Philosophy of Religion

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Freud's Objection to the Moral Argument

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. He based his theories on the belief that human development is best understood in terms of changing objects of sexual desire. He believed that the unconscious often represses wishes (generally of a sexual and/or aggressive nature) and that unconscious conflicts over repressed wishes may express themselves in dreams and "Freudian slips". These unconscious conflicts are the source of neuroses and that neurosis could be treated through bringing these unconscious wishes and repressed memories to consciousness in psychoanalytic treatment.

Freud believed that the conscience is the product of the unconscious mind. Feelings of Kantian duty are a product of human nature and social engineering.

Freud divided the mind into three parts:

  • The conscious – the part of which we are aware
  • The pre-conscious – those things that we cannot necessarily remember now, but which we can normally recollect
  • The unconscious – memories that are too traumatic to remember, or too embarressing, or which we were too young to remember

Hence , a person’s moral sense comes from the ‘super ego’ – an ‘inner parent’ which rewards good behaviour and punishes bad. The conscience is in fact the action of the super-ego. Actions that are normally thought of as being a matter of conscience are really determined by unconscious influences.

For Freud, religion is merely an obsessional neurosis. So called religious influences can be attributed to obsessive neurotic behaviour.

Kant was attempting to develop a philosophy independent of religion. For a psychologist like Freud, Kant was subconsciously being influnced by his strong pious unbringing which had been nurtured by his parents’ Lutheran faith.

More Problems with the Moral Argument


      Cultures differ considerably about what is right and wrong, good and evil. e.g. cannibalism, polygamy...etc. Conscience then seems to be dependant on education, self-interest, desires and needs.


      The Categorical Imperative is too inflexible. There may be a clash of responsibilities and duties, e.g. the responsibilities of a man to his wife and children when he is called up to fight during war time or the responsibility to be truthful even if it means hurting someone’s feelings or endangering national security.

    Reliance Upon Conscience

      The Moral Argument assumes too much in attributing the source of conscience to the existence of God. Newman rules out the possibility that this highly developed sense of moral obligation could be rooted in self-interest and self-preservation.

    Too Pragmatic

      Kant’s Moral Argument is ultimately pragmatic in nature. Belief in God is merely useful for his subsequent philosophy.

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