The Freud Museum


Do animals have an unconscious?

Freud speculated that a superego (a part of the mind that obliges the ego to carry out repression) could theoretically develop in any animal that undergoes a long period of dependency in its infancy. However, he also observed that shame – one of the most obvious signs of repression – seemed to be absent in animals. It's difficult to say whether or not animals have an unconscious in the Freudian sense, since strictly speaking the Freudian unconscious can only be accessed through dialogue. Animals communicate, but they do not have language in the sense that humans do:

  • Language does not seem to be imposed on animals from the outside
  • Animal communication does not seem to allow for slippages of meaning

For some psychoanalysts, these two characteristics of language, otherness and indeterminacy, are preconditions for any talk of the unconscious.

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