IV. The Psychological Paradigm: “Wo Es war soll Ich werden” [Sigmund Freud](“Where the Id was the Ego shall be”)


(From the Alphonsian Academy Blog)

In former posts we saw that the so-called personalist and phenomenological paradigms are actually umbrella terms under which shelter many approaches and theories, many of which might be considered sub-paradigms. This will also be the case with the psychological paradigm. Here we have to do with an ombrellone covering a vast range of psychological theories and practices. There is no question of attempting an overview of these positions in a single blog. What seems possible, albeit in a suggestive rather than an apodictic manner, is to identify some of the contours of the umbrella itself, that is to say the very idea of psychology.

To this end a famous statement of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) comes to mind: “Wo Es war soll Ich werden” which is often rendered into English, somewhat inadequately, as “Where the Id was the Ego shall be”. (The translation loses the force of Freud’s play on the first person singular pronoun Ich.) This statement was made at the end of an attempt to explain the purpose of psychoanalysis but it can serve us here as a way of identifying some key characteristics of any would-be psychological paradigm, meaning as always by paradigm “a comprehensive, prescriptive model for collective living”. A telegraphic gloss on each word in the statement will reveal some elements essential to characterizing the psychological paradigm.

Wo/Where: we are in the realm of the human psyche which Freud insists is a lot more complicated and dynamic than any traditional view of the human subject or the human mind.

Es/the Id: one turbulent inhabitant of this realm is what Freud calls the Id, meaning the mesh of interactive drives which push the individual toward pleasure AND death.

War/was: carefully examined, the statement is actually a brief narration, thus introducing the key factor of temporality.

Soll/shall: the German verb sollen, taken literally, refers not to what shall be but to what should be, what is supposed to be. This delicate, suggestive, prescriptive nuance, which is admittedly ambiguous in the German phrase, is almost totally lost in this English translation.

Ich/I: Jacques Lacan insists that this use of “I” (in the context of psychoanalysis) is not intended to suggest that the Ego should oust the Id, but that it should recognise that it is rooted in the Id.

Werden/shall be: as we saw above, soll is not the future of the verb to be, and so soll ich werden carries a prescriptive nuance, even if it is far from being a moral imperative.

Trying to put all this into an initial explanation of “the psychological paradigm” we might come up with something along these lines: a model of human co-existence that conceives of this existence more as a mental happening than as a substantive state and that is sensitive to the degree to which what happens is influenced by factors beyond the consciousness of the human subject.

Needless to say, the moral implications of such a paradigm can scarcely be overrated and will undoubtedly be a central theme in our transdisciplinary course.

Fr. Martin McKeever, CSsR.