, conscious, and unconscious values (Mcleod, 2015). Freud asserts that individuals are unaware of the unconscious mind’s happenings despite us knowing the conscious mind. The unconscious harbors very bad and disturbing things that people need to suppress in their awareness because they are threatening. Freud found while treating his patients that some desires or events are so awful to patients that people cannot acknowledge or believe. These can be found in repressed memories. Individual inner beast instinct is contained in the subconscious for the mating and conjuring urges that don’t often reach consciousness because rational or conscious identities do not accept them. Such defense mechanisms like repression are used to avoid unconscious thoughts and desires (Kendra, 2021).

Freud outlined the need for the unconscious mind, and he primarily assumed in his theory that human unconscious governs their behavior to a higher percentage than they suspect. Psychoanalysis seeks to reveal the repressed memories and bring the unconscious to consciousness. Freud asserted that individual unconscious thought is shown in many ways, for example, tongue slips and dreams. He demonstrated the Freudian slip where a legislator referred to his mate as the “honorable member from hell,” whereas he meant  Hull, to show how unconscious thoughts control us (De Sousa, 2011). Since trying to explain human behavior from the unconscious is irrational, Freud and Jung exemplify irrationality in their claim to ascertain the behavioral courses stem from the subconscious and thus cannot be rationally experienced. The struggles between human conceptions that stress intellect and intellectual struggles have remained in psychology for a long time and are still present in contemporary psychology.

Earlier, before Freud, Schopenhauer had illustrated that “consciousness is the mere surface of human mind, and of this, as of the globe, they do not know the interior, but only the crust.” Schopenhauer was also on the notion of the repressed thought into the unconscious, and Freud recognized him as the first person to learn of these processes. However, the former claimed to have learned of them independently. Both Freud and Schopenhauer were believers in the irrational forces that motivate human behavior; thus, they were indifferent to humans’ nature.

Justifying Freuds Assumptions Philosophically

Munsterberg felt that psychosis was a nervous disorder that was untreatable; he employed reciprocal antagonism. His efforts would make people better strengthen the thoughts differing from their causes. Even though he knew of Freud’s work, he treated his patients without analyzing the inner causes. Of Freud’s theory of unconscious motivation, he said that “The story of the subconscious mind can be told in three words: there is none.” Lewin attributed the concept of living space which was the sole influencer of their actions. These influences could be internal such as hunger, fatigue, or pain, or external such as seeing objects like restrooms, restaurants, signs, and people. He said that recollection of experience was the requirement for anything to be a psychological fact if recalled at the moment. His contemporaneity principle states that the present living space can only influence a person’s thinking behavior (Greenwald, 2017).

Freud believed that human earlier experience could only affect their adult behavior only if the person is currently aware of them. He asserted that the living space is the actual physical occurrences and made up one. For example, the belief that another person hates one might impact their interactions; individual belief in people incapability to accomplish a task leads them unable even to start. Freud attributed the subjective to protect behavior from physical reality. According to him, once need in their life pace aligned with the facts to the need’s satisfaction, for example, eating to avoid hunger dominates one living space at the time (Paul, 2017). Shamey (2020) notes that Frechner used the threshold concept. He was the first to use the iceberg’s analogy to describe the mind and asserted that the conscious part covered only an in a bit. Freud borrowed the iceberg analogy from Frechner and attempted to incorporate energy conservation principles into humans. Freud attributed G.T Frechner as the source of his ideas and admitted to having followed his steps (Laplanche, 2011).

In the interpretation of dreams, Freud writes that dreams need interpretation like hysteria patients were observed through physical symptoms. He said that a person’s defense is partially inactive; thus, repressed experiences can reach consciousness in another form, thus the difference between the objectivity and subjectivity of the dream. Freud attributed every dream to an inner desire fulfillment that would cause them anxiety in normal life. He concluded that dreams are the expression of individual internal wishes (Zhang, 2018). Freud showed that although there were similar dream symbols in different people, most dream symbol which is more relevant occurs from personal experience. Freud analyzed his dreams and affirmed his view that young males are attracted to their mothers and despise their fathers, a condition he termed “Oedipus Complex.” From his background, this belief came from a personal experience where he was nurtured by a young mother and an aging father he secretly despised.

Heidbreder compared pleasurable things to the desire for sexual pleasure, thus his bluntness on the topic. The concept of dreams from natural somatic stimuli is largely acknowledged today, but the interrelationship is interpreted differently, making the pronouncements void. On somatic stimulation interpreting unconscious thoughts, the laid down rules for discerning faced the problem of retracing the contents to natural causation stimuli. Psychoanalysis accompanied each thought to unconscious brain activity; therefore, they saw consciousness to be either existent or not. This led to philosophical denial who saw thoughts and consciousness as the same thing; they disapproved of the existence of unconscious mental activity. The unconscious thoughts were empirical, drawing the question to discern Freudian unconsciousness. Of importance was understanding the concept of the unconscious thoughts in wider ways than the simplistic Freudian assumptions and the need to understand present consciousness occurrences (Zhang, 2018).

The consciousness found in ordinary thought in the brain is a source of conceptual confusion-free motivation (Laplanche, 2011). Take a sceptical stand to the mind’s hierarchical model and the Freudian theory. They illustrate that, like belief, mental state is not existent entirely in the consciousness they possess. James takes unconscious mentality concerning its purpose as a needed thing to what he refers to as the mind-stuff. He implies mental states theories that deem it physically analyzable. Unconsciousness can be made up of formerly conscious ideas that have been repressed. This would reach Locke’s mentality condition, which stated that nothing exists in the brain that had not been in the reach of our awareness (Paul, 2016). De Sousa (2011) affirms the work of sears who saw unconsciousness as being made up of some ideas that were not conscious but have become conscious.

Another question to cover is whether it is positive to believe that unconsciousness is derived from the belief that unconsciousness as basic information for consciousness has a lot of missing links. A unity of its kind characterizes consciousness, noting that it is void of the missing link of any type. Freud’s idea can be explained in terms of the missing links in self-explanation. These links are, in whole psychological, and they arise when they are expected to find a psychological explanation (for instance, the act of remembering) (De Sousa, 2011). In his topographical model, Freud ignored the notion of the mind containing agencies or structure. Still, these were systems used especially, and it contradicts as to what was their intended meaning. Consciousness and unconsciousness are not antagonistic and therefore not damaging; their conflict does not stem from their status rather than their particular character and undue connection with repressed memories. Many questions remain unsolved, but it suits to conclude that unconsciousness and consciousness are all states that represent systems that are sorted by different features. These features do not need to be described as propositional attitudes, attributed in phenomenology but endowed with pure, psychological realism (De Sousa, 2011).

At the start, psychology demeaned the idea of unconscious mental processes. To behaviorists who took a scientific approach, the unconscious mind concept has shown origin to frustration as it objects to objective analysis and the difficulty of measuring it empirically. However, the gap between psychoanalysis has thinned, and the idea of the unconscious is of great focus to psychology too. For instance, procedural memory has been identified as an unconscious process in cognitive psychology. Social psychology has described the need for implicit memory processing (Greenwald, 2017), thus showing the contribution of unconscious processes in people’s actions.

Psychological empirical analysis has shown the limits that Freud’s theory of unconscious thoughts and new ‘adaptive unconscious’ is different from psychoanalysis (Wilson, 2004). Freud assumed the importance of the unconscious, and in the analogy of the iceberg, there exists a greater portion beneath the water. The mind works better by suppressing some memories to the unconscious. Despite Freud’s view of the single entity of unconsciousness, psychologists nowadays discern the brain to contain different modules that are a product of evolution and act away from consciousness. Freud acknowledged primitive urges in the unconscious to prevent anxiety attacks. However, modern views of the adaptive unconscious and data analysis exist outside the consciousness for faster response as compared to previously thought repression (Wilson, 2004). Makari (2008) states that he cannot dispute that psychoanalysis as a formal philosophy but asserts that delving into Freud’s work with philosophical tools provides many insights.


The unconscious movement has drawn the links between philosophy and psychology; it has shown that the unconscious can be physically tested and analyzed to show a person’s ontology. However, the theory of the unconscious is a building block in trying to understand the modern theories of human identity. This has pushed philosophers and psychologists to understand humans’ inward forces and know their genuine nature. However, there is room for improvement because the struggles between human conceptions that stress intellect and intellectual struggles have remained in psychology for a long time and are still present in contemporary psychology.




  1. R. Hergenhahn, Tracy B. Henley. An Introduction to the History of Psychology, 2014

De Sousa A., (2011), Freudian Theory and Consciousness: A Conceptual Analysis. In: Brain, Mind, and Consciousness: An International, Interdisciplinary Perspective (A.R. Singh and S.A. Singh eds.), MSM, 9(1), p210-217.

Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (2017). The implicit revolution: Reconceiving the relation between conscious and unconscious. American Psychologist, 72(9), 861–871. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000238

Jennifer Walinga, 2014 Psychodynamic Psychology https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontopsychology/chapter/2-2-psychodynamic-and-behavioural-psychology/

Joel Whitebook, (January 16, 2017 Freud: An Intellectual Biography Hardcover

Kendra Cherry, (2021) Repression as a Defense Mechanism. https://www.verywellmind.com/repression-as-a-defense-mechanism-4586642

Laplanche J (2011c). Freud and philosophy. In: Fletcher J, editor. Freud and the sexual: Essays 2000–2006, 267–74. New York, NY: International Psychoanalytic.

Makari, G. (2008). Revolution in mind: The creation of psychoanalysis. HarperCollins Publishers.

McLeod, S. A. (2015). Unconscious mind. Simply

Paul Ricœur, (2016) Psychoanalysis and Interpretation. A Critical Review Psychology.https://www.simplypsychology.org/unconscious-mind.html

Shamey R., Fairchild M. (2020) Fechner, Gustav Theodor 1801–1887. In: Pioneers of Color Science. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-30811-1_37

Wilson, T. D. (2004). Strangers to ourselves. Harvard University Press.

Zhang W and Guo B (2018) Freud’s Dream Interpretation: A Different Perspective Based on the Self-Organization Theory of Dreaming. Front. Psychol. 9:1553. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01553











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