Judgment of Condemnation

views updated


Condemning judgment is one of the possible vicissitudes of a repressed instinctual impulse. It is in fact the most highly elaborated one, since it involves neither flight nor a refusal to give access to the intruding element, but, on the contrary, since it is a judgment, acknowledging the existence of the impulse that will later be condemned.

Sigmund Freud raised the issue of condemning judgments in "Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis" (1910a [1909], p. 53) in the context of a crucial question: If psychoanalysis makes possible the lifting of repression, what happens to the instincts that are liberated in the process? Freud's response is nuanced and consists in emphasizing that other, more conventional instinctual impulses may also have been liberated and can oppose the former. But above all, repression is posited as the result of the time lag between the capacities of the immature ego and its instincts. The work of analysis, in contrast, can lead to an appropriate application of these instincts. What, then, is the role of the condemning judgment? If we wish to see it not just as the conscious form of the operation of repression, we need to emphasize its adjudicatory aspect, which involves a presentation of conflicting elements and a decisiona negative one, in this case. Condemning judgments reproduce on the ethical level what judgments in general effect on the intellectual level. As Freud wrote in "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b): "The place of repression, which excluded from cathexis as productive of unpleasure some of the emerging ideas, was taken by an impartial passing of judgment, which had to decide whether a given idea was true or falsethat is, whether it was in agreement with reality or notthe decision being determined by making a comparison with the memory-traces of reality" (p. 221).

In the case of reality judgments, as with condemning judgments, it is the pleasure principle that sits in the dock. It is conceivable, however, that the results of analysis may be viewed differently in the case of a child as opposed to an adult. We saw earlier that a condemning judgment was one of the possible outcomes for impulses repressed long ago. On the other hand, Freud was far more categorical in the case of "Little Hans," related in "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" (1909b), precisely because the child's maturation was not sufficient to enable him to go beyond what he must condemn. "For analysis," wrote Freud in this essay, "does not undo the effects of repression. The instincts which were formerly suppressed remain suppressed; but the same effect is produced in a different way. Analysis replaces the process of repression, which is an automatic and excessive one, by a temperate and purposeful control on the part of the highest agencies of the mind" (p. 145).

It can be imagined here that condemnation by the child is closely dependent upon condemnation by the adult, in the form of upbringing. The condemning judgment liberates the condemned person in that it limits the fault by specifying its nature. Repression, by contrast, paralyzes psychic and intellectual life because it constitutes a violent action that will be opposed by another action, in the form of the return of the repressed and symptom formation. Freud's humanistic attitude to judgment and its liberating role, which is far from being unique, is evident here in this reference.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Ethics; Law and psychoanalysis; Repression.


Freud, Sigmund. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.

. (1910a [1909]). Five lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 11: 7-55.

. (1911b). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. SE, 12: 213-226.

. (1925h). Negation. SE, 19: 233-239.

About this article

Judgment of Condemnation

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article