In the theory of psycho-analysis we have no hesitation in assuming that the course taken by mental events is automatically regulated by the pleasure principle. We believe, that is to say, that the course of those events is invariably set in motion by an unpleasurable tension, and that it takes a direction such that its final outcome coincides with a lowering of that tension—that is, with an avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure. In taking that course into account in our consideration of the mental processes which are the subject of our study, we are introducing an ‘economic’ point of view into our work; and if, in describing those processes, we try to estimate this ‘economic’ factor in addition to the ‘topographical’ and ‘dynamic’ ones, we shall, I think, be giving the most complete description of them of which we can at present conceive, and one which deserves to be distinguished by the term ‘metapsychological’.
We have become accustomed to the term “compulsion” when we speak of compulsion neuroses—in other words, a neurosis which makes the sufferer therefrom aware that he is “compelled by something” to make this or that gesture or this or that turn or else he feels uncomfortable, uneasy, at times plainly anxious. It is hardly necessary to go into more detail to observe that the compulsive element of which Freud speaks when he speaks of compulsive repetition is something that the individual is not conscious of, that the compulsive element in this concept is something which is not neurotic at all, or not necessarily, and that it is just as or no more compulsive than breathing or the changing of the seasons.
To use the term “compulsive” here connotes something that it is not and implies things which are not necessarily there—a rather strange semantic fuzziness on the part of that uniquely clear-minded thinker. Such unclarities are strewn throughout many of Freud’s writings and translations, and if they do not always confuse the casual reader or even the student, one would do well in being forewarned and therefore in reading and studying Freud with considerable caution and prudence.
One more example: the second major innovation which Freud introduced into psychoanalytic thinking was the concept of the death instinct. Now we have become accustomed, particularly since Freud emphasized the role of instincts in the conscious and unconscious life of man, to consider an instinct a drive, an impulsive or perpetually compelling aspiration to gratify a need. In German, Freud uses the words Trieb and Triebhaft, which mean instinct, instinctual drive, a sense of being driven toward a certain even though not always comprehended goal.
Under the circumstances, the term ‘ death instinct” ought to mean an aspiration, a drive to be dead. Perhaps Freud was right, even though neither the biologist nor the theologian would find it possible to agree with him. Let us assume that Freud was right; he certainly did not prove his case, because there is nothing instinctual about dying, even though the end is inevitable. Here again we find a strange semantic or terminological confusion, a tendency to use terms which are familiar to us in the psychoanalytic glossaries, but which in certain contexts become somewhat confusing labels.
The above considerations may serve as a warning that it is not easy to understand great minds even when they appear to speak simply, or perhaps especially when their language appears simple and the terminology familiar.
- Editor’s Note
- Beyond the Pleasure Principle
- List of Abbreviations
- Bibliography and Author Index
- General Index
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