Civilization and Its Discontents

Marx and Freud: Human Happiness and Human Nature

At the root of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud's differences regarding the nature of human happiness are their almost diametrically opposed models of human nature. Freud describes human nature in terms of universal, instinctive drives, the fulfillment of which constitutes happiness in its most basic form; Marx believes humans to be the only creatures capable of expressing themselves through labor, and posits that this distinctly human self-expression is fundamental to true human happiness. At their most fundamental level, Freud and Marx can be separated by a single assumption: the idea that humans are essentially different from animals. Marx embraces it, seeming to relish the idea of human exceptionalism and dismissing animalistic pleasures as a means of happiness for man; Freud, with the influence of Charles Darwin weighing heavily on his thinking, refrains from making such a distinction, instead understanding man as simply another product of natural selection.

Freud explains human nature through a universal system of unconscious drives, which compel humans to engage in activities such as reproducing, eating and committing aggressive acts. These drives - which presumably stem from the Darwinian process of natural selection, and...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 1444 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 10374 literature essays, 2632 sample college application essays, 518 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in