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1. LECTURE I. RECENT CRITICISMS OF "CONSCIOUSNESS" (continued)
Returning from this digression to our main topic, namely, the criticism of "consciousness," we observe that Freud and his followers, though they have demonstrated beyond dispute the immense importance of "unconscious" desires in determining our actions and beliefs, have not attempted the task of telling us what an "unconscious" desire actually is, and have thus invested their doctrine with an air of mystery and mythology which forms a large part of its popular attractiveness. They speak always as though it were more normal for a desire to be conscious, and as though a positive cause had to be assigned for its being unconscious. Thus "the unconscious" becomes a sort of underground prisoner, living in a dungeon, breaking in at long intervals upon our daylight respectability with dark groans and maledictions and strange atavistic lusts. The ordinary reader, almost inevitably, thinks of this underground person as another consciousness, prevented by what Freud calls the "censor" from making his voice heard in company, except on rare and dreadful occasions when he shouts so loud that every one hears him and there is a scandal. Most of us like the idea that we could be desperately wicked if only we let ourselves go. For this reason, the Freudian "unconscious" has been a consolation to many quiet and well-behaved persons.
I do not think the truth is quite so picturesque as this. I believe an "unconscious" desire is merely a causal law of our behaviour,* namely, that we remain restlessly active until a certain state of affairs is realized, when we achieve temporary equilibrium If we know beforehand what this state of affairs is, our desire is conscious; if not, unconscious. The unconscious desire is not something actually existing, but merely a tendency to a certain behaviour; it has exactly the same status as a force in dynamics. The unconscious desire is in no way mysterious; it is the natural primitive form of desire, from which the other has developed through our habit of observing and theorizing (often wrongly). It is not necessary to suppose, as Freud seems to do, that every unconscious wish was once conscious, and was then, in his terminology, "repressed" because we disapproved of it. On the contrary, we shall suppose that, although Freudian "repression" undoubtedly occurs and is important, it is not the usual reason for unconsciousness of our wishes. The usual reason is merely that wishes are all, to begin with, unconscious, and only become known when they are actively noticed. Usually, from laziness, people do not notice, but accept the theory of human nature which they find current, and attribute to themselves whatever wishes this theory would lead them to expect. We used to be full of virtuous wishes, but since Freud our wishes have become, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." Both these views, in most of those who have held them, are the product of theory rather than observation, for observation requires effort, whereas repeating phrases does not.
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