Truth and the Beautiful Appearance: The influence of Friedrich Nietzsche in the psychoanalysis of Otto Rank
Julio Roberto Costa, M. S.
Epis Journal of Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology & Critical Theory – 2018
Otto Rank was the only member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society who had a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and this was reflected in his work. Taking this as a starting point, we may have a better understanding of what Rank denominated as illusion, which has always led to a problematic approach. We try to see the question of the illusion by means of Friedrich Nietzsche, who considered the appearance as unavoidable. Taking
into consideration its meaning in Nietzsche’s philosophy, we must understand that the problem was not a struggle on overcoming the appearances of the world in search of an essence that would be elsewhere, which presupposes redemption in a future world, or in science—which, according to Nietzsche, can only describe the world, failing in providing meaning. Therefore, Nietzsche values the pre-Socratic Greece, which dared to live the appearance as appearance, which was made possible by the aesthetic phenomenon. Art was shaped as a fusion of the Dionysian with the Apollonian, which we can understand as the union of everything that affirms life (the Dionysian element of instinct) with the love of form (the Apollonian element of proportion and measure).
Thus, the question of what was most appropriate was no longer a question of essence, but of what enhances life, where Nietzsche found the art of Greek tragedy as the sublime paradigm. Therefore, many aspects of Otto Rank, once considered obscure, can be better addressed in a new light, including the relevance of the artist in his work.
We can consider Otto Rank to be the most philosophical among the first psychoanalysts of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. First, we have the fact that he was not a physician. Second, he was used in reading the great philosophers, mainly Nietzsche, years before meeting psychoanalysis.
The chances are that Freud considered advantageous for psychoanalysis someone outside the medical field and familiar with the great classical works, not only in the form of literature but of theater, poetry and human sciences in general. Therefore, Freud funded the studies of Rank until he attained his Ph.D. in philosophy. In his work, the presence of German idealism, and especially of Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche, was very relevant. And here, we have important questions regarding phenomena and noumenon, representation and will, as well as appearance and essence.
In this article, I would like to focus on Nietzsche’s influence on Otto Rank, for the aspect that will be quite difficult in his work, which is the illusion. Initially, we need to know that Rank himself was aware of how this could be misinterpreted. Jessie Taft, who was a former student of Rank and then a therapist and translator of some of his works for English, talks about his concern in her introduction to his book Will Therapy.
The reader of psychoanalysis who set eyes on a book by Rank may have the impression that he was extremely subjective, and in favor of escapism, at the times when he uses the word illusion. Psychoanalyst Esther Menaker points this out in her book on Rank, Separation, Will and Creativity:
…Rank perceived the subjective nature of reality, the impossibility to humankind to live solely with a so-called subjective truth, and the need to create illusion in order to survive. He wrote: ‘Our seeking the truth in human motives for acting and thinking is destructive. With the truth one cannot live. To be able to live one’s needs illusions, not only outer illusions such as art, religion, philosophy, science and love afford, but inner illusions which first conditions the other. The more a man can take appearance as truth, the sounder, the better adjusted, the happier he will be.’ (Menaker, 1996, p. 104).
And what of illusion, in Rank’s view? The outer illusions to which he refers are twofold: first, the belief systems that pass in historical succession from one into another, consoling and comforting us as we try to find a meaningful place in the cosmic scheme of things; second, those creations of humankind—art, philosophy, religion and science—from which individuals, singly or collectively, derive meaning. Ernest Becker has expressed it well when he says: ‘man needs a ‘second world,’ a world of humanly created meaning, a new reality that he can live, dramatize, nourish himself in. ‘Illusion’ means creative play at its highest level.” (Menaker, 1996, p. 105).
Although Menaker shows us the question very precisely in terms of clinical practice, especially in the integrated sense of the self, relevant for example in the treatment of anxiety, one can find the root of the illusion in the strong presence of philosophy in Rank’s thought, which also finds support in the fact that Freud, at the beginning of psychoanalysis, sought to relate the unconscious to the Kantian thing in itself.
To the reader of today, the usual tendency would be to consider that Rank was escaping from Freud’s ideal of having psychoanalysis as a natural science. Although, as we shall see, he was following his philosophical heritage with Nietzsche, and asked the question: Plato or Homer?
In his biography of Otto Rank, Acts of Will, E. James Lieberman shows with clarity of details the influence of Nietzsche on Rank, from his youth (Lieberman, 1985, 30). Moreover, according to Lieberman, one must observe Nietzsche as a philosopher in whom poetry played a significant role, not only in his writing but in his understanding of the world. When Nietzsche exalts the will, he does so in accordance with his own subjective experience. It must be considered that Freud sought to observe the will objectively by the model of natural science, even considering that, from phenomena, we can only have representations—and this according to his struggle to validate psychoanalysis as a natural science.
In the question of the will, however, difficulties arise. According to Lieberman, Freud and Nietzsche agreed on the importance of the irrational, but for Freud, the concept of will could only be linked to a pre-scientific view of psychology, still linked to the theology and the philosophy of morality. If there is a need to apply a deterministic approach of cause and effect, the will disappears, with wish remaining as the expression of the libido and, ultimately, of physiology (Lieberman, 1985, p. 33).
Lieberman tells us that the importance of sexuality was nothing new in relation to psychiatry at the time, although Nietzsche’s narrative of the will would appear to be more philosophical and poetic than psychiatric or medical (Lieberman, 1985, p. 33-34). Regarding Kant’s importance, however, we can observe that, at the same time that Freud valued the notion of the thing in itself as a reality behind appearances—and it was precisely this archeology of reality that he sought—Freud did not penetrate the concept of noumenon, because the objectivity that he sought was within the scientific positivism of his time. This positivistic view, admittedly, sticks to the phenomenon, and what lies behind a particular phenomenon could only be another phenomenon.
However, we have that the Kantian noumenon cannot be known, but can be thought of. This means that symbolism and poetry are free to speak of the noumenon, keeping only the condition that they must not go against the moral imperatives of practical reason.
This, however, is far from subjectivism, which was associated by Kant with the old metaphysics. As an Enlightenment philosopher, he reacted against metaphysics, not only motivated by Hume’s skepticism, but by realizing that subjectivism or idealism were close to the authoritarian dogmatism of his time. According to the Brazilian psychoanalyst Paulo Cezar Sandler, the strict positivism of the Kant era was called by himself “naïve realism,” and still used in our times by Ernest Cassirer and Gaston Bachelard, among many others (Sandler, 2000, p. 25).
From there, the imaginary was not an illusion in the sense of being a lie in relation to the real, although, connected to practical reason by the utility, helps us in dealing with the real, as Hans Vaihinger asserts:
From this it can be concluded: just as science (especially mathematics) leads to the imaginary, so it also leads life to the impossible, which, however, is possible—to absolute responsibility for one’s actions, absolute freedom, good deeds for their own sake (absolutely). You are a human being, and you must have these noble feelings.
Thus, the imaginary (the absolute, the ideal) is justified despite its unreality. Without this aspect of the imaginary, neither science nor life are possible in its highest forms. (Vaihinger, 2011, p. 174).
“Only ideas, albeit practical ones” – A panorama of the Kantian legacy on fiction
Initially, we have that David Hume wanted to oppose his philosophy to dogmatism. To this end, he adopted an extremely skeptical stance on the certainties that were held as common sense until then, also attacking the possibility of metaphysics, through a skeptical standpoint, based on the limitations of the human capacity in understanding the world.
It was through David Hume that Immanuel Kant went to a certain appreciation for skepticism. However, Kant considered that Hume did not have satisfactory answers to the moral problems. What Kant will do, primarily through his books Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason, will be to separate skepticism, as a result of human limitations in knowing the world, of moral postulates, which now have an a priori source, detached from the sensible world.
What Kant will put forward is that when speculative reason—that which deals with the world that can be perceived with the senses—tries to penetrate the world of moral reason, it can only create the old dogmatism. Hence, metaphysics cannot aspire to the category of science.
Kant goes on to argue that moral postulates are necessary, but they are just ideas, as, for instance, God, which is not a phenomenon, although these ideas are practical ones, as necessary regulatory principles. Thus, it is necessary to think of morality as a coherent system, which is part of a world that is not the sensible world, but, as Kant named it, an intelligible world, which human beings partake, as they are beings endowed with reason. It is important to see that, through freedom, each individual could act differently, but the moral law imposes itself on the reason of each one, in such a way that the individuals agree with general rules. All moral actions, therefore, appear as if they spring from the same source, which imposes itself upon the reason of each individual, presenting itself as sovereign, perfect and rational. Such a source manifests itself within each individual as an imperative. We can see that Kant created a clear division between the sensible world and the intelligible world.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this philosophy was seen as extremely pessimistic concerning the culture of his time, especially regarding religion and morality, where it was considered necessary to have a real knowledge about God and the origins of morality. In his book Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone Kant places religion as assistance to ethics, which led him to be penalized by the then Prussian king.
Regarding his context, one must also consider that Kant was an Enlightenment philosopher, and that the separation of church and state was imperative within the new thought, together with the criticism of the “divine right of kings”—which in itself was a threat to the aristocracy as well as to the clergy that was intimately attached to it.
Therefore, we must understand that Kant was regarded as a destroyer. Moreover, for the spirit of his age, to say that we can know nothing on God or on the immortality of the soul—even if these concepts were viewed as necessary postulates of morality—it was a great break with all metaphysics until then.
We see that Kant needed to question those that were considered absolute truths, and that this was fundamental to the creation of Western Modernity. This move also created an instance of fiction, that is, those things that were “only ideas,” although had the attribute of practicality, that is, utility, even if they were separated from the possibility of empirical verification.
It is necessary to remember that all the philosophers of German Idealism will be tributaries of the path opened by Kant in relation to the primacy of thought, and here we have the answer to the British Empiricism of David Hume, that Kant considered unacceptable by its moral consequences. In broad terms, German Idealism will be the defense of moral reason in the face of the skepticism of British Empiricism.
Developments on the practical fiction
The philosophers Hans Vaihinger and Jules de Gaultier will make interesting connections between Kant and Nietzsche, precisely on the path that Kant provided. This path will be given by the recognition that those concepts, which are “only ideas,” albeit practical ones, could be understood as fictions that are necessary for life. This does not mean that the act of lying was considered ethical, but that fiction became an additional instrument for the relationship with reality, and, moreover, necessary due to the limitations of human cognition.
Jules de Gaultier gives us a very clear illustration of this question of utility, offering an insight that could be applied to any human group at the beginning of History:
… the human group itself takes cognizance of itself, of what is harmful and what is useful to it. It is going to do for itself what every scientist does for the chemical bodies that he wishes to preserve… The human group takes the same measures of defense against the surrounding milieu and against its own inner tendency. Everything useful to it it prescribes for itself, and everything harmful it forbids itself. (Gaultier, 1961, p. 7).
Gaultier was deeply influenced by Nietzsche. Thus, he will say that everything that preserves the human group corresponds to the “Vital Instinct,” to the strengthening of potency, health, and vitality, including the necessary interdictions—which are the self-imposed law of the group members. At this point, Gaultier is very close to Otto Rank, being faithful to the instinct that leads towards life (from Nietzsche), while admitting restrictions coming from self-determination (with similarities to Kant).
The question of Gaultier passes through the pessimism put on canvas by Schopenhauer, and Gaultier agrees with the solution provided by Nietzsche, that is, it is by the esthetic phenomenon that the human being elaborates, by means of culture, the pains of the world, bringing it to the human experience in a way that does not weaken the will to power. However, Gaultier values Schopenhauer’s pessimism more than Kant’s moral solution in his Critique of Practical Reason.
Following the influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Schopenhauer’s thought, Gaultier argues that it is by the withdrawal of the veil of Maya that the human being can achieve joy, in the meaning of Nietzsche. What needs to be defeated is the belief that the typical representation of the world, through theoretical reason observing the phenomenon, is a correct view of reality, for in this way the world presents itself as a stage of pain and absurdity. The relief, in Buddhism and Hinduism, comes from the unveiling of this deception of the phenomenon, and the great joy of the individual is to realize that all his torments concerning the problems of life in this world are illusory, for the world, as a phenomenon, is the illusion of the will. By means of creating the work of art, the individual “leaves the stage,” and allows himself to contemplate, as a spectator in the audience, all those vicissitudes and problems that once afflicted him or her. Now those afflictions can be seen with detachment, as the interesting plot of an ancient Homer narrative, beautiful to be heard and witnessed. Thus, we see that pessimism becomes the optimism of the beautiful appearance:
It was shown how the revelation of the unreality of the phenomenon, a cause of suicide in a depressed race, is the pretext for a new life in the western endowed with a superabundance of energy. It was shown… how western sensibility, perceiving life as woe, is following this initiation transformed into an aesthetic sensibility, eager to perpetuate the spectacle, to describe it, to evoke it and how, once informed and taken into confidence, now adores and celebrates Life for its beauty with the same ardor with which, in its state of blindness, it used to curse Life for its cruelty. (Gaultier, 1961, p. 236-237).
It is for this aspect of utility that we must understand the fiction and the illusion.
According to Rank, from the world we can only have representations that need to be interpreted. Thus, here we have the meaning of illusion from the inheritance of Kant’s regulatory principles, and also from the concept of appearance in Nietzsche.
The influence of Immanuel Kant in the beginnings of Psychoanalysis
We must understand that Sigmund Freud was deeply concerned to provide a solid foundation for psychoanalysis as a science. From the accounts to which we have access today, one can see that the influence of Immanuel Kant was relevant. Freud was willing to relate the thing in itself, which is behind the phenomena, to the very unconscious.
Ludwig Binswanger wrote about the presence of Kant in the formulations of Freud, where he reports:
He [Freud] said that we behaved as if the unconscious were a reality in the image of the conscious. However, as a true scientific researcher, he says nothing about the nature of the unconscious, because we know nothing with certainty, or above all, we can only infer from the conscious. He asserts that, just as Kant postulated the thing in itself behind appearance, it postulated, behind the conscious accessible to our experience, the unconscious, but that could never be an object of direct knowledge. (Fulgêncio, 2006, p. 9).
We can see that Freud was working within the Kantian critique on the limits of human knowledge. At the moment of Binswanger’s observation, he saw the unconscious as a thing in itself in the Kantian sense, that is, as an object unknowable in itself, but which must be introduced as a fiction, so that it can be better worked.
However, in the sessions of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Freud will always remain cautious in dealing with philosophical questions. Regarding the aspect of the epistemological approach to the unconscious, it will maintain the differentiation between what appears and what is not directly known. Therefore, what is postulated has a heuristic function, although it cannot be confused with the reality per se.
Thus, it is possible to say that Freud, even building psychoanalysis as a natural science, agreed with the Kantian assumption that the nature of the psyche is that of a set of representations, of the world and the sensations.
We must now see the contribution of Nietzsche. In common with Kant, we have that the two philosophers dealt with questions concerning duality: phenomenon and noumenon, in Kant, and essence and appearance, in Nietzsche. The connection between the two, in this respect, was studied by Hans Vaihinger, who adopts a position derived from pragmatism and perspectivism.
Vaihinger has a place in the theory of knowledge due to his concept of fiction as an abstraction that helps in bringing order to the understanding of the world; fiction is, therefore, an instrument for knowledge, such as deduction and induction. Fiction is something that adds to knowledge, being an approximation of reality, rather than being a departure from it. It will be differentiated from the hypothesis by the fact that it is the hypothesis that can be confirmed with the empirical data; however, fiction continues being an auxiliary resource.
Vaihinger’s question is: “How could we achieve the right goals, taking into consideration that we deal only with representations?” What Vaihinger places is that we preserve assumptions even if we are aware that they are only approximations, although, in doing so, we succeed in acting in the world.
Vaihinger will seek the roots of this position in Kant’s work, and its continuity in the concept of Nietzsche’s beautiful appearance. It is certain that Nietzsche will fight Kant in many points, just as he fights Schopenhauer, to whom he owes much of his concept of will. However, Vaihinger will consider Kant as the one who discovered, as the thing in itself as the frontier of knowledge, the practical value of appearance, and that it should be accepted as so. Vaihinger will value the practical aspects of fictions, with many examples from mathematics, and with notions as the point, which has no place within the sensible world, but which must be accepted as a convention: for instance, we must believe in the point for the purposes of geometry. Therefore, some concepts need to be accepted as if they were part of our certainties. Vaihinger bridges
all this with Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Here we have a passage in which Vaihinger quotes Nietzsche in this context:
… “being” is a “simplification for practical purposes,” based on the artificial creation of identical cases, it is “an image” that we impute for the sake of practical utility and perspective, because “in us, there is a power that orders, falsifies and separates artificially.” Its products, however, these many “falsifications,” are useful and necessary: for “life is based on such assumptions.” The pretend world of subject, substance, reason, is necessary. (Vaihinger, 2011, p.664).
Nietzsche and the beautiful appearance
Having made this bridge between Kant and Nietzsche, let us now turn to the question of appearance in Nietzsche, and his reasons. Nietzsche’s great model was pre- Socratic Greece. He regarded the Greek spirit as highly vulnerable to the pain of existence. Moreover, they were bearers of a pessimistic wisdom, such as that of Silenus, whom Nietzsche quotes in the Birth of Tragedy:
There is an old story that King Midas had hunted for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, for a long time in the woods without catching him. But when he finally fell into his hands, the King asked: “What is the best and most preferable thing for Man?” The demon remained silent, stubborn, and motionless; and then broke out into shrill laughter, uttering these words: “Miserable, ephemeral species, children of chance and of hardship, why do you compel me to tell you what is most profitable for you not to hear. The very best is quite unattainable for you: it is, not to be born, not to exist, to be Nothing. However, the next best for you is—to die soon.” (Nietzsche, 2013, p. 33).
Given this, how do we understand the creation of Apollonian art? Here we will have an approximation with his understanding by Vaihinger, as Nietzsche will tell us that “life is possible only by artistic mirages.” In the Greeks, art is closely linked with religion, and its virtue is to produce an abundance of life, the stimulus to life. Still in the wake of Schopenhauer’s pessimism, pessimism close to the wisdom of Silenus, it can be said that, despite the pains of life, one must be seduced to life through beautiful appearances, as Nietzsche shows us, in The Birth of Tragedy. He considers that the Greek gods do not make the apology for salvation in another world, in an afterlife, but they bring the stimulus to life, which divinizes that which exists. Moreover, to deify, here, means to make beautiful.
From the mythological narratives, we realize that the gods of the Olympus were not necessarily good, but they were beautiful—that is, they seduce to life. For its part, beauty is the measure, the proportion, and the elegant moderation, proper attributes of Apollo.
Thus, Apollonian art intended to replace the terrible truth of the world, as Silenus stated, by beautiful forms. This was the elegant and refined measure. However, the disruptive aspect of reality could not fail in being considered. This aspect seemed to be tough and disturbing, subverting the serenity of the Apollonian forms. This element will be represented by Dionysus, who can be terrible and bring back, in the eyes of civilization, the pessimistic wisdom of Silenus. Apollo, therefore, represented individuation, brought about by proportional and serene forms, for the individual, in order to exist, needs limits and measures. However, Dionysus brings the dissolution of limits into drunkenness, which presents itself as ecstasy. However, when the ecstasy ends, there remains only the vision of the absurdity of life. At that moment, the absurdity appears as the truth, but it is a truth that destroys the individual, and, not just the individual, but destroys the State, destroys History, and civilization. However, it is important to note that this is not the Dionysus that Nietzsche praises. It was clear how nature, in its raw state, could be destructive. Redemption will have to be done by means of art. However, if one previously sought to preserve Apollo by placing barriers against Dionysus, this time the art will incorporate Dionysus along with Apollo. Thus, the absurdity of existence will be transformed into a beautiful representation, capable of making life possible.
Therefore, Nietzsche considers that the most important moment in Greek art is the reconciliation between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The pure Dionysian is impossible to live, for it leads to annihilation and the feeling of absurdity. The Apollonian element brings a beautiful appearance to the cruel aspect of nature and redeems it; from now on nature can be lived without leading to absurdity and emptiness. As Nietzsche tells us in his Posthumous Fragments: “It is not in the alternation between lucidity and drunkenness, but in its simultaneity, that the Dionysian aesthetic state is found.” (Nietzsche apud Machado, 2017, p. 36). Therefore, it is as if Apollo had taught the measures to the Barbarian Dionysus, thus transforming him into the Hellenic Dionysus.
We have seen how the Greek world dealt with appearance and essence. Most importantly, to understand the illusion in Rank, is that appearance was not something that should disappear in favor of essence, but appearance and essence, if understood respectively as Apollo and Dionysus, needed to be united in the art of tragedy, and, more than that, to be together in life. When tragic art unites beautiful appearance with raw essence, it saves culture from the danger of annihilation.
It is, therefore, the disappearance of the opposition between Apollo and Dionysus that is needed. As the Nietzschean Dionysian is necessarily artistic, the conflict between beautiful appearance and essential truth that does not allow appearance, that is, which does not allow art, disappears. We must understand that the hero dies, but his death has meaning within a larger picture—thus, the hero dies, but his death is not the victory of the absurdity.
As this is the young Nietzsche, the presence of Arthur Schopenhauer is still strongly perceived, in what is, for Nietzsche, the Primordial Unity. As in Schopenhauer, the individual can accept to perish, knowing that life itself never dies. We see, then, that the tragic element of art translates the great wisdom of the ancient Greeks, and there must be some construction, some representation that is not merely an account of the sensible world, as Nietzsche tells us, elsewhere in his Posthumous Fragments:
The only possibility of life: in art. Otherwise, we stray from life. The instinctive movement of the sciences is the complete annihilation of illusion; if there were no art, the consequence would be quietism (Nietzsche apud Machado, 2017, p. 59).
The Welcoming of the Will in the Beautiful Appearance
At this point, we can more accurately perceive what Otto Rank tells us regarding illusion: that the human being is necessarily a creator, an artist, a creator of the beautiful appearance.
On this point, the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Machado adds:
One could say that while the “lie” of science would want to find the truth of the world as something other than appearance, the “truth” of art is to believe in the image as an image, in appearance as appearance the superiority of art over science is not to oppose the illusion, it is to affirm life fully. (Machado, 2017, p. 59-60).
As Rank wrote in his book Will Therapy, we cannot have the direct assurance of the world, but, as a condition for action, the world must be interpreted. This interpretation is not perfect, although we must believe in it. So, we are always believing in interpretations. However, unlike what is commonly considered the “illusion,” this is not a narcotic that brings an escape, but is a tonic for life, and this is Nietzsche’s orientation, which Rank sets in his work.
Thus, concerning the use of the concept of “truth,” these considerations must be taken into account in the context to which they belong. In Nietzsche’s terms, the will to truth, where we have the metaphysical opposition between truth and falsity, belongs to what Nietzsche calls Socratism, as well as post-Socratic Greek philosophy. Equally, it must be understood that this philosophy of truth and appearance, where appearance is the equivalent of error, is a philosophy, according to Nietzsche, of weak men with weak will to power. According to him, it is a Christian morality before Christianity, which would be a “Platonism for the masses.” Nietzsche, therefore, poses as false the metaphysical opposition of values, and values the appearance of form precisely to go against this opposition. Art as appearance goes beyond the ascetic ideal. Thus, Plato becomes the “voluntary of the beyond,” a slanderer of life; in opposition, we have Homer, who makes the exultation of life and the approval of existence.
Thus, it is possible to affirm that Rank followed Kant in the aspect of the ethics, but, in the matter of appearance and the essence, followed Nietzsche. The question of Nietzsche to which Rank follows is that the ultimate criterion of the validity of something is the intensification of life, the strengthening of the will to power. Thus, the ultimate criterion of judgment over knowledge is life; it is not, therefore, an epistemological judgment. As Nietzsche tells us in Beyond Good and Evil:
We do not see in the falsity of a judgment an objection to this judgment The question is to know to what extent a judgment is apt to promote life It is time to understand that the conservation of beings of our species requires that we believe in them. That does not stop these judgments from being false. Let us recognize: no life can exist except for the estimations and appearances inherent in its perspective. (Nietzsche).
This we repeatedly find in Rank, and we can thus understand the differentiation he makes between theory and therapy: theory seeks the truth, but therapy must stimulate the will of the patient, in which he or she must believe in representations and fictions, and this means confidence in his or her own will to power. However, as a differentiation from metaphysics and traditional moral systems, it should be noted that these values are at the level of life and the organic force of life. Nietzsche’s question is always: do these values, for example, make an individual healthier, more courageous, more vigorous, or make the individual weaker and sicker? Thus, the question of Rank was to provide vigor to the will of the man, as Rank put it, to offer him faith in himself, which is different from faith in society or faith in a reason which imposes itself in a heteronomous way.
And it is certain that here, in Rank’s conception, is added the Kantian concept of an a priori morality, but always of a morality that is at the service of the affirmation of the human being—as Rank stated, in a clearly Nietzschean passage, that the true human values are the values of the affirmation of life.
We can conceive, then, that although Rank has affirmed the value of self-determination of the individual, and his ability to choose in relation to the moral law that he or she possesses a priori, the content of the moral law does not imply an ethics of asceticism. Ethics, in this vision, consists in the affirmation of human life, which unites Apollo and Dionysus.
The difference of Rank is that he accepts self-preservation. For Nietzsche, the will to power implies a constant growth, in a constant breaking of barriers. Thus, weak men, where the power is sick, cannot go forward, for they are afraid of losing the little life they have. According to Nietzsche, it is at this point that moral restraints are made, just as we understand the term in its moral and religious contexts. The barriers which are now placed serve to preserve the little life that weak men still have, and Nietzsche sees this as demerit and denial. In Rank, the picture is different, and, in this passage from Beyond Psychology, we see that Rank embodied the Kantian virtue of temperance:
The individual … automatically refrained from certain activities which directly or indirectly seemed to threaten his own self. Since the majority felt that way, the aboriginal law appears un-imposed, a requirement of vital importance … We obey the moral law because, with its self-preserving function, it is merely an impression of our moral self. (Rank, 1945, p. 84).
Seeking to place psychoanalysis as a natural science, Freud was not willing to consider the will, seen in his day as a romantic idea. However, he was aware that the object of knowledge of the scientist are phenomena, not reality in itself, which is unknowable. However, while he acknowledges that psychic reality is representational, he will not penetrate philosophy in such a way to make a distinction similar to that of phenomena and noumenon, appearance and essence, and so on. Thus, even making references to Kant, he did not arrive at something that would be “only an idea, albeit a practical one,” that is, where utility provides space for the “fiction for practical purposes.”
In Jules de Gaultier’s book, From Kant to Nietzsche, we observe that it is precisely through his pessimism that optimism becomes possible. It is the art that makes the human condition beautiful, from the fact that nature, in its original state, presents itself as cruel, being the Barbarian Dionysius, who, according to Roberto Machado, differs from the Hellenic Dionysus of Nietzsche, which was necessarily artistic, and, according to Vaihinger, conveys the “fiction for practical purposes”.
By his understanding of psychoanalysis and philosophy, Rank will start from the most melancholic aspects of the understanding of the human condition, which leads to the absurdity, to welcome the Kantian value of self-determination. We realize that fiction for practical purposes is always present, not as a lie, but as the imaginary that is justified despite its unreality, with the necessary self-determination to affirm the laws derived from freedom. Therefore, health comes from the union of practical reason with the affirmation of life:
Here we can define self-determination as a voluntary and conscious creation of one’s own fate. This means to have no fate in an external sense, but to accept and affirm oneself as fate and fate creating power. This inner fate includes self determination also, in the sense of the pleasurable will struggle with ourselves, the conflict which we affirm as long as we interpret it as consciously willed self- creation, and not neurotically as the force of stronger supernatural forces or earthly authorities. (Rank, 1945, p.91-92).
In this way, both with the moral imperative and with the aesthetic phenomenon, the reason of the individual can offer meaning to what would have been only a blind and absurd fate. Now, instead of being a slave to the world of phenomena, the individual can take hold of his destiny, and truly make it a human destiny.
As we have seen in Nietzsche, all these things are not a benzodiazepine that needs to put the individual to sleep; in fact, they are a tonic that leads to action, for the truth that one can have of the world are the representations and their interpretations for the purposes of intensifying life—which are the beautiful appearance, or illusion. That is the only way to affirm life to the fullest. Among so many uncertainties in the sensible world, the individual must welcome the will to power that he or she has, which translates into believing in himself or herself, despite the fact that the individual is continually measured as inferior by the parameters of the dominant ideologies—the earthly powers:
The patient needs a world view and will always need it, because man always needs belief, and this so much more, the more increasing self-consciousness brings him to doubt. Psychotherapy does not need to be ashamed of its philosophical character, if only it is in a position to give to the sufferer the philosophy that he needs, namely, faith in himself. (Rank, 1945, p.96).
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Gaultier, Jules de. From Kant to Nietzsche. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1961.
Kant, Immanuel. Crítica da Razão Pura. Translated by Manuela Pinto dos Santos and Alexandre Fradique Morujão. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian, 2001.
Lieberman, E. James. Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.
Machado, Roberto. Nietzsche e a Verdade. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 2017.
Machado, Roberto. Nietzsche e a polêmica sobre o Nascimento da Tragédia. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar, 2005.
Menaker, Esther: Separation, Will and Creativity: The wisdom of Otto Rank.
New Jersey: Claude Barbre, 1996.
Nietzsche, Friedrich: O Nascimento da Tragédia. Translated by J. Guinsburg.
São Paulo: Schwarcz, 2013.
Rank, Otto. Art and Artist. Translated by Charles Francis Atkinson. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1989.
—. Beyond Psychology. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1958.
—. Truth and Reality. Translated by Jessie Taft. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978.
—. Will Therapy. Translated by Jessie Taft. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania School of Social Work, 1945.
Sandler, Paulo Cezar. As Origens da Psicanálise na Obra de Kant. Rio de Janeiro: Imago, 2000.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. O Mundo como Vontade e como Representação.
Translated by Jair Barboza. São Paulo: UNESP, 2005.
Vaihinger, Hans. A Filosofia do Como Se. Translated by Johannes Kretschmer.
Chapecó: Argos, 2011.
Primacy of the Individual as the Bearer of Moral Law: The Psychoanalysis of Otto Rank and Kantian Ethics
Julio Roberto Costa, M.S.
Otto Rank posed the human question of the search for permanence by means of the symbolic life, which includes belonging to a group that the individual identifies himself or herself with. Historically, this has been seen in the tribe, the clan, the nation, etc., as a unit that needs to be asserted in opposition to other groups. Ernest Becker emphasized that this affirmation of the symbolic value of the belonging to a group needed the denial of the value of others. In fact, Otto Rank saw in it the real source of conflict and warfare1.
However, insofar as Rank can be considered an exponent of German idealism, we must assume a space of freedom of the individual, which can be conceived of as grounded in Kantian moral philosophy. Thus, if what characterizes the human subject are the choices freely made by reason, we find that the human being in Rank’s works has a freedom of choice, a thought we can identify as the product of Kantian influence. Therefore, I intend to present Rank’s texts as consistent with Immanuel Kant’s legacy, mainly regarding practical reason. We can assume that, through these choices in relation to moral acting, the affirmation of the being of the individual does not necessarily require the overcoming of the other—that is, dispensing of violence—although it indeed sheds new light on the violence within society.
Considering Ernest Becker’s views of violence and society in conjunction with Otto Rank’s emphasis on the individual as the bearer of moral law, a Kantian influence, there is solid ground for the observation that social ordering is a human construction. Rather than a neutral entity, social ordering generates nuclei of power to empower some at the expense of the majority. From this study, we must conclude that, to foster ethics, these social relationships need to become more akin to the moral law that lies in the individual.
The work of Otto Rank brings many challenges for those who study it. Although highly rich in the meaning and depth of analysis, Rank’s concepts are diffuse throughout his work. Moreover, after Rank was excluded from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, it seems he knew he would not be understood, and, as E. James Lieberman stated in his biography of Rank, Acts of Will, he was considered a pariah2. This may pertain to the fact that he had no way of forming a school or having his own students.
Of utmost importance in his books is the inclusion of philosophy, especially that of the great ethicist Immanuel Kant; of Arthur Schopenhauer, who demonstrated the world as an expression of the will; and the young Friedrich Nietzsche, the great pragmatist who saw that the necessity of the affirmation of being—itself based on the will, the only existing subject—had primacy over the conceptual or moral judgement of that expression.
The question of death and finitude, as posed by Otto Rank, considers the search for a symbolic solution to the problem of the permanence of the individual, since in the world of nature this solution is impossible. Thus, according to Rank, all symbolic construction has, as its primary task, to place the human being above nature, which includes a connection with the symbolism of permanence of the groups in which the individual participates. This participation, such as in the clan, the tribe, or the nation, functions as a means of ensuring permanence by means of collective immortality, that is, through the group. This symbolic immortality needs to place the collectivity above nature and above other collectivities, and, drawing from this thought, Ernest Becker emphasizes one aspect in Rank’s work, namely, the challenge in achieving the symbolism of permanence of “our” group. Therefore, there is the propensity to justify the debunking, disqualifying, victimization, and even destruction of the other.
Foundations of Otto Rank’s psychoanalysis and the question of permanence
According to Otto Rank, the expression of the will in the human being, contrasting with his or her finitude and mortality, only finds a possible resolution through the symbolic repertoire of culture. The role of the individual in the legitimate development of himself or herself is to find expression in a creative way by contributing to the symbolic repertoire of the community.
The creative individual, the artist, produces meaning that validates his or her own expression in the world. The individual does so against the pressure for conformity, and has an inner experience of the dynamic of will, guilt, and affirmation, to achieve his or her goal. However, the individual will not disassociate himself or herself from the community. Although Rank’s emphasis is strongly on the individual, the individual’s expression underlies an environment steeped in culture. We must assume, in that environment, the presence of a symbolic repertoire that is collective by its very nature. Therefore, this is an environment already akin to a collection of symbolic meanings, an environment that welcomes individual contributions to it. It is precisely this connection with the community that differentiates the creative and productive individual from the neurotic one, who lacks this connection3. The neurotic, instead of creatively and positively affirming his or her will and value, will feel the difference sorrowfully, perceiving it to be a reflection of his or her inferiority and displacement from the collective.
Likewise, Rank asserts that artistic expression is collective in its origin. In primitive societies, the work of art was social rather than individual, reflecting the communal partaking of the pleasurable experience of the affirmation of the human will inside the world4. Thus, the individual offers content to the community, re-signifying and re-elaborating the pre-existing symbology, to bring legitimate and sincere meaning to his or her place in the world. The individual becomes, increasingly, a subject that brings meaning to life, in a social world that is fulfilled by shared meaning. Symbology is, thus, a means of social integration for the individual. But let us observe the directions that the personal will can take. Kantian thought would lead us to conclude that the individual needs to seek autonomy, which entails affirming the right to make his or her own choices. Heteronomy is the negation of the subject, and autonomy is his or her affirmation. It becomes necessary, therefore, to deny everything that can debunk the person. Often, the tendency is to think of this as submission as imposed from the outside world, although, with the influence of Immanuel Kant, Rank asserts that biological determinisms, insofar as they are like the concept of inclinations in Kantian moral philosophy, are also perceived by the subject as a coercion against individual will. At this point we can introduce some of Ernest Becker’s positions. In Becker’s view, this affirmation of the symbolic aspect can be viewed as the construction of an alter-organism5, which means a symbolic nature that overlaps with the biological organism, to remove from consciousness the remembrance of the biological limits to existence. As we have already seen, so far as biological perpetuation is impossible, it will be necessary to search for symbolic perpetuation—the denial of death.
An important unfolding of the denial of death will be the mechanisms of social division between “we” and “they,” which will have the function of separating those who are supposed to deserve immortality (“we”) from those who are supposed to be the outcasts of the world and who deserve to be discharged—in other words, “they.” Becker grounds himself on Otto Rank when he tells us that the desire for permanence in the human being seeks a symbology of collective immortality so that personal immortality can be assured through the permanence of the clan, the tribe, the nation, or the like. From the point of view of the need for symbolic permanence, this is the origin of the victimization of all the human collectives that are considered different, as well as the real origin of warfare. According to Rank, when a group feels the need to consider itself a special one, above all the others, that has the fate to offer symbolic permanence exclusively to its peers, then it becomes permissible, indeed consistent, to “exclude the different ones from the blessings of eternity”6.
Otto Rank’s psychoanalysis and the legacy of Kant
The will, as understood by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, was not the only important consideration for Otto Rank. Also, important to him were acts of will, capable of being made by an autonomous subject who has choices. Autonomy is the ability of reason to make choices, the moment it confronts itself and needs to get answers to the question: “how should I act?”. In the criticism exercised at this point, that is, within the boundaries of what can be known or thought by the human being, Kant made morality a practical subject of reason, placing a boundary on the seduction of useless metaphysical speculation.
In Kantian philosophy, the distinction between what can be known and what can only be thought of is basic. All things that can be known can be thought of, but there are things that can be thought of but cannot be known. Knowledge comes from the sensible world, and thus we cannot know that which does not give us any sensory impression. In this way, Kant tells us that speculative reason, when it seeks to know what does not generate sensible experience, finds nothing, and from there everything that is said will be metaphysical—that is, in Kant’s words, deception and illusion from speculative reason. Thus, it is important to note that what creates illusions is pure reason, insofar as it deals with an activity of which it has no sensible experience, which is, therefore, mere speculation. On the other hand, when reason has only itself and is confronted with the question “how should I act?”, without being able to be guided by objects of sensible intuition, it will have to stand as the reason of a being who makes choices. At that point, it becomes practical reason, for actions will now be moved by choices, elected by means of freedom: “practical is all that is possible by freedom”7. At this point, the question would arise: but would this seemingly free choice not be moved by forces to which the subject himself has no access? What Kant places here is the problem of speculative reason in relation to things of which one has no sensible experience. When speculative reason tries to understand what does not generate sensible experience, the product of its activity can only be illusion. According to Kant, speculative reason created ancient metaphysics. Therefore, if there is a drive for practical choice, in the absence of any sensible experience, it is only possible, in terms of pure reason, to speculate about the nature of such a drive, which would lead to the creation of a new metaphysics of moral choice. In opposition to this, Kant emphasizes the fact that reason, when asked “how should I act?”, must follow the way of the practical use:
[Reason] Perceive objects that have a great interest for it. It enters the path of pure speculation to approach them, but they flee before it. Possibly, more success is to be expected in the only remaining path, that is, of practical use8.
Therefore, practical necessity overrides speculative theorizing, for, if we have no way of knowing, we are still forced to act, and we see the relevance of the question of practical action. Taking into consideration the absence of sensible experience when reason is faced with the choices of “how should I act?” this space of freedom needs to be postulated:
. . . to know whether reason itself, in the acts by which it prescribes laws, is not determined in turn by other influences, and if what, in relation to the sensitive impulses, is called freedom, could not be, in relation to higher and distant causes, in turn, nature, in no way concerns us from the practical point of view, for we only ask reason, immediately, for the rule of conduct; it is, however, a simply speculative question, which we can put aside, since for our purpose we have only to do or fail to do. We thus know from experience practical freedom as a natural cause, namely as a causality of reason in the determination of the will . . .9.
Thus, in experience, the human being, while not having access to the noumenon as an object, is grounded on the intelligible world of the noumenon for his or her practical action. According to Kant, that which is practical is provided by freedom, which exists independently of the sensible and causal conditions of phenomena. Thus, even if the concept is, according to Kant, “theoretically empty,” since it can have a moral utility, that is, a practical application, it cannot be neglected as a drive of human action and must therefore be thought of as real, despite of the fact that it cannot be known:
[T]he concept of an entity that has free will is the concept of a causa noumeno. . .. Now the concept of an empirically unconditioned causality is, in fact, theoretically empty (without an intuition suited to it), yet always possible, and refers to an indeterminate object; although, on the other hand, it is given meaning in the moral law, therefore in a practical relation, so that in truth I do not possess any intuition that determines the theoretical objective reality, but it does not fail to have an effective application, which can present itself concretely in provisions or maxims, that is, to have practical reality that can be indicated.10
These practical choices will always reveal the major picture of the subject’s belonging to a universe that has meaning by the action of the human being, and this meaning is actively shared by validating and revalidating the meaning that the individual partakes with the community, and, in turn, the meaning the community partakes with the individual. Thus, a meaning that is largely attributed by the individual is equally validated by the community, which requires from everyone a contribution to that creation of shared meaning.
Autonomy and freedom
The central issue will be the treatment given to autonomy as an exercise of the will by the human being. According to the Kantian legacy, Rank gives a real role to autonomy, which must be well understood to situate the sense of Rank’s theorizing within the history of thought. Here, it is relevant to remember that, in the preface to his book Dawn, Nietzsche, criticizing Kant, points out the fact that he has placed such morality in a place where it would be unscathed, dependent on a world that would be, by its turn, indemonstrable:
. . . [Kant,] to give place to his “moral empire,” found himself obliged to add an indescribable world, a logical “beyond” – that is why he needed his Critique of Pure Reason! In other words, he would not have needed her, had there not been one thing that mattered most to him – to make the “moral world” unassailable . . .. [Kant] believed in morality, not because it was demonstrated by nature and history, but despite being incessantly contradicted by nature and history.11
However, this was a position that Kant clearly assumed, pertinent to the characteristics of the phenomenon and the noumenon, that is, while reason perceives in the sensible world what happens (phenomenon), in the intelligible world reason perceives what should happen, according to the practical laws of reason itself, and will therefore endeavor to succeed in the sensible world, as reason so establishes. Reason is, therefore, a law-giving reason and will become the practical use of that reason according to the laws of freedom, that is, autonomously, and not triggered by objects of the sensible world. Thus, Kant believes in morality not because it is demonstrated by nature and history, but precisely because it is not demonstrable by nature and by history, that is, by sensible experience. In this way, the will, consistent with the reason it needs to express itself as practice, needs to affirm the moral world within the world of phenomena. The will becomes the practical use of reason, that is, the affirmation of the autonomous choices of the human being, turning the empirical world, as much as possible, a space for the affirmation of these values:
I call the moral world, the world insofar as it conforms to all moral laws (as it can be, according to the freedom of rational beings, and as it should be, according to the necessary laws of morality). The world is, thus, thought only as an intelligible world. . .. In this sense, then, it is a simple idea, albeit a practical one, that can and should really have its influence in the sensible world, to make it as much as possible according to this idea.12
Therefore, we must conclude that the moral world is realized not as a continuity of the external world of phenomena, but an affirmation of the inner will, that is, of the noumenon, in the face of the obstacles that the outside world offers to that expression. Thus, if the individual has the legitimacy to express an inner world that is not an extension of the world of phenomena, but rather is defined as an opposition to external coercion, he has a space of freedom that needs to be taken into consideration also in the question of symbolic permanence. One can see how much Rank’s thinking becomes accessible by taking this Kantian context into account.
Permanence and power in Ernest Becker
Ernest Becker is one of the great theorists about human destructiveness within the social sciences, focusing not on the instinctual aspect, concerning a medical and biological paradigm, but on the symbolic and cultural aspect. This question begins with the fact that the human being is conscious of his or her own finitude and thus has the consciousness of death. This awareness of finitude comes into conflict with the human capacity for symbolization in the question of creating the representation of his or her own ending. The individual sees himself or herself, at this moment, with the tension of being at once a biological being and a symbolic being. Discomfort arises with the condition of being a finite animal, which at the same time has a symbolic capacity, and thus can build a world of images that surpasses the earthly constraints.
In all situations in which an individual finds himself or herself confronted with this paradoxical reality, the individual perceives it as a contradiction and a threat, and tends to deny his or her finite condition, necessitating, for that goal, to deny the biological reality—hence, the denial of death. Adding to this, the question is not only dying, but to die and remain forgotten, that is, to be insignificant in history, having no importance for a world that can exist without him. As Becker writes, “to have importance is to be enduring, to have life”13. Thus, following the thought of Otto Rank, Becker asserts that symbolic systems exist to raise the human being above nature, so that the symbolic being realizes, at least in the consciousness of daily life, an overcoming of the biological being. To allow this, this overcoming allows necessary meanings of permanence on the fragile and fallible biological being. To this end, Becker tells us that culture coats the individual with an alter-organism—or, symbolic permanence.
Therefore, shared symbolic systems, which are legitimate in relation to an organism that has symbolic capacity, will also be committed to the task of denying finitude. But what could have been simply the sincere construction of the symbolic representations, pertinent to a being who possesses this faculty, will become a falsification of reality. It is necessary to emphasize that, being the other differentiated, his or her symbolic systems can be a challenge to the affirmation of the symbolic systems to which the individual attributes legitimacy. At this point, the other becomes a threat, for he can assert being in a different or opposite way, concerning another culture or another world view, and thus threatening the validity of the world view adopted by the individual.
It is possible to say that, in primitive societies, the feeling of permanence was achieved relatively harmlessly. Becker mentions John Huizinga and his book Homo Ludens14, which stated that, for the primitive man, life was a joyful play, an everyday assertion of the value of everyone that protects the sense of value of each person together with the community, being “a rich and joyous dramatization of life”.15 Because there was nothing in these societies to compare with the legal, police, or military system of contemporary societies, it was sufficient that a discouragement should be exercised, by means of the customs, in the sense that no one became too much above average, and consequently, a threatening overly powerful individual16.
Becker associates the advent of the great social stratification with the increase of the cultural emphasis in the individual. The reason is that, previously, the human being possessed the whole universe as a stage for the assertion of his or her value, but, progressively, he or she will only have the other person to validate or invalidate the construction of the individual self-esteem. We should note that, in nature, an individual always found affirmation, not because its elements (sun, moon, stars, forest, etc.) could not speak and contradict the individual, but because everything in nature is an affirmation of being. We can understand this by the thought of Schopenhauer, where the world is the thing in itself, the will, presenting itself in many disguised appearances.17 By reading Rank, we can conclude that the true human values are the values of the affirmation of being. Thus, the man of ancient societies could easily feel “at home” in the world, but if, and only if, the symbolic capacity of his or her organism was properly backed up.
However, from the growing social division of labor, Becker argues that increasing asymmetry of power will accompany the scale of the construction of social inequality. Now, in a very asymmetric scenario, it becomes increasingly feasible to invalidate, discredit, disqualify, or even destroy, the other.
We can include, in this regard, the social construction of the scapegoat that must be sacrificed for the sake of community safety.18 Ernest Becker continues this aspect of Rank’s work by adding new contributions and building the path to what is now the mortality salience and the terror management theory19. One can thus verify the question of the exclusion of the other as a way of realizing a denial of mortality, as posited by Otto Rank and later developed by Ernest Becker.
In relation to the correct understanding of Otto Rank, the problem that Becker’s understanding offers is the absence of a space of freedom. In Rank, this space of freedom exists as part of the influence of Immanuel Kant. As we have already stated, recognizing the Kantian heritage, and consequently German idealism, in Rank’s thought can begin to clarify and deepen the understanding of many aspects of his work.
Violence from the denial of death and its possible overcoming
According to Hans Vaihinger, Nietzsche’s radical doubts originated in the Kantian conception that one cannot know the thing in itself.20
We can then conceive of the magnitude of this doubt, as Nietzsche tells us, and here we shall give the following example of this uncertainty about the reality of the world: suppose that there is in the world an object with a red color, although it appears to our eyes as being yellow, as the world possibly does not present itself to our senses as it really is. In turn, our senses are imperfect, and the eyes perceive the object as being green. The nervous stimulus, from the eyes to the brain, distorts the perception of the object, and our consciousness interprets it as being blue. So, with all this uncertainty about the world, let us now think of the relationship of two people, who we will call individual A and individual B. Both are willing to make their mutual relationship an ethical one. Individual A, at one point, says, “I have dignity; therefore, you should treat me with proper respect.” Then, individual B could argue: “Wait, I’m going to get into the world of phenomena, to find evidence that what you said is true.” However, in the world of phenomena one can only find that which generates a sensible experience, which is to say that nothing can be found about the moral world. With this emptiness, individual B can doubt individual A, and thus discredit him, disqualify him, and, consequently, oppress and, possibly, try to destroy him.
This consideration can give rise to several questions. In Rank, we see a compliance with the Kantian perspective, where we have the predominance of inner reason over coercion exerted by the sensible world. In addition to such a conception, making full sense within the post-Kant German idealism, Rank himself classified his psychoanalysis in this way, by placing it as an affirmation of the will of the individual, despite external constraints against the expression of one’s will.
At this point we must add the important question of society and the individual. The bearer of the will is the individual, or at most the community, but never the society. Society seeks to legitimize itself from the remains of the ideologies of immortality that have been useful to the individual and the community. When Rank writes about society, it is never in a way to legitimize it, in a movement of opposition to the individual, because the individual has the primacy, as bearer of the will and the moral law. It is possible here to feel the lack of a more precise conceptualization in Rank’s thought, like that of the primary groups and secondary groups, such as exposed by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann21, or of sociality, by Michel Maffesoli22, who contemplate groups more immediately familiar and friendly to the individual, in which there exist immediate relations and consensus, as opposed to the socioeconomic system. Those close groups are the ones the individual can rely on for support and protection, differing from the wider society. This larger society, in turn, becomes increasingly strange and threatening to the individual, and it thus takes on the contours of the concept of the socioeconomic system. Rank, for instance, makes it clear how much he considered that therapy could not, at the same time, stand on the side of the patient and the side of society. Society, posited as the formal and impersonal groups, constitutes a force of conformation of the person and the annulment of individuality.
The individual needs to express himself or herself with the help of the culture of his or her community, despite the normativity of the larger, impersonal society. Thus, we could say that the culture of the community, as long as it is an expression of the will, favors the expression of the individual will. On its turn, the great society, assuming a normative position, as long as it is no more an expression of the will, yearns to place limitations on the individual, which means it craves for social law in place of moral law. Social law, as Rank poses the concept, is the law instrumented by the groups in power for their own benefit, despite having its origin in moral law.
It becomes feasible to think that Rank recognizes society in the same way as Vaihinger’s concept of an intentionally created appearance (bewusst gewollte Schein)23, from the necessity of asserting an order even though it is known that this order is of a fictional nature. It may be concluded from Rank that he assumes that society is not a bearer of the reason. It is evident that Rank believes the will presents itself to the world not through society, but through the individual. Rank places the opposition of the individual and society in the following terms concerning therapy:
For against this parent-like representative of the social will is aroused the self will of the weakest patient although it is interpreted by the Freudian therapist as resistance on the basis of his own will and in terms of his own moral and social ideals; that is, something that must be overcome or even broken instead of being furthered and developed. . .. Individual therapy degenerates into a mass education which is based on the traditional world view and the Jewish-Christian morality.24
We see that the individual—in this case, the patient—is in a position of social vulnerability, and moreover, in the face of a will fostered by the society that is historically situated within a specific cultural tradition (in this case, Jewish-Christian, although it could have been any other). Rank considered that the initial pessimism was repeated here in regard of the will, that is, the will is “bad,” “inadequate,” “immoral,” and so on. In that historical context, to the extent that Freud advocated that men should live under a “dictatorship of reason,” this would not be far from the truth.
The problem with this “dictatorship of reason,” contrary to the will, is that it would be heteronomous, coming from external constraints, which would have to control the instinctual life. However, Kantian morality requires the autonomy of the subject, precisely because this autonomy is the capacity of the will to determine itself by reason. That is, autonomy is an individual’s autonomous choice to follow, in the moral world, duty, instead of his or her inclinations. However, the central point in proposing a “dictatorship of reason” is precisely to think of truth as an instance outside the individual. If this instance is society as it stands today, or as it will be in the future, it does not matter as much as a disqualification of the individual against outside powers that presumably have reason, and thus have the right to submit the individual. The valuation of the individual in Rank can be understood as the affirmation that the will is expressed, par excellence, through the individual, and not through society. Added to this, we can now conclude that, building on Schopenhauer, will is the force of nature in the individual, being the very manifestation of the being of the universe. In addition, Schopenhauer states that the will, in the human being, is the very foundation of ethics:
From this point of view, it is undeniable that a system that places the reality of all existence and the root of the whole of nature in the will, detecting in this the heart of the universe, will have a great advantage in its favor. For it strikes, traversing a straight and simple path, and even has beforehand, before starting with ethics, what others seek to achieve only with long and always misleading deviations. In fact, this goal is truly unattainable, except through the notion that the force that drives action in nature, which presents this intuitive world to our intellect, is identical with the will in us. Only that metaphysics which is itself originally ethical, being constructed from its own material, the will, is the effective and immediate support of ethics . . .25.
In this sense, there is a great change, since ethics, and consequently reason, are found in the individual. Therefore, it is safer to trust the individual than to rely on social structures. From here we can understand the moral law as opposed to social law, which is, according to Rank, used by the groups in power. Therefore, moral law is “the expression of our moral self”26, and as such it does not have to be imposed from the outside—it is self-imposed, aiming at the preservation of the person, both in the physical and symbolic aspects, and is present in the culture of the community. Further, we could add, moral law is pertinent to face-to-face relationships, or any close relations where consensus arises. On the other hand, social law is linked to social stratification and the asymmetry of power and is imposed on the individual from outside: “For the moral law from the beginning was common, that is, popular law, whereas social law was dictated by the group in power”27.
Society, heteronomy, and autonomy
Given the foregoing, the exponent of moral law is the individual. It is here that the will is presented, and, expressing itself as an organism, it needs to be preserved. It is preserved not only in the physical aspect, but also in the symbolic aspect. The question that Rank presents to us is that, although the individual finds in culture a welcoming space for his or her project of development and expression, society, as a secondary group and detached from the individual, shows itself to be hostile, because society wants not creative expression but conformity. It is against society that the artist—the creative individual who affirms difference, that is, individuality, in a productive and constructive way—will fight the hardest struggle.
Therefore, society is not a reflection of moral law. Indeed, factors that deny individual autonomy, such as the need to assert some groups over others, the production of scapegoats, and the heroism that must be done against someone, have as their agent the asymmetry of power conditioned by social stratification that, according to Becker, accompanied the emergence of more complex societies and their social structures. Likewise, primitive societies, little structured in terms of political organization, had mechanisms to prevent some person or group from accumulating a threatening amount of power. If asymmetry is not realized, the lesser conditions are that an individual may wish to assert his or her potency in the world by destroying another. In contemporary, highly stratified societies, the opposite occurs.
Moreover, Rank seems to add to this picture Nietzsche’s skepticism in asserting that the so-called truths are at best metaphors, analogies, metonymies, and so on. Although the pragmatic aspect of the first Nietzsche could see in this the value of an affirmation of potency, this affirmation could only be made from the individual, insofar as the organism that expresses the power necessarily is the individual. Therefore, to the extent that any narrative must believe in permanence, and consequently in being, that being that needs to be imagined is closer to the individual, which manifests potency by his or her own condition as an organism that has life.
However, if we are to affirm that moral law is par excellence of the individual, we seem to take from society what would be the greatest legitimation of its value, that is, of being the space of a law that imposes itself on the individual and would be, supposedly, morally legitimate. Indeed, Kant thought in this way in terms of civil society, which would ideally have the republic as the form of human beings, as beings endowed with rationality, organize themselves in a constructive way28. In the same way, social ordering had to follow a reason recognized by all the individual consciences, where it became autonomous, and therefore moral, insofar as it was accepted by the freedom of the will of beings who have the use of reason, for the sake of common good:
As Hobbes asserts, the state of nature is a state of violence and arrogance and we must necessarily abandon it to submit to the coercion of laws, which does not limit our freedom but are able to reconcile with the freedom of any other, and thus with the common good. . .. this results from the original right of human reason to know no other judge than the universal human reason itself, where each has its own voice; and, because of this, must come all the improvement of which our state is susceptible . . .29.
Conclusion: moral law and autonomy of the individual
Kant has established that, in the world of phenomena, we cannot have contact with the thing in itself, although, when reason is alone in asking itself “how should I act?” it has direct contact with the intelligible world, which becomes, for the practical purposes of reason, the moral world. For these practical purposes, contact with moral law has more “truth” than contact with the phenomenon. Therefore, moral law, according to Kant, is no illusion. We must remember that, even if it is determined by something that does not generate sensible experience, thinking about it would present only speculation, since empirical data are not possible, and thus would be, concerning pure reason, useless. Thus, we see that this would be the moment when pure reason would produce illusions, just as in the past it produced old metaphysics. This Kantian approach is evident in Rank’s thinking and gives fuller meaning to his work. Let’s consider, in this context, this short passage from his book Psychology and the Soul:
The human psychological universal that has been passed down is after all the soul, our soul-belief – the old psychology we believe in at heart but keep out of mind in modern psychology.
This interpretation accords with the ethnological finding that unlike people with the “modern” world view, “primitives” are oriented toward a spiritual world, not one of reality. The laws of causality play a minor role in primitive mentality; the major role is played by all manner of celestial and supernatural forces that are not part of nature but are projected from self onto nature. As we have become more realistic, we have buried the soul deeper and deeper within, because there was no place for it in the external world. Unlike us, the first people acknowledged the soul, believed in it consciously, and filled the world with that soul-belief. They made the world less real, more like the self.30
How could a “less real” world be more faithful to the self? This is possible because, especially about the choices of the human being, this external reality is also made up of metaphors, analogies, and metonymies, and this is even more ethically significant insofar as these metaphors, analogies, and metonymies generate social stratification, exclusion, and scapegoats. To the extent that reality is at the service of the empowerment of some and the disempowerment of many, it plays a role in the asymmetry of power, and so, at least in terms of moral reason, it is not objective or “scientific,” and it is even less neutral. It is fictional and is likely to be oriented to fulfill the role of victimizing those who have been elected by the hegemonic group to be the outcasts.
From the questioning of the young Nietzsche, Rank assumes that there is no “reality” in complete opposition to an “illusion.” What is considered as reality is also a human construction, as well as being the material that is defined as what is known as the obstacle to the expression of being. In addition to this, we have the element of the production of asymmetry, in which the group that considers itself “the chosen ones” needs to disqualify the other groups and will often seek to destroy those non-elects.
With all this, reality, in the aspect of human choices, will be the illusion of the group in power that is imposed on the rest of society. In this way, it makes much more sense for the individual to follow the moral law that reason reveals within himself or herself. This moral law also consists of choices that cannot be verified in the empirical world, although they assert themselves as an affirmation of the values of the person, which, from that moment, are extended to the world so that the world is fulfilled with a human meaning, from self onto the world, in Rank’s words.
Equally, it is possible to say that this inner certainty, in Rank’s writings, becomes an affirmation of the values of the individual, and not an affirmation of the values of the broader society, in its political system, economic system, and so on. Therefore, we must consider the implication that there is more coherence in the person living by his or her illusion than dying for the illusion of the socioeconomic system, for instance, in warfare. However, Rank could only establish this position insofar as he thought the individual to have an inner space of freedom, which we can understand as derived from Kant’s moral philosophy. If it were not for this, the determinations that move the society, understood as the socioeconomic system, would also move the individual, who, in this paradigm, would have neither autonomy nor freedom. This inner space of will and ethics, made possible by a reason that in its practical aspect is autonomous, enables the values of the self to be present in the world, affirming the human meaning in the world:
In a word, we encounter here for the first time the actual ground of psychology, the realm of willing and ethics in the purely psychic, not in the biological or [social] moral sense, therefore not in terms of any supra-individual force, but of freedom as Kant understood it metaphysically, that is, beyond external influences.31
1. Otto Rank, Beyond Psychology (New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1958), 40.
2. E. James Lieberman, Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993), 286.
3. Otto Rank, Truth and Reality, trans. Jessie Taft (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978), 173.
4. Otto Rank, Art and Artist, trans. Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1989), 397.
5. Ernest Becker, La Lucha Contra el Mal, trans. Carlos Valdés (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992), 20.
6. Rank, 1958, 41.
7. Immanuel Kant, Crítica da Razão Pura, trans. Manuela Pinto dos Santos and Alexandre Fradique Morujão (Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian, 2001), 650.
8. Ibid., 645.
9. Ibid., 650.
10. André Gustavo Ferreira da Silva, Luís Lucas Dantas da Silva, “Kant: A Formação Moral como uma Tarefa Histórica da Espécie Humana,” Espaço Pedagógico vol. 21, no. 1 (Passo Fundo: Universidade de Passo Fundo, 2014), 133.
11. Friedrich Nietzsche, Aurora, trans. Antônio Carlos Braga (São Paulo: Escala, 2007), 17–18.
12. Kant, 2001, 653.
13. Becker, 1992, 35.
14. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, trans. João Paulo Monteiro (São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2000), 53.
15. Becker, 1992, 38.
16. Becker, 1992, 145.
17. Arthur Schopenhauer, O Mundo como Vontade e como Representação, trans. Jair Barboza (São Paulo: UNESP, 2005), 160.
18. Becker, 1992, 180.
19. Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pysczcynski. “Tales from the Crypt: on the Role of Death in Life.” Zygon, vol. 33, no. 1 (Chicago, Illinois: March 1988), 20.
20. Hans Vaihinger, A Filosofia do Como Se, trans. Johannes Kretschmer (Chapecó: Argos, 2011), 633.
21. Peter Berger, Thomas Luckmann, A Construção Social da Realidade, trans. Floriano de Souza Fernandes (Petrópolis: Vozes, 1985), 173.
22. Michel Maffesoli, O Tempo das Tribos: o Declínio do Individualismo nas Sociedades de Massa, trans. Maria de Lourdes Menezes (Rio de Janeiro: Forense Universitária, 1987), 9.
23. Vaihinger, 2011, 631.
24. Rank, 1978, 22–23.
25. Arthur Schopenhauer, Sobre a Vontade na Natureza, trans. Gabriel Valladão Silva (Porto Alegre: L&PM editores, 2013), 209–210.
26. Rank, 1958, 145–146.
27. Ibid., 146.
28. Immanuel Kant, Filosofia da História, trans. Cláudio J. A. Rodrigues (São Paulo: Ícone, 2012), 101.
29. Kant, 2001, 616–617.
30. Otto Rank, Psychology and the Soul, trans. Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 8.
31. Rank, 1978, 71.
Becker, Ernest, La Estructura del Mal: Un Ensayo sobre la Unificación de la Ciencia del Hombre. Translated by Carlos Valdés. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1993.
—. La Lucha Contra el Mal. Translated by Carlos Valdés. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992.
Berger, Peter. L. and Luckmann, Thomas. A Construção Social da Realidade. Translated by Floriano de Souza Fernandes. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1985.
Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens. Translated by João Paulo Monteiro. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 2000.
Kant, Immanuel. Crítica da Razão Pura. Translated by Manuela Pinto dos Santos and Alexandre Fradique Morujão. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian, 2001.
—. Filosofia da História. Translated by Cláudio J. A. Rodrigues. São Paulo: Ícone, 2012.
Lieberman, E. James. Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.
Maffesoli, Michel. O Tempo das Tribos: o Declínio do Individualismo nas Sociedades de Massa. Translated by Maria de Lourdes Menezes. Rio de Janeiro: Forense Universitária, 1987.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Aurora. Translated by Antônio Carlos Braga. São Paulo: Escala, 2007.
Rank, Otto. Art and Artist. Translated by Charles Francis Atkinson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1989.
—. Beyond Psychology. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1958.
—. Psychology and the Soul. Translated by Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998.
—. Truth and Reality. Translated by Jessie Taft. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. O Mundo como Vontade e como Representação. Translated by Jair Barboza. São Paulo: UNESP, 2005.
—. Sobre a Vontade na Natureza. Translated by Gabriel Valladão Silva. Porto Alegre: L&PM, 2013.
Silva, André Gustavo Ferreira and Luís Lucas Dantas da Silva. “Kant: A Formação Moral como uma Tarefa Histórica da Espécie Humana”. Espaço Pedagógico, vol. 21, no. 1, (Passo Fundo: Jan./Jun. 2014), 132–145.
Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg and Tom Pysczcynski. “Tales from the Crypt: on the Role of Death in Life.” Zygon, vol. 33, no. 1 (Chicago, Illinois: March 1988), 9–43.
Vaihinger, Hans. A Filosofia do Como Se. Translated by Johannes Kretschmer. Chapecó: Argos, 2011.
The Weight of Philosophy in Otto Rank’s Psychoanalysis
Julio R. Costa
Among the early psychoanalysts who, together with Freud, formed the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Otto Rank, together with Hans Sachs, had a special position, in that he was not a member of the medical profession. Because he departed from Freud’s views on psychoanalytical theory and therapy, his work requires comprehensive analysis in order to further probe its acknowledged profundity.
Considering the fact that Otto Rank was the only member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society to hold a doctorate in Philosophy, we aim in this article to make clear how that field had a decisive impact on Rank’s ideas, and moreover, how Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Kant influenced his work.
Considering these philosophers, along with Freud, as having provided a broad foundation for his work, it may be said that Rank:
- Accepted the fictional nature of human constructions, from Nietzsche;
- From Schopenhauer, adopted the will as the foundation of the world and of human beings’ contact with the world; and
- With Kant, considered the noumenon to be the locus of the being, such that ideologies and their social structures are doomed to fail and must, with the passage of time, be discredited; while the human person’s being is located in the Kantian noumenon, and therefore has a worth that can never be discredited.
2. An Overview of His Theory
Rank considered that the creative impulse in the individual, which contains in its core the will, propitiates a process in which people become more and more distinguished and differentiated. All this development unfolds through the individual, for as long as he fights, conquers, creates and interacts with others. Therefore, the individual becomes an affirmative agent, who learns and recreates the community’s values. In the process, the development of the will and progressive individuation tend to turn the individual, as far as permitted by the human constraints, into the creator of his or her own personality and, symbolically, the creator of himself or herself. This implies the individual’s intention to self-perpetuate, mainly symbolically, outlasting the ideologies of the different historical contexts and cultures.
These great systems of belief, which Rank called ideologies, eventually become ineffective and are discarded in the trash heap of history. However, the termination of every ideology causes no harm to the individual’s being, inasmuch as Rank, influenced by Kantian epistemology and ethics, placed the being within the noumenon – as will become clear below.
It should be pointed out that anthropologist Ernest Becker has offered the most widely known recognition of Otto Rank’s contribution. Becker’s theory deals with the cultural constructions necessary for the individual to confront his or her condition of finitude. To overcome a handicapping fear that arises from the awareness of one’s own constraints and eventual death, the human person, in his or her interaction with others, builds mechanisms that will preserve and enhance self-esteem and the ability to effectively interact in the social world. This viewpoint does postulate a consoling role of cultural elements, as a way of self-deception. On the other hand, we can see in Rank’s work the positive affirmation of will and meaning. In this article, we will focus on this positive aspect, understood as affirmation of life, which could, through philosophy, be seen as deriving from the primacy of the will, the fictional aspect of human constructions, and the person’s being as part of the Kantian noumenon.
Therefore, it is very relevant to an understanding of Rank’s psychoanalysis that all this replaces self-deception with affirmation of life and meaning.
3. Culture and the Being
It is important to highlight the fact that when Rank spoke of the different cultures and mentioned the diverse religions and symbolic systems of the peoples, he observed a respect for those social constructions and never debunked them or had recourse to irony. When he talked about cultures, whether Western or of a completely different tradition, he never once discredited them, like somebody who compares them with what he considers to be modern Western rationality.
A reading of Rank reveals to us a melancholic and stoic intellectual in his analysis of the heroic expression of the will deep within the person, in the being. In contrast, we see the fragility of the social expression of the being throughout history, due to the fictional nature of social constructions in the face of the individual’s will – which is the very foundation of life.
The question of the fictional nature of things is derived from Nietzsche, while the will, as the foundation of being, is derived from Schopenhauer. Kant’s “determine thyself by thyself” provides the ethical criticism in Rank’s theory, preserving it from Nietzsche’s scepticism and Schopenhauer’s pessimism while maintaining the critical nature of these authors’ views.
According to Rank, we must recognize that a human being needs to express his or her being, a differentiated being capable of interacting and integrating with a community. Furthermore, it is of fundamental importance that this program of being guarantee the perpetuation of those values that permit the expression of one’s subjectivity in the world. It should be stressed that what one is looking for is the perpetuation of the values of subjectivity and its dignity, with a degree of abstraction that will lead us to the Kantian noumenon.
Thus, what will be a problem for the being is the fragility and failure of the social constructions of perpetuation of subjectivity, which Rank designates as ideologies. Although also shared by the individuals, they are very close to established social structures, and eventually become ineffective in guaranteeing the symbolic perpetuation of the subject. We observe that the symbols that were pertinent for a culture, that provided an expansion of the being (here considered as the person), have needed to be replaced.
4. From Dogmatism to Criticism, via Scepticism and Pragmatism
Apart from some Schopenhauer’s influences, there was no metaphysics in Rank. However, what could easily be perceived was his estrangement from Freud, principally in relation to the materialism that the latter represented. Actually, that was Freud’s main distinguishing feature vis-à-vis the understanding of psychology at the time.
As pointed out by E. James Lieberman, Freud’s success lay in the creation of a system of investigation and comprehension that broke away from religious or supernatural ideas, i.e., from dogmatism:
Freud – atheist, neurologist, and former hypnotist – championed a psychology without spiritualism and metaphysics, in order to meet the requirements of the new scientific materialism, and called religion an illusion without future. Rank respected religion whether or not it is illusion. (Lieberman, in Rank, 1998, xviii).
At this point, we need to clearly understand how and why Rank respected the elements of culture, “whether or not they were illusions.” We see that psychoanalysis expressed an evolution from traditional dogmatism to the scepticism of Freud’s rationalism and scientific attitude.
The fact is that to be consistent with his own position, Freud would have had to discredit the traditional symbolic codes, considering them to be an illusion. What Rank was to do, to be consistent in his respect for culture “whether or not it is an illusion,” would be to take one step from scepticism to pragmatism, and move on to criticism. In this process, the scepticism was to be that of Freud, whom the young Rank had enthusiastically supported; the pragmatism, on the other hand, was to be that of Nietzsche. Finally, we have Kant’s criticism – where we may find the roots of what we could consider an ethics present in Rank.
Let’s start with the question of pragmatism. It says that we assume to be true whatever it is relevant to know. Truth is seen as agreement between thought and being. At certain times, however, this affirmation has been undermined and questioned. That was when the question of philosophical pragmatism (which grew out of scepticism), with its stress on the useful, was raised. In the quote from Lieberman, the idea of pragmatism is clear: whether or not it is an illusion, religion does have utility in human society. This was the attitude shared by Rank, and for him the roots of this idea of the value of utility were basically in Nietzsche. In addition, as representatives of pragmatism, we may cite Schiller and Vaihinger, in philosophy, and, in psychology, William James.
So what was it like, this pragmatism in Nietzsche? It is necessary to stress one point: according to Nietzsche, agreement between thought and being can never be achieved, because of human historicity. Self-awareness is the least developed “organ” in the human being. For living beings, who need to act to establish themselves in the world, the primordial force is not intelligence, but the will to power.
So the human being is a being who needs to act; only in order to act better does he need to think. Thus a judgement derived from thought becomes true to the degree that it conserves, expands and stimulates life. This then becomes the parameter of validity of a judgement – its practicality. According to Nietzsche, what we must evaluate is whether or not a determined truth judgement is at the service of the will to power, i.e., of the expansion of life.
It may be seen that Rank fully internalized the pragmatic point of view; the contents of culture do not need to have their validity confirmed per se, because the important thing is their utility in providing the person with a symbology of perpetuation, a basis for “being more”, in general.
However, Rank does not stop with pragmatism. If it is necessary to guarantee the expansion of being, it is quite natural for us to ask, what being are we talking about, if we consider metaphysics to be impossible? It is at this point that Kant’s criticism comes in.
Kant also experienced the passage from dogmatism to scepticism as a personal journey, mainly in relation to Hume, within British empiricism. While he did agree with Hume with regard to the contingency of knowledge – from which it was inferred that there never has been and never could be a metaphysics – Kant considered the ethical consequences of scepticism to be unacceptable. Actually, all German idealism (in which Kant included himself) found itself engaged in defending reason against the doubt and relativism of British empiricism. Kant, specifically, saw himself as driven to defend reason against scepticism, and this is very important for our understanding of Rank. Kant defines this as a critique of the very possibility of knowing, in order that speculative illusions, characteristic of dogmatism, might be avoided, along with the reduction of everything to experience, in the case of scepticism.
It is well worth returning to pragmatism in order to see how much of Kant can be found in Nietzsche, precisely in relation to the possibility of knowing.
5. Knowledge and Fiction
Nietzsche’s pragmatism focused on the life to be lived immediately; it was space without the infinite and time without eternity. It abandoned the metaphysics of Schopenhauer, to whom Nietzsche in his youth had referred as “my master.” Thus, in his early works, such as On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, the young Nietzsche had asked, “what can we know for sure about the world, and to what extent can we really know about the world?”
Nietzsche’s doubt already was very broad: how can we be sure that the world reveals itself to our senses as it really is? We are not as yet asking whether our senses are capable of perceiving the world, but rather if the world itself, understood as the true world, fully reveals itself. Furthermore, the world causes a nervous stimulus to our senses that may not exactly reproduce the external stimulus; this excitement will trigger a thought in the brain, and we do not know how faithful this thought will be to the nervous stimulus. And we do not know how faithful the word that expresses the thought will be to that thought.
Based on these perspectives, we can say that we only have approximations, or, in Nietzsche’s critique, collectively shared illusions. As he said:
What is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms, in short, a sum of human relations which were poetically and rhetorically heightened, transferred, adorned, and which after long use seem solid, canonical and binding to a people: truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions; metaphors which have been used up and drained of sensory force; coins which have lost their image and are now considered as metal, no longer as coins (Nietzsche, 2014, p. 66.).
For us to understand pragmatism in Rank, it is important to discuss how strongly this doubting of the capacity to know saps the foundations of any system purporting to be absolute, with emphasis on the moral and the social. Nietzsche, however, followed this path to discredit not only social systems but also the very individual, to the extent that consciousness of oneself is extremely weak in relation to the forces of nature, and also because its constructions have no basis. When Nietzsche told us not to have any egoism, he meant that that which our consciousness thinks important for us is nothing compared to what the forces of life and nature are, as it were, planning for us, and that our will – the will to cultivate our fictional “I” – has no bearing on the flow of events. But Nietzsche also told us not to abandon egoism only to fall into altruism, for the will of another similarly has no power, in the grand scheme of things, on whatever life has reserved for him, – not to mention the fabrication that his supposed self-conscious awareness really does exist.
In the course of this paper, we shall see why Rank accepted Nietzsche’s critique of the absolute foundation of social systems, while at the same time rejecting his critique of consciousness and of a person’s being.
6. The Human a priori and the Noumenon
It was Hans Vaihinger who said that “there is more Kant in Nietzsche than one usually thinks”. In his opinion, this comes from that radical doubt regarding the capacity to know the world. This doubt, according to Vaihinger, originated from Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (2011), which discusses the issue of the phenomenon and the thing in itself.
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant analyzed the possibility of knowing, and, seeing knowledge as contingent upon the human a priori, challenged the possibility of a metaphysics, in the sense of knowledge of God, the world and the soul. One also must remember that Kant, as a philosopher of the Enlightenment, aimed at attacking all dogmatism.
But we need to understand how he intended to protect reason against skepticism using something that could support skepticism. The answer is in his later work Critique of Practical Reason, in which he laid the foundations of morals, introducing criticism as an alternative to both dogmatism and skepticism.
Kant sought an ethics that could be found by a man of the Enlightenment, in which the dogmatic, supernatural drivers of morals should be replaced by categories that could be rationally argued.
Kant’s reference to the “Copernican revolution” aimed precisely at showing the subject’s reason as the driver of knowledge of the object. The subject’s capacity to know dominates the object. We shall see that the fact that reason no longer bowed before the object of knowledge, always remaining faithful to its own laws and consistent with itself, was extremely important. Reason became law-giving reason. This was not so when the object dominated the subject and the latter’s act of knowing.
This development was necessary for Kant, due to dogmatism’s failure to apprehend reality, particularly through the metaphysical attempts intrinsic to dogmatism. One aimed to know in such a way that could be as effective and verifiable as the knowledge stemming from logic and mathematics. Kant thus had to study reason itself, its innate characteristics, rules and boundaries.
Kant posited that nature is always questioned by means of requirements already encompassed by human reason, that is, in a priori forms of knowledge. The human being knows the real through such forms, which exist a priori in reason, and which his capacity to know places above the data of sensory experience. Everything real is thus a human construct stemming from sensorial experience submitted to the a priori forms of pure reason. That which is beyond the reach of reason is the thing in itself, the ultimate reality, which the human being cannot know, but can think about through symbols.
Kant differs from metaphysical thought in that the subject and subjectivity have no “substance,” but there is a consciousness of oneself that accompanies every cognitive action and every conscious experience. These cognitive actions are established within boundaries that outline the experience of phenomena, for it is impossible for consciousness to have reference to that which is beyond phenomena (the thing in itself). But this consciousness of oneself has to be assumed. Accepting that we have no immediate experience of the objects of our senses, but only reach them through representations supplied by those possibilities already encompassed by reason, we conclude that consciousness of objects is no more or less worthy than consciousness of oneself, because they are simultaneous.
We must note that only the phenomenon, the world of phenomena immediately available to human beings, can be known. It can be both known and thought of. In contrast, the world of moral determinations is not the object of sensory experience; it can only be thought of. It is the world of the noumenon, separate from the phenomenon. Phenomena thus exist in the visible world, and the noumena in the intelligible world, which is supersensible. However – and this was very important for Kant – the supersensible world was not metaphysical or supernatural; it was a world that could only be conceived of by means of symbols that the reason needs to postulate. It is necessary within the realm of practical action, in accordance with reason; it becomes, therefore, moral action.
It is noteworthy that in this intelligible world, which is “comprehensible only in the moral aspect” and where all determinations are moral, Kant follows Plato’s ancient notion of a world of ideas (Kant, 2012, p. 107). Kant said:
Because we here treat (or judge) only ideas that reason created for itself, whose purposes (if any) lay far beyond our horizon, and because, even if we must assume them useless for speculative knowledge, they need not because of this be void in every sense, but the very law-giving reason puts them within our reach with a practical purpose, not for us to ponder on its objects, on what they are in themselves and according to their nature, but for us to think to the benefit of moral principles focusing on the ultimate purpose of all things (whereby these ideas, which would otherwise be utterly empty, receive objective practical reality). (Kant, 2012, p.112).
Rank said that the human being is a “theological being,” but he never discussed God, but rather culture in relation to the idea of God as a means for the perpetuation of the individual and his or her subjectivity. We could say that Rank used these concepts as if they were Kant’s regulative principles and Vaihinger’s fictions. This will likewise be reflected in the fictional character of human constructs in Nietzsche, in whose work we can also find the presence of the Kantian thing in itself:
We have to establish this principle: we live only by our illusions – our conscience emerges on the surface. Many things are hidden from our eyes. There is no reason to fear that man will come to know himself fully, that he will at every instant penetrate all relationships of strength … that are necessary for life. … They are only formulae for forces that are utterly unknowable. (Nietzsche, 2013, p. 349).
If we take these so-called illusions as the Kantian regulative principles, Otto Rank’s work takes on a new dimension. Kant saw the regulative principles as ideas that are not knowledge but rather establish guidelines and milestones for procedures in the act of knowing. Constitutive principles, however, lay the foundation for the objectives and possibilities of knowledge based on sensory data.
These fictions would also entail accepting as the noumenon the sphere where he places the being, in view of the respect with which he treats the subject – which Rank never discredits and whose sincerity he acknowledges.
7. Will, Affirmation and Autonomy
Although Kant made no room for metaphysics, Schopenhauer, even when criticizing Kant, created a metaphysics, by considering the will as the ultimate reality. It will be because of Schopenhauer that certain considerations approaching the metaphysical will appear in the work of Otto Rank.
Let us remember that in Kant, speculative thought (as expressed in the Critique of Pure Reason) recognizes the world of phenomena as its boundary and stops there, acknowledging that it cannot know the thing in itself. However, Schopenhauer saw the thing in itself as being the will, and thus pushed thought beyond that boundary, now seeing the will as the thing in itself.
Being a metaphysical concept for Schopenhauer, the will does not depend on anything biological; indeed, Schopenhauer avers that living beings came to existence to fill the void that the will contained in itself.
In his considerations on the human being, Schopenhauer stated that that which is not phenomenon in the individual is the will, and that the thing in itself also is the will. The will reveals itself through its representation, emerging as the world and being thus perceived by the subject – and this is why Schopenhauer thought the world is assured for the subject.
Schopenhauer’s concept of the will, as the foundation of the world of phenomena, is present in Otto Rank. Indeed, Rank wrote that the individual is
… the temporal representative of the cosmic primal force no matter whether one calls it sexuality, libido, or id. The ego accordingly is strong just in the degree to which it is the representative of this primal force and the strength of this force represented in the individual we call the will (Rank, 1978, p. 4).
One must here note that Rank really did take into consideration the human subject and the being, because therein, implicitly, lies the Kantian ethics. This takes us again to Rank’s common ground with Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, because this distancing of the being from the social and historical context becomes not only implicit, but necessary.
Thus, Rank reflects Nietzsche’s pragmatism in an amalgam with Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, in the primacy of the will in relation to consciousness and the intellect:
… will, guilt and consciousness maintain themselves differently, for the will, however one comprehends or interprets it, remains a constantly operating force, while consciousness above all is a quality, a state, and as such is passive and temporary, yes momentary (Rank, 1978, p. 90).
If Schopenhauer’s ideal was the annihilation of the will because it is the incessant compulsion that should not exist and causes pain, in Nietzsche one finds the enjoyment of the immediate power of life, without the need for any ultimate absolute or purpose.
Within this context, it may be said that Rank sustained
- The neutral aspect of the primacy of the will;
- The negative aspect of its compulsiveness; and
- The positive aspect of the will as a pragmatic affirmation of life.
Furthermore, influenced by Kant’s Enlightenment aspects, Rank added his epistemology and ethics, so that we may add the following:
- The self-determination aspect, whereby the individual transforms compulsion into liberty, guiding the will by means of a project of affirmation grounded in the being, which is considered as noumenon.
It is very important that at this point, the will is no longer subordinated to the phenomenon, but rather to the noumenon.
To illustrate the presence of Kant, let us focus, for example, on the issue of time as form. In Kantian epistemology, the matter of the phenomenon constitutes the sensation, and forms are the structures that make it possible to give order to the materials received from experience (Mora, 1996, p. 305). For Kant, time is an a priori form of the internal states of human beings, i.e., the form of the succession of representations in the human being as an arrangement of internal perception. It is conceivable that Otto Rank kept the Kantian concept of time as a form of conscience, while at the same time we can see in him the presence of Schopenhauer’s concept of compulsion as the origin of pain:
Therefore, from the standpoint of the psychology of emotions, consciousness shows itself as a time problem in the sense that time represents the form of consciousness and by means of this time factor makes the different contents pleasurable or painful. Will as the constant driving force strive accordingly to prolong its pleasurable perceived affirmation through consciousness, to make the feeling of happiness lasting, that is, redeeming. Insofar as this prolongation succeeds, it is perceived as painful because compulsory… (Rank, 1978, p. 89).”
As we can see, the inner states unavoidably change; for Kant, this is the very ground of our perception of time.
8. The Noumenon and the Contingency
One must understand that Kant had accepted Hume’s skepticism, but could not accept its moral consequences. Thus, what he deemed impossible to attain by speculative reason he attained by practical reason, permitting him to defend reason against skepticism. This made it possible for Kant to legitimately refer to the “‘homo noumenon,’ whose pilgrimage is in eternity (Kant, 2012, p. 114)” – and this without any metaphysics, only referencing the moral world.
Where does this touch Otto Rank? Exactly in the “ineffable spirit” mentioned by E. James Lieberman in the introduction to Rank’s book Psychology and the Soul, referring to the form Rank employed to deal with intangible concepts, which Freud, loyal to his scientific view, could only consider illusions.
The experience of the noumenon, pertaining to the moral world, is found in the regulative principles. According to Hans Vaihinger, the fictions mentioned by the early Nietzsche are equivalent to regulative principles, outlining the boundaries for understanding an inexact and ever flowing reality. Moreover, Denis Thouard remarked that the noumenon may be thought of symbolically:
Imagination appropriated this, compelled by an impulse that may be subjectively understood but cannot be objectively followed. These domains are left for myth, religion, literature, which are entitled to suspend reference (Thouard, 2004, p. 75).
For Kant, knowing and thinking are not equivalent. Phenomena may be known and thought of, but the noumenon can only be thought of. This brings momentous consequences. One might think that something that exists only symbolically should not be taken into consideration. To exist only as a symbol would be tantamount to not existing. But according to Kant, that which can only be thought of symbolically must be thought of symbolically, and will have a legitimate place in people’s lives. It is exactly in this manner that we can reach the supersensible world, where all determinations are moral and expressed by means of the symbolic life.
In this way, we can correctly grasp Rank’s attitude towards culture.
Otto Rank often stated that the human being wishes to escape from purely material and biological determinations in his quest for spiritual determinations. “Spiritual” here means the same as “cultural,” the fruit of the being’s choices in the universe of moral determinations, where human will can act. According to Kant, all of this alludes to the noumenon, not to illusion. The legitimate use of reason leads us to the noumenon, to the unconditioned; reasons allows us to think of it without the presumption – or the need – to obtain from it any sensory data, because the latter belongs to phenomena, while a moral law, which stems from reason, requires not the phenomenon but the noumenon.
Through the noumenon, Rank spoke to us of the being, which brushes up against the various ideologies of immortality, contingent on the different contexts of history, which have helped individuals to seek their own symbolic perpetuation. But the individual, as a being, does not depend on these ideologies to be, but rather to present himself to the world. The being remains unscathed, presenting itself as detached from social contexts, which are doomed to fail. And it is here that subjectivity will be protected: it concerns the noumenon and is not undermined by the world of phenomena.
It is important to make clear that only the being has a fundamental quality in the moral sense – which is important in Rank’s thought, in that the individual does not have to submit himself or herself to the phenomenon, given that one’s being resides in the noumenon. Only this can detach the individual from contingency; and this permits Rank to question the limitations of the several ideologies of immortality that have followed one another throughout history, without discrediting the human person and his or her being.
The importance of this notion of a “detached” being lies in its shedding of all aspects that could be mistakenly considered “essential” within the world of phenomena. In this sense, Rank followed Kant’s moral self-determination. In other words, human beings must be morally conditioned to nothing in the sensory world. The life-heightening and life-propagating property, and the ensuing affirmation of the being, reside not in any aspect of the sensory world, but rather in how the will expresses itself in order to attain this affirmation. We thus see that criticism has penetrated pragmatism.
9. Affirmation and Dignity
Using the very internal laws of reason, which are simultaneous to perception of the sensory world, a position of respect for human beings and their dignity becomes the correct one to take. Rank, in his narrative of the obsolescence of ideologies of immortality over time, in what he termed the “eternal drama of life,” at a certain point mentions a “lowering of the curtains” in the historical saga, when one can exist only in and of oneself:
The subjects of my former interest – the hero, the artist, the neurotic – all come back once more on stage, not only as participants in the eternal drama of life but also after the curtain has come down: unmasked, undressed, unpretentious. Not debunked by any means, just human, while I myself do not pretend to pull their strings, to tell them what to do and say, nor to interpret them to the audience (Rank, cited by Lieberman, 1993, pp. 387-388).
One may therefore say that Rank considers the being to be outside historical contingency, where human beings would exist even after “the curtains of the drama of life have come down,” where people would exist “naked, without masks, without pretensions,” and where they could be “just human,” and still in no way be discredited.
Only in the universe of the noumenon, where all determination is moral, can the human being reclaim his right to moral dignity, without the need for any self-deception. Likewise, this makes it possible to bring the experience of ethics into the world of phenomena, of contingency. Otherwise, if social life were a monolith of power and domination, each member of society would forever be an accomplice in his or her own domination, with no possibility for the exercise of reason to show another way; because a critique of power would be impossible for the faculty of reason.
Thus we may understand the degree of Rank’s wisdom in incorporating Kant’s epistemology and ethics, and thus placing the being of the human person outside of contingency. We also better understand the wisdom of Kant’s introduction of criticism, which makes it possible to avoid both dogmatism and scepticism.
Taking as our starting point the philosophers that influenced Rank to take his position, we may say that reason demands that the being be outside of contingency, remaining untouched by it; it needs to be where Kant placed the super sensible: in the moral universe. Finally, it becomes possible to acknowledge the importance of the human symbolic repertoire and its many manifestations, “whether or not they are illusions,” for human culture, meaning and values remain as affirmations so long as the being dwells in the noumenon.
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