Freud and Darwin: The Evolution of Speculative Science

It is fitting that Sigmund Freud was born a generation later than Charles Darwin, because Freud does not just build on Darwin’s work in regards to the theories of natural selection, but also in regards to the spirit behind the work.

Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution relied heavily on the assertion of a hypothesis that was not the simplest answer to the question of where do species come from. Where his peers concluded that there was no more logical answer than the spontaneous emergence of individual species, Darwin considered the observations, records, and data collected from his trip around the world and chose to suggest the existence of a state of nature that he could not actually see, but that would more completely describe natural history. For his work, his peers lauded his mind, but often rejected his results, citing the ease of believing their own pre-existing theories that did not rely on filling in the blanks of natural history. Darwin’s contemporaries did not see how anyone could speculate so broadly, and still conduct fruitful science. For them, science required drawing logical conclusions from precise observations; if you could not specifically see the behavior or phenomena you were discussing, you could not assume its existence.  It was only after being given sufficient time to review Darwin’s work and the robustness of his proposed theories, that some other scientists in the nineteenth century began to voice their agreement with Darwin, accepting that his speculative approach did not violate the tenants of good science.

However, Darwin’s influence on the physical and even the social sciences became more and more apparent as time progressed into the 20th Century. During the period from 1900-1930, science, as a whole, began to advance rapidly, with more and more figures taking up Darwin’s mantle of theorizing on what could not be directly observed. This acceptance of the theoretical was crucial for the acceptance of Freud’s own work. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud acknowledges as much when he writes:

But have we any right to assume that the original type of feeling survives alongside the later one which has developed from it?

Undoubtedly we have: there is nothing unusual in such a phenomenon, whether in the. psychological or in other spheres. Where animals are concerned, we hold the view that the most highly developed have arisen from the lowest. Yet we still find all the simple forms alive today. The great saurians are extinct and have made way for the mammals, but a typical representative of them, the crocodile, is still living among -4- us. The analogy may be too remote, and it is also weakened by the fact that the surviving lower species are not as a rule the true ancestors of the present-day more highly developed types. The intermediate members have mostly died out and are known to us only through reconstruction. (3-4).

As Freud acknowledges in his reference to reconstruction, he needs his readers to accept the premise that they can intellectually rebuild the structures and instances that he is describing. He needs them follow him in speculation. Without a willingness to speculate on the unobservable, Freud’s theories of the mind, from which he extrapolates his theories on the evolution of culture and society are cannot seem even the least bit reasonable, as we have no way to actually see what is occurring in the mind; we have no way to make precise measurements or draw definitive conclusions. The leaps of faith that Freud is asking us to make may not be as large as Darwin’s, but they are there none-the-less, demonstrating an increase in the acceptance of speculation in science, but also the ways in which scholars and scientists like Freud continued to challenge conventions in their fields. In accepting Darwin and his methodologies, which is to say accepting and pushing the limits of speculation, Freud was able to push psychology towards the more scientific and biology driven field it is today. To some degree, it would be fair to call Freud the Darwin of Psychology because of the ways in which he challenged the assumptions of his peers.

The ironic twist here, though, is that in the evolution of Darwin’s acceptance in the scientific community, culminating in Freud’s use of Darwin as a justification for speculating on the mind, his work is used more and more frequently to support off-base science. As we know, many of Freud’s theories were debunked as Psychology developed into a more precise and accurate science. So, even while Freud is very much the spiritual successor of Darwin, we can see the potential problems for science that arose out of the reasonable use of speculation to develop theories that were proven to be untrue later. Today, science still grapples with this problem in the public sphere, where unproven theories make it hard for some individuals to accept what the scientific community did over a century ago: natural selection.

Marx and Estrangement: Rethinking the Politics of the American Revolution

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In “Estranged Labour,” Marx pulls no punches in his description of the plight of workers. He makes it very clear that he feels that the economic system in place in industrial Germany in the mid 19th Century has stripped workers of their humanity. He draws this conclusion from the realization that the economics of the time period considered workers to only be worth the value of their labor, that is the value of what they produced. Alone, this way of thinking about the worker would not be disastrous, but the economic system also gives nothing back to the workers; the workers do not choose how and when they labor and are kept subservient, in a state of slavery if you will, by their lack of access to capital, which is a feature of the economic system. By being reduced in such a way, the workers, according to Marx, lose their humanity and become alien.

However, Marx’s thinking is not entirely new itself. The Framers of the United States and those philosophers that inspired them, like Locke, attempted to address similar issues as Marx. For these political theorists, the issue of humanness, though, was not an economic issue, but rather a political one. The oppressive forces on humanity were not imbalanced economics, but imbalanced governing. The thought process is similar though; for the Framers, if individuals revolt and claim those political rights that they believe all individuals are entitled to, then a new balance will be set in place. Marx believes in a similar ideal; if the workers can rise up and claim their fair share of capital, then the economic system, and society in general, will also fall into balance.

Blake and Revolution: How Blake Utilized Politics to Form His Art

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It is well documented that William Blake ran against the grain of British society during his lifetime. He actively involved himself in the radical politics developing in London between 1776 and 1850. These radical politics began with the actions of Charles James Fox, who called for every man in England to have the right to vote. From this position, the movement gained steam and proposed a series of extreme political reforms, many of which stemmed from the French Revolution. The English radicals saw the French Revolution as an opportunity to discuss the problems of absolute government in their own country. The resulting political discourse, which involved Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft, among others, became known as the Revolution Controversy. The Revolution Controversy helped to advance the radical philosophies and politics by involving some of the most distinguished and famous members of public life.

Blake, however, represents an artistic turn for the radical movement. Where most of the radical movement produced political actions, Blake produced artistic actions that incorporated elements of the radical movement. His artwork took on a sort of prophetic quality and incorporated idyllic scenes and notions. In this way, Blake established an early link between London’s radicals and the subsequent Romantic artistic movement, which emphasized a pursuit of the beautiful and ideal aspects of nature. As such, Blake stands at an important juncture in the history of art and society; his work stands as an act of defiance against the norms as much as it stands as an invigoration of the form itself.

John Locke: For or Against Austerity?

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This article  in the New York Times quickly covers the history of austerity in the West. At one point it suggests that John Locke and his political philosophy are still used as a basis for austerity policies. The argument is that Locke’s emphasis on the need for a limited government uninvolved in politics ends with the government not interacting at all in the economy.

The challenge, however, is that Locke never properly addresses any full economic topics. He does suggest in one chapter that taxation approved by the people is acceptable, but he does not explore the issue much farther. At the same time, it is possible to describe Locke’s philosophy as having a moral or ethical aspect to it. Locke sees certain actions as being “right,” or more acceptable or correct than others. These actions include recognizing the rights of individuals and the establishment of a government to protect these rights.

Thus, we quickly recognized the difficulty involved in using Locke and his philosophy as a basis for austerity. Austerity, certainly, can be used as a method for protecting personal property for those who own property, a concept that Locke seems to firmly believe in. However, austerity can also easily prevent those individuals in the lowest classes of society from gaining property and economic advancement, facets of life that Locke strongly supports. Based on our own discussion, which struggled to develop a solution that seemed to satisfy both sides of the argument, it seems almost impossible to satisfy all of Locke’s philosophy when arguing for or against austerity. Perhaps, the most important take away, then, should be that governing is not as simple as we would like to imagine or as Locke’s writing would sometimes make it seem. Many of the situations Locke describes and either vocally supports or opposes are generalities that can be hard to recognize in specific contemporary situations.