Love, Suffering and Conflict: Some Lessons from Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents


In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud suggests that interpersonal relations constitute one of the three main sources of human suffering, the other two sources being the superior powers of nature and the pains arising from our own bodies. Taken together, these three sources undermine the possibility that human beings can achieve happiness: 'Life, as we find it, is too hard for us;' he writes, 'it brings us too many pains, disappointments and impossible tasks.' Human existence is, indeed, so profoundly painful that in order to bear it we require nothing short of cultural palliative care, namely the utilization of a number of 'palliative measures' which serve to soften (though not cure) the suffering characteristic of the human condition. Intoxicants, religion, art, and romantic love each have a palliative dimension to them, according to Freud. Love occupies a paradoxical - and a fragile - place in this schema of palliatives: it brings the greatest and the most intense of pleasures, but also leaves us vulnerable to the deepest of miseries: jealousy, anxiety about the well-being of another, and the agony of lost love. In this paper, I explore how interpersonal relations both contribute to and ameliorate the pains and conflicts of human life. Starting with a critical exposition of Freud's bleak assessment of human beings' capacity to take out their aggression on others (homo homini lupus: 'man is a wolf to man'), I proceed to examine the manner in which we also turn to others for our principal source of palliative support. My focus will here be on loving relationships, and I will evaluate the promise (and the limitations) of romantic love as an effective palliative measure.

Author Information
Brian Clack, University of San Diego, United States

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2014
Stream: Ethics; Religion; Philosophy

This paper is part of the ACERP2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Clack B. (2014) Love, Suffering and Conflict: Some Lessons from Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents ISSN: 2187-476X – The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy 2014 – Official Conference Proceedings
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