Sigmund Freud on Morality and “Higher Laws”

Morality is a commonly discussed topic in the realm of philosophy, especially for those “outside-the-box” thinkers who seem to have “bizarre” and new beliefs for an individual of their time or era. Sigmund Freud is no exception. Not only controversial in his beliefs, he become well-known for his ideas of the human psyche and human sexual development.

But how does this apply to morality? Like many famous philosophers, they  discuss morality and, more often than not, religion finds its way into the conversation. Sigmund Freud discusses morality in his work, Civilization and Its Discontents

Referring to morality, including a religious aspect, commonly a higher power is thought of as God. This God, to followers, creates the moral standards of which all followers strive to live by. Interestingly, Freud believes a higher power is simply an illusion that is used for a sense of (false) security. In other words, to Freud, there is no almighty, moral God of which all humans should follow to have a sense of morality. Rather, Freud believes that morality is unique to every individual and is shaped by situations that each person experienced, is experiencing, or will experience. 

Referring to page thirty one in Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud further explains this situational aspect of his definition of morality. To him, decisions an individual makes and their actions are based upon their morals, which differ for every person. We must act to satisfy ourselves, not a higher power, to avoid guilty thoughts and feelings. More importantly, a higher power shouldn’t dictate a person’s thoughts or opinion of themselves. You can still be a good or “moral” person even if you don’t satisfy a higher power’s wants and needs from you, according to Freud. 

There’s also another interesting aspect of Freud’s theory is that he further suggests that rather than humans freely deciding for themselves, they don’t have control over moral codes and the more they fight to feel moral the more they feel immoral. Freud finds this “phenomenon” entirely irrational and has no explanation for it. He does try to explain it, however, through references of morality being part of individual development (with a heavy emphasis on human sexual development) as well as influences from evolution(s) of civilization development.

All in all, Freud’s personal explanation of sexual development talks about the ego being the main center of morality. However, he argues that with all humans having an ego, how can there be a higher power? Is it the ego or a higher power that forms or dictates TRUE morality or virtue?


— Analysis done by Group 5 on 12/02/2015 —