Module Details

PY938-7-SP-CO: Philosophy And Psychoanalysis

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

Year: 2016/17
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: No
Comments: This is an MA level module, compulsory for students on the Philosophy and Psychoanalysis pathway of the MA Philosophy. MA students from other courses may take this module as an option, provided they have the prior approval of their PGT Director and the Supervisor.

Supervisor: Peter Dews
Teaching Staff: Peter Dews
Contact details: Initial contact is Wendy Williams, Graduate Administrator (Philosophy), email, tel 01206 872705

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

Module Outline (Updated March 2015)


Sigmund Freud is famous for his introduction of a new concept of the 'Unconscious' into European thought. However, ever since Freud's day there have been major controversies concerning the nature and status of the unconscious. Beginning with a consideration of Freud's theory of the unconscious and some of the problems it raises, we will move on to the work of the major French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. We will seek to explore and understand the motivation for his reformulation of the notion of the unconscious in terms of the division of the speaking subject, viewed as always already caught up in a semi-opaque web of intersubjective relations. We will then go on to investigate the (in some ways) strikingly similar and (in other ways) dramatically different conception of subjectivity, intersubjectivity and language to be found in the work of the great twentieth century ethical philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. Although Levinas was close contemporary of Lacan, and both were teaching at the same time in Paris, no personal dialogue was ever initiated. Our aim will be to construct such a dialogue, seeking to understand what is a stake, philosophically, ethically and psychoanalytically, in the way these two thinkers understand language, subjectivity, and the status of the Other.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students should have:

A good understanding of the problems addressed by the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious, as first formulated by Freud;

A good understanding of the crucial contributions of Jacques Lacan to post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory;

An awareness of the significant theoretical and philosophical differences between Freud and Lacan;

A good understanding of controversial aspects of Lacan's theory, and some awareness of critical responses to that theory;

A good understanding of the central conceptions of the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas;

An awareness of the advantages and problems of Levinas's philosophical method;

An ability to identify and explore significant parallels and divergences between the thought of Emmanuel Levinas and that of Jacques Lacan, and to explain what is at stake philosophically in these parallels and divergences.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

Define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;

Seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;

Process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;

Compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;

Write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;

Be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;

Think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;

Maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;

Think critically and constructively.

Learning and Teaching Methods

1 x one-hour lecture, followed by 1 x one-hour seminar each week during the spring term, except for Week 21 which is Reading Week.


100 per cent Coursework Mark


1 x 4,000 word essay

Other information

MA students from other courses may take this module as an option, provided they have the prior approval of their PGT Director and Peter Dews.


  • Bibliography (updated March 2015)
  • Please note that all 24 volumes of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (referred to below as SE followed by volume number) are available online through the PEP Web database, which is accessible via the University of Essex Library website. Another important resource that is available through PEP Web is Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis's classic dictionary of psychoanalytic terminology, The Language of Psycho-Analysis. The PEP Web database also makes accessible the entire historical content of numerous major psychoanalytic journals.
  • Jonathan Lear, Freud (Routledge, 2005)
  • Sigmund Freud, 'Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning' (1911), in SE, vol. 12.
  • ---, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, in SE, vols 15 and 16.
  • Mikkel Borch Jacobsen, Lacan: The Absolute Master (Stanford University Press, 1991)
  • Jacques Lacan, 'The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience' in Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English (W.W Norton & Co, 2006)
  • Michael Morgan, The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Emmanuel Levinas, On Escape (Stanford University Press, 2003)

Further information