Self-Centered Altruism, Part II

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud writes: “under the influence of the ego’s instincts of self-preservation, the pleasure principle is replaced by the reality principle. This latter principle does not abandon the intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure, but it nevertheless demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction, the abandonment of a number of possibilities of gaining satisfaction and the temporary toleration of unpleasure as a step on the long indirect road (Aufschub) to pleasure”

Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, vol 18, p. 10, quoted in Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, p. 19.

I think this is a remarkable quote, to touch again on the nature of selfish altruism. Freud’s point, while not dealing with ethical norms in particular here, is that all living is for pleasure, even if it happens to be a detour. The quote comes in a section by Derrida in Margins of Philosophy that pertains to putting the authority of the consciousness into question. Derrida argues, following both Freud and Nietzsche, that consciousness is anything but presence, what we popularly privilege subjective existence to be. On the contrary, consciousness is always the effect of “byways” and “modalities” that are not proper to it (p. 17). I take this to be of significant import in regards to altruism because it expresses that we are never fully cognizant of our true motives. There is a topography of differing forces underlying what we represent as the conscious.


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