The Future of an Illusion  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Future of an Illusion (Die Zukunft einer Illusion) is a book written by Sigmund Freud in 1927. It describes his interpretation of religion's origins, development, psychoanalysis, and its future.

Contents

Religion as an illusion

Freud describes religion as an illusion, wishes that are the "fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind" (Ch. 6 pg.38). To differentiate between an illusion and an error, he lists scientific beliefs such as "Aristotle's belief that vermin are developed out of dung" (pg.39) as errors, but "the assertion made by certain nationalists that the Indo-Germanic race is the only one capable of civilization" is an illusion, simply because of the wishing involved. Put forth more explicitly, "what is characteristic of illusions is that they are derived from human wishes." (pg. 39) He adds, however, that, "Illusions need not necessarily be false." (pg.39) He gives the example of a middle-class girl having the illusion that a prince will marry her. While this is unlikely, it is not impossible. The fact that it is grounded in her wishes is what makes it an illusion.

Origins and development of religion

Freud begins by explaining religion in a similar term to that of totemism. The individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function. "Among these instinctual wishes are those of incest, cannibalism, and lust for killing." (pg. 10) His view of human nature is that it is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The destructive nature of humans sets a pre-inclination for disaster when humans must interact with others in society. "For masses are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation, and they are not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving free rein to their indiscipline." (pg. 7) So destructive is human nature, he claims, that "it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends." (pg. 8) All this sets a terribly hostile society that could implode if it were not for civilizing forces and developing government.

He elaborates further on the development of religion, as the emphasis on acquisition of wealth and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from "the material to the mental." As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward.

The topic is resumed in the beginning of Freud's subsequent book, Civilization and Its Discontents

Today, some scholars see the arguments set forth in The Future of an Illusion as a manifestation of the genetic fallacy, in which a belief is considered false or inverifiable based on its origin. Scholars still dispute this claim.

Psychoanalysis of religion

Religion is an outshoot of the Oedipus complex, and represents man's helplessness in the world, having to face the ultimate fate of death, the struggle of civilization, and the forces of nature. He views god as a manifestation of a child-like "longing for [a] father." (pg. 18) In his words "The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them." (pg. 19)

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Future of an Illusion" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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