The 2022 Isaiah Berlin Lecture (Week 7, MT22)

beatrice longuenesse

In Lecture 1, I argued that the mental structure Freud called “ego” finds an ancestor in the mental structure Kant called the “empirical unity of apperception.” I left out of consideration an important structure of our mental life: that “part” or aspect of the ego Freud calls the “superego,” which he explicitly relates to Kant’s “categorical imperative” of morality. In this fourth Lecture, I continue the work begun in Lecture 1 and consider the connections between those two notions (Freud’s “superego” and Kant’s “categorical imperative”).

In addition, I introduce a notion which is connected, in Freud’s account, to that of “super­ego” but plays a distinctive role in Freud’s genealogy of our moral attitudes: the concept of the “ego-ideal.” I examine the role of ideals in Freud’s view of morality as compared to Kant’s. We encounter here a new dimension of what I have called Freud’s “naturalization” of the structures of mental life he found in Kant.

I argue that Bernard Williams’s diagnosis of what he called the “morality system” is close to Freud’s diagnosis in both its positive and its negative aspects. I argue that both Williams’s and Freud’s diagnoses are eerily relevant for today’s moral quandaries.

In conclusion, I argue that Freud’s references to Kant throughout his mature work should be taken seriously. They should be taken seriously as a resource for understanding Freud’s thinking. But they should also be taken seriously by anyone sympathetic to Kant’s

transcendental approach to the mind but unpersuaded by Kant’s appeal to a purely intelligible world as the metaphysical ground for the structures of mental life he argues are necessary conditions for theoretical cognition, on the one hand; and moral responsibility, on the other. If we look for a naturalistic metaphysics of the mind as an alternative to the supernaturalistic metaphysics Kant offers as a ground for our a priori normative capacities, we could do worse than to take Freud’s metapsychology as a starting point of inquiry.