Morality and Psychoanalysis

Now you want to distinguish very clearly between two things: between the actual medical theories and technique of psychoanalysts, and the general philosophical view of the world which Freud and some others have gone on to add to this. The second thing – the philosophy of Freud – is in direct contradiction to Christianity: and also in direct contradiction to the other great psychologist, Jung. And furthermore, when Freud is talking about how to cure neurotics he is speaking as a specialist on his own subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an amateur. It is therefore sensible to attend to him with respect in the one case and not in the other – and that is what I do.

But psychoanalysis itself, apart from all the philosophical additions that Freud and other have made to it, is not in the least contradictory to Christianity. Its technique overlaps with Christian morality at some points and it would not be a bad thing if every person knew something about it: but it does not run the same course all the way, for the two techniques are doing rather different things.

When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved. One is the act of choosing. The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his psychological outfit presents him with, and which are the raw material of his choice. Now this raw material may be of two kinds. Either it may be what we would call normal: it may consist of the sort of feelings that are common to all men. Or else it may consist of quite unnatural feelings due to things that have gone wrong in his subconscious. Thus fear of things that are really dangerous would be an example of the first kind: an irrational fear of cats or spiders would be an example of the second kind.

Put it this way. Imagine three men who go to war. One has the ordinary natural fear of danger that any man has and he subdues it by moral effort and becomes a brave man. Let us suppose that the other two have, as a result of things in their sub-consciousness, exaggerated, irrational fears, which no amount of moral effort can do anything about. Now suppose that a psychoanalyst comes along and cures these two: that is, he puts them back in the position of the first man. Well it is just then that the psychoanalytical problem is over and the moral problem begins. Because, now that they are cured, these two men might take quite different lines.

The first might say, “Thank goodness I’ve got rid of all those doodahs. Now at last I can do what I always wanted to do – my duty to the cause of freedom.” But the other might say, “Well I’m very glad that I now feel moderately cool under fire, but, of course, that doesn’t alter the fact that I’m still jolly well determined to look after Number One and let the other chap do the dangerous job whenever I can. Indeed one of the good things about feeling less frightened is that I can now look after myself much more efficiently and can be much cleverer at hiding the fact from others.” now this difference is a purely moral one and psychoanalysis cannot do anything about it. However much you improve the man’s raw material, you have still got something else: the real, free choice of the man, on the material presented to him, either to put his own advantage first or to put it last. And this free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with.

– C S Lewis, Mere Christianity. p.46-47

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