Comparison of Freud and Sartre on the Question of Human Freedom

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Freud and Sartre maintain almost diametrically opposed views when it comes to the concept of human freedom. Many of these differences, though, come not from the specific views that these psychoanalysts hold in regards to the specific issue, but rather the views that they hold on a more general level, which they then extrapolate to apply to these viewpoints. This is why people read so much into the writings of both Freud and Sartre, as they understand the subtle elements of the human mind in a way that most do not. Further analysis of both of these psychoanalysts is necessary.

Presentation of Ideas: Freud

Freud himself was actually the creator of psychoanalysis, and as such, he is famous for believing strongly in the unconscious part of the mind, which affects virtually everything that people do in some way. This means that people's entire personalities are already molded, but they are not even aware of it. This brings Freud to the somewhat logical conclusion that there is little that can be done to prevent the effects of this on our minds. This means that although people might not be aware of it, they are, nevertheless, being shaped at least in some form by their own minds. 

Presentation of Ideas: Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre takes a somewhat different approach to this concept. He discusses what he refers to as bad faith, stating that people have a tendency to blame some sort of "boogeyman" or unconscious, which, of course, is the very concept that Freud himself is such a strong proponent of. Sartre also is a strong proponent of self-efficacy, and being able to mold one's own life to one's whims, allowing one to have total control over one's life, with none of the unconscious nonsense, in Sartre's view, that Freud believes so strongly in, allowing for more freedom in the individual. 

Comparison of Viewpoints

Comparing these two viewpoints together, it is clear that there is a massive divide between the two when it comes to the concepts of free will, in a sense. That is to say, Freud believes, much like Carl Jung,  that people are guided by some sort of unknowable element within themselves, who only manifests itself through its actions and cannot be truly understood directly. In contrast, Sartre believes in the ability of the individual to consciously change one's life, either for good or ill. This means that these two psychoanalysts believe very different things when it comes to what, exactly, is making the decision when choosing something. This is an interesting perspective as well because both of these analysts believe in childhood being one of the key defining moments when it comes to one's life in general, which helps to formulate one potential similarity between the two. The key difference, though, is that of consciousness, and in that regard, their viewpoints are almost completely opposite one another. This is perhaps why they are considered to be two extremes on a sort of sliding scale because their viewpoints encapsulate very different ideas regarding the self and what destiny truly entails. 

Position Statement

The more agreeable of these two psychoanalysts is Sartre. This is because the findings of Freud are not only somewhat depressing but, as time has shown, potentially not even true. The reason Freud's claims of the unconscious have not been completely debunked today is that the concept is so elusive and difficult to truly define, allowing for a sort of placebo effect to take place, wherein one blames a number of attributes on this mysterious subconscious. Research in psychology has generally debunked the more extreme variants of Freud's work, making his findings, in general, somewhat dubious at best. On the other hand, Sartre's viewpoints are much more direct and observable, not to mention much easier to truly back up through research. This formulates another of the key reasons for why Sartre's approach is so much more agreeable because his interpretation of what can be called free will is one that lends the individual much more responsibility than the philosophies of Freud. As such, Sartre is the much more agreeable psychoanalyst simply by virtue of his ability to focus more on what truly matters when it comes to decision-making: the individual. While focusing on this unconscious is well and good, psychology has moved forward since Freud's time, and as a result, Freud lacks credibility in contemporary psychoanalyst circles, meaning he must be replaced by other, more reputable psychoanalysts. Sartre functions as at least one example of this, but there are no doubt many others as well. 


Ultimately, Freud and Sartre maintain a number of differences with one another, as this paper has shown. These differences emphasize the viewpoints on the self and what truly causes an individual, psychologically speaking, to make any given decision. The rift between these two psychoanalysts forms the backbone for the philosophical differences between them as well. This is not to say that Freud's work is completely worthless, as there is still a strong element of the unconscious in the mind today, the issue is merely that knowing the magnitude of it is impossible, as is being able to truly measure it in any quantifiable, scientific way.