In the Freudian system, humans are instinctual beings, the achievement of pleasure through the expression of those instincts being the aim of life. ‘What decides the purpose of life’, argues Freud, ‘is simply the programme of the pleasure principle’ (1930, p. 263). Unfortunately, the programme of the pleasure principle also happens to be ‘at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm’ (ibid.). This is for two main reasons. First, there is the problem of the nature of pleasure itself. Pleasure is a transient phenomenon, which can only come about as a process of reducing tension, tending towards but never fully achieving a state of ease and total inactivity. Prior to death, absolute nirvana cannot be attained because of all the internal and external sources of stimulation which impinge on the psyche. The sensations of unhappiness, by the same token, are much less difficult to experience. All stimulation creates tension, an unpleasurable state that motivates activity of the body or mind in the search for resolution. In addition, humans are faced with real pain from three unremitting sources: the feebleness of their own bodies, the superior power of nature and — most significantly — the activities of other people.
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