The Future of an Illusion

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The Future of an Illusion
The Future of an Illusion, German edition.jpg
Author Sigmund Freud
Original title Die Zukunft einer Illusion
Translator (1) W.D. Robson-Scott, (2) James Strachey
Genre Psychoanalysis
Cultural studies
Religious studies
Publisher (1) Hogarth Press, London
(2) W. W. Norton & Company
Publication date
1927
Published in English
(1) 1928
(2) 1989
ISBN 978-0-393-00831-9
OCLC 20479722

The Future of an Illusion (German: Die Zukunft einer Illusion) is a 1927 book by Sigmund Freud, describing his interpretation of religion's origins, development, psychoanalysis, and its future. Freud viewed religion as a false belief system.

Summary[edit]

Freud defines religion as an illusion, consisting of "certain dogmas, assertions about facts and conditions of external and internal reality which tells one something that one has not oneself discovered, and which claim that one should give them credence." Religious concepts are transmitted in three ways and thereby claim our belief. "Firstly because our primal ancestors already believed them; secondly, because we possess proofs which have been handed down to us from antiquity, and thirdly because it is forbidden to raise the question of their authenticity at all." Psychologically speaking, these beliefs present the phenomena of wish fulfillment, "fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind." (Ch. 6 pg.38).

Among these are the necessity to cling to the existence of the father, the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life, and the immortality of the human soul. To differentiate between an illusion and an error, Freud 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)

Freud 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.

Freud explains religion in a similar term to that of totemism. The individual is essentially an enemy of society[1] 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)

Freud's 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.

In Freud's view, 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 childlike "longing for [a] father." (pg. 18)

In Freud's 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)

Scholarly reception[edit]

Today, some scholars[who?] 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.[2] Scholars still dispute this claim. Carl Jung wrote in Symbols of Transformation that The Future of an Illusion "gives the best possible account" of Freud's earlier views, "which move within the confines of the outmoded rationalism and scientific materialism of the late nineteenth century."[3]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Freud uses the German word Kultur. It has been translated sometimes as "culture" and sometimes as "civilization", denoting as it does a concept intermediate between these and at times inclusive of both.
  2. ^ Journal of the American Academy of Religion 1978 XLVI(3):351-368; doi:10.1093/jaarel/XLVI.3.351
  3. ^ Jung, Carl. Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia. Princeton University Press, 1990, p. xxiii.

External links[edit]