Kant's "I" in "I should…" and Freud's superego

Béatrice Longuenesse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Kant's and Freud's respective investigations of the mind obey fundamentally different concerns. And yet their views of the structure of our mental life are strikingly similar. The article explores some of those similarities. It compares Kant's transcendental unity of apperception and the organization of mental processes Freud calls 'ego' (Ich). It then proceeds to compare Kant's categorical imperative of morality and Freud's structure of ego/superego (Ich/ÜberIch). Freud's structural view of the mind, it is suggested, might offer a developmental account of just those aspects of mental life Kant thought could be explained only by appealing to our belonging in a noumenal world escaping the deterministic laws of the natural world. However, Freud's approach is exclusively developmental. He does not take any position on questions of justification, the very questions that are central to Kant's concern. The paper offers a cautious response to the question: what remains, under the Freudian developmental account, of the justificatory ambition of Kant's formulation of the categorical imperative as an imperative of pure practical reason?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-381
Number of pages17
JournalDeutsche Zeitschrift fur Philosophie
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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