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Home  >  Medical Research Archives  >  Issue 149  > Classical Roots of Psychoanalysis: Brief Reflections on Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics
Published in the Medical Research Archives
May 2024 Issue

Classical Roots of Psychoanalysis: Brief Reflections on Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics

Published on May 26, 2024




Both Plato and Aristotle articulated conceptions of the psyche (soul) as complex, composed of discrete functional constituents in reciprocal dynamic relationships, and posited personal virtue (excellence), happiness, and justice, in relationship both with one’s self and with others, as consisting in a best-ordering of the psyche, by which the internal relations among these distinct functions are most harmoniously integrated. Socrates argued that justice in the individual and in the city is the same thing. A clinical case presentation illustrates how psychoanalytic structural theory overlaps considerably with Aristotle’s discussion of the conflictual relationship between the desirous and rational aspects of the psyche, while salutary shifts in the patient’s internal object-relations illustrate a movement toward greater “justice” among the “community” of psychic functions, as described in Plato’s Republic. Although not identical, Socrates’s approach in the Platonic dialogues has much in common with the psychoanalytic method. Both focus on awakening the interlocutor’s self-observation, self-questioning, self-discovery, and psychological mindedness. Both are inherently relational, focusing on the immediacy of the interactions between the two interlocutors, and inducing change through an internalization of the discussion, if not the relationship. Both assume that the knowledge their interlocutor needs to attain is already present within at the start, though not yet uncovered or “recollected”. The scope of the essay stretching from the ancients to the moderns, and from individual psyche to the body politic, our aim is to elaborate the proposition that the internal structures of an individual psyche and a republic are more or less analogous, and to clarify how, though not perfectly achievable, Platonic “justice” and the ideal outcome of a psychoanalysis can be models for one another. Both require the most adaptive compromise between conflicting functional agencies. In the discussion, I will briefly review some writings rejecting classical roots, and others extolling them. Friedrich Nietzsche in particular, criticizing previous philosophers, opened the way for modern psychoanalytic ideas.

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Samuel Goldberg

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