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William Knowles McIntire

I earned a BA in philosophy with departmental honors from Webster University, with minors in both psychology and English literature. I earned an MA in Continental Philosophy from the University of Warwick before beginning my PhD there under the supervision of Keith Ansell-Pearson. My primary academic interests concern Helenistic and Kantian influences traversing through Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud, and particularly focused on aesthetics, ethics, drive-theory, and the idea of happiness. I'm also generally interested in lebensphilosophie, hermeneutics and phenomenology as well as psychoanalytic theory, psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory (socio-cultural and biological).


Living as Sublimated Dying: an Aesthetic Orientation

There are many inconsistencies and a lot of confusion in the literature dealing with drive-theory, demonstrated in Freud’s own works as well. One source of this pertains to the acceptance or rejection of the death-drive. Another source is Freud’s reformulation of the self-preservative instincts and sex drives into a single category called Eros. I resolve these issues by dethroning Eros and reducing all drives to the death-drive, also eliminating the destructiveness and aggressiveness that are often attributed to the death-drive as inherent qualities. I demonstrate, instead, that the apparent pluralities of drives (both self-preservative and sexual) are vicissitudes of the death drive (the entropic principle's possibilities in an open system).

Following this reconceptualization, drive-theory of psychoanalysis represents a dispositional field from which emerges an aesthetic orientation that is grounded in the procurement of pleasure and the alleviation or elimination of unpleasure. In other words, the aesthetic orientation is an organizational mediation rooted in the direct or indirect satisfaction of drives and desires ('desires' being those refracted aspects of drives of which we become conscious).

The emergence of ethical values arise epiphenomenally from this aesthetic orientation. In a Kantian sense, morality is established through the vicissitude of reaction-formation and other defence mechanisms. Such a morality is egodystonic and is essentially constructed against nature. Kant should be regarded, however, as a product or extension, rather than a source, of such, transitioning from an extrinsically oriented morality (ranging from delusions of 'good' and 'evil' to delusions of 'natural rights') to a neurotic, intrinsically oriented morality (involving counter-cathexes of 'inclinations' or self-interest). Schopenhauer can be regarded as extending this transition to an entirely altruistic orientation, with his focus on the ascetic and the aesthetic life, both of which are proposed by Freud as "techniques in the art of living" in Civilization and its Discontents. Although both exemplify the defense mechanism of reaction-formation, Schopenhauer has, through them, opened the door for Nietzsche's radical rejection of both morality and Schopenhauerian resignation as a philosophy of Death. An ethics, to be understood in a Nietzschean sense, also arises epiphenomenally from an aesthetic orientation but differs from egodystonic morality (exemplified by Kant, Schopenhauer, and at times Freud, but especially in religious and socio-cultural ideologies) in that it does not involve the subjugation of drives to defence mechanisms (such as reaction-formation, repression, and disavowal), and is instead arrived at continuously through processes of sublimation that work with one's nature and 'reality'. The Übermensch, in Nietzsche's work, should be regarded as an archetype of egosyntonic relating, whether the relating is self-, other-, or world-directed.

To put it succinctly, my thesis can be summarized thus: The foundation of aesthetics is a means of organizing and relating with ourselves and the world according to pleasure and unpleasure that naturally emerges from the vicissitudes of the death-drive, and from which an ethics emerges epiphenomenally. Aesthetically, and therefore ethically, we can conceptualize a bifurcation of vicissitudes as egodystonic or egosyntonic -- unhealthy or healthy relating. Where civilization can be demonstrated as being largely egodystonic, and where ‘progress’ and attitudes or valuations tend to arise most frequently from defence mechanisms, health and psycho-social well-being depends upon an egosyntonic means of relating, involving the vicissitude of sublimation. An egodystonic aesthetics and ethics (ie: morality) is characterized by the repression of instincts and drives, working against one's self-interest, demanding the sacrifice of others' interests, or acquiring satisfaction in delusional relations. Altruism is demonstrated to be non existent, but actions and relations can still be refered to as altruistic when maintaining the character of working against self-interest. An egosyntonic ethics is a proactive endeavor to work on one's self and one's relations with others and the environment, harmoniously incorporating our self-interest with the world in which we live and making works of art of our lives and our relationships. In other words, living well requires sublimation of the death-drive.


William K. McIntire

supervisor: Keith Ansell-Pearson

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