Then there is a confusion about psychology. The claim that we actually only care about survival and reproduction confuses the goals of natural selection (again, metaphorically speaking) with the goals of the creatures who have evolved through natural selection, including us. The difference between the two is obvious when you think about other domains. From the perspective of natural selection, the “goal” of eating is to sustain the body, to keep it going so that the genes we carry can replicate themselves. But this isn’t what motivates dogs, ants, tigers, and people to eat. We eat because we’re hungry, or bored, or anxious, or want to be good guests, or hate ourselves, or whatever. There are no deep teleological musings about genetic survival running through our heads as we dig into a bag of potato chips. As William James put it, if you ask your average man why he eats, “instead of revering you as a philosopher, he will probably laugh at you as a fool.”
Similarly, there is an obvious evolutionary motivation for sexual intercourse (it leads to children), but this is very different from the psychological motivations for sex, which most of the time don’t include a desire to have children. Surely this is true for other species: When mice mate, they don’t consciously intend to make more mice.
And the same consideration hold for kindness. We are naturally kind because our ancestors who were kind to others outlived and outreproduced those who didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that when people help others they are thinking about survival and reproduction any more than when people eat and have sex they are thinking about survival and reproduction. Rather, evolution has shaped people to be altruistic by instilling within us a genuine concern for the fate of certain other individuals, by making us compassionate and caring.
Paul Bloom – Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion p.169
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
I have now come to the end of what I had to say upon this case. There remain two problems, of the many that it raised, which seem to me to deserve special emphasis. The first relates to the phylogenetically inherited schemata, which, like the categories of philosophy, are concerned with the business of “placing” the impressions derived from actual experience. I am inclined to take the view that they are precipitates from the history of human civilization. The Oedipus complex, which comprises a child’s relation to its parents, is one of them – is, in fact, the best known member of the class. Wherever experiences fail to fit in with the hereditary schema, they become remodeled in the imagination – a process which might very profitably be followed out in detail. It is precisely such cases that are calculated to convince us of the independent existence of the schema. We are often able to see the schema triumphing over the experience of the individual; as when in our present case the boy’s father became the castrator and the menace to his infantile sexuality in spite of what was in other respects an inverted Oedipus complex. A similar process is at work where a nurse comes to play the mother’s part or where the two become fused together. The contradiction between experience and the schema seem to introduce an abundance of material in the conflicts of childhood.
The second problem is not far removed from the first, but it is incomparably more important. If one considers the behaviors of the four-year-old child towards the re-activated primal scene. Or even if one thinks of the far simpler reactions of the one-and-a-half-year-old child when the scene was actually experienced, it is hard to dismiss the view that some sort of hardly definable knowledge, something, as it were, preparatory to an understanding, was at work in the child at the time. What this may have consisted in we can form no conception; we have nothing at our disposal but the single analogy – and it is an excellent one – of the far reaching instinctive knowledge of animals.
If human beings too possessed an instinctive endowment such as this, it would not be surprising that it should be very particularly concerned with the processes of sexual life, even though it could not be by any means confined to them. This instinctive factor would then be the nucleus of the unconscious, a primitive kind of mental activity, which would later be dethroned and overlaid by human reason, when the faculty came to be acquired, but which in some people, perhaps in every one, would retain the power of drawing down to it the higher mental processes. Repression would be the return to this instinctive stage, and man would thus be paying for his great new acquisition with his liability to neuroses, and would be bearing witness by the possibility of the neuroses to the existence of those earlier, instinct-like, preliminary stages. But the significance of the traumas of early childhood would lie in the fact that to this unconscious they would contribute material which would save it from being worn away by the subsequent course of development.
Sigmund Freud – Three Case Histories p.278
I have been driven to regard as the earliest recognizable sexual organization the so-called “cannibalistic” or “oral” phase, during which the original attachment of sexual excitation to the nutritional instinct still dominates the scene. It is not to be expected that we should come upon direct manifestations of this phase, but only upon indications of it where disturbances have been set up. Impairment of the nutritional instinct (though this can of course have other causes) draws our attention to a failure on the part of the organism to master its sexual excitation. In this phase the sexual aim could only be cannibalism – eating… It is well known that there is a neurosis which occurs at a much later age, in girls at the time of puberty or soon afterwards, and which expresses aversion to sexuality by means of anorexia. This neurosis will have to be brought into relation with the oral phase of sexual life. The erotic aim of the oral organization further makes its appearance at the height of a lover’s paroxysm (in such phrases as “I could devour you with love”) and in affectionate intercourse with children, when the grown-up person is pretending to be a child himself… Permanent marks have been left by this oral phase of sexuality upon the usages of language. People commonly speak, for instance, of an “appetizing” love-object, and describes persons they are fond of as “sweet”… In dreams sweet things and sweetmeats stand regularly for caresses or sexual gratifications.
Sigmund Freud – Three Case Histories p.265