Freud's Views on Mental Causation

In Jon Mills (ed.), Psychoanalysis and the Mind-Body Problem. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 69-87 (2022)
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Freud held complex and fascinating views on the question of mental causation. In this chapter, I propose an interpretation of Freud's views on this question, bringing together ideas from psychoanalysis, philosophy of psychoanalysis, and philosophy of mind. Faced with the impasse of the problem of how the mind interacts with the body, Freud created a two-dimensional picture of mental causation, with one dimension involving mechanistic causes and the other involving intentional causes. My thesis is that Freud's best-developed picture of mental causation thesis describes mental causes as intentional causes using psychological vocabulary. I analyze three moments in Freud's work with a focus on mental causation. In the first topography, Freud uses a hybrid vocabulary, describing the mind in terms of both mechanistic causes and intentional causes. In his second topography, the mind increasingly assumes an intentional description. The third moment is Freud’s theory of anxiety, in which the arational cause of the unconscious drives, initially presented as a motor of the mind, gives rise to anxiety as an affective state that forces the self to find a solution for its mental conflicts. In the last part, I argue that Freud’s theory gradually moves from a reductionist approach to the mind-body problem on which mental causation is understood in terms of physical mechanisms, to a non-reductionist view where the mental becomes causally efficacious in its own right.

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Claudia Passos-Ferreira
New York University


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