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Mitchell, S. (1984). The Problem of the will. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:257-265.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:257-265

The Problem of the will

Stephen Mitchell, Ph.D.

IN AN EARLY SKETCH FOR THIS paper, Dr. Dyrud commented that it is awkward to send advanced drafts of his papers, since he never knows how they will come out until he is finished. I can understand why this would be so, since his papers have the quality of a kind of play, an arrangement and rearrangement of ideas, now this way, now that way, to reveal and highlight new angles, new relationships. Unfortunately, this spontaneity of thought and writing style makes it difficult to plan a discussion. Since I knew that Dr. Dyrud's paper would be an essay on Sartre, Sullivan and Freud, and their relationships to psychoanalysis, I thought that the best way to plan a discussion was to play, in my own fashion, with the same figures, and that is what I am gong to do.

Sartre (1974) characterized his relationship to psychoanalysis as that of a "critical fellow traveller;" he drew heavily on Freud's work, but objected strenuously to Freudian psychoanalysis largely because of a single issue—the question of the will—a problem which has reappeared in various manifestations throughout western intellectual history. Freud, Sartre and Sullivan each position themselves differently around this issue, and I would like to explore the approach each takes, some of the reasons for their approaches, and suggest a possible framework for integrating these different perspectives on the same problem.

As Sartre and, more recently, Schafer point out, personal agency is largely invisible in Freud's vision of mental processes. For Freud, the mind operates according to the principle of psychic determinism—each mental event is caused directly by the mental events and stimuli immediately preceeding it; psychodynamic motivation is causally closed. Within this metapsychological framework, the person never generates his or her own causal impact on the chain of psychic determinism; will and choice have no status in this theory. Freud depicts human experience as driven by forces largely unknown, a direct and unwitting product of internal pressures and compromises.

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