One of Freud’s Asides

I recently had occasion to re-read Freud’s case of the Ratman, and was struck by a passage in which Freud attempts to educate his obsessional neurotic patient in the underlying principles of psychoanalysis:

When there is a mésalliance, I began, between an affect and its ideational content (in this instance, between the intensity of the self-reproach and the occasion for it), a layman will say that the affect is too great for the occasion – that it is exaggerated – and that consequently the inference following from the self-reproach…is false. On the contrary, the physician says: ‘No. The affect is justified. The sense of guilt is not in itself open to further criticism. But it belongs to some other content, which is unknown (unconscious), and which requires to be looked for.


In dispensing with the unconscious, mainstream clinical psychology is reduced to Freud’s ‘layman’, a sophist disputed the legitimacy of one ‘distorted cognition’ or another. Just as philosophy was once said to have been a series of footnotes to Plato, so here is one of Freud’s asides – justifiably dismissed for its commonsensical stupidity – now constructed into the dominant paradigm of the psy-disciplines.

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