Tag Archives: Conscience

Conscience Versus Superego, Continued

A while ago, I authored a piece entitled “Frankl’s Conscience Versus Freud’s Superego”, which, for whatever reason, has been the most read post on this blog.  I left off with the following thought/question:

But then, the question, which appears in my mentor Dr. Teria Shantall’s book The Quest for Destiny (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 2003) is: how do you differentiate between an experience of true conscience (i.e. according to Frankl’s model) and superego-type pressures? In other words, how do you know that you are not simply acting out of guilt or because of demands, but are responding to a call to meaning where your desire to do what is right is authentic?

It seems to me that if we are to be able to answer this question, we would have to subvert some basic paradigm assumptions that we customarily make about life. Also, the difficulty in answering this question on highlights just how deeply embedded Freud’s model is in the subconscious of the average Westerner.

I want to suggest that there is a litmus test for a “conscience” versus “superego” experience.  I have found, in my study of Torah, that there are many concepts I have learned therein that are simply anti-intuitive.  Take the commandments of shaatnez and kashrus, for example.  The first is a prohibition against wearing garments comprised of an admixture of wool and linen, as well as deriving benefit from other products with this combination.  Manufacturers today and for many centuries past have made fabrics out of wool and linen, because the addition of linen makes the product feel lighter, while the wool’s weight enables linen to lay better.  Why on earth would one forgo the luxury or convenience that can come from such an alloy of materials?

The second consists of many laws that render certain types of animals unfit for consumption, but with no reason given.  The fact that a Jew may not eat pork is not because at one point refrigeration did not exist and therefore people had to contend with the problem of trichinosis; the prohibition against pork is not a public health mitzvah.  In fact, there were methods used to preserve meat in the ancient world, such as salting (which is why hard salami keeps for extended periods of time); why not just salt the pork, if the problem is trichinosis?  Rather, the reason why these animals are prohibited is because the Torah designates them as such.   But why?

Both of these aforementioned mitzvos fall under the category of chukim, statutes for which there is no rationale other than “that is the law”.  These are laws that must be followed without knowing G-d’s reason for them.  Furthermore, the tension between a person’s desires and the Torah’s parameters ought to be experienced and even preserved, according to some authorities.  Rambam, for example, states that a person should not say that he does not desire something forbidden to him by the Torah; rather, he should say that, in fact, he does desire the forbidden item, but desists because the Torah forbids it to him.  Does this imply that the Torah is supposed to operate upon us from the realm of the superego, like another–although divine–moral message?

To be continued…

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Amazon.com and Pedophilia: A Call to Action!

I was sent, in an email, a link to an article on MSNBC regarding Amazon.com’s refusal to remove a self-published book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct from their website offerings. The book was authored by a depraved and sick man named Philip R. Greaves II, and offers advice to pedophiles along the following lines:

“This is my attempt to make pedophile situations safer for those juveniles that find themselves involved in them, by establishing certian rules for these adults to follow. I hope to achieve this by appealing to the better nature of pedosexuals, with hope that their doing so will result in less hatred and perhaps liter sentences should they ever be caught.”

(all misspellings are Greaves’)

Despite the uproar from Amazon.com’s customers, the retailing giant has until this point refused to cease carrying the title, which is available electronically through their Kindle option. I have not given any of this information in order to facilitate acquisition of this dangerous item, but to underscore the fact that, given the book’s electronic format, it can be downloaded by an unlimited number of people; stock quantity is no longer a barrier to its dissemination. You don’t have to be a professional in my line of work to be able to imagine the potential damage, hurt, pain and trauma that may befall children as a result of the strategies provided by the book’s demented author.

Amazon.com’s position is that it continues to carry and distribute the book in deference to principles of free speech and in opposition to notions of censorship. However, I contend that Amazon.com, like every other business, has the ability–and the obligation–to choose its merchandise in a responsible manner. Amazon.com is not the ACLU; it is a business, a publicly-owned book retailer with stockholders. The company does not bear any responsibility for being the vanguard of free speech. I do not know if Amazon.com also has titles that instruct readers how to murder people, how to torture animals or how to successfully pull off a Ponzi scheme, but it would be patently obvious if so that Amazon.com would be making itself somewhat of an accessory to potential crime, heinous crimes.

I have been a customer of Amazon.com. However, I refuse to buy another book from them until they remove this and all similar titles from their catalog. I call upon the readers of this article to take the same stand, and to communicate to Amazon.com accordingly. Pedophiles do not deserve encouragement to concretize their deranged fantasies upon innocent children, destroy the lives of their victims, and leave their noxious imprint upon our society for generations to come. You can contact Amazon.com by clicking on this link and tell it to them straight!

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Conscience: Its Risks and Returns

In Logotherapy, there is a strong emphasis on conscience. In Frankl’s lexicon, the word differs from what many call conscience, which is closer to Freud’s concept of superego (I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog post). The logotherapeutic conscience refers to the mechanism, as it were, that exists in each human being, that enables him or her to perceive what life demands of him or her. This could mean perceiving meaning in a situation, sensing one’s own responsibility in that situation, or detecting one’s own sense of mission in life. The point is that in logotherapy, the idea is the conscience detects or receives these messages from beyond the self, as opposed to from within the self. Frankl illustrates this by pointing out the fact that, very often, situations arise where, due to the demands of one’s conscience, one goes against all of the didactic, parental, moral, and societal “rules”.

The person who comes from a conservative, patriotic family whose members have served in the military, but who becomes a conscientious (note the term) objector to an army draft, is a classic example of this. Here, it is possible to see the distinction being made between conscience as Frankl sees it and the superego proposed by Freud. If the conscience and superego were identical, this person should not be able to muster the strength to avoid army service, as all of the inputs in his life that have contributed to his superego have told him that serving in the army is a positive, even obligatory item. Yet, for reasons of conscience, the CO is able to take a stand against the values of the people around him and choose an alternative that he feels is right.

Does the fact that the conscience detects meaning from beyond mean that the person will always understand the message being delivered to him or her accurately and do what is objectively “right”? Isn’t it dangerous to live according to one’s intuition. What if is one is wrong? The Taliban also believe in their mission of conscience.

The mechanistic alternative, of course, is to view oneself as a collection of synapses and ego drives, taking every step to satisfy one’s desires and thereby bringing homeostasis to one’s system.

This is a topic that has come up recently in our training meetings. I have come to an idea that being right in an empirical sense is not the issue; rather, it is living one’s life according to one’s conscience that is of value in and of itself. A conscience-based life. Being directed by conscience, rather than mechanistic ego drives, has value in and of itself. It puts people in touch with what they believe in, enables them to live more congruently with their values and to detect their missions in life as they see them. The world we live in, influenced by mechanical materialism, does not allow people to listen to their consciences; it’s too “pre-scientific” and “metaphysical”. But this has brought about a world that suffers from a sense of meaninglessness. It’s not the being right that is meaningful; it is getting attuned with, and acting according to, what one perceives to be right. This is what can restore meaning to a person’s life

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Frankl’s Conscience Versus Freud’s Superego

In the course of my training in Logotherapy, I have been asked to define my perception of the difference between an experience of true conscience and superego-type pressures. First, let us define the two things according to their respective models.

Frankl’s notion of conscience is a spiritual mechanism possessed by every human being for detecting the transcendent meaning that comes from beyond him or herself and his or her situation, that enables him or her to make the one right choice in that moment. Note that several assumptions are implicit in this idea. One, that there exists an objective meaning that transcends the subjective context in which an individual finds him or herself. Two, that there is a realm called “beyond”. Three, that there can be one right meaning, decision, task or exercise of responsibility in a given moment.

Of course, Frankl’s use of the term “spiritual” accords with a more secular understanding of that term that the more specific manner in which a religious person understands it, and I am personally wrestling with the question as to whether it can be adapted to accomodate the Torah’s definition of spiritual. At present, I have concluded that Frankl’s spirituality is a step down from religious spirituality, but his model can be stepped up, or a new dimension added to it based on Torah.

Freud’s superego is the third character in his structural model of the personality, the others being the ego and the id. The id is the conglomerate of all the raw drives that demand satisfaction in a human being, whereas the superego is its opponent, an internalized policeman or a father figure, that subdues this id through guilt and allows the person to thus function normally within the context of society, according to that which is deemed acceptable behavior in society. The superego is fueled by the didactic instruction we have received in many forms, whether through parental discipline, religious training, school, etc. Although the superego has two divisions, the ego ideal and the conscience, we will focus here on the conscience.

Clearly, Freud’s model does not allow for there being an objective meaning (read: morality), but rather, what is right and wrong depends on the cultural or societal context in which the individual is. In addition, a person’s ability to manifest right or good is essentially only a function of the repression of their animal-like id drives. This is how Freud defined conscience. For this reason, we might view a criminal as being unable to make moral decisions because of his impaired–or absent–superego.

Frankl would disagree. A criminal is no different from any other human being in his or her ability to tune into meaning and hear the demands that meaning makes upon him or her! Hence, Frankl’s emphasis on the uncovering of responsibility in the client. Freud’s client, by contrast, can plead insanity. There was a notable incident in Frankl’s life when he spoke to a group of prisoners who were slated for execution, and he prefaced his remarks by telling them, in no uncertain terms, that they were all guilty of their crimes. Here, Frankl was demonstrating his idea that becoming guilty is one of the prerogatives of man, and therefore functions as a result, not of his being disadvantaged, but of his freedom to choose. The inmates indicated that they had never felt so understood by any of the psychological professionals who had addressed them previously.

But then, the question, which appears in my mentor Dr. Teria Shantall’s book The Quest for Destiny (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 2003) is: how do you differentiate between an experience of true conscience (i.e. according to Frankl’s model) and superego-type pressures? In other words, how do you know that you are not simply acting out of guilt or because of demands, but are responding to a call to meaning where your desire to do what is right is authentic?

It seems to me that if we are to be able to answer this question, we would have to subvert some basic paradigm assumptions that we customarily make about life. Also, the difficulty in answering this question on highlights just how deeply embedded Freud’s model is in the subconscious of the average Westerner.

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