Open Minded p.180

We are motivated to discover an explanation of eruptions of human destruction… In postulating a purely biological force, Freud is in effect admitting that there is a limit on any such attempt… As a brutely biological force, the death drive will lack a logos from the perspective of psychoanalysis – that is, it will be unalterable by any talking cure – but presumably it will have a biological account. There would still be the hope of understating it from a biological point of view, and perhaps of altering it via biological intervention… 

The point of postulating a biological death drive rather than a minded Strife is that, from the point of view of psychological motivation, there is nothing to be said about it. To understand it would be to bring it within the domain of logos, and it is of the essence of the death drive to attack any attempted assimilation. On this view, it remains a permanent possibility for human destructiveness to catch us by surprise; for there must be an element in human violence which remains inevitably absurd. These are the moments when we suspect that all this carnage has happened for no reason at all.

These thoughts represent a challenge to psychoanalysis. For it is a regulative principle of psychoanalytic practice that it is possible, though perhaps only in the long run, to give a logos to the apparently disparate flotsam and jetsam which emerge from attempts to free associate. Interpretation is, by its nature, an organizing  and unifying activity. On Freud’s mature theory of the drives, it makes sense that psychoanalysis should be especially successful in interpreting sexual motivation. For sexuality, on the mature theory, is a manifestation of eros, a unifying and organizing force, which has, as other important manifestations, interpretation, understanding, logos. Sexuality may be repressed, it may be confusing, and it may fuel the intrapsychic civil wars we call “neurosis,” but it is comprehensible. As psychoanalysis has moved ever more toward the analysis of aggression, violence, and destructiveness, however, it becomes less clear that what it is analyzing is analyzable. There are certainly intimations in Freud’s later writing that, in attempting to analyze human destructiveness, analysis is bumping up against its own limits.


Jonathan Lear – Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul p.180

The Essential Loewald: On Motivation and Instinct Theory p.125

Triebe were, however, for Freud not just abstract constructs or concepts in a theory of motivation or personality, to be sorted out from other forces of motivation, to be classified and distinguished from affects, perceptual and cognitive processes, and somatic needs. Triebe, instincts, were – much more than scientists, doctors, ministers, judges (“the educated circles”) wanted to admit or know – what made the human world go around, what drove people to act and think and feel the way they do, in excess as well as in self-constriction, inhibition, and fear, in their daily lives in the family and with others, and in their civilized and professional occupations and preoccupations as well. They dominated their love life and influenced their behavior with children and authorities. They made people sick and made them mad. They drove people to perversion and crimes, made them into hypocrites and liars as well as into fanatics for truth and other virtues, or into prissy, bigoted, prejudiced, or anxious creatures. And their sexual needs, preoccupations, and inhibitions turned out to be at the root of much of all this. Rational, civilized, measured, “good” behavior, the noble and kind deeds and thoughts and feelings so highly valued were much of the time postures and gestures, self-denials, rationalizations, distortions, and hideouts – a thin surface mask covering and embellishing the true life and the real power of the instincts.

The life of the body, of bodily needs and habits and functions, kisses and excrements and intercourse, tastes and smells and sights, body noises and sensations, caresses and punishments, tics and gait and movements, facial expression, the penis and the vagina and the tongue and arms and hands and feet and legs and hair, pain and pleasure, physical excitement and lassitude, violence and bliss – all this is the body in the context of human life. The body is not primarily the organism with its organs and physiological functions, anatomical structures, nerve pathways, and chemical processes.

If Freud had not had all this in view, and the vagaries and foibles of people, his own and those of his patients, he would never have been able to write his case histories and to create a scientific psychoanalysis as distinct from both neurology and academic psychiatry and psychology. He would not have been able to understand dreams and jokes and neurosis and the psychopathology of everyday life. He created, partly in spite of his inclinations and not without grave misgivings, an entirely new method and standard of scientific investigation which went counter to scientific principles and methods derived from or devised for a different realm of reality – principles and methods that stultified an appropriate approach to and grasp of psychic life. He could do this because he was unwilling to accept the narrow limitations imposed on science by the science of his day, whose child he remained nevertheless. He broke out of those limits and widened the field of scientific action, while loath to accept the consequences of such a venture in all its implications. But had he not in such a way brought science and life as it is lived together again, psychoanalysis would never have had the impact on modern life and scientific thought that we see today.

Instincts and the life of the body, seen in the perspective sketched above, are one and the same. They become separate only when we begin to distinguish between soma and psyche. But once this is done – and without this distinction there is neither physiology–anatomy nor psychology – instinct in psychoanalysis must be understood as a psychological concept. I believe it means reintroducing the psyche into biology and physics if one speaks of Eros and Thanatos as universal cosmic tendencies. Whether this is legitimate or not remains, in my opinion, an open question; this psyche, however, would in any event not be psyche or mind in terms of human psychology. Within the framework of psychoanalysis as a science of the human mind we must, if we accept the Eros-Thanatos conception (or its less “metaphysical” form, the duality of libido and aggression), speak of instincts as psychic representatives, and of life and death instincts as such representatives.


Hans Loewald – The Essential Loewald: On Motivation and Instinct Theory p.125

The Essential Loewald: On Motivation and Instinct Theory p.110

We now seem to see that, on the contrary, psychoanalytic psychology postulates instinctual, unconscious, impersonal forces as the motives of our psychic life. Where is the person? Where is the ego or self that would be the source and mainstay of personal motivation?

The problem is not resolved by hypotheses about a primary autonomy of the ego, primary ego apparatuses, and the like (Hartmann, 1939). They make the psychoanalytic ego into a biological entity with a psychological superstructure and make use of an energy concept which is biological or physical. The energy postulated in such hypotheses, while called psychic energy, is nonpsychic, i.e., nonmotivational, and instinctual motivation becomes secondary where it counts most: in the understanding of the structuring of the personality by the organization and transformation of the instincts. Inborn apparatuses are nothing but a euphemism for neurophysiological and neuroanatomical substrates, they have no psychological status. Instinct (Trieb) does have psychological meaning and the term has its legitimate use in psychoanalysis only as a psychological concept, and not as a biological or ethological one. Nobody of course denies neurophysiological processes and neurological structures, or the maturation of such structures. But to speak of inborn ego apparatuses is speaking of a Hamlet who is not the Prince of Denmark. In psychoanalytic psychology the ego is a psychic structure that cannot be found anywhere in biology or neurology, just as an organism cannot be found anywhere in physics, or a superego in sociology. It makes sense to speak of the development of the id and the ego out of an undifferentiated phase, in which there is as yet no differentiation of id, ego, and environment, as long as the concept of the undifferentiated phase is not biologized and it is recognized that as psychoanalysts we cannot go back beyond that limit.


Hans Loewald – The Essential Loewald: On Motivation and Instinct Theory p.110