Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 65 (3):415-437 (2003)

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Sublimation is usually defined as a defense-mechanism that desexualizes the sexual instincts. This desexualization then results in socio-cultural activities and psychic health. That means that sublimation is a crucial concept for psychoanalytic thinking, because it seems to connect the Freudian metapsychology with both applied psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy. However, in this article I argue that within Freud's theory sublimation is an empty and redundant concept. It is a redundant concept as far as it 'explains' the socio-cultural tendencies of human beings, since these tendencies can be easily understood as the outcome of other defense-mechanisms, such as repression and identification. For that matter, Freud's only example of the sublimation process — found in Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood — is in fact no sublimation, but a classic example of repression followed by symptom-formation. Secondly 'sublimation' is an empty concept with regard to the psychoanalytic therapy, because in that context it is used to explain something that simply never happens, at least according to Freud, namely a perfect recovery and a completely 'terminable' analysis
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