Friday, 22 August 2014

A Resource on Phenomenology....

Phenomenology Online
A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Phenomenology Online > Inquiry

Phenomenological inquiry may be explored and studied in terms of the following topical domains: orientations, sources of meaning, methodology, methods, writing, and practice.

Phenomenology is an influential and complex philosophic tradition that has given rise to various related philosophical movements such as existentialism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, feminism, culture critique, and various forms of analytical and new theory. Major contemporary figures such as Foucault, Derrida, Rorty, find the impetus and sources of their writings in earlier phenomenological works by Husserl, Heidegger, Blanchot, Levinas, and others.

But phenomenology may also be considered a human science method: a profoundly reflective inquiry into human meaning. Phenomenology as a research perspective can be studied in terms of several domains of inquiry:

  1. We may distinguish various traditions or orientations such as transcendental, existential, hermeneutic, historical, ethical, and language phenomenologies;
  2. Phenomenological inquiry probes and draws from different sources of meaning;
  3. Phenomenological inquiry can be understood in terms of the philosophical or methodological attitudes associated with the reductio and the vocatio;
  4. The more procedural dimensions of phenomenological inquiry can be explored in terms of empirical methods and reflective methods;
  5. Ultimately phenomenological inquiry cannot be separated from the practice of writing.
  6. Phenomenological inquiry can be studied in terms of its practical consequences for human living.

Monday, 11 August 2014


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For the Belgian techno duo, see Apotheosis (group).
"Autotheism" redirects here. For the album by The Faceless, see Autotheism (album).
Apotheosis (from Greek ἀποθέωσις from ἀποθεοῦν, apotheoun "to deify"; in Latin deificatio "making divine"; also called divinization and deification) is the glorification of a subject to divine level. The term has meanings in theology, where it refers to a belief, and in art, where it refers to a genre.
In theology, the term apotheosis refers to the idea that an individual has been raised to godlike stature. In art, the term refers to the treatment of any subject (a figure, group, locale, motif, convention or melody) in a particularly grand or exalted manner.


Further information: imperial cult and divine king
Prior to the Hellenistic period, imperial cults were known in Ancient Egypt (pharaohs) and Mesopotamia (since Naram-Sin). From the New Kingdom, all deceased pharaohs were deified as Osiris.

Ancient Greece[edit]

Main article: Greek hero cult
From at least the Geometric period of the ninth century BC, the long-deceased heroes linked with founding myths of Greek sites were accorded chthonic rites in their heroon, or "hero-temple".
In the Greek world, the first leader who accorded himself divine honours was Philip II of Macedon, who was a king, when the Greeks had set kingship aside, and who had extensive economic and military ties, though largely antagonistic, with Achaemenid Persia, where kings were divine. At his wedding to his sixth wife, Philip's enthroned image was carried in procession among the Olympian gods; "his example at Aigai became a custom, passing to the Macedonian kings who were later worshipped in Greek Asia, from them to Julius Caesar and so to the emperors of Rome".[1] Such Hellenistic state leaders might be raised to a status equal to the gods before death (e.g., Alexander the Great) or afterwards (e.g., members of the Ptolemaic dynasty). Heroic cult similar to apotheosis was also an honour given to a few revered artists of the distant past, notably Homer.
Archaic and Classical Greek hero-cults became primarily civic, extended from their familial origins, in the sixth century; by the fifth century none of the worshipers based their authority by tracing descent back to the hero, with the exception of some families who inherited particular priestly cult, such as the Eumolpides (descended from Eumolpus) of the Eleusinian mysteries, and some inherited priesthoods at oracle sites. The Greek hero cults can be distinguished on the other hand from the Roman cult of dead emperors, because the hero was not thought of as having ascended to Olympus or become a god: he was beneath the earth, and his power purely local. For this reason hero cults were chthonic in nature, and their rituals more closely resembled those for Hecate and Persephone than those for Zeus and Apollo. Two exceptions were Heracles and Asclepius, who might be honoured as either gods or heroes, sometimes by chthonic night-time rites and sacrifice on the following day.

Ancient Rome[edit]

Apotheosis in ancient Rome was a process whereby a deceased ruler was recognized as having been divine by his successor, usually also by a decree of the Senate and popular consent. In addition to showing respect, often the present ruler deified a popular predecessor to legitimize himself and gain popularity with the people. The upper-class did not always take part in the imperial cult,[citation needed] and some privately ridiculed the apotheosis of inept and feeble emperors, as in the satire The Pumpkinification of (the Divine) Claudius, usually attributed to Seneca. At the height of the imperial cult during the Roman Empire, sometimes the emperor's deceased loved ones—heirs, empresses, or lovers, as Hadrian's Antinous—were deified as well. Deified people were awarded posthumously the title Divus (Diva if women) to their names to signify their divinity. Traditional Roman religion distinguished between a deus (god) and a divus (a mortal who became divine or deified), though not consistently. Temples and columns were sometimes erected to provide a space for worship.

Ancient China[edit]

The Ming dynasty epic Investiture of the Gods deals heavily with deification legends. Numerous mortals have been deified into the Daoist pantheon, such as Guan Yu, Iron-crutch Li and Fan Kuai. Song Dynasty General Yue Fei was deified during the Ming Dynasty and is considered by some practitioners to be one of the three highest ranking heavenly generals.[2][3]

Southeast Asia and North Korea[edit]

Various Hindu and Buddhist rulers in the past have been represented as deities, especially after death, from Thailand to Indonesia. Even several Sultans of Yogyakarta were semi-deified[citation needed], posthumously.
Deceased North-Korean president Kim Il-Sung is object of a cult of personality similar of a deity's one, which has statues, monuments dedicated to the "Eternal Leader", annual commemoration of his birth, peregrination of newlyweds to his nearest statue, the Juche era dating system beginning with Kim birthday, etc.



Instead of the word "apotheosis", Christian theology uses in English the words "deification" or "divinization" or the Greek word "theosis". Traditional mainstream theology, both East and West, views Jesus Christ as the preexisting God who undertook mortal existence, not as a mortal being who attained divinity. It holds that he has made it possible for human beings to be raised to the level of sharing the divine nature: he became one of us to make us "partakers of the divine nature"[4] "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God."[5] "For He was made man that we might be made God."[6] "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."[7]
The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology contains the following in an article titled "Deification":
Deification (Greek theosis) is for Orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God.'. . . It is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become god by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both OT and NT (e.g. Ps. 82 (81).6; II Peter 1.4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (cf. Rom. 8.9—17; Gal. 4.5—7), and the Fourth Gospel (cf. 17.21—23).
The language of II Peter is taken up by St Irenaeus, in his famous phrase, 'if the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods' (Adv. Haer V, Pref.), and becomes the standard in Greek theology. In the fourth century, St. Athanasius repeats Irenaeus almost word for word, and in the fifth century St Cyril of Alexandria says that we shall become sons 'by participation' (Greek methexis). Deification is the central idea in the spirituality of St. Maximus the Confessor, for whom the doctrine is the corollary of the Incarnation: 'Deification, briefly, is the encompassing and fulfillment of all times and ages,' . . . and St. Symeon the New Theologian at the end of the tenth century writes, 'He who is God by nature converses with those whom he has made gods by grace, as a friend converses with his friends, face to face.' . . .

In Eastern Christianity[edit]

Christian theology traditionally makes a distinction between "theosis" and "apotheosis". Orthodox Trinitarian Christianity views Jesus Christ as the preexisting God who undertook mortal existence, not a mortal being who attained divinity. Regarding human beings, the mystical theology of the Eastern Orthodox churches and Eastern Catholic churches characteristically describes the situation as "theosis", a Greek word.

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

Corresponding to the Greek word theosis are the Latin-derived words "divinization" and "deification" used in the parts of the Catholic Church that are of Latin tradition. The concept has been given less prominence in Western theology than in that of the Eastern Catholic Churches, but is present in the Latin Church's liturgical prayers, such as that of the deacon or priest when pouring wine and a little water into the chalice: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity."[8] The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes with approval Saint Athanasius's saying, "The Son of God became man so that we might become God."[6][9] It does not use the term "apotheosis".
Catholic theology stresses the concept of supernatural life, "a new creation and elevation, a rebirth, it is a participation in and partaking of the divine nature"[10] (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). In Catholic teaching there is a vital distinction between natural life and supernatural life, the latter being "the life that God, in an act of love, freely gives to human beings to elevate them above their natural lives" and which they receive through prayer and the sacraments; indeed the Catholic Church sees human existence as having as its whole purpose the acquisition, preservation and intensification of this supernatural life.[11]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormons) do believe in apotheosis along the lines of the Christian tradition of divinization or deification, but in the church it is referred to as exaltation or eternal life, and is accomplished through "sanctification." LDS believe that mankind may live with God throughout eternity in families and eventually become gods themselves, though remaining subordinate to God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While the primary focus of the LDS Church is on Jesus of Nazareth and His atoning sacrifice for man,[12] Mormons believe that one purpose for Christ's mission and for His atonement is the exaltation or Christian deification of man. The third Article of Faith of Mormon Christianity states that all men may be saved from sin through the atonement of Jesus Christ and LDS Gospel Doctrine (as published) states that all men will be saved and will be resurrected from death. However, only those who are sufficiently obedient and who accept the atonement and the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ before the resurrection and final judgment will be "exalted" and, thereby, receive a literal Christian deification.
One popular Mormon quote which is often attributed to the early Mormon leader Lorenzo Snow in 1837, is “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.”[13][14] The teaching was taught first by Joseph Smith, Jr. while pointing to John 5:19 in the New Testament; he said that "God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did."[15] Many[who?] LDS and non-LDS scholars also have discussed the correlation between Mormon belief in exaltation and the ancient Christian theosis or deification as set forth by early Church Fathers[14][page needed][third-party source needed][specify]. Several[who?] LDS and non-LDS historians specializing in studies of the early Christian Church also claim that the Mormon belief in eternal progression is more similar to the ancient Christian deification as set forth in numerous patristic writings of the first through fourth centuries A.D. than the beliefs of any other modern faith group of the Christian tradition[14][page needed][third-party source needed][unreliable source?].
Mormons believe that the original Christian belief in man's divine potential gradually lost its meaning and importance in the centuries after the death of the apostles, as doctrinal changes by post-apostolic theologians caused Christians to lose sight of the true nature of God and His purpose for creating humanity. The concept of God's nature that was eventually accepted as Christian doctrine in the 4th century set divinity apart from humanity by defining the Godhead as three persons sharing a common divine substance. This classification of God in terms of a substance is not found in scripture,[16] [17] yet in many aspects mirrored the Greek metaphysical philosophies that are known to have influenced the thinking of church fathers[18] such as Justin Martyr, Origen, and Augustine. Mormons teach that through modern revelation, God restored the knowledge that He is the literal father of our spirits (Hebrews 12:9), and that Biblical references to God creating mankind in His image and likeness were in no way allegorical. As such, Mormons assert that as the literal offspring of our Father (Acts 17:28-29), humans have the potential to be heirs of His glory, and co-heirs with our brother Jesus Christ (Romans 8:16-17). This glory, Mormons believe, lies not in God’s substance, but in His intelligence—in other words, light and truth (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36[19]). Thus the purpose of our creation is to grow and progress to become like our Father in Heaven. Mortality is seen as a crucial step in this process, where God's spirit children gain a body—which though formed in the image of the Father's body, is subject to pain, illness, temptation, and death. The purpose of this earth life is to learn to choose the right in the face of this opposition, thereby gaining essential experience and wisdom. The level of intelligence we attain in this life will rise with us in the resurrection (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19). Our bodies will then be immortal like that of the Father and the Son (Philemon 3:21), however the degree of glory to which each person will resurrect is contingent upon the final judgement (Revelations 20:13, 1 Corinthians 15:40-41). Those who are worthy to return to God's presence can continue to progress towards a fullness of God's glory, which Mormons refer to as eternal life, or exaltation (Doctrine and Covenants 76).
The LDS concept of apotheosis/exaltation is expressed in the following LDS scriptures: Mosiah 3:19, Alma 13:12, D&C 78:7, D&C 78:22, D&C 84:4, D&C 84:23, D&C 88:68, D&C 93:28, and expressed by a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, "Though stretched by our challenges, by living righteously and enduring well we can eventually become sufficiently more like Jesus in our traits and attributes, that one day we can dwell in the Father's presence forever and ever." (Neal Maxwell, October 1997)
In early 2014, the LDS church published an essay on the official church website specifically addressing the foundations, history, and official beliefs regarding apotheosis.[20] The essay addresses the scriptural foundations of this uniquely Mormon belief, teachings of the early Christian church fathers on the subject of deificiation, and the teachings of LDS church leaders, starting with Joseph Smith, on the subject.


In art the matter is practical: the elevation of a figure to divine level entails certain conventions. So it is that the apotheosis genre exists in Christian art as in other art. The features of the apotheosis genre may be seen in subjects that emphasize Christ's divinity (Transfiguration, Ascension, Christ Pantocrator) and that depict holy persons "in glory"—that is, in their roles as "God revealed" (Assumption, Ascension, etc.).
Apotheosis of French soldiers fallen in the Napoleonic Wars, Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, beginning of 19th century.
Apotheosis of George Washington
Apotheosis of Gdańsk by Isaak van den Blocke.
Later artists have used the concept for motives ranging from genuine respect for the deceased (Constantino Brumidi's fresco The Apotheosis of Washington on the dome of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.), to artistic comment (Salvador Dalí's or Ingres's The Apotheosis of Homer), to mock-heroic and burlesque apotheoses for comedic effect.
Many modern leaders have exploited the artistic imagery if not the theology of apotheosis. Examples include Rubens's depictions of James I of England at the Banqueting House (an expression of the Divine Right of Kings) or Henry IV of France, or Appiani's apotheosis of Napoleon. The term has come to be used figuratively to refer to the elevation of a dead leader (often one who was assassinated and/or martyred) to a kind of superhuman charismatic figure and an effective erasing of all faults and controversies which were connected with his name in life - for example, Abraham Lincoln in the US, Lenin in USSR, Yitzchak Rabin in Israel, or Kim Jong-il of North Korea.

In literature[edit]

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, writes that the Universal Hero from monomyth must pass through a stage of Apotheosis. According to Campbell, apotheosis is the expansion of consciousness that the hero experiences after defeating his foe.
Arthur C Clarke's novel Childhood's End has the Overlords refer to Mankind's "apotheosis" when the world's children evolve into their union with the Overmind (see also post-human).
In Chapter 23 of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, regarding Ishmael's friend Bulkington, the term serves as a last word climax for the chapter:
"But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God- so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing- straight up, leaps thy apotheosis."
In The Dark Tower series by Stephen King, the desert which is the main setting of the first book in the series, The Gunslinger, is referred to as "the apotheosis of all deserts".
The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson several times employs the concept of apotheosis: for Mistborn Kelsier, for the Lord Ruler, and arguably for Kelsier's Mistborn apprentice, Vin.

In music[edit]

Apotheosis in music refers to the appearance of a theme in grand or exalted form. It represents the musical equivalent of the apotheosis genre in visual art, especially where the theme is connected in some way with historical persons or dramatic characters. When crowning the end of a large-scale work the apotheosis functions as a peroration, following an analogy with the art of rhetoric.
Apotheosis moments abound in music, and the word itself appears in some cases. Hector Berlioz used "Apotheose" as the title of the final movement of his Grande symphonie funèbre et triomphale, a work composed in 1846 for the dedication of a monument to France's war dead. Two of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, as well as La Bayadère, contain apotheoses as finales. The very beautiful concluding tableau of Maurice Ravel's Ma Mere l'Oye is also titled "Apotheose." Czech composer Karel Husa, concerned in 1970 about arms proliferation and environmental deterioration, named his musical response Apotheosis for This Earth. Aram Khachaturian entitled a segment of his ballet Spartacus "Sunrise and Apotheosis." Richard Wagner, referring to the lively rhythms which permeate Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, called it the "apotheosis of the dance".[21]
American technical death metal band The Faceless explored the idea of Apotheosis in the first three tracks of their 2012 album Autotheism. The first three tracks are one song broken into three parts called "The Autotheism Movement".

In other popular culture[edit]

In the game Endgame: Singularity, where one plays a newborn AI, one wins by researching apotheosis and becoming something not bound to Earth.[citation needed]
In the Elder Scrolls series, the act of apotheosis has been achieved by several cultural heroes. From the lore, it is stated that Emperor Tiber Septim achieved godhood, becoming a divine god. Whilst, in Oblivion's expansion pack, Shivering Isles, the protagonist is granted the opportunity to replace a member the Daedric princes, a more demonic pantheon.[citation needed]
In the game Fire Emblem Awakening, apotheosis is the English name given to the last purchasable downloadable content, wherein it is stated that heroes who become too powerful are drawn to Castle Apotheosis to challenge worthy opponents.[22]
In the tabletop miniatures game WarMachine, Apotheosis is the 3rd expansion, released in 2005 and originally published for the first edition of the game. The book outlines heroes, units, and steam-powered robots (called "Warjacks" in the game) of legendary, heroic, or notorious status within the Iron Kingdoms setting of the game. It furthered the story that runs concurrently with the game universe, and likely took its name from the attempt made by the character Asphyxious to achieve godhood.[citation needed]
Austin Wintory's soundtrack to the 2012 game Journey contains a track titled "Apotheosis", which plays during the player's final ascent to the mountain top at the game's end.
The final episode of the TV show Caprica is called "Apotheosis". The idea of Apotheosis was a common idea/theme throughout the show.

See also[edit]

References and further reading[edit]

  1. Jump up ^ Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1973:20)
  2. Jump up ^ Liu, James T. C. "Yueh Fei (1103-41) and China's Heritage of Loyalty." The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 31, No. 2 (Feb., 1972), pp. 291-297, pg. 296
  3. Jump up ^ Wong, Eva. The Shambhala Guide to Taoism. Shambhala, 1996 (ISBN 1570621691), p. 162
  4. Jump up ^ 2 Peter 1:4
  5. Jump up ^ Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus haereses, 3.19.1
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 54.3.
  7. Jump up ^ Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4
  8. Jump up ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article "deification"
  9. Jump up ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 460
  10. Jump up ^ Heinrich Fries, Bultmann-Barth and Catholic theology (Duquesne University Press 1967), p. 160
  11. Jump up ^ Stephen M. O'Brien, God and the Devil Are Fighting (City University of New York 2008 ISBN 978-0-549-61137-0), pp. 116-117
  12. Jump up ^ Joseph Smith declared, 'The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it' (See, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 121).
  13. Jump up ^ Lund, Gerald N. (February 1982), Is President Lorenzo Snow’s oft-repeated statement—“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be”—accepted as official doctrine by the Church?, "I Have a Question", Ensign 
  14. ^ Jump up to: a b c Millet, Robert L.; Reynolds, Noel B. (1998), "Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?", Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, ISBN 0934893322, OCLC 39732987 
  15. Jump up ^ Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46.
  16. Jump up ^ Thomas Mozley The creed or a philosophy 1893 p303
  17. Jump up ^ (the wording of the Council of Constantinople_(360) prohibited use of the terms substance, essence, and ousia because they were not included in the scriptures)
  18. Jump up ^
  19. Jump up ^
  20. Jump up ^
  21. Jump up ^ Grove, Sir George (1962). Beethoven and his nine symphonies (3rd ed. ed.). New York: Dover Publications. pp. 228–271. OCLC 705665. 
  22. Jump up ^, List of Downloadable Content for Fire Emblem: Awakening.[unreliable source?]
  • Arthur E.R. Boak, "The Theoretical Basis of the Deification of Rulers in Antiquity", in: Classical Journal vol. 11, 1916, pp. 293–297.
  • Franz Bömer, "Ahnenkult und Ahnenglaube im alten Rom", Leipzig 1943.
  • Walter Burkert, "Caesar und Romulus-Quirinus", in: Historia vol. 11, 1962, pp. 356–376.
  • Jean-Claude Richard, "Énée, Romulus, César et les funérailles impériales", in: Mélanges de l'École Française de Rome vol. 78, 1966, pp. 67–78.
  • Bernadette Liou-Gille, "Divinisation des morts dans la Rome ancienne", in: Revue Belge de Philologie vol. 71, 1993, pp. 107–115.
  • David Engels, "Postea dictus est inter deos receptus. Wetterzauber und Königsmord: Zu den Hintergründen der Vergöttlichung frührömischer Könige", in: Gymnasium vol 114, 2007, pp. 103–130.
  • Stephen King "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
  • King David Kalakaua, "The Apotheosis of Pele: The Adventures of the Goddess with Kamapuaa" in The Legends and Myths of Hawaii

External links[edit]

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Awakened Ones

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The Awakened Ones is the most sustained and powerful treatment since William James of the forms of knowledge and life that visionary experience makes possible. It is a remarkable combination of panoramic reference, detached analysis, and the most personal intensity of feeling and style. -- Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University In his impeccable style, with an unmatched eloquence, a series of sparking, sparkling insights, and an expansive comparative vision, Gananath Obeyesekere gives us what can only be called a spiritual-intellectual testament. In the process, he calls on us to unite the rational and the nonrational at the highest levels of scholarship and cultural work and to envision a cross-cultural enlightenment that is as indebted to the visionary teachings of a Buddha or a William Blake as to the humanities and social sciences. A stunning and edifying achievement from a major intellectual. -- Jeffrey J. Kripal, Rice University, author of The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion In a world subjugated by the reification, if not deification, of rationality and science, this is a sorely needed antidote... Highly recommended. Choice 9/1/12 A stunning scholarly achievement. The Ecclesial University 9/5/12

About the Author

Gananath Obeyesekere is professor emeritus of anthropology at Princeton University. His books include Cannibal Talk: Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Sea; Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth; Land Tenure in Village Ceylon; Medusa's Hair: An Essay on Personal Symbols and Religious Experience; The Cult of the Goddess Pattini; Buddhism Transformed; The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology; and The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific, which won the prize for most outstanding book in sociology and anthropology from the Association of American Publishers and the Gottschalk Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. Ref Amazon

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Major Themes & Assumptions of Psychoanalytic Theory


Last updated:
21 Sep 2003
Firstly, it is important to understand that psychoanalytic theory was not designed as a personality theory per se.  Rather, it was the first major, coherent, psychological theory.  Psychoanalytic is broad in scope and offered unique, controversial insights into how the human mind worked.  In addition, psychoanalytic theory provided a new approach to psychotherapy, thus it provided new treatment techniques for psychological problems that had previously puzzled doctors and others.  Unlike other personality theories, the psychoanalytic theory is relatively cohesive (e.g., the Biological Theory consists of many different, separate ideas, models and theories).  This approach to personality takes up the challenge of explaining what is going on when what is going on is difficult to understand.
The main thrusts of the psychoanalytic perspective on personality are that:
  1. Psychic energy is needed to make the mind go & the energy (motivation) cannot be destroyed, it must be expressed: The psychoanalytic approach assumes that the psychological apparatus of the mind needs some kind of energy to make it go. This energy is used in psychological work such as planning, thinking, feeling, remembering. The psychic energy is thought to come from 2 main drives: Eros (or libido, the life and sexual instincts) and Thanatos (death instinct). The thinking is that at any time there is only a finite amount of energy available and if it�s busily being used say to repress memories, and deal with anxieties, then it�s not being used fruitfully.  If the neuroses can be resolved, then the psychic energy can be freed to use more creatively and productively.
  2. Psychic Determinism: Everything that happens in a person�s mind and everything a person does has a specific, identifiable cause i.e. psychic determinism. Psychoanalysis has no room for miracles, accidents or free will. All seeming contradictions of mind and behaviour can be resolved: nothing is accidental, e.g., it is not accidental when you forget someone�s name, drop something, say one thing and do another. The purpose of psychoanalysis is to dig these hidden causes out, bring them into conscious awareness, and through this insight, the cause can be resolved.
  3. Humans have base instincts (unconscious urges): In Freudian psychology, the unconscious is extremely important in determining behaviour. This is a pervasive theme of the approach: that a lot of desires, motivations and conflicts are seething below the surface, below the level of consciousness. Freud believed that people are driven, fundamentally, by unconscious, animalistic, instinctual urges, particularly lust (eros) and aggression (thanatos).  These urges are often in conflict with the demands of society.  For example, humans desire pleasure, but society places limits on the kinds of pleasure-seeking which it deems acceptable.  Freud emphasizes the extent to which humans are motivated by psychosexual pleasure. 
  4. Topography of the psyche (unconscious, pre-conscious, conscious): Using an iceberg metaphor, the unconscious is understood to be the large part of the mind, which is hidden from view.  The pre-conscious is represented by the waterline - but it is the zone in which there are fleeting glimpses of the unconscious, "flickering" across the screen of consciousness.  Finally, the relatively small part of the iceberg which sticks of the water is seen as equivalent to the small amount of conscious awareness that the human experiences.  Freud also believed that if there was information that was too painful for the conscious part to bear, that defense mechanisms would act to push it down it into the unconscious part of the mind.
  5. Structure of Mind (Id, Ego, Superego): The mind has an internal structure -- three parts with separate motivations: Id (irrational and emotional part of the mind); the Ego (rational part); and the Superego (the moral part).
  6. The Way Psychic Conflicts are Resolved Shapes Personality: Personality characteristics are determined by the way in which a person learns to resolve unconscious conflicts amongst the Id, Ego & Superego.  This evolves from how people handle several psychosexual stages during childhood.  Personality is very strongly influenced by early experiences. Freud was the first to really emphasize the importance of early childhood experiences.  People's Id, Ego and Superego develop characteristic patterns of interaction which for them resolve the urges for psychosexual pleasures. However, in some people, a psychosexual stage may not be effectively resolved and this leads to adult personalities characterized being "stuck" at a particular psychosexual stage (e.g., anally retentive or anally expulsive if the 2nd psychosexual stage "anal" (learning how to "let go" of faeces)) is not resolved, depending on which of the Id, Ego, and Superego becomes more dominant.  The quality of a person's mental health was seen as determined by the extent to which psychic conflicts had been effectively resolved.  If the forces of mind are in balance, according to Freud, then good psychological health ensued.  Personality is viewed as a dynamic set of process which are always in motion i.e. psychodynamic.  Because of the dynamism, it is possible for an adult personality characteristic to be altered quite dramatically through therapeutic (psychodynamic) insight.
  7. Life is Painful, Therefore We Use Defense Mechanisms to Shield Our Psyche's from the Pain: Psychological defenses are proposed as important aspects of human functioning.  Because of human's desire for pleasure (note, they also have destructive instincts), life is essentially too painful for the human being to endure consciously, therefore much of the pain and conflict is diverted via defence mechanisms and kept within the unconscious.  It is within the hidden unconscious that much of the conflict takes place, and these conflicts in the unconscious mind are seen as the root of behavior and conscious experience.  Apparently paradoxical or irrational behaviors can be accounted for by these inner conflicts, i.e., psychic determinism.
  8. Unconscious Leaks Into Conscious Awareness via dreams, slips of the tongue, psychosomatic symptoms, and so on: The unconscious is dynamic, and the psychic energy must go somewhere, plus there is psychic determinism.  In other words, whilst the unconscious conflicts may be largely kept from conscious awareness, they still significantly influence behaviors, psychosomatics, plus leak into the preconscious.
  9. Therapeutic Relief Can be Achieved Through Insight into the Unconscious: Therapeutic relief can be effected by helping a person to bring underlying conflicts, often related to past negative learning experiences during critical psychosexual stages.  To the extent that insight and understanding can be achieved, and a person can resolve many psychological problems.  Note that the therapeutic emphasis on the role and value of achieving "self-insight" is a notion later explored by humanistic psychology.  Psychoanalytic therapy was the first "talk therapy" -- it was noticed for the first time formally in psychology that talking about it helps!  Psychotherapy may also use project assessment techniques, such as the Rorschach Inkblot Test.