Sigmund Freud coined the word libido to describe the force of human sexual energy. Freud was certainly not the first western commentator to observe a connection between the sexual drive and human activities. Nor was he the first to publish his findings and opinions. Freud's work was preceded by and to some extent stimulated by and influenced by the comments and observations of several earlier sexual writers.
These authors included the obscure German physician Adolf Patze, the far better known English psychiatrist Henry Maudsley, and the sexologists Richard von Kraft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis. Freud further owed much to the pioneering work of Iwan Bloch and Magnus Hirschfeld.
Freud himself, in his famous Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, cited what he referred to as the well known writings of no fewer than nine authors. The sexologists featured prominently among them. There can be no doubt that sexual theories similar to Freud's were not unknown prior to the publication of his writings. Those who disagreed with him were quick to attack him with a well prepared arsenal of criticism.
When Freud's Three Essays appeared in 1905, he was immediately labelled a pansexualist by his critics. His detractors meant by this epithet that Freud thought sex was the basis of all behaviours. They suggested that Freud's theory sought to demonstrate the universal character of sexual energy and its all pervasive impact on human life.
Freud denied this. Yet his very generous vision of libido gave his opponents ammunition. His critics, his own student, Carl Jung, included, accused him of reductionism and of failing to accept the presence of other psychic forces. Anyone reading his work with adequate attention might be excused for coming to the same conclusion.
Freud certainly presented himself, by his theory, as a psychological democrat. According to him all human beings share in the erotic life and so under their various cultural facades are brothers and sisters in the flesh and the desires that all share. Yet whether his sexual theory could explain human behaviour totally remained an open question throughout his life.
That much of human behaviour was a response to sexual impulses could not be denied. His critics would, if perhaps reluctantly, accept the extent of the influence Freud propounded from the years of adolescence onwards. The greatest resistance to Freud's sexual theory, instead, rallied against his contention that sexually determined behaviour began in infancy and then continued throughout childhood. This contention was simply too shocking and more than most people of the time could accept. Jung objected on more serious grounds which warrant further examination on their own.
Freud continued to refine his sexual theory over the years, partly in response to his critics. As late as 1920 he felt it necessary to remind his readers that it had been Schopenhauer and not he who had first confronted mankind with the extent that their sexual impulses determined their aims and actions. Although no philosopher, and to a certain extent opposed to philosophy in general, Freud pointed out with satisfaction how closely his ideas on the nature of sexuality corresponded to those of Plato's Eros. He was not above using whatever arguments he could to support his own views.
To be perfectly fair, Freud always and forcefully rejected the label of pansexualist. Yet the matter remained unresolved. Freud never made it plain just how he was anything else. He and his great student/friend/colleague, Jung, parted on just this issue.
In 1914, perhaps partly to justify his own contentions that he was not a pansexualist, Freud introduced the terms ego libido and object libido. By using these two terms he attempted to explain clearly the phenomenon of narcissism. But the two novel terms immediately threw into doubt Freud's own earlier insistence upon two sharply divided classes of drives: what he had called the ego drives and the sexual drives. The distinction between these two sets of drives he had used to demonstrate that he did not, in fact, claim that sexual impulse was the motivation for every behaviour.
Freud had long maintained that the ego drives provided the urge for self preservation and had nothing at all to do with eroticism. He had credited sexual drives with being the sole source of all erotic activity. He had argued that these two complementary but different sets of drives were necessary to explain all human behaviour.
By introducing the concept of ego libido Freud suggested that the self too can be erotically charged. If so, then the ego drives must also be sexual in character. Although his psychoanalytical followers saw the implications of this, Freud himself remained unconcerned at first.
Since early in his life, Freud had liked to quote the line from Schiller that love and hunger move the world. This he had attempted to formalize in psychoanalysis through his theory of drives. Still, he was never satisfied with his theory of drives. He always considered it incomplete, even in its final form.
Freud had constructed his theory of drives based on his own observations in the light of whatever biological data was available to him. To his constant irritation, the available biological data during his lifetime was not much, and certainly insufficient for his requirements.
The absence of a scientific theory on drives resulted from the inability of biologists and psychologists to agree on the nature of drives and instincts. This rankled Freud, since he realized that to understand drives he needed both disciplines. For him, drives stood on the border between the physical and the mental. He described them as being biological urges translated into psychological wishes that demanded satisfaction.
After his writings on narcissism, it eventually became as clear to Freud as it had immediately seemed clear to his colleagues that he could not maintain his early separation of two distinct classes of drives. This distinction had served him well for much of his professional practice. But his work on narcissism effectively ruined the simplicity of this earlier scheme of things.
Reluctantly, Freud finally had to accept the obvious. That was that the love for self and the love for others differ only in their objects, not in their nature. As soon as 1915, he had essentially repudiated his previous stance on the separation of drives into two distinct classes.
Freud distinguished four related components in the workings of drives. According to his theory, there is first the source, or that physical process which provides the initial stimulus for the drive. He considered the physical sources of drives to be outside the proper realm of psychology.
Second, Freud defined the pressure as the ceaseless energetic activity of the drive to fulfil the biological stimulus of the source. He defined the aim as the resulting satisfaction felt by fulfilling the need of the stimulus causing the drive. Finally, he defined the object as the path or manner by which satisfaction can be derived.
Regarding the object, Freud had much to say. The diversity of the object may be extraordinary since almost anything might provide a pathway to satisfying the stimulus. This Freud considered a derivative of the mobility of drives, upon which he took great pains to elaborate. Of particular interest to him was the mobility of love/sex, whose complexities could be quite convoluted and seemingly contrary.
Because of the complicated network of interconnected and frequently contradictory drives involved in love/sex, Freud saw human beings as destined to steer through a labyrinth of conflicting and opposing forces. These included love and hate; love and indifference; loving and being loved.
Freud concluded that resolving the various drives was accomplished and determined by three polarities that dominate psychic life. According to him these are: activity and passivity; perception of the inner and outer world; and the experience of pleasure and pain. He would later add to these a fourth: the desire for life and the desire for death.
By 1916 Freud had come to what would be his final position on the subject of human love and sex. He argued that love begins very simply as a form of narcissistic self absorption. By a complicated series of developments this in turn connects with the sexual instincts of pleasure and racial preservation. These in turn gratify in various ways what can be defined as primarily self centered interests. These self centered and self serving interests are the various biological sources of the drives.
Of interest in Freud's work is his description of energy transformations occurring during the operation of the drives. He considered these energies to be strictly instinctual, that is derived ultimately and simply from biological urges and needs. He found that transformation permitted them to find partial satisfaction even if full gratification is blocked.
These blocks resulted from what he referred to as modes of defence against the drives. He lumped them together under the term repression. The mechanism of repression Freud said was the cornerstone on which the edifice of psychoanalysis rested. He described repression as an array of mental maneuvers intended to block from awareness some instinctual wish.
Why repression arises at all Freud did not attempt to answer in detail. In his view of the human mind as a battlefield, conflicting drives could not all be satisfied. Some must be repressed. For the overall good of the organism, its survival and its functioning, some desires can not be fulfilled.
Carl Jung split from Freud on the issue of psychic energy. Jung wished to expand the concept of libido. Much as Freud himself had come to realize that his early distinctions were not tenable, Jung contended that Freud's view was too narrow in focus.
The two men differed primarily in the manner in which each considered the nature of libido. For Freud, libido remained sexual energy. In the evolution of his thought, Freud came ultimately to an expanded definition of libido. In fact, he came to a position very close to that of tantra which sees everything as derivative of sexual energy.
The differences between Freud and tantra, however, are significant. Like western psychology generally, following materialistic reductionism, Freud viewed libido, and all other psychic forces, as deriving from biological functioning. Thus in his theory of drives, the sources of the drives derive from biological stimuli which in turn become transformed into psychic energy. Conversely, tantra sees biological functioning as deriving entirely from psychic forces.
The western psychological view here expresses a monistic materialism. That which is not material, in this case the human psyche and its psychic energies, must derive from the material body and its various modes of functioning. Tantra rejects this concept totally.
Jung also wished to expand the meaning of libido to include all psychic energy. But unlike Freud, he did not wish to consider all psychic energy as deriving from sexual energy. Jung considered that in a general psychological theory it was impossible to use purely sexual energy as a full explanation. In part this opposing view resulted from a simple misunderstanding both by Jung and by Freud. For both men saw sexual energy as something separate and apart from other psychic activity.
In one way, Jung's position was a retreat from Freud's. In terms of western understanding and metaphysics in general, Freud's position was truly revolutionary. You must recall that since at least the middle of the second millennium B.C. the western metaphysic has denigrated sexuality. This metaphysic has separated sex as something distinct and inferior to mental and intellectual activity.
Freud, as his theory developed, suggested finally, to the disbelief of many if not most of his contemporaries, Jung included, that at its foundation the human being functioned on sexual energy. This energy transformed itself to appear in various guises. But it was still sexual all the same.
Had Freud not approached the subject from the position of material monism, he would have been pronouncing the most fundamental and basic assertion of the metaphysic of ecstasy. That is simply that the underlying polarity of human life is sexual.
In denying that sexual energy was the sole underlying psychic force, Jung represented a reactionary movement. In his On Psychical Energy, Jung sought not to deny the existence of sexual energy, but to "put it in its proper place." He, like the western metaphysic he sought to uphold, could not accept with Freud that its proper place might far exceed the obvious.
Jung argued that Freud had erred by reducing all psychic energy to sexual energy. In Jung's view, Freud had followed a mechanistic and causal standpoint. This he argued always tends to simplify matters to some final and ultimate cause. In the case of the human psyche, according to Jung, such reductionism did less than justice to the subject. Of course, Jung was correct. Freud, like Jung, came directly from the viewpoint of the western metaphysic. It would have been extraordinary for him to have exhibited any other viewpoint.
By contrast, Jung introduced what he termed the energic and acausal view. He would later elaborate upon this in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (1952). For our purposes here we need only reiterate Jung's initial definition.
In the energic view, what is most significant is the relationships of events. Relationships develop along a gradient of potential in a manner that is irreversible. This gives the flow of energy a direction in time leading towards entropy, or a state of equilibrium.
This view stands in contrast to that of a strict causality which states that an event is the immediate effect of a cause. With causality there are fixed laws that govern the relationships of things.
The distinction may seem subtle. So Jung attempts to clarify this further by arguing that the energic is a necessary explanatory principle since no explanation of nature can be wholly causal. According to Jung if we had only to deal with simple moving bodies in space, causality would be sufficient as an explanation. But we have also to deal with the relationships of movement of the bodies and this requires the energic view. If this were not so, we would not have had to invent the concept of energy as a complement to the concept of matter.
All else aside, the application of the energic and acausal concept to psychology marked a significant point in the development of psychology. It lifted psychology out of the realm of materialism. Discoveries in quantum physics since Jung first elaborated his acausal principle have justified his concepts. Acausal phenomena have been observed time and again. As Jung claimed, causality and acausality are necessary to understand the world.
Although he does not make a point of it, Jung remarked on the invention of the concept of energy. If energy is an invented concept, then matter, too, must be an invented concept. If they are concepts then both are mental constructs that help us organize perceptions. This contention is remarkably close to the position of the metaphysic of ecstasy.
Jung wished to enlarge the concept of psychic energy to one of life energy. To distinguish the strictly psychological usage of the concept he labelled it libido (1912). By using Freud's term in this context, Jung sought to preserve for others working in the fields of biology and the physical sciences the privilege of coining whatever specialized term they cared to for their own use.
In his use of the term libido Jung sought specifically to avoid getting into the problem of the relationship of mind and body. He considered it highly probable that the psychic and physical are essentially connected. Yet early (prior to 1928) he felt that psychology ought to limit itself to empirically accessible facts. He did not, however, feel so constrained in his later work.
Although Jung could accept along with Freud the concept of psychic sublimation, he could not accept that sublimation of sexual energy accounts for all psychic phenomena. He could not include as sexual sublimation such phenomena as will, thinking and what he termed "the spiritual principle."
From the vantage point of knowing something about the metaphysic of ecstasy, we can understand what is going on here with interest. Parmenides and Plato categorized love into two types you will recall. The first physical, the second nonphysical.
We know that this dualistic view of love and sexuality is based on the male metaphysic introduced by the Indo Europeans during the second and third millennia B.C. We also know that it forms a fundamental element of the entire western metaphysic.
The dualism that this division of love expresses is simply that there are two distinct forces operating in the human psyche. The one serves to elevate man to the philosophical plane of existence, the other to enthral him to the physical plane.
A case in point is Jung's concept of the so-called spiritual principle which he distinguishes as something wholly separate from sexuality. To the psyche he admits that the spiritual principle is just as much an instinct as sex. But Jung argues that the spiritual principle and sex differ from one another qualitatively, and that the spiritual is superior. This is exactly the position of Parmenides, Plato et al.
Jung does not deny that sexual instinct is relevant and important. But he does claim that the spiritual counterpole serves to elevate mankind from "sheer instinctuality." This he sees as the positive growth of human personality towards an ever expanding consciousness.
In effect, Jung made the same error that Pryse and the esoteric Christian school he propounds committed by equating the physical and the sexual with the ultimate human problem. The ultimate human problem is ignorance of itself.
The great human problem is not that we are beings both physical and sexual who must escape into some immaterial and asexual realm of existence or being. Expanding human consciousness does not elevate us to higher levels of spiritual consciousness. There are no lower levels of consciousness to be done away with, and no higher ones to be attained. Only a fuller realization.
Freud's initial position on the nature of libido postulated that there were two basic forces operating in the human psyche. The one was erotic the other not. He later came to revise his view when it became clear to him that it was impossible to maintain this simple distinction.
Freud's final position asserted that there was only one force active in the psyche. That force is sexual. Although Freud was a reductionist, he arrived at the heart of the matter. Both he and Jung, however, failed to understand the significance of the discovery.
The failure of both Freud and Jung to comprehend fully the nature of the force of what they termed libido resulted primarily from their too limited understanding of the nature of sexual energy. Both men viewed sexual energy as strictly genitally oriented. Neither could see it as the polarizing energy that it really is. Neither of them understood that what we observe as overtly sexual energy is simply one of its manifestations.
But at least, they were on the right track. After more than 2500 years, someone in the west was talking about sex in a positive light again.
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