Freudian Discourse on Nature v. Nurture


The classic argument on learning/experience: what has a bigger influence over an individual’s life, his genetics, or his up-bringing? In Sigmund Freud’s “Outline of Psychoanalysis”, he seems to favor the latter.

Within one’s brain, Freud feels that there is different “psychical agencies” that control ourselves. This includes the id, a primal desire that drives us to achieve basic urges; the super-ego, a sort of moral compass; and the ego, a development from the id that analyzes the simultaneous needs of the id, superego, and the stimuli of reality in order to synthesis choices.

In Chapter 1,

Visual Image of Freud's Unconscious

Visual Image of Freud’s Unconscious

Freud explains that the id is inherent in everyone, as we inherit it from birth. The super-ego and ego, on the other hand, are influenced by more personal experiences. “The long period of childhood, during which the growing human being lives in dependence on his parents, leaves behind it as a precipitate…[the] super-ego”(146). In this case, the super-ego comes from our childhood, and is influenced based on parents, or lack thereof, as we will see later on. As for the ego, near the bottom of page 147, he elaborates on the origins of the ego, “the ego is principally determined by the individual’s own experience, that is by accidental and contemporary events”(147). The ego, as explained before, is a synthesis-center of the id, super ego, and outside stimuli, therefore it is fitting that it is affected by personal experience.

Freud then takes a step back in Chapter 9 of the work, using the super-ego as an example. “the super-ego often displays a severity for which no model has been provided by the real parents”(205). What he means by this is that the super-ego has can still be developed even with the lack of parents, using the tale of Oedipus and the Oedipus Complex as evidence. If this is also possible, then there is no definitive stance that Freud takes on the issue.

3 responses to “Freudian Discourse on Nature v. Nurture

  1. I think that as is the case with most philosophers, Freud flips back and forth on certain topics of his philosophy because it is impossible to take a truly definitive stance on anything, as there is almost always a contradiction to or counter-example to whatever is stated as a hypothesis, or “truth.”
    In my opinion, Freud’s theory indicates that the mind is so complex, that though we may try to make correlations between certain variables and create explanations to describe its anatomy, function, and implications, it is impossible to come to any definitive conclusion concerning its nature. We can attempt to explain, but there are exceptions to every rule; therefore, in terms of nature versus nurture in child development, some people may be more influenced by nature, while others may be more affected by nurturing. Consequently, for some, the effects of nurturing are greater than those of nature in determining one’s disposition and psyche, whereas for others nature dominates in the formation of temperament and constitution. In conclusion, in my opinion, Freud’s flip-flopping back and forth can be attributed to the inability to decisively decide upon one major influence in the composition of one’s individuality, as the mind is such an abstract concept and composed of so many complex processes that we cannot determinately form any theories on its operations and implications.

  2. I honestly think that upbringing has a bigger influence over an individual’s life than genetics. I think that it is what the person experiences also and who the person goes to (people who raised that person, like that person’s parents or aunt or the foster care system) for help and advice that has a huge influence over the person’s life. I also think that a person can have a bad upbringing, and then choose to be mad at the world and live a bad life, or to pick himself up and make something of himself. Also, I do not think that if a child’s parents are “the smartest” people on earth (being that they have the highest IQ’s) that the child will also be extremely smart. I think that people have to work on that. I don’t think that genetics have a factor at all when it comes to influence on a person’s life. I may be wrong, but this is what I truly think.

  3. I agree with Jasmine. Upbringing has a more substantial effect on a person’s life, in my opinion. For the most part, genetics only has an effect on our lives in the beginning, when we are born, and then tapers off into hiccups along our timeline. For example, those born into wealthy families with mental illness. For the most part, their lives are well taken care of, but every once in a while, there will be a hiccup in which an episode occurs and can have effects on them.

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