Civilization and Its Discontents
While more recent psychologists have disproven Freud’s work on developmental psychology, society remains fixated on his beliefs. One of the most important of these is the pleasure principle, an unfounded assumption that a person acts rationally to minimize discomfort and maximize their pleasure. This theory seems to originate from Aristotle’s assumptions about humanity expressed in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he argued that people who maximize pleasure are unable to function morally. To understand this, we must go a little further into Freud.
Freud argued that there is a balance between the minimizing of discomfort, and the maximizing of pleasure, a belief held by Aristotle as well. Aristotle believed the only ethical way to exist was as a mean between two extremes, for example greed and stinginess. Minimizing risk plays the role of maintaining a mean between pleasure and pain, a parody of the Aristotelian mean as expressed in the Ethics. It is important to recognize that Freud’s assumption here has no evidence to support it, when he writes of it in Civilization and Its Discontents, aside from analogies to other fields.