Thus far we have made psychology on our own responsibility; it is now time to examine the theoretical opinions governing present-day psychology and to test their relation to our theories. The question of the unconscious, in psychology is, according to the authoritative words of Lipps, less a psychological question than the question of psychology. As long as psychology settled this question with the verbal explanation that the “psychic” is the “conscious” and that “unconscious psychic occurrences” are an obvious contradiction, a psychological estimate of the observations gained by the physician from abnormal mental states was precluded. The physician and the philosopher agree only when both acknowledge that unconscious psychic processes are “the appropriate and well-justified expression for an established fact.” The physician cannot but reject with a shrug of his shoulders the assertion that “consciousness is the indispensable quality of the psychic”; he may assume, if his respect for the utterings of the philosophers still be strong enough, that he and they do not treat the same subject and do not pursue the same science. For a single intelligent observation of the psychic life of a neurotic, a single analysis of a dream must force upon him the unalterable conviction that the most complicated and correct mental operations, to which no one will refuse the name of psychic occurrences, may take place without exciting the consciousness of the person. It is true that the physician does not learn of these unconscious processes until they have exerted such an effect on consciousness as to admit communication or observation. But this effect of consciousness may show a psychic character widely differing from the unconscious process, so that the internal perception cannot possibly recognize the one as a substitute for the other. The physician must reserve for himself the right to penetrate, by a process of deduction, from the effect on consciousness to the unconscious psychic process; he learns in this way that the effect on consciousness is only a remote psychic product of the unconscious process and that the latter has not become conscious as such; that it has been in existence and operative without betraying itself in any way to consciousness.
A reaction from the over-estimation of the quality of consciousness becomes the indispensable preliminary condition for any correct insight into the behavior of the psychic. In the words of Lipps, the unconscious must be accepted as the general basis of the psychic life. The unconscious is the larger circle which includes within itself the smaller circle of the conscious; everything conscious has its preliminary step in the unconscious, whereas the unconscious may stop with this step and still claim full value as a psychic activity. Properly speaking, the unconscious is the real psychic; its inner nature is just as unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly reported to us through the data of consciousness as is the external world through the indications of our sensory organs.