The Double in Philosophy and Psychology

16/04/2015 18:11



Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 from a Jewish family which moved to Vienna 4 years later. In 1873, Freud begun studying medicine at the University of Vienna. He became a doctor in 1881, specializing in nervous disorders. In 1885 he moved to Paris to study with dr. Charcot, who used hypnosis to cure hysteria. He returned to Vienna and began to collaborate with Joseph Breuer, using the “cathartic method”. The symptoms of hysteria disappeared when, under hypnosis, the patient recalled and re-lived the emotional circumstances bringing about the psychic trauma.

In 1895 the two men published the Studies on Hysteria, presenting some case studies on their patients. The most important case-study was the patient Anna O., a young woman: invited to talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis, she improved when recovered memories of traumatic incidents. This was the beginning of the “talking cure“. Freud was enthusiastic about the new method, but his emphasis on the exclusively sexual causes of hysteria made his theories unpopular and led to break with Breuer. In this period Freud also replaced the use of hypnosis with the method of free associations. According to Freud, our thoughts have unconscious roots which we can reach by means of free associations.


In 1899, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams. He used to define the dreams as “the royal road to the Unconscious”. Dreams, in Freud’s view, are forms of “wishfulfilment” — attempts by the unconscious to resolve a conflict of some sort. 

Because the urges from the unconscious are often disturbing, a “censor” in the preconscious (later the Superego) will not allow it to pass unaltered into the conscious. During dreams, the preconscious is more relaxed than in waking hours, but is still attentive: as such, the unconscious must distort the meaning of the latent dream. Consequently, images in dreams are transformed in the more acceptable manifestdream. Yet, to understand its true meaning, we need a deeper interpretation. 


 Freud provided two different descriptions of the mind: the first was developed in his 1900 book The Interpretation of dreams, distinguishing the conscious strand of personality from the material which is not conscious but can be called easily into consciousness, “pre-conscious.” The most important idea was the “unconscious”: it does not include all that is not conscious, but rather what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what a person is averse to knowing consciously. Freud viewed the unconscious as a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression.

In 1920 Freud developed a new version of his description of the mind introducing three ideas: the “id”, “ego”, and the “superego”.

The id is entirely unconscious; it obeys the “pleasure principle” and wants to act on impulses and instincts. The ego is mostly conscious and partly unconscious; it obeys the “reality principle,” interposing between the person and reality. 

The superego is also mostly conscious but partly unconscious; it is the internalization of society’s restrictions on behaviour. Repression is the method by which objectionable material in the conscious part of the ego and superego is made unconscious. 

According to Freud the three elements or forces of the mind interact and conflict among them, causing mental illness. A “neurosis” is a mental illness caused by the partially successful repression of unwanted thoughts or desires, which leads to secondary symptoms such as depression, hysteria, and anxiety. 


These theories can be also applied to some literary works such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. In fact the novel can be read following the classical Freudian trinity of the Ego, the Super-Ego, and the Id as the structure of human consciousness itself. It is certainly not difficult to see that the three main characters (the monster, Victor Frankestein, and Walton) correspond closely to the three Freudian categories. Frankenstein’s father acts as representatives of the Super-Ego. Indeed Freud’s view is that the father is the origin of an individual’s Super-Ego. The two characters are present as a reminder to Frankenstein of what is good, proper, and socially desirable. Frankenstein himself represents the Ego – the pursuer of his own wishes and ends, the experimenter who uses reason even whilst feeling guilty about it. Freud defines his concept in just these terms: ‘The ego represents what may be called reason … in contrast to the id, which contains the passions. The Monster, as Id, certainly contains passions – the often irrational, unconscious urges fuelled by libidinal energy which are essentially amoral, but which it should be noted can be just as easily the source of good impulse as bad ones.

Freud’s basic notion is that these three components of consciousness represent different types of morality which are in potential conflict with each other. From the point of view of instinctual control of morality, it may be said that the Id is totally non-moral, the Ego strives to be moral, and the Super-ego can be super-moral and, therefore, it becomes as cruel as only the id can be.

In this Freudian reading, the novel expresses the tragedy of conflicts within an individual consciousness. Frankenstein is riven by the competing forces of his social conscience (his Super-Ego), his conscious desires (his Ego), and his unconscious wishes (his Id). It will not be difficult (bearing in mind the Double reading) to demonstrate the competition between Frankenstein and the Monster as dramatic representations of the Ego-Id conflict – but first it is necessary to produce a reason, or an origin for the essential divisions which break Frankenstein apart.

The simplest explanation seems to be straightforward Oedipal rivalry coupled with sexual fear and guilt. To begin with, Frankenstein’s father is considerably older than his mother – a man of ‘upright mind’ [my emphasis] ‘who had filled several public situations with honour and reputation. One does not need to labour the point that Adolphe Frankenstein represents throughout the novel a public rectitude and standard of correctness from which his son steadily falls. Moreover, his father repeatedly urges marriage upon him – something which Victor fears. And if the son has sufficient reason to feel rivalry with him for the attention of the younger mother, he has later even further evidence of his father’s sexual potency with the arrival of two younger brothers – Ernest and William. But his parents wanted a daughter as well, therefore the desire is supplied by the adoption of Elizabeth – the sister/cousin figure on whom Frankenstein’s sexual fears and desires are ultimately focused. She becomes a source of anxiety for him: he is attracted to her, but he takes great pains to avoid marrying her. Frankenstein represents  the Super-Ego figure since he is always concerned with social correctness and acceptability. It is Elizabeth’s case which is most complex: on the one hand, she represents the threat of sexuality which Frankenstein fears but, on the other hand, she is also the object of his forbidden desire (as his sister/cousin), and in the end she is the ‘murderer’ of his mother. Finally, the Monster can be seen as Frankenstein’s alter ego, his strange and destructive self, which finds no adequate means of communication, a repressed and hidden beast for whom all acceptable forms of human commerce are unavailable and therefore hateful. Frankenstein himself calls the unnamable creature: “my own spirit let loose from the grave…forced to destroy all that was dear to me”.



Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist whose ideas permeate today’s culture. He wasn’t just a clinician, he was an explorer of Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology, and sociology. Many saw him as a mystic as well because of his interest in religious and spiritual thinking. And he was the first in his field to propose the concepts of the extroverted and introverted personality.

Jung studied under Sigmund Freud, but came to see Freud’s model of the personal unconscious (a repository of repressed emotions and desires) as limited, and so he went on to develop his theory of the collective unconscious, where archetypes reside and symbols resonate with universal meanings that help unlock the mysteries of personality.


He is one of the most revered contributors to dream analysis and the interpretation of symbols. Among his many clinical theories of psychoanalysis, he considered individuation an important process of transformation that helps a person to become his or her “true self.” It is achieved when all the elements of a personality—including dreams and free associations—are assimilated and accepted as part of the whole. He thought of this individuation process as alchemical, transforming the impure and imperfect soul into a pure and perfect one, not by extracting but by incorporating each element.


Carl Jung believed that archetypes are models of people, behaviors or personalities. Jung suggested that the psyche was composed of three components: the ego, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the ego represents the conscious mind while the personal unconscious contains memories, including those that have been suppressed. The collective unconscious is a unique component in that Jung believed that this part of the psyche served as a form of psychological inheritance. It contains all of the knowledge and experiences we share as a species.

The collective unconscious, Jung believed, was where these archetypes exist. He suggested that these models are innate, universal and hereditary. Archetypes are unlearned and function to organize how we experience certain things. "All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes," Jung explained in his book The Structure of the Psyche. "This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form they are variants of archetypal ideas created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. For it is the function of consciousness, not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us." Jung identified four major archetypes, but also believed that there was no limit to the number that may exist.

The Self

The self is an archetype that represents the unification of the unconsciousness and consciousness of an individual. The creation of the self occurs through a process known as individuation, in which the various aspects of personality are integrated. Jung often represented the self as a circle, square or mandala.

The Shadow

The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts and shortcomings. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown. These latent dispositions are present in all of us, Jung believed, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it onto others. Jung suggested that the shadow can appear in dreams or visions and may take a variety of forms. It might appear as a snake, a monster, a demon, a dragon or some other dark, wild or exotic figure.

The Anima or Animus

The anima is a feminine image in the male psyche and the animus is a male image in the female psyche. The anima/animus represents the "true self" rather than the image we present to others and serves as the primary source of communication with the collective unconscious. The combination of the anima and animus is known as the syzygy, or the divine couple. The syzygy represents completion, unification and wholeness.

The Persona

The persona is how we present ourselves to the world. The word "persona" is derived from a Latin word that literally means "mask." It is not a literal mask, however. The persona represents all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups and situations. It acts to shield the ego from negative images. According to Jung, the persona may appear in dreams and take a number of different forms.

Other Archetypes

Jung suggested that the number of existing archetypes is not static or fixed. Instead, many different archetypes may overlap or combine at any given time. The following are just a few of the various archetypes that Jung described:

•    The father: Authority figure; stern; powerful.

•    The mother: Nurturing; comforting.

•    The child: Longing for innocence; rebirth; salvation.

•    The wise old man: Guidance; knowledge; wisdom.

•    The hero: Champion; defender; rescuer.

•    The maiden: Innocence; desire; purity.

  • The trickster: Deceiver; liar; trouble-maker.