Freud as a Modern Thinker

1. Which Freud?

It is commonplace these days to reject Freud. But what exactly is being rejected, and is there anything left after the rejection? It helps to see two fundamental versions of Freud:

A. Freud the scientist: This is the Freud who was looking for deterministic, physical mechanisms that would explain human behaviour. This Freud believed that, as with Darwin, he had found a physical account of something which in the past was regarded as belonging to another realm. Previously, people had thought that human existence was due to God; Darwin came along and not only told us he could explain it in mundane terms, but proceeded to show that exactly the same mechanisms that we have today could account for all life and its variation.

For Freud, the same is true. People had supposed that the mind was outside of the range of scientific explanation, that it was a kind of "black box". Freud produced a mechanism based on physical phenomena which argued otherwise.

Freud the storyteller: Part of this is the Freud who thought that the unconscious was structured like a language and had to be interpreted. And, the interpretation had to deal with the fact that the interpreter was faced with misunderstandings (not simply the lack of understanding), and with misrepresentations as well. The unconscious resisted being understood.

2. Is Freud Modern?

We also need to ask whether Freud fits into our definition of a modern thinker. Does he have a metanarrative? Does he use something like Enlightenment thinking?

It seems clear that the answer is yes to both of these questions. He gives us an account which purports to tell us everything about our thought and behaviour. He believes that there is an ultimately rational account which is available to the mind which is truly clear and self-reflective.

And yet...

The interesting thing about many of these modern thinkers (e.g., Hegel, Marx, Heidegger) is that there are versions of their thought which seem to move outside of the bounds of modernity.