Friday, 1 July 2011

Unicorns, Darwin and Freud

I have recently picked up the book 'Darwin's Worms', by Adam Phillips detailing his thoughts on Darwin and Freud. The following words stood out to me:
'Darwin and Freud, as we shall see, are notably skeptical about what was once called the 'perfectibility' of Man. Indeed, for both of them we are the animals who seem to suffer, above all, from our ideals. Indeed, it is part of the moral gist of their work not merely that we use our ideals to deny, to over-protect ourselves from, reality; but that these ideals- of redemption, of cure, of progress, of absolute knowledge, of pure goodness- are refuges that stop us living in the world as it is and finding out what it is like, and therefore what we could be like in it. Darwin and Freud, that is to say, give us their versions of reality-that they call nature, and by implication human nature- in order to persuade us to reconsider our hopes for ourselves.

We have been looking, they suggest, in the wrong place, for the wrong thing; spellbound by ideas of progress and self knowledge only to discover not that, as we already knew, such things were difficult and demanding, but that they quite literally didn't exist, and didn't give us the kinds of lives we wanted. That we might have been hunting for unicorns when our energies might have been better spent. That the one pleasure we have denied ourselves is the please of reality (what Freud called the 'reality principle' wasn't merely- or solely-the enemy of pleasure but its guarantor).'

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