Sigmund Freud

“The Future of an Illusion” (1927)


1.       Freud gives a psychological account for why religious ideas emerged and why they are so attractive to so many people

          a.       Religious experience explained as illusion in response to our need for relief from insecurity and tragedy of existence

                    i.        A way of coping with threats from both nature and civilization


2.        Religion as projection of father figure

          a.       Religion is a projection of the father image onto the heavens

          b.       When we were children, father fulfills our needs for protection

          c.       When we become adults, we become aware of the fallibility of our fathers and yet still have need for protection

          d.       So we create idea of Divine father to take place of human father

          e.       Delude ourselves into believing we are cared for by loving father, who will reward us for hardships of life


3.       Religion as wish fulfillment

          a.       Religion satisfies deepest and most pervasive human wants

          b.       Born from man’s need to makes his helplessness tolerable

          c.       Built from memories of helplessness of own childhood


4.       Freud hoped civilization (and people) would outgrow its need for religion

          a.       Religious belief is an infantile neurosis in need of a cure so person can become a healthy mature adult


5.       Nature a threat that civilization inadequately responds to

          a.       Civilization’s task is to defend us against nature, which seeks coldly, cruelly, and relentlessly to destroy us

                    i.        An accurate view of nature? No positive features of nature?

          b.       Civilization is an attempt to escape the weakness and helplessness we feel in the face of nature

                    i.        Earthquakes, storms, floods, disease, death, fate

          c.       Life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors

          d.       But civilization only partially succeeds

                    i.        Doesn't entirely subdue nature

                    ii.       Death and disease reminds us of our weaknesses and helplessness

          e.       Humans need consolation


6.       By personalizing, humanizing nature, we make it less threatening (and rob it of its power) by making it the kind of thing we can influence

          a.       Start believing that in nature there are beings like those in our own society

          b.       Turns the forces of nature into persons with whom he can associate

          c.       These we can possibly appease with the same methods that we use against violent people in our society

          d.       These forces are then turned into gods

          e.       Religion soothes our fears and anxieties caused by power of nature by putting nature under control of gods who we might influence


7.       Religion also provides comfort for the evils of civilization

          a.       One: By objectifying its rules

                    i.        We feel tremendous hostility toward the restrictions society places on us

                    ii.       So pretend they were created by divine origin; this makes them more palatable

                    iii.      Elevate them beyond human society and extend them to nature and universe

                    iv.      Religion sanctions and objectifies laws, principles, authority of civilization

          b.       Two: It compensates for the sufferings and privations that civilized life imposes on us; evens out defects and evils of civilization (good men suffer, evil men thrive) by positing an afterlife in which this will be taken care of


8.       Content of religious ideas shows it clearly as wish fulfilment

          a.       Life in this world serves a higher purpose

          b.       To perfect man’s nature

          c.       Everything that happens in this world is an expression of intentions of intelligence superior to us

          d.       Who orders everything for the best

          e.       A benevolent Providence watching over each one of us

          f.       Death is not extinction but a new kind of existence which lies on path to development of something higher

          g.       Same moral laws which our civilization has set up also govern the whole universe

          h.       And are maintained by a supreme court of justice

          i.        All good will be rewarded and all evil punished, if not in this life, in the life that begins after death

                    i.        The justice lacking in this world will be made up for in the next

          j.        This gets rid of the terror, sufferings and hardships of life


          k.       **A striking fact that religion depicts the world as exactly as we wish it would be


9.       Religion as illusion

          a.       Belief is an illusion when a wish-fulfilment is a prominent factor in its motivation

          b.       And we disregard its relation to reality and verification is not important


          c.       Some religious beliefs are so improbable and incompatible with everything we have discovered about the world that they are like delusions (things we know to be in contradiction with reality)

          d.       Others can’t be proved true or false

          e.       Riddles of universe reveal themselves only slowly to our scientific investigation

          f.       Only science can lead us to knowledge of reality outside ourselves

                    i.        Are history, economics, sciences?

                    ii.       Do philosophy or art also provide this knowledge?

          g.       Can’t expect intuition and introspection to do this


10.     Practical argument for religion is lame

          a.       No one can be forced to believe or to disbelieve

          b.       So why not believe

          c.       Religious belief has tradition, agreement of mankind and consolation on its side?

          d.       Freud reply:

                    i.        A lame excuse

                    ii.       Ignorance is ignorance and no right to believe can be derived from it

                    iii.      In other matters, no sensible person will behave so irresponsibly and rest content on such feeble grounds


11.     Freud on what counts as religious

          a.       Rejects attempts to describe as religious “anyone who admits to a sense of man’s insignificance or impotence in face of the universe”

          b.       Religion is really the reaction to this that seeks a remedy for it.

          c.       But being religious or having religious experience might involve such a powerful feeling of human insignificance...


12.     Why not believe a useful illusion like religion?

          a.       Let's assume religion is an illusion, if it is a useful one that makes us happy, what's wrong with believing it?

          b.       Freud believed in huge influences of unconscious forces and the weakness of reason to overcome them

          c.       Why should we give up this illusion?

                    i.        Society crumple w/o religion?

                    ii.       Cruel to ask people to give up a consolation w/o a replacement

13.     Reply: Freud thinks religion been unsuccessful--not good for society, keeps people in infantile state

          a.       Suppressed growth of reason

          b.       Sanctioned violations of fundamental principles of society (people are sinners, made ok if confess)

          c.       Giving up expectation of another world will get people to try harder to make this world a better and happier place.


14.     If Freud's account of religious belief's origin is true, does that show they are false?

          a.       No.

          b.       Freud didn't take himself to show rel belief false.

          c.       Freud tries to show that belief in God is caused not by existence of supernatural God, but by worldly psychological process.

15.     If assume Freud’s views show that belief in God is false, committing genetic fallacy

          a.       Genetic Fallacy: Thinking that the causal origin of a person's belief automatically and necessarily bears on its truth or falsity

16.     Psychological (causal) account vs. philosophical\epistemological account

          a.       (1) Giving a psychological diagnosis of holding the view, as opposed to

          b.       (2) Giving a rational argument against a view

          c.       Genetic fallacy confuses the two

          d.       Confuses what caused a belief with what justifies belief

          e.       Falsely assumes that we can determine from a cause of a person’s belief whether it is true or false

          f.       Example: Believe earth is round because my mother told me, but now my belief is justified by knowledge of astronomy and pictures of the earth I have seen

17.     Application to Freud's argument

          a.       That our rel beliefs are caused by wish fulfillment doesn't show that they aren't justified, that we don't have good rational grounds for them, or that they are false.

          b.       Freud doesn’t give a rational argument against religion

          c.       Gives theories of how religious belief and practice might have arisen


18.     Rowe's Argument for Freud

          a.       Majority of beliefs we accept on basis of profound wish and not rational proof are false

                    i.        Reality often doesn't conform to our wishes

                    ii.       Our wishes are infrequently satisfied by reality

          b.       Rel belief is one of these

          c.       Rel belief likely to be false


19.     Rowe's response

          a.       Freud ignored the philosophical arguments that attempt to establish the rationality of religious belief