In this paper we will be
discussing human behavior with particular focus on
what might be called its emotional determinants.
We will be dealing not with strictly "normal" or
"aberrant" behavior and in fact we will in due
course try to show that these terms are not useful
in the modeling of behavior.
We will make the assertion that emotions are by definition valid but that their interpretations are not necessarily in a conjunctive relationship the actual causes of the emotions themselves. That is, we will be assuming that emotions are caused but that the interpretations of these causes are not necessarily in adequate correlation with the actual phenomenon being reacted to.
We will be going into a much deeper discussion of the implications of this distinction between emotional and cognitive reality. However, as an example of what I am referring to, in a conversation with a friend, she asserted that she knew what she was doing. I inquired if this meant that she knew all the real causes and consequences of her actions and was acting on this knowledge. She replied that of course she did not know the real causes and consequences but she knew what she was trying to do. This distinction between cognitive reality and the real effects of actions is one we will be examining.
To quote from Freud in An Outline of Psycho-Analysis:
I now quote from Empedocles:
Freud was quite aware of the parallel nature of his concept with that of Empedocles. It is not my point in juxtaposing the two to prove their affinity but to introduce the basic orientation of this paper. As Harry Elmer Barnes aptly put it:
What we will be doing in this paper is
attempting to tap into the rich vein of Greek
knowledge and speculation.
In a paper written last year I took the position based on readings in the Greek Tragedies that in them "we view a period of critical social change in Greek society. Further, it will be posited that the focus of this change can be seen as a conflict between a primitive tradition and a more complex culture developing out of it and concomitantly the transition in the role of the individual thereby defined." I concluded that:
I, the mind of the past, to be driven
under the ground
out cast, like dirt.4
The more abstract organizing principle of this paper is a simple observation: emotions vary very complexly. Hopefully whatever apparent wanderings take place during this work's course will not show themselves excessive and will make collected sense.
Perhaps I am an atavism. But I cannot restrict my interpretation of the material of other cultures to a simple speculation and basically synchronic translation, thereby putting them into the conceptual system of our own time, as though their validity hinged upon their applicability to our perspective. Translation, or, perhaps better put, interpretation of the thought of another culture implies not merely a transliteration of the words but an appreciation of both the underlying meaning and the reason these words had the effect they did in their own context.
I not only concur but would
like to extend this observation to say that
perhaps the concept of progress also shields us
from the terrors of the present by isolating us
within the narrow span of time we call our own. By
doing so we tend to assume that our perspective is
cumulative and consequently 'more valid' than
those of the past and more importantly, at least
for the purposes of our present discussion, that
the orientations taken for granted in different
cultures can be usefully treated as constants with
our own as the mean.
If the assumptions upon which a conceptual position are based are significantly at variance with our own, we miss not so much the intellectual speculation involved, as the emotional and contextual validity of the work and hence we lose any feeling for the impact it had and the reasons for the impact. In effect, we are reacting not to the subject of the speculation but to the speculation itself in isolation from whatever gave it its emotional and intellectual vitality. As Ruth Benedict remarked concerning Western Culture: "This world-wide cultural diffusion has protected us as man has never been protected before from having to take seriously the civilization of other peoples".6
In many circles the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is either rejected or qualified beyond recognition. One is told of color correspondences and the uniformity of perception. However, as Freud stated so clearly:
Perhaps the most obvious support for the
Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is observable in the
changes wrought in the self conception of the
individuals in a culture over a period of time and
perhaps one of the clearest cases of such a change
is visible in the effects of the work of Sigmund
Freud himself. It would be an interesting project
indeed to study the effect of the Freudian
conception of man on Western Civilization, its
effects on self-perception and even more basically
in the introduction of new concepts and terms to
the language itself.
My personal reaction to the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is that it does not go far enough in that it does not explore the modality of change in terms of the effect of a thinker like Freud on his culture. Nor, in fact, does it adequately discuss the language of a culture as a philosophical system relating man not only to his unconscious perceptual organization but also to his conscious and semi-conscious orientation on the reality he faces internally and externally.
Obviously this applies to other philosophers as well as Freud. One can consider the changes wrought by a Kant or a Descartes; however, the philosophical system of the culture being considered makes the consideration of the effects of a thinker more difficult to assess as the differential between the attitudes taken for granted in each philosophical system increases. Before too long, in order to truly evaluate the effect of a thinker, one is forced to try to reconstruct the questions not under consideration.
One does not explain the death of a Socrates or a Jesus by explaining that he was a dissident influence unless one has some concept of the issues his speculations raised to the surface and the nature of the discord between his thought and the tradition it challenged.
1. Sigmund Freud, An Outline of
Psycho-Analysis (London, 1963), pp. 5-6.
2. Empedocles, Philosophical Classics, ed. Walter Kaufmann (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1968), p. 36.
3. Harry Elmer Barnes, An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World (New York, 1965), p. 193.
4. Aeschylus, The Eumenides, lines 843-844.
5. Frank Herbert, Dune (New York, 1965), p. 330.
6. Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (Boston, 1959), p. 6.
7. Edward Sapir, quoted in Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Whorf (Cambridge, 1971), p. 134.
8. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents (London, 1963), p. 18.