In this focus on origins, I am reminded again of Gabriel Josipovici's great On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion. In the early pages of the book, Josipovici employs the language of Paul Ricoeur, who called Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx the "masters of suspicion", their work a "hermeneutics of suspicion". As Josipovici puts it, these writers
revealed that what we had taken to be natural, a 'given', was in fact man-made, the result of choices and decisions made by individuals and communities. Thus Marx laid bare the workings of capital, Nietzsche the workings of morality, Freud the workings of sexuality. Where the Enlightenment had seen all men as essentially one, and human nature as unchanging, the nineteenth-century masters of suspicion set about exploring the genealogies, the secret histories, of morals and social institutions, with the aim of freeing men from bonds to which they did not even know they were subject.Nietzsche noted that, though men had (so it apparently seemed to him) largely abandoned Christianity, they "are a long way from being free spirits, because they still believe in truth" and "Any meaning is better than none". But for him, "inquiry [the search for truth] itself stands in need of justification". Josipovici uses these Nietzsche remarks as his springboard into his larger discussion, moving onto, first, Kierkegaard and, more generally, the problems for the writer posed by the crisis of modernity. Interestingly, of the three "masters of suspicion", it is Marx who emerges as the most accurate in his "laying bare" project. All three are still valuable thinkers, since the value of a thinker resides not completely in the accuracy of the conclusions reached, and, indeed, simply arguing persuasively that what had seemed natural was not has liberated other thinkers investigating the same areas. But Marx is the only one of the three whose particular conclusions remain relevant (I'm talking analysis here, not prognostication).
Returning to the matter of origins, an important factor in my having difficulty with the arguments on the origins of things made by Freud or Nietzsche has to do with my familiarity with the work of Chris Knight, which I have referred to several times on the blog, at some length here. One thing that Knight shows, in his application of feminist insights and "selfish gene" theory to the extensive anthropological record, is how right it appears that Marx and Engels were in their writings about the origins of things. Nietzsche and Freud seem to assume a Hobbesian state of nature when they consider such matters; thus, for example, Freud's focus on the so-called "aggressiveness" instinct, which must be repressed into aggression against one's own ego, against the instinct for primal freedom, itself necessarily suppressed by "civilization". Such accounts seem to bypass the emergence of language and culture, assuming that in our original human moment we would have necessarily been much like the other primates, when it's the very differences between humans and other primates that must be explained when one is attempting to explain human nature. Thus one must take into account language. Knight's theory of the sex strike, which puts female humans at the forefront of this process, would no doubt have been anathema to Freud, who, quite aside from his theories on women and sexuality, like Nietzsche, sees men at the origin, with women relegated to child-bearing and child-rearing. That these natural processes might be crucial to any understanding of human nature and origins is, for them, necessarily a priori out of the question.