Reading questions for Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, Chapters 1-8

Review these questions before you read and try to look for the answers in the text.  Underline the ideas you think help answer the questions, and take notes in the margins of your book to help you make sense of his argument.


1.  At the start of the book, Freud talks about an “exceptional friend” of his, who read Freud’s earlier book, The Future of Illusion, and wrote a letter to Freud responding to his ideas about religion.   What does this friend claim as the “true source of religious sentiment” and how does Freud respond?

2.  What is the “oceanic” feeling of which Freud speaks?

3. What is the “ego” and in what instances does the boundary between the ego and the outside world “melt away”?

4. How does the ego recognize an object apart from itself, and how does it detach itself from the outside world?

5.  Even though Freud claims that the ego undergoes a process of separating itself from the outside world, he claims that a remnant of that connection between ego and external world remains.  What two analogies does he use to help us understand this idea?

6.  So to what, finally, does Freud attribute this “oceanic feeling”, and to what does he ultimately attribute as the source of religious sentiment?


1.  What three measures help us to deal with “the pains, disappointments and impossible tasks” of life?

2.  What, according to Freud, does humankind demand of life?  What, that is, does he believe we show by our behavior to be the purpose and intention of our lives

3.  What is the “Pleasure Principle”?

4. What are the three sources of suffering by which we are threatened?

5. What is the “Reality Principle”?

6.  What are the methods Freud believes we use to avoid “unpleasure”?

7.  What is libido and how is it displaced or sublimated? Why is “work” not always a successful means of sublimation?

8. What is the one method by which we might actually attain happiness and fulfillment? Why?

9. How does religion work as a path to happiness, according to Freud, and why is it problematic?


1. In Chapter 3, Freud focuses on the third source of suffering—society itself—and ultimately claims that “what we call our civilization is largely responsible for our misery.” Why?

2.  How does Freud define civilization?

3. What are the four features of civilization?

4. Focus on the fourth feature of civilization, social relationships, and explain how and why the power of the community both causes and restricts happiness.

5. How is the process of civilization like the libidinal development of the individual? (What is libidinal development anyway?).

6.  How is civilization built upon a renunciation of instinct?

7.  What task does Freud set for himself in the remaining chapters of the book?

Ch. 4

To what, according to freud, does civilization owe its origins?

How did it arise?

What has determined it’s course?

What is the story Freud tells us about the origin of the family?

Who, or what, is the Band of Brothers?

Who can be happy in love?

What are the different kinds of love?

What is women’s role in the formation of civilization?

On p.86, Freud states that “The sexual life of civilized man is notwithstanding severely impaired; it sometimes gives the impression of being in the process of involution as a function, just as our teeth and hair seem to be as organs.” Do you agree?  why or why not?

According to Freud, is the human psyche gendered?  What is his stance on bisexuality?


Why does freud feel we cannot “love thy neighbor as thyself”?

Why do we need scape goats?

What is narcissism?

What is the Death Drive and how does it contribute to civilization?

How does civilization inhibit aggressiveness?

How does conscience form?

What is the origin of guilt?

What is the superego?

Why are we discontent?

What does Freud believe to be the “fateful question for the human species” and how do you think the question is answered by the historical events succeeding the publication of C&D?

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