Why did Freud consider civilization itself to be behind humanity’s illness?

Sigmund Freud is one of the greatest minds as he is credited as the founder of the field of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a field where a psychoanalyst treats a patient with psychopathology by initiating dialogue. Freud did a good job in establishing the field as more therapeutic methods such as free association came into play. “Civilization and its Discontents” is a piece of work by Freud which he wrote in the year 1929 (Henry, 33). The book deeply discusses various ways that the self is affected by introduction of civilization. It clearly states that, introduction of civilization affects the natural wants of a person.

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In a normal setting, the human mind is designed to recognize various wants that the body performs. The introduction of civilization however affects the normal function as the human self is forced to conform. The need for freedom is a natural want that every human needs in day to day life. Civilization on the other hand has an opposite effect on the human mind as it is forced to conform to set rules (Thorsten, 83). In this case, the human mind is conformed to a certain type of lifestyle while it is required to explore all available options.

Introduction of civilization was meant to bring some sense and order to the human race. The timely introduction however produced a negative expectation as the human mind has to adapt to the reality principle over the pleasure principle (Thorsten, 16). It is argued that, the human brain is supposed to experience instant gratification. The introduction of civilization however upset this balance in a negative way. The human brain in this case has to delay gratification and be content with future gratification. It is for this reason that many wars occur in various parts of the world due to delayed talks (Paul, 24).

The other issue in discussion is religion and its various doctrines of belief. Introduction of religion into the world was meant to bring some order. The world today is populated by various religions preaching various doctrines. The introduction of religion is however meant to make us feel helpless in need of a higher authority (Paul, 39). A small child below the age of three for instance has a higher ego than an older person. At the young age, the child gets anything s/he needs without looking at hindering factors. Religion on the other hand stresses that, one has to pray over needs which is later granted by God.

The definition placed on sexuality of a person is another shortcoming of civilization. It is common for human beings to be attracted to each other in a sexual way. There are however some limitations to the type of persons one can openly relate. Society has some code of ethics on sexuality as some people are not allowed to relate. A good example is monogamy and faithfulness (Henry, 78). A person who is not married is forced to remain single until the right opportunity presents itself. A married person on the other hand is supposed to remain faithful to one partner in the process limiting sexual freedom. Instinct is a naturally occurring feeling that happens on all human beings. Civilization however renounces the use of instinct in the process affecting a person’s ego. In the end it is clear that civilization affects the normal behaviour of a person proving civilization is the cause of the illness in society.


Work cited

Henri, Vermorel. The Presence of Spinoza in the Exchanges between Sigmund Freud and Romain Rolland1. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 90, (2009), 5-123.

Paul, Schwartz. The Phylogenetic Legacy of Freud’s Totem ProtoGod. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 97(2016), 6-89.

Thorsten, Botz-Bornstein. What is the Difference between Culture and Civilization? Two Hundred Fifty Years of Confusion. Comparative Civilizations Review, vol. 66(2012), 11-143.