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Civilization and Its Discontents Paperback – 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393304515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393304510
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.1 x 2.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #21,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Augustus Caesar, Ph.D. on Jan. 5 2004
Format: Paperback
Sigmund Freud, whatever the variations in his posthumous reputation, remains the most compelling, daring, and persuasive analyst of the human condition we have. His psychoanalytic theories of sexuality, sublimation, repression, etc., offer original insights that profoundly influenced the course of Western consciousness in the 20th century. In addition to his gifts as a thinker, Freud was a master stylist, a man whose luminous prose and skillful argumentation make reading him a genuine pleasure.
"Civilization and Its Discontents," one of Freud's last works, remains one of his most vital and important. Don't be fooled by its brevity; this is a deeply complex and wide-ranging examination of Western civilization and its tensions. Freud speculates about the origins of our modern societies, the difficulties of assimilating ourselves to them given our own individual psyches, and ends the book with a rather pessimistic look forward. Clearly, Freud felt that civilization's "discontents" were an unresolvable fact of life.
What makes "Civilization and Its Discontents" so fascinating is Freud's application of psychoanalysis to Western society as whole. He examines how the factors at play in our own psyches--family conflicts, sexual desire, guilt, the "death instinct," and the eternal battle between our own self-interest and the interests of the human species at large--cause the problems that human beings encounter on a daily basis. As always with Freud, his ideas are put forward not as a final statement, but as a tentative first step.
This is one of Freud's indispensable texts, and its accessible and absorbing style make it an ideal introduction for those who are seeking to discover this colossal mind for the first time. A must read.
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Format: Paperback
Many people today believe that Sigmund Freud was obsessed with sex. However, most of these assumptions are based upon what another person said of Freud and almost never upon a careful reading of Freud's work. These people do not see the fact that Freud writes on more than sexuality, he also analyzes and researches the study of mankind. Sigmund Freud attacks the question why we do things the way we do head on and answers to the best of his reason. Therefore, Sigmund Freud was truly a man of his time and his debate on mankind was a very innovative method to answer mankind's most serious issues.
Man is an aggressive being and civilization is the means which humanity withholds its primal urges in check. At least Freud believes so and shows support for this thesis by referring to mankind's constant need to restrain its inherent passions despite all of the controls placed by society. I believe that Freud was definitely on to something with this point. He is right when he states that man is essentially an anti-social, anti-cultural being. One could look down through the pages of history and see war after war, violent act after violent primarily as a result of the inherent greed for power and a passionate thirst for more than one's own. This is one of the many reasons why communism is impossible, man is a selfish being and always desires more than he possesses. He will do what is necessary to increase his holding at the expense of his fellows. I believe that Nietzsche and Freud are in agreement at this point. However, Nietzsche believes that the masses attempt to quell this passion and label that as noble. I believe that Freud does not think it is possible to restrain this aggressiveness and mankind is only able to cover it up in a semblance of control which we label civilization.
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Freud's works, although lavishly praised as a giant advance in human understanding, have proved themselves no more useful, verifiable or objective than the horoscope section of a small town newspaper. This book is exemplifies the irrational foundation of psychoanalysis above all others. Poorly reasoned arguments and absolutely fantastic assertions fill this rather rambling volume from cover to cover. Another rather disturbing aspect to this book is it's reliance on Lamarckian evolutionary theory which was completely discredited long before Freud began his writing. Freud certainly knew about this, so is he being deceitful?
However, Freud's prose is something to be admired. I suspect his writing ability (and the bizarre but energetic cult of personality that surrounded Freud during his life) was the main reason for the success of the psychoanalysis movement. It certainly wasn't the arguments for they simply lack intellectual merit.
Once you peer behind the psuedo-scientific veneer of his theories, you cannot help but to feel Freud was yet another nihilistic hedonist attempting, not only to rationalize his degeneracy, but also foist his error onto a civilization that he found so dispicable. If you read this book with a sharp analytical mind, it will go a long way in helping to destroy the cult of psychology's greatest fraud. Otherwise, Civilization and Its Discontents remains strictly a historical curiosity, not unlike the idiotic screeds of Karl Marx.
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While I agree that Civilization and Its Discontents has some kernels of truth within it, I cannot recommend it either as a persuasive piece or as an introduction to Freudian thought. I do not know if, in his longer works, Freud actually supports any of his statements with more than the weak ancedotal proofs he gives here; nor do I know if he actually works through his arguments to a logical conclusion instead of relying on sensationalistic statements with no basis in his evidence. Suffice to say he does not meet the minimum requirements, in my opinion, for philosophical or scientific excellence, in this book. Furthermore, the rambling, vague, and disorganized nature of this book makes its usefulness as a mere introduction to Freud extremely weak. I would only suggest using it as a companion to such other works as Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, or as an immediate overview and introduction to The Future of an Illusion (which, though written earlier than Civilization, more fully elucidates many of the principles Freud touts here). As a long-time student of classical thought, philosophy, and ethics, not to mention the fundamental principles of logic, I found myself highly unimpressed with this work, and saw no great haven of Truth within it. Further, having been raised by Secular Humanists, I am less than convinced of the practical merits of Freud's ideas. Read it if you like, but don't expect to find salvation or much enlightenment out of these few pages...
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