Guilt and the conscience in Nietzsche, Freud and Kafka.
This thesis attempts to examine and clarify the ideas of conscience and guilt through an examination of the texts of Nietzsche, Freud and Kafka, and to arrive at some conclusions about the truth of the views of Freud and Nietzsche regarding guilt and conscience. I attempt to show that there are significant overlaps in the ways in which Nietzsche (in the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morals), Freud and Kafka (in certain texts) understand the problem of the conscience, and I argue that Freud’s and Nietzsche’s attempts to answer the question of the nature and origin of guilt do not succeed. For both of them, guilt – in the form of the bad conscience in Nietzsche, or in the form of the ego’s experience of the superego in Freud – arises from the redirection of aggressive instincts or instincts of cruelty away from the normal targets – others – and towards oneself, and I try to demonstrate that this view is beset by serious problems. Although I discuss the specific problems with each of their views in detail, the most important general reason why their views of guilt miss the mark is, I argue, that neither adequately distinguishes between guilt and the conscience (including the bad conscience), and so they run together phenomena that in fact call for different explanations. Nietzsche errs in understanding guilt on the basis of debt, and Freud in his theory of the superego does not take sufficient cognizance of an insight into the nature of guilt that he himself provides in Civilization and its Discontents (namely that guilt expresses itself as a need for punishment). Both, however, misunderstand guilt in understanding it as fear, and Nietzsche’s interpretation of Christianity in line with this conception of guilt fails to adequately capture the character of Christianity, and its psychological power.