Module Details

PY419-6-SP-CO: Freud And The Philosophy Of The Unconscious

Note: This module is inactive. Visit the Module Directory to view modules and variants offered during the current academic year.

Year: 2017/18
Department: Philosophy
Essex credit: 15
ECTS credit: 7.5
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: Yes
Comments: This is a final year (Level 6) module. It is open to outside option students, but only with the Module Supervisor`s permission.

Supervisor: Professor Peter Dews
Teaching Staff: Prof Peter Dews
Contact details: Tracy Donaldson, Second and Final Year Administrator email:

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

Module Outline (updated March 2015)

The theories of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, have exercised a profound influence on thought and culture for more than a hundred years. Many of Freud`s ideas have become integral to the ways in which we think about ourselves and about our mental life. At the same, Freud`s claims about the nature and functioning of the human mind raise many intriguing and unresolved philosophical questions.

This module introduces students to the basic elements of Freud`s psychoanalytic view of the mind, and explores some of the philosophical issues which it raises. After looking at one of Freud`s case histories, we will explore Freud`s basic distinction between `primary` and `secondary` mental processes, and consider his method of interpreting the unconscious meaning of dreams and neurotic symptoms. We will go on to look at how the notions of `transference` and `counter-transference` are put to work in the clinical context, and at Freud`s conceptions of gender and sexuality, in the context of the psychological development of the individual. The second half of the module will then explore questions about the nature of the unconscious, and about the kind of knowledge of human beings which psychoanalysis purports to provide. We will consider writings by a range of philosophers who have commented, negatively or positively (and sometimes both) on Freudian psychoanalysis, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Ricoeur, and Jürgen Habermas. Throughout, the intimate connection between the theory and practice of psychoanalysis will be emphasised.

The aims of the module are:

to familiarise students with the basic elements of Freudian theory;

to develop students` awareness of the cultural and intellectual context within which Freud`s ideas developed;

to explore the close relation between Freudian theory and the practice of psychoanalysis;

to investigate some of the philosophical issues raised by psychoanalytic theory, such as:

1) What kind of evidence could count in favour of the existence of the `unconscious`?
2) What kind of entity is the unconscious?
3) What kind of validity can be attributed to the psychoanalytic deciphering of a dream or neurotic symptom?
4) Does psychoanalysis offer a convincing account of how human beings can behave irrationally?
5) Does psychoanalysis seek to explain or to interpret human behaviour?
6) What is the status of psychoanalytic theory as a form of knowledge?

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module students should have:

A good understanding of the basic elements of Freudian theory;

a good understanding of the intellectual context in which psychoanalysis emerged, and of the relation between psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice;

a good understanding of the some the central philosophical questions raised by psychoanalytic theories, and of the range of ways in which they might be answered.

Learning and Teaching Methods

1 x two-hour seminar. Week 8 is a Reading Week. Week 30 (summer term) is devoted to a revision session.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


1 x 2,000-3,000 word essay, counting for 100% of the coursework mark (see Philosophy Undergraduate Handbook and full module description on ORB in September for further details)

Other information

Erasmus/IP students must have already taken two philosophy modules at their home institution.


  • Bibliography (updated March 2015)
  • Preparatory Reading
  • The best introduction to Freud is Freud`s own writing, after all his name was given to a German prize for scientific prose. I would recommend that you start by reading his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. However, for those wanting an overview, the best recent book is Jonathan Lear, Freud (Routledge). Lear is a practising psychoanalyst, as well as a distinguished philosopher.
  • You could also get a head start by reading Freud`s `Rat Man` case history (`Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis` [1909])
  • Set Texts
  • There are no central set texts, but please refer to the week-by-week required reading as listed in the full module description in the ORB and on Moodle.
  • All Freud`s psychoanalytical writings are available via the PEP web database in the University Library.

Further information