UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Unconscious intentions in Freud’s theory of mind O’Reilly, Daniel Thomas


This thesis examines the question as to whether Freud depended upon a theory of unconscious intentions when he discusses slips of the tongue. In my thesis I argue that Freud meant to imply that slips are intended unconsciously. This is not to say that he meant that the person who utters the slip performs some prior mental act to utter the slip; rather, the slip is the result of unconscious mental processes which have purpose and meaning, viz. the slip is the result of some mental processes which the speaker in principle could have access to, hut of which the speaker is, at the moment of utterance, unconscious. I further argue that Freud believed that most of the seemingly unimportant and insignificant actions which we perform daily are the result of such unconscious mental processes. My interpretation of Freud contrasts with ah interpretation put forth by Gregory Boudreaux, who argues that Freud did not mean to imply a theory of unconscious intentions or purposes. Rather, Freud meant to imply that slips are the result of an automatic action of the organism to discharge a repressed wish. In developing my position concerning Freud's theory of slips I present and argue against Boudreaux's position. In Chapter I I examine Freud's argument, for slips as he presented it in his "Introductory Lectures". There Freud argues that most, if not all, slips have a sense, that is, slips exhibit purpose and meaning for they usually conform to the content of some mental state which the person possessed prior to the slip. I then speculate that this accords with a theory of Intentionality in that mental states are directed at an object (the content of the slip) in a specific psychological mode (desire). The question is then raised as to whether we can then infer that the slip is unconsciously intended. Boudreaux argues no. He argues that a slip is usually, believed to be an 'externally intentional' act and 'externally intentional' acts, though Intentional, are not examples of intended acts because they fail to satisfy two criteria which Boudreaux argues are necessary conditions for intended acts. Boudreaux argues that when Freud describes his case studies by reference to unconscious intentions he is simply referring to the 'internal intentionality' of the organism to respond automatically to repressed wishes. On Boudreaux's model slips are like reflex actions much as the dropping of an object can be the result when a person is startled. I argue that Freud's argument for slips is not dependent solely on a theory of repressed wishes discharging via primary processes. A slip can also occur as a result of the secondary processes manifesting themselves. However, what if Freud's theory were dependent solely upon repressed wishes discharging via the primary processes. Would Boudreaux's argument be valid? I argue no, because Boudreaux's two criteria of intended actions are not necessary conditions of such acts. What if Boudreaux had presented necessary conditions of intended actions, would his argument then he valid? Again, I argue no, because any criteria which were necessary criteria of an intended action would have to allow that slips might he unconsciously intended. For, slips are similar to, and possibly the same as, many actions which we do maintain are intended. Actions such as those resulting from unconscious desires or unconscious wishes. Freud is arguing that there are unconscious mental processes which are the result of desires, and that these unconscious mental processes can result in actions and that such actions would be unconsciously intended.

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