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Compare and contrast Freud's explanation of dreams a wish-fulfilment and Davidson's theory of action.

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Compare and contrast Freud's explanation of dreams a wish-fulfilment and Davidson's theory of action In The Interpretation of Dreams (henceforth ID) Freud claims that "the dream is a wish-fulfilment" (der Traum ist eine Wunscherf�llung) - an assertion which constitutes not only the title of one of the central chapters of the book, but also one of its main theses. But what exactly does defining the dream as the fulfilment of a wish imply? What relation do dreams bear to desires? And how can a wish be fulfilled in (or through) a dream? In this essay, I would like to examine Freud's claim in his own terms, as well as in the light of the philosophy of action, particularly that of Donald Davidson. On a related note, I will also make an excursion into Tamas Pataki's ideas regarding intentional character of mental phenomena. To begin with, the fulfilment (Erf�llung) brought about by dreams must be sharply distinguished from the satisfaction (Erfriedigung) achieved through action in waking life. According to Freud, dreams arise as a response of the sleeping mind to a desire which it is unwilling or unable to satisfy, precisely because of its sleeping state. This response consists in the purely mental enactment of the situation desired, in such a way that the reality beyond the dream remains unaffected. It is in this aspect that the fulfilment and the satisfaction of desires differ for Freud: for although they are both triggered by the subject's wish or desire, satisfaction entails the actual modification of the state of things in reality, whereas the fulfilment brought about by dreams only takes place in the sleeper's mind. But this is a strange notion indeed - why would the mind seek the illusory achievement of its desire? Why should the mind, so to speak, deceive itself by means of an insubstantial dream, instead of trying to attain the object of its desire in reality? ...read more.


But this account of wish-fulfilment has deeper implications. For Freud suggests that the original experience of hallucinatory fulfilment lies at the root of all later experiences of actual satisfaction.1 It would be the ultimate inadequacy of wish-fulfilment that leads to the development of what we usually understand as normal psychological functioning, whereby we strive to actually obtain the objects of our desires in extramental reality: In order to attain to more appropriate use of the psychic energy, it becomes necessary to suspend the full regression, so that it does not proceed beyond the memory-image, and thence can seek other paths, leading ultimately to the production of the desired identity from the side of the outer world. [Freud's note: In other words: the introduction of a test of reality is recognized as necessary.] This inhibition, as well as the subsequent deflection of the excitation, becomes the task of a second system, which controls voluntary motility, i.e., a system whose activity first leads on to the use of motility for purposes remembered in advance. But all this complicated mental activity, which works its way from the memory-image to the production of identity of perception via the outer world, merely represents a roundabout way to wish-fulfilment made necessary by experience. Thinking is indeed nothing but a substitute for the hallucinatory wish. (ID, ch. 7; my italics) In speaking of a "second system", Freud alludes to the distinction between primary, unconscious processes, and secondary, conscious processes which was glossed over before (cf. page 2). It is a distinction which now becomes relevant, though, as most of the points in which the Freudian account of wish-fulfilment (and, one might say, Freudian theory as a whole) are philosophically problematic arise from this opposition between conscious and unconscious. Donald Davidson, however, is one of the few philosophers who has claimed that an account of reason and action can be compatible (if not necessarily so) ...read more.


Through his mention of an unconscious intentionality, Pataki draws attention to the fact that intentions - or reasons to act - tend to be regarded as conscious in commonsense psychology (indeed, the notion of unconscious mental processes is a rather un-commonsensical one). The kernel of the difference between intentional and subintentional actions, as we have seen, is belief. My picking up a magazine from the floor because I want to read it is intentional because I believe that my reading the magazine is made possible by my picking it up first. However, my dreaming that I eat a pie because I get hungry in my sleep is sub-intentional, as I hold no belief in my sleep that my dreaming that I eat a pie will appease my hunger. Or do I not? Sub-intentionalists, as we have seen, have no problem in admitting that desires can be unconscious. However, they seem to preclude the possibility of unconscious belief. Yet, if there is an instance of the mind capable of harbouring desires - as subintentionalists assume -, there should be no reason why it could not hold beliefs as well. And indeed, as Pataki points out, in Freud's definition belief is as primitive and prior to the test of reality as is desire: When nothing in the mind "contradicts" or contrasts with a particular idea or perception, because all incompatible ideas or perceptions have been excluded or decathected, "reality testing" is inoperative, and the idea or perception is "believed". (Pataki 2000, 52-3) If we admit the possibility of unconscious belief, then unconscious intention ensues immediately. And indeed this seems to follow more closely the grain of Freudian thought than do sub-intentionalist positions: for inasmuch as intentions are intuitively seen as the "meaning" of actions, and Freud's claim in ID is that dreams are no senseless organic phenomena but are on the contrary essentially meaningful, an intentionalist approach to unconscious phenomena would be closer to the spirit of Freudian thought. ...read more.

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