I have been interested in the super-ego since I flipped out briefly a long time ago. There are quite few theories. But before I start, the theories that I have read most recently suggest that in order for there to be a super-ego, we must be unaware of it.
I guess that stands to reason. If there is someone else in here with me, then they or I must be a sort of role play type thing. And when you realise you are playing something, then the game or role ends, maybe. So maybe the super-ego is best not studied. I have anyway.
Philippe Rochat “Others in Mind” – this is the most recent and I would say advanced. He claims that infants create a super-ego type ego first and then later become aware of themselves as a pronoun/name or reflection. They don’t then rid themselves of their first ego, but view/listen to the new one from the point of view of the former. He also claims that we can’t be aware of this earlier ego, because that would lead to psychosis. This is a ■■■■■.
Kitaro Nishida is a philosopher of Zen and Phenomenology. His writing is pretty difficult to understand. He claims that we need to have made a devil inside us for us to have a self. I don’t think he is being religious in the usual sense of that term. I think he is saying that the super-ego has a very scary aspect and needs to have that nasty aspect to remain hidden. This conforms with my experience.
Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, back in the 18th century claimed that whenever we decide what to do, consciously, we have to split ourselves into the the the person that is judged and the person that decides/judges who he calls “the impartial spectator.”
Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary theorist (who has subsequently been used by social psychologists such as Hermans and Kempen) says that while we talk to imagined others in mind, e.g. to our friends before we write them a letter, we are always talking off to an extra someone in the wings as it were, to a “super-addressee” of our mental speech.
Vygotsky traces the way in which thought arises out of the babble that infants mumble to themselves and proves (?) that while the babble is self directed, it is also presumed to be heard, since if you put babbling infants in a room with other children that do not understand them at all (speakers of other languages) then after a while the babbling children become silent. Like Bakhtin, Vigosky argues that we presume that our self-speech is overheard.
Jacques Lacan goes on about “the Other” (which may be his version of the superego) but he is very opaque, to me. I spent years reading his books and did not gain much from them. The good thing about Lacan is that, like Nishida, and Rochat he raises the possibility of a visual (“mirror stage”) self, which may explain the Japanese self. Most Western scholars say that there is only a narrative self. E.g.
George Herbert Mead, the founder of social psychology, claims that self narration splits ourselves since when we hear our linguistic narrative of ourself in our mind we hear our words as the words of an other. Language, he feels, creates a split and eventually a “generalised other” in the self.
Thomas Jefferson may be speaking metaphorically, may be not, when he says that “Reason” is a woman that we speak to when we reason.
Late 20th century research on split-brain patients (who give bogus reasons for what their right brain is doing) and normal social psychology experiments (who deny that they were influenced by the experiment, and give bogus reasons for why they acted as they did) and the research of neuroscientists such as Libet, find that reasons and conscious “decisions” come after the real unconscious decisions, as Freud claimed. This leaves the question as to why we think at all.
A variety of recent researchers (Haidt, Rochat to an extent) who believe the evidence that thought comes after decisions, claim that thought is sort of excuse or justification making, so that we can provide excuses for our decisions to others.
However, Derrida, to an extent E Tory Higgins, and perhaps Adam Smith back in the day too, provide a different non-rationalist answer - we don’t split ourself to evaluate ourselves, but pretend to evaluate ourselves in order to split ourselves, to have a loving relationship with ourselves.
Derrida only hints at this. The biggest hints come in his books “Of Gramatology” where he compares writing to masturbation, and in “The Post Card” where he seems to be writing self-addressed postcards which are icky and sexual. He makes puns about “car sex.” Derrida never talks directly about this issue. It is though he too believes to study this issue directly would cause madness – indeed he almost says so in his book “The Ear of the Other.”
Adam Smith provides the evolutionary reason for having a this split in that it makes us greedy, active, and (before the current ecological problems) benefits the economy.
I am not sure what do about all this. I feel I am going to meet my super-ego again, and I am kind of scared, and kind of fascinated. I rarely talk to anyone except here (other than a yearly email to Rochat, which he ignores!). Oh and by the way, I think that the super-ego is very large! I look at Japanese Ultraman cartoons, and think, “yeah”. Freud’s original name for the “super ego” is “Uber Ich” which is more literally translated as “over I.”
Here is an incomplete Bibliography. Most of these only mention the “super-ego” and its varieties briefly in a down to earth way. Several are downloadable, but I am not allowed to post links.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds., V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing). University of Texas Press.
Derrida, J., & McDonald, C. (1985). The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation: Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida. New York: Schocken Books.
Freud, S. (1961). The Ego and the Id. Standard Edition, 19: 12-66. London: Hogarth Press.
Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814.
Haidt, J. (2004). The Emotional Dog Gets Mistaken for a Possum. Review of General Psychology, 8(4), 283–290.
Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.
Higgins, E. T. (1996). The “Self Digest”: Self-knowledge serving self-regulatory functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1062.
Jefferson, T. (1787, August 10). To Peter Carr Paris, Aug. 10, 1787. The Letters of Thomas Jefferson 1743-1826. American History From Revolution To Reconstruction and beyond.
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). New York: W W Norton & Co Inc. (Original work published 1966)
Løvlie, A.-L. (1982). The self, yours, mine, or ours?: a dialectic view. A Scandinavian University Press Publication.
Libet, B. (1999). Do We Have Free Will? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(8–9), 47–57.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, Self, and Society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1934)
Rochat, P. (2009). Others in mind: Social origins of self-consciousness. Cambridge University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard University Press.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1965). 絶対矛盾的自己同一.