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


Freud p.1

For in addition to our long-standing puzzlement over the human condition, we are also ever-tempted by complacency when it come to self-understanding. And we live in an age when that complacency has, at least for the time being, been shaken. We can see that complacency in a package of beliefs that were in full flower at the end of millennium:

  • That we can find out all we need to know about human behavior and motivation by conducting polls, examining democratic votes, choices made in the market–place, and changing fashions. In short, human motivation is essentially transparent.
  • That all human disagreements are in principle resolvable through rational conversation and mutual understanding. Each of us is acting on the basis of what we think is reasonable, if we keep trying to understand the other’s point of view, we shall eventually resolve our disagreement or at least reach a point where we can ‘agree to disagree.’
  • That we have reached ‘the end of history’: the epochal struggles of historical change are over; what is left is basically a homogenizing process of ‘globalization.’
  • That all serious psychological problems will soon be treatable either by drugs or neurosurgery. Anti-depressants provided the paradigm. What hitherto looked like intractable suffering can be treated by a drug which affects neurotransmitters in the brain. Since every psychological problem must make some difference in the brain, eventually we will discover what that is and learn how to change it. Thus,
  • The only form of psychotherapy that is needed is rational conversation. A person may suffer from a ‘cognitive error’: he may believe, for example, that he is an unsuccessful person, and will thereby continue to fail. But then all one really needs to do is point out his mistake. He will come to see himself as successful and will thereby start to succeed. Or we can simple teach people new behaviors so that they can cope better. Behavioral therapy or cognitive therapy is all we need. And thus,
  • ‘Freud is dead’: His account of a ‘talking cure’ – psychoanalysis – has about as much validity as invoking Zeus.

It is possible to hold any of these beliefs without holding the others, but one can see how they all hang together to form a certain outlook about what humans are like. And what makes this outlook powerful is that there is truth in each of the beliefs: we can find out much about humans via empirical polls, it is always useful to seek mutual understanding, there is a process of globalization occurring, neuroscience will make remarkable advances in treating psychological suffering, rational conversation can be a big help, and Freud was wrong about many of his beliefs and deserves to be criticized. What, then, is the problem? It lies in the implicit assumption that this picture gives us the whole truth about human beings. Herein lies the complacency. We are encouraged to think that this outlook gives us an account of human motivation without remainder. We can thus dismiss any darker accounts of human motivation which do not already fit this picture.


Jonathan Lear – Freud p.1