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Sandler, J. (1985). Towards a Reconsideration of the Psychoanalytic Theory of Motivation. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 8(4):223-244.

(1985). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 8(4):223-244

Towards a Reconsideration of the Psychoanalytic Theory of Motivation

Joseph Sandler

The topic of motivation is an extraordinarily difficult one to study, and has preoccupied psychologists for many years. One of the major difficulties has been the fact that neither in the field of general psychology nor in the more specific area of psychoanalysis is there agreement on what a motive really is. And even when we turn to the relatively restricted area of psychoanalytic theory we find that we cannot be sure whether the term ‘motive’ refers to drives, drive derivatives, affects, feelings, needs, wishes, aims, intentions, reasons or causes. The term is one of those which can be said to possess, to a remarkable degree, the quality of elasticity, and its meaning is highly dependent on the context in which it is used. It reflects a multidimensional concept, and in this connection I have commented elsewhere that such concepts

play a very important part in holding psychoanalytic theory together. As psychoanalysis is made up of formulations at varying levels of abstraction, and of part-theories which do not integrate well with one another, the existence of pliable, context-dependent concepts allows an overall framework of psychoanalytic theory to be assembled. Parts of this framework are rigorously spelled out, but can only articulate with similar part-theories if they are not tightly connected, if the concepts which form the joints are flexible. Above all, the value of such a loosely jointed theory is that it allows developments in psychoanalytic theory to take place without necessarily causing overt radical disruptions in the overall theoretical structure of psychoanalysis. The elastic and flexible concepts take up the strain of theoretical change, absorbing it while more organized newer theories or part-theories can develop….

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