The 2022 Isaiah Berlin Lecture (Week 5, MT22)

beatrice longuenesse

In previous work, I have claimed that Sigmund Freud’s and Immanuel Kant’s respective views of the structures of human mental life in cognition and in morality present striking similarities. The goal of this lecture is to respond to objections to my admittedly surprising claims.

The central objection under consideration concerns the contrast between, on the one hand, Kant’s view of what he calls the “unity of consciousness,” which he takes to be fundamental to our mental life; and, on the other, Freud’s conception of what he takes to be the insuperably conflicted nature of our mental life. Another objection is that Freud’s investigation of the mind is psychological and clinical, whereas Kant’s is epistemological and (in Kant’s own terms, to be explained) “transcendental.” I acknowledge the force of the objections and I offer responses to them. I conclude this lecture by noting that one important condition for properly adjudicating the differences between Freud’s view of the mind and Kant’s is to clarify their respective views of “conscious” vs. “unconscious” representations. This will be the topic of the next two lectures.