Brief Reflections: On Psychology as Moral Analysis

To describe a mind is to describe the configuration of intentions that constitute it.

The characteristic of the mental, as Franz Brentano (at one time, Freud’s teacher in philosophy) pointed out, is intentionality. The mind is defined by its purposes and aims.

At the same time, to describe the intentions of the mind is to describe its implicit values. To say that I intend to ride this afternoon to Babylon is to say that at the moment anyway I value being in Babylon more highly than I value, let us say, staying in Jerusalem. Whether I want to travel to Babylon to pay a man a debt or to meet my mistress, or both, or for some other reason entirely, makes no difference. The fact remains my primary value this afternoon is to reach Babylon. 

And in turn to describe the values of the mind is to describe its morality. My morality, after all, just describes those things that I feel are good and desirable and those things I feel are bad and undesirable.

So the basis of all psychology is the psychology of moral preferences. The idea that one can construct a scientific psychology without getting immersed in moral questions is an illusion, though many people have tried to do this.

Actually, Plato understood all this a long time ago. In The Republic his ideal city state of artisans, warriors, and rulers was a metaphor for the mind of the individual man and woman. We must each sometimes make things, sometimes fight for things, and sometimes exercise judgement and discipline over our various inclinations. We must all the time find a harmony between the various purposes and intentions that compete within us.

Author: Marcus Bowman PhD

I am a psychoanalytic therapist working in Cork.

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