Marcuse, critic of Freud

Fritz Wotruba, tomb of opera singer Selma Halban Kurz.


Conference on the book “Eros and Civilization”

To Gerard Lebrun

“Or ti puote appear quant'è nascosa / La veritate alia gente ch 'avvera / ciascun amore in se laudabil cosa, / peró che forse appar la sua matera / semper esser buona; ma non sciascun segno / è buono , ancor che buona sia la cera.” (Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatory, XVIII, 34-9).

“It is necessary to look further for the justifying principle of hedonism: in its abstract conception of the subjective aspect of happiness, in its inability to distinguish between true and false needs, between true and false enjoyment” (Marcuse, “Contribution to the Critique of Hedonism”).

Published in Brazil in 1968, Eros and civilization, by Herbert Marcuse, needs no introduction. Taking this book (as well as other writings by Marcuse, in particular his “Contribution to the critique of hedonism[1] of 1938) as an object of commentary, I do not intend, therefore, just to summarize caricaturally the terms of his “philosophical critique of Freud's thought”, whose exposition would require a much longer time than that of a conference.

What interests me is to unearth, if possible, the bases, not always explicit, from which Marcuse can, at the same time, challenge Freud's basic theses, marking the limits of Metapsychology, and claim fidelity to the strictest "Freudism", as he does in the epilogue of his book, in which he lashes out, with incomparable brio, the revisionist deviations of the neo-Freudians .

My hypothesis – to indicate right away the path I will propose – is the following: we can only understand the criticism that Marcuse addresses to Freud, as well as his paradoxical “orthodoxy”, if we understand the metamorphoses that the idea of ​​desire undergoes, in the passage from Freudian field to the field of dialectics, in which Marcuse seeks to re-install it. It is also not mine – it is obvious – the purpose of “criticizing” Marcuse's criticism, in the name of the spirit or the letter of Freud's thought: to opt for one or another direction, it is necessary to verify if we understand how, why, from from which critical point, they diverge.


However, in order to place my question correctly, it is necessary, in the circumstances of this conference, to give at least a brief indication of the content of Marcuse's criticism of Freud's thought. Gross mode, we can say that it refers to the statute attributed by Metapsychology to the reality principle. From the outset, it must be said that Marcuse is far from sharing the prejudice that some Marxists harbor in relation to psychoanalysis. On the contrary, psychoanalysis appears to him as a psychology social and historical which remakes, at its level, the archeology of repression and alienation and thus complements the Critical Theory movement.

Indeed, the structure of the psychic apparatus and the fate of Psyche individual are defined as the result of a long process that is indissolubly biological and social. The natural history of life and the social history of institutions are the two threads with which Freud aligned the basic opposition between pleasure e reality which underpins the entire edifice of the psychic apparatus. This genesis (both of humanity and of each individual) is marked by the succession of crucial events (as in the ideal genesis through which Rousseau reconstitutes the advent of inequality). Each of these events reiterates, in its own way, the trauma of replacing the pleasure principle with the reality principle.

At the level of the genesis of the species, trauma occurs in the primeval horde, “when the primordial father monopolizes power and pleasure, and imposes renunciation on the part of children”. At the level of the individual, the experience is always repeated at the beginning of childhood, when adults confront the child with the harsh law of reality. Says Marcuse: “But both on the generic and the individual level, submission is continually reproduced. The dominance of the primordial father is followed, after the first rebellion, by the dominance of the sons, and the fraternal clan develops to give rise to institutional social and political dominance. The reality principle materializes in a system of institutions. And the individual, evolving within such a system, learns that the requirements of the reality principle are those of law and order, and passes them on to the next generation.”[2]

What interests Marcuse, at the end of this biosocial genealogy of the psychic apparatus, are its consequences for the analysis of the present Civilization. From the outset, the perspective introduced by Freud, like Nietzsche's before it, shows the civilizing process as a formidable process of repression and destruction – civilization seems inseparable from a strong coefficient of barbarism. What is highest in Civilization only seems to be able to come into being thanks to the sacrifice of happiness and the mutilation of life, in a word: the spirit is constituted on the rubble of life. Who would not remember Hegel's phrase: "The disease of the animal is the becoming of the Spirit"? It is understandable, therefore, that Marcuse reads the Freudian narrative according to the dialectical rhythm of alienation, triggered by the contradiction between the principles of pleasure and reality.

But it is this dialectical alignment of the contradiction that obliges Marcuse to put the two principles in new terms, making possible the reconciliation of the adversaries. The pacifying work of dialectics and the idea of ​​a non-repressive civilization that such work promotes do not, according to Marcuse, hurt the deepest vocation of Freud's thought. Everything happens, on the contrary, as if Freud had just lacked a small impulse to take that final step by himself, to which his entire previous itinerary invited him, that is, to formulate the hypothesis of a “new” principle of reality. A new principle of reality, since it was made possible by the social development created at the expense of the empire of the income principle, repression and more-repression.

Since the Freudian theory of instincts is essentially a theory History there is no impossibility logic for this theoretical development. Marcuse says:The income principle [ie, the “current” reality principle] imposes a repressive and integrated organization of sexuality and the destructive instinct. Therefore, if the historical process tends to make the institutions of the income principle obsolete, it will also tend to make the organization of the instincts obsolete—that is, to free the instincts from the restrictions and deviations required by the income principle. This would imply the real possibility of a gradual elimination of surplus-repression, whereby an increasing area of ​​destructiveness could then be absorbed or neutralized by the thus strengthened libido.[3] In a word: the forces of production objectively permit a non-repressive organization of society and work, limiting the sphere of Ananke, opening the space for a calm eroticization of social life.

To close this summary, let us resort, in an act of philological violence, to a beautiful text by Plato, taken from Gorgias (508a): “Philosophers tell us, Callicles, that community and friendship, order, temperance, and justice hold together heaven and earth, gods and men, and that this universe is thus called Cosmos or order, not disorder or irregularity”. Plato's phrase, of course, is "conservative", since it fixes the social order as consubstantial with Reason. But, on the other hand, it appears as responsible for the very order of the Cosmos. This allows us to imagine a non-Platonic reading, which would underline the character demiurgical of the social, which allows him to give cohesion and substantiality to the opposition between the celestial and the terrestrial, the human and the divine.

Indeed, for Marcuse, it is the society of domination and oppression that gives cohesion to instinctual dynamics, in the form of contradiction between reality and pleasure. Another form of sociability could institute a “cohesion” different from instinctual life, reuniting the opposite principles, uniting in a single dimension the celestial and the terrestrial, the divine and the human!


At the end of this crude summary, apparently, my question already seems to be answered: maintaining the basic theses of Freudian Metapsychology, Marcuse does nothing more than point to a can-be implicit in modern society, from whose ignorance (and only from it) Freudian “pessimism” is born. The difference between Marcuse and Freud would only be in the wheat of plasticity or historicity that each one attributes to instinct. If Marcuse can be, at the same time, critical and orthodox, it is perhaps because that is how he sees his relationship with the philosophy of psychoanalysis. However, it is here, if I am right in formulating my hypothesis, and only here, that the problem can be formulated. And it can only be so within a properly “philosophical” horizon, such as: how the Intermezzo philosophical of eros and civilization and the oldest text of “Contribution to the critique of hedonism”.

But what is this “properly” philosophical place where Marcuse's critique of Freud takes place? At the Intermezzo – which constitutes, in fact, the heart of the book – Freudian Metapsychology is placed within the history of Western Metaphysics, as a crucial point of one of its basic lines. The idea of ​​placing Metapsychology within the history of philosophy is not, in itself, strange – when forming the word, Freud certainly had its almost sister in mind: metaphysics e metapsychology express an unmistakable family air. Kinship obviously clear to Freud, for more than one reason. As an examination – at a distance from the empirical-clinical material worked on by psychoanalysis – of the basic concepts it uses, Metapsychology is, essentially, philosophy of psychology. Even more, compressed between a medicine and a philosophy that resist recognizing it as an activity of knowledge, it is in it that psychoanalysis will seek its theoretical support.

But it is not in this almost purely “epistemological” register that Marcuse turns Freud's work into a chapter of Western philosophy. He does so in another direction, which is not absent from Freud himself, when he claims – against reluctant or resistant philosophers, who refuse to relinquish the identity between psychic e conscious – his illustrious philosophical ancestry: Empedocles, Plato, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Marcuse cares less about epistemology (as it appears, for example, in Drives and drives destinations, important text for us and to which we will return shortly) that ontology: Metapsychology understood as the thesis of Eros as essence of Being.

It is this emphasis on the ontological axis of Western philosophy (and not on its epistemological axis, entirely neglected by Marcuse) that led me to read and comment wrongly, in July 1968 (in occupied Maria Antônia), that same chapter of Eros and civilization. As Marcuse was a disciple of Heidegger, and as his language sometimes reveals the old mark, as he resumes, in his own way, the very general thesis of rationalism as the technical domination of Being, I interpreted, in Marcuse's text, the confluence between Marx and Freud , as a chapter of History of Being, on the line of Letter on Humanism of the same Heidegger.

Gross error – the history of Metaphysics is not here, as there, a more fundamental history than the others. On the contrary, it does nothing more than express the social history that precedes it – in the sense of Hegel's phrase: “Minerva's owl takes flight only at dusk”. What can be perceived in the history of Metaphysics, outlined in a few pages by Marcuse, is that it reproduces at its own level (that is, at the level of concept and universality) the same phylogenetic and ontogenetic process that gives the object of Metapsychology, or , yet, the historical process that culminates in the universality of capital.

Metapsychology, Metaphysics and Economics refer, after all, to the same referent, to the same process of which they are, at the same time, the result and the truth. Metaphysics, in its most abstract expression, is thus not mere speculation, and its true matter, not always visible but always present, is the totality of human experience. More than that, in the calm of its purely conceptual structure, it does not limit itself to mirroring past experience. She is Remembrance, in Hegel's language, that is, at the same time, remembrance and interiorization (re-appropriation) of the past or of what was lost, unification within the present of what has been dispersed in the exteriority of temporal succession, in short, a privileged place for understanding History.

It is understandable then that the only place that allows measuring the truth value of Metapsychology, as er-innerung of the species and of the individual, is precisely the history of Metaphysics, in the straight line drawn by the works of Plato, Aristotle and Hegel, with whom Metaphysics really arrives at the “Age of Reason”. Freud's place, like that of Marx and Nietzsche, it's after the end of that line and if each one, in their own way, makes Post-Metaphysical work, it is in the light of philosophy how past that we should interpret their new practical-theoretical undertakings. Thus, the Freudian decision to fix the Being as Eros only reveals its full significance at the end of the entire tradition of Metaphysics that had tried to neutralize Eros, in the shadow of a Logos wholly sovereign of himself. But this is precisely why the philosophical criticism that Marcuse addresses to Freud cannot be reduced to a mere difference in emphasis on the degree attributed to the plasticity or historicity of the instincts. Or rather, such a difference, in itself, will only receive its full significance when reported to the relationship mode that each one establishes between Eros and Logos, between Desire and Being.

Let's go back to Marcuse's procedure. By retracing the history of Metaphysics, Marcuse points out, at each of its moments, something like a precarious balance, always in crisis, between the demands of the Universal and the Particular, of Reason and Passion, of Logos and Eros, of Being and Desire. It is, of course, an unequal fight – like the one between the principles of pleasure and reality – in which the progress of philosophy is also made with the loss of desire or with its systematic frustration. From its origins in classical Greece, but mainly in the new classical age inaugurated by bourgeois rationalism, philosophy appears as the highest expression of the instrumental domination of the internal and external world.

Technique of domination of desire and, at the same time, desire for technical and aggressive domination of the world. From the Greek ideal of prudence or temperance, to bourgeois discipline and its motto “affectus compresses” (so well commented by Hirschman),[4] what exists is an enormous and effective effort at hygienic objectification, which rejects the desire for the external space of non-being and untruth. But – let's not exaggerate! – this picture or this caricature of Marcuse's argument needs to be nuanced: if that were the case, it would be Manichean and not dialectical. In reality, in the gigantomachy that opposes manipulative Logos to narcissistic Eros, there are many flows that pass from one side of the border to the other, small but constant betrayals and accommodations between enemies.

Thus, in the first Platonic philosophy – which is still the first responsible for triggering the process of the expansion of technical reason – the pre-philosophical complicity between Eros and Logos was still clear, and the love for beautiful bodies was a propaedeutic for the love of women. beautiful ideas or the truth. In the same way, in Aristotle, the technician par excellence of Logos, in his condition as the founder of logic as a technique of truth, even after operating the cauterization of all the inferior instances of the soul, which do not lead to pure theory or to the disinterested look, it does not fail to allow a minimum of erotic impregnation of the Being.

This is what Marcuse says about Aristotle: “But the logic of domination does not triumph without discussions. The philosophy that summarizes the antagonistic relationship between subject and object also retains the image of their reconciliation. The tireless work of the transcendent subject culminates in the final unity of subject and object: the idea of ​​“being-in-itself-for-itself” existing in its own realization. The Logos of satisfaction contradicts the Logos of alienation; the effort to harmonize the two animates the inner story of Western Metaphysics. It got its classic formulation in the Aristotelian hierarchy of modes of being, which culminates in the Nous Theos: his existence is no longer defined or conditioned by anything other than himself, but is wholly himself in all states and conditions. The ascending curve of becoming is converted into the circle that moves in on itself: past, present and future are enclosed in the circle. According to Aristotle, this way of thinking is reserved for the gods; and the movement of thinking, pure thinking, is its only “empirical” approach. In everything else, the empirical world does not participate in such an achievement; only a longing, “like Eros”, connects this world with its end-in-itself. The Aristotelian conception is not religious. It is as if the nous theos were a part of the universe, not being its creator, nor its lord, nor its savior, but just a way of being in which all potentiality is concrete reality, in which the “project” of being was accomplished".[5]

With the distribution established by Aristotle between the dominant part of the Logos and the tolerated part of Eros is forever fixed the fate of Metaphysics. Hegel, of course, expression of Metaphysics in its final form, will exhaustively express this triumph of Reason that does not entirely repress the voice of Eros. And this because it is with Hegel that Metaphysics finally arrives at self-consciousness. Hegel is Aristotelian, Marcuse does not deny it, so much so that he insists on the fact that Absolute Knowledge is nothing more than the re-edition of that calm and impassive circle of Nous Theos, and comments on the recovery, at the end of the Encyclopedia, of the text of Metaphysics of Aristotle. In parentheses, let it be said, the image of the circle is not bad – is it not true that, at the end of the exposition of Absolute Science, we find, as a kind of conclusion, the text that marks the beginning of the history of metaphysics?

It is impossible to forget Feuerbach's protest against the circularity of dialectical philosophy. He said more or less the following: if Knowledge is circular, then its end is its beginning, so, as soon as we start reading Hegel, we will never be able to interrupt this infinite reading. But, forgetting Feuerbach's external protest, it must be said that the Hegelian circle of the in-itself-for-itself is different, or richer, than the Aristotelian one, because it does not ignore the real history on which it feeds and which is its own. final narrative and its happy ending.

Marcuse suggests: indeed, Hegel is the same as Aristotle. But with a small difference, because now, or with Hegel, “philosophy understands the concrete historical base on which the edifice of Reason was raised”. In effect, the phenomenology of the spirit accompanies the formation of philosophical Reason through the apparently sinuous meanders of the history of society and culture. But more importantly, in the circumstance of the Intermezzo of Marcuse, this genesis is made from the birth of self-consciousness as desire. In its origin, in its birth, self-consciousness (first “responsible” figure of future Reason) appears as awareness of its separation from the other (nature or other consciousnesses) and as a desire for the suppression of this separation. His satisfaction seems unable to save the negation or suppression of the other.

But the duel between consciences ends, as in Aristotle, by being pacified in and through the mutual recognition of consciences, in the appeasement of the desire for the absolute satisfaction of this new figure of the Nous Theos represented by dialectical philosophy, which redeems all the past, as at the end of a psychoanalysis infinitely successful, that allows Hegel the beautiful phrase that is at the heart of the Intermezzo philosophical of Eros and civilization — the phrase that states that “the wounds of the spirit heal without leaving scars”, which could, in parentheses, be translated in this way: “even frustrated desires are condemned, from the point of view of the Absolute, to their full satisfaction”.

But it is precisely here – after the end of Metaphysics and the full “logical” satisfaction of all the erotic impulses that broke against the wall of merely empirical reality – that Freud finds his real place (that is, of king) in the history of thought. West, along with Nietzsche and Marx. The three, basically, say the same thing – after closing the cycle of historical remembrance of all forms of alienation recovered by thought – they say: something was left out.

A Hegelian, Marcuse cannot help saying: “In reality, memory and absolute knowledge do not redeem what was and is. However, this philosophy testifies not only to the reality principle that governs the empirical world, but also to its negation. The consummation of being is not the upward curve, but the completion of the circle: the return of alienation. Philosophy could only conceive of such a state as that of pure thought. Between the beginning and the end is the development of reason as a logic of domination — progress through alienation. The liberation of the repressed is arrested – in the idea and in the ideal”.[6]

Freud's place, like Marx's (let's forget about Nietzsche), is thus that of the “empirical” complement to the suppression of alienation, already carried out at the level of philosophy or the concept. But, to give an idea of ​​this positivity of the non-philosophical, it is necessary to turn to another text by Marcuse, which I referred to at the beginning of my exposition: Contribution to the critique of hedonism. This text is related in a very curious way to the Intermezzo that I've mentioned so far. It is a much more meticulous text, much richer philologically, and which, finally dealing with the same subject, treats it in a different way. strictly inverse. One text relates to the other as a face relates to its image in the mirror — but let us not marvel, we are dealing with writing rigorously dialectic, for which such effects are indispensable.

No Intermezzo, we find the description of the history of Metaphysics as a reiterating machine of the repression of Eros, although we recognize that the Manipulative Reason was not totally impermeable to the influxes of desire – yes, but this history is made of the point of view of Eros, that is, from the point of view of a theory of the psychic apparatus to be reformulated against the permanence practice of repression and domination. At Contribution to the critique of hedonism we have, on the contrary, a critique of the imperialism of desire, of reason's point of view, that is, from the point of view of the universality of the dialectic. Here, too, not a shadow of Manichaeism – and hedonism often gets good marks for its revolutionary significance, in its constant protest against the “actual” real.

But it is in this text, more than in the Eros and civilization, which can be found in erotic ontology Marcuse's The Place and Destiny of Desire. In this text, as in the other, we have an exposition of a history of Philosophy. Both in one and in the other, we have a history marked by three times: (1) Classical Greek Rationalism; (2) Classical bourgeois rationalism; (3) Critical Theory. At the Intermezzo, the names are: Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche. At Contribution to the critique of hedonism, we have, as a first moment, the tension between the eudemonism and o hedonism in classical Greece. Then there is the tension in the modern world, irreconcilable, between happiness and morality, which does not fail to include Hegel, for whom the progress of Reason can only be made at the expense of happiness (Marcuse quotes, by the way, a beautiful sentence by Hegel: “The periods of happiness are white pages in History”; obviously this sentence has something to do with another phrase by Rousseau, which said: “Happy peoples have no history”), and, finally, Critical Theory, which is a kind of “superior hedonism” that is expressed in the motto: “To each one according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

It is only Critical Theory that can reconcile the legitimate claim to pleasure implicit in the various hedonisms (but mainly in the formula of the Cyrenaics, more radical, according to Marcuse, than that of the Epicureans), because it is only with it that desire fails to express itself in a clear way. theoretical and abstract way. Indeed, the claim of pleasure as a value, in classical hedonism, is essentially atomist, dissolving society in a dust of “desiring subjects”.

Says Marcuse: “What is false in hedonism does not lie in the duty it assigns to the individual to seek and find his happiness in a world of injustice and misery. The hedonistic principle, as such, stands up strongly against this system and, if the masses could one day be impregnated by it, they would no longer be able to bear the alienation of their freedom and would be recalcitrant in the face of all forms of heroic domestication. is dated 1938]. It is necessary to look further for the principle of hedonism: in its abstract conception of the subjective aspect of happiness, in its inability to distinguish between true and false needs, between true and false enjoyment. It accepts the interests and needs of individuals as given and valid in themselves. Such needs and such interests bear — and not just when they are satisfied — the imprint of the mutilations, repressions and inauthenticity that accompany the development of men in class society. But the acceptance of the first [interests and needs] also leads to the acceptance of the rest [mutilations, repression, inauthenticity]”.[7]

We see how this text is the inverted image of the text of Eros and civilization. There, it was necessary to value what escaped the domain of Logos, the sneaky incursions of Eros into the history of Metaphysics. (By the way, in the last paragraph of the Intermezzo, Marcuse says: “The history of ontology reflects the reality principle that governs the world more and more exclusively: the visions contained in the metaphysical notion of Eros were buried. They survived, in eschatological distortion, in many heretical movements and in hedonistic philosophy).[8] Here, on the contrary, it is a question of returning Eros to its “natural place”, as Plato does in his critique of hedonism in the Philebus. Here, in his commentary on the Platonic distinction between true and false pleasures (criticism needed to re-establish the rights of eudaemonist rationalism against the sensualist anarchy of the hedonists).

It can be said of pleasures, as of ideas or judgments, that they are true or false. Says Marcuse: “It's more than a simple analogy; Here, in the proper sense, we attribute a cognitive function to pleasure: it reveals a way of being as voluptuous or as an object of jouissance. Given its “intentional” character, pleasure can be measured in its function of truth: a pleasure is not true when the object to which it refers is not voluptuous in itself (according to Philebus, when it can only manifest itself mixed with displeasure). But the question of truth does not only concern the object of pleasure, it also concerns the subject. This is made possible by Plato's interpretation of pleasure as belonging not only to the domain of sensuality (Ais-thesis), but also of Psychê (Philebus, 33ff): each sensation of pleasure presupposes moral forces (desire, expectation, memory, etc.) in such a way that pleasure concerns man as a whole. Applied to the latter (man as a whole), the measure of truth culminates in a result that was already that of the Gorgias: "good" men experience true pleasures, "bad" men, false pleasures (Philebo, 40, b, w). This essential relationship between the goodness of man and the truth of pleasure, where Plato's debate against hedonism culminates, transforms pleasure into a moral issue. Because it is, ultimately, the “community” in its concrete form that decides on this relationship: pleasure is within the competence of the community and enters the domain of duties, duties towards oneself and towards others. The truth of the particular interest and its satisfaction is determined by the truth of the general interest”.[9]

It is undeniable that, in this text, in which he describes Plato's theoretical triumph against sensualism and hedonism (restoring the truth value of desire and the desire value of truth), Marcuse aligns Critical Theory in a strictly essentialist tradition. More than that, he makes his own the platonic theory of the intentionality of pleasure (or desire), within the horizon of the Polis, that is, the universality of political society. And it is precisely here that we can locate the fate that Marcuse's dialectical style of thought attributes to the idea of ​​desire. It seems to me that such a destination is defined at the intersection between the intention that links the desiring subject to the desired object e the social intention, as teleology that leads to the constitution of the beautiful universal humanity. My wish will be all the more “true” the more it, through its own movement, collaborates towards the crystallization of a solidary community.

In a word, the true object of desire is universal humanity, the Telos of History. It is Marcuse himself who says it: “From the abyss that exists between what is an object of jouissance and the way in which such objects are conceived, apprehended and consumed, the question arises of the degree of truth of the relation of happiness (Glücksbeziehung) in this society: the acts performed with a view to this jouissance do not even reach the realization of this intention, and even when they are carried out, they are not true”.[10] At the crossroads between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, a new principle emerges here, the Glucksprinzip, which, for each particular social formation, serves as a meter for assessing the adequacy of intersubjective integration to the Telos ultimate, obscure object of social desire, happy consummation of transparent humanity, Schöne Menscheit. Decidedly, Marcuse's ontology is Platonic: the object of desire is nothing more, after the work of reflection has been done, than the to be or truth. The “intentional” nature of desire ends up being dragged by the deepest teleology of historical practice and flows into this new form of Nous Theos, that we could describe as erotic appropriation of the world, with-the-others-in-relation-to-the-purposes-of-Reason.

In other words, the hedonists were too timid and the most radical libertine ignores the nature of desire and its profound teleology, which condemns him to necessarily desire the truth and the universal.


In itself, the idea of ​​an intentionality of desire or emotion is not exactly paradoxical. Eleven years before the publication of “Contribution to the critique of hedonism”. Max Scheler performed, in the monumental Formalism in ethics, a similar operation. It is true that, in order to do so, he was obliged to distance himself from Husserl and attribute to the idea of essence a greater extent than that of the idea of meaning. Os values it is precisely these “non-significant” essences, accessible to an emotional (non-cognitive) intuition. Furthermore, like Marcuse's text, Scheler's book is a simultaneous critique of hedonism and Kantian formalism. Undoubtedly, the end result of these parallel criticisms is not the same: in one case, beyond formalism and hedonism, a material ethics of values ​​is instituted, whose fundamental category is the person; in the other, beyond the same alternative, what is instituted is a material or politics, essentially transpersonal, Schöne Menscheit or transparent sociability. In one case, Catholicism and personalism, in the other, socialism and dialectical rationalism.

But, when opening space for an intentionality of affective life, Max Scheler was careful to mark his distance in relation to the intellectualism of “psychology” and the ethics of classical Greek philosophy and its reactivation by scholastic philosophy, particularly with Saint Thomas. As is clear in the following text of his essay Alove and knowledge: “With the exception of the edifying mystical literature and the Augustinian traditions, where this principle [of the priority of the “charitable” virtues over the “dianoetic ones”, Christian philosophy absolutely conformed to the Hellenic way of thinking. Hence the inner disharmony between the religious conscience and the worldly wisdom that derives from it. While in the images, profound in their meaning of pious faith, the Seraphim, ablaze with love, place themselves, in the hierarchy of angels, above the “knowing” Cherubim, at the feet of God, or even, as Mary, who is all love , is ahead of the angels, Thomas Aquinas remains faithful to the Greek definitions: the love of an object presupposes knowledge of the object. Values, at the ontic level, are only a function of the fullness of being (omne ens est bonum). Love is not a fundamental, elementary act of the spirit, but a particular activity of the volitional and aspiring faculty of the soul. According to these principles, Saint Thomas Aquinas only recognizes two forces of the soul: the vis appetitiva and the vis intellectiva, which in turn are divided into a partial superior faculty and a partial inferior faculty. The vis appetitiva breaks down into a lower part, namely, concupiscence, which reacts passively, and irascibility, which reacts actively, in a resistance to the injury that threatens the body; and a superior part, namely, the will determined by reason (whose original tendency is considered as bonum ens entis), the being in every existing thing (omnia volumus sub specie boni); for its part, the vis intellectiva is divided into a sensible cognitive faculty of perception, to which species sensibilis corresponds ontically, and the rational cognitive faculty, to which species intelligibilis corresponds in things. But each activity of the faculty of effort presupposes previously an activity of the intellect; the movement of concupiscence, a presence of species sensibilis in sensible perception; the will, an act of intentional knowledge, in which the notional essence of the thing is captured. Love and hate, as well as the affective world as a whole, are presented in this conception only as modifications of the faculty of soul effort”.[11]

It is this anti-Hellenic or anti-objectivist emphasis that allows Max Scheler to embrace psychoanalysis (and the sociology of knowledge) in a moral theory of phenomenological inspiration. As can be seen, by the way, in a note on the practical limits of reflection and the properly moral interest of the psychoanalytic technique in the Formalism.[12] An anti-Hellenic emphasis to which Marcuse's Platonic-Aristotelian-Hegelian emphasis is radically opposed, even though his text reveals – as it seems – the mark of Max Scheler's reading.

In a word, it is the classical psychology of desire that is restored by Marcuse's intellectualism, and that allows him - by the unequivocal meter of the object of desire, not very obscure here – to distinguish, as in the verses from Purgatory, inscribed in the epigraph of this essay, between good and bad, true and false pleasures. Herbert Marcuse and… Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Undoubtedly, we can speak of a teleology of desire in the context of psychoanalysis, in which there is room for the Zweckmässigkeit in determining the drive regime. But of a teleology that is more akin to a archeology, and in which the idea of object it is far from playing a constitutive role. It is, perhaps, what becomes clear with the idea of Anlehnung("analysis” or “support”),[13] digestible from Max Scheler's philosophy and intolerable from Marcuse's point of view. Indeed, when one speaks of “anaclytic choice of object”, what is being said is that the object is constituted retrospectively, so to speak, by the dynamics of the drive, whose constitution is determined by its target, which cannot, without contradiction, be confused with the drive object.

The crucial text for this problem is certainly the fundamental metapsychological text on Drives and drives destinations. In this text, Freud seeks to draw the horizon of the concept of pulse (to fix the regime of drives), as opposed to both the notion of instinct itself (in its biological dimension) and the notion of external stimulus or reflex arc. In the obscure interface of the biological and the psychic, the notion of drive is circumscribed through the fixation of four points of reference: pressure (Drang), target (Ziel), object (Object) and source (Quelle). Let's leave aside the notions of pressure (or the dimension quantitative of the drive) and of source (or the properly biological dimension of the drive), which in principle transcends the limits of psychology or metapsychology,[14] to confine ourselves to the fundamental opposition between Objective e Object.

Freud says:

“The aim [Ziel] of an instinct is always satisfaction, which can only be achieved by suppressing the state of stimulation of the source of the instinct. Even though the ultimate aim of every drive is invariable, there can be many paths leading to it, so that, for each drive, there can be different nearby targets, which can be combined or substituted for each other. Experience also allows us to speak of repressed drives in their target, that is, of processes that are soon inhibited or diverted. We have to admit that, also in these processes, a partial satisfaction is found implied”.

“The object [Objekt] of the drive is the thing in which, or by means of which, the drive can achieve its satisfaction. It is the most variable in the drive; it is not originally associated with it, but subordinate to it, in consequence of its effectiveness in permitting satisfaction. It is not necessarily something external to the subject, it can be any part of his body, and can be replaced indefinitely by another, in the course of the life of the drive”.[15]

Now, if we are not mistaken, it is this radical disjunction between Aim and Object that is absent in the dialectical reconstruction of Metapsychology undertaken by Marcuse. Just making it super Object e Ziel is that the dialectical reconciliation between the archeology of Desire and the teleology of Reason becomes possible, as Hegel had done, who, recovering the Aristotelian theory of finality, could say: “The result is what the beginning is, because the beginning and end".[16]

But, if that is so, the Marcusian reconstruction is more than a local rearrangement of Freudian theory, according to its deepest spirit. It's the heart itself dynamic of psychoanalysis that is compromised by this “reform”. Without the distinction we are referring to, it is the basic processes, or the “destinations of the drives” (such as, in this case, the transformation into the opposite, the orientation towards the person himself, repression and sublimation) that become strictly incomprehensible. and, with them, the basic figures of the theory, such as sadism, masochism, etc. And, in this case, perhaps Marcuse could be the object of the same criticism that he addresses, with so much astuteness and happiness, to the various post-Freudian reformisms. In a word, between a false and a true enjoyment, who but God (Nous Theos), would you see a difference?

*Bento Prado Jr. (1937-2007) was professor of philosophy at the Federal University of São Carlos. Author, among other books, of some essays (Peace and Earth).

Originally published on the website ArtThought IMS []


[1] Here always cited in its French translation, included in the volume Culture et society, Midnight.

[2] Eros and civilization, “Decantatore 36” (Presenze grafiche).

[3] Ditto, p. 124.

[4] AO Hirschman, in passions and interests, Peace and Earth.

[5] Eros and civilization, p. 109.

[6] Ditto, p. 113.

[7] Contribution to the critique of hedonism, p. 181.

[8] Eros and civilization, p. 118-9.

[9] Contribution to the critique of hedonism, p. 189.

[10] Ditto, p. 195.

[11] French translation, in Les sens de la souffrance, aubier, sd

[12] First German edition, p. 603; French translation, p. 578-9.

[13] See psychoanalysis vocabulary, from Laplanche and Pontalis.

[14] Same, pulse source entry

[15] Complete works, Spanish translation by LL Ballesteros y de Torres (here slightly corrected), v. II, p. 2024.

[16] phenomenology of the spirit, French translation by J. Hyppolite, v. I, p. 20


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