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Thompson, M.G. (2001). The Enigma of Honesty: The Fundamental Rule of Psychoanalysis. Free Associations, 8(3):390-434.

(2001). Free Associations, 8(3):390-434

The Enigma of Honesty: The Fundamental Rule of Psychoanalysis1

M. Guy Thompson, Ph.D.

The Fundamental Rule of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is both a collection of ideas and a method based upon those ideas whose goal is the right way to live. Hence, psychoanalysis is an “ethic” in the sense that it concerns the manner by which individuals conduct themselves. Derived from the Greek ethike tekhne, meaning “the moral art,” ethike is in turn derived from the Greek ethos, meaning “character.” Both the character of a person who aspires to behave ethically and the customs of a people by which one's standards are measured derive from the concept. Morality, a subsidiary of ethics, pertains to distinctions between right and wrong and good and bad, whereas ethics, according to the Greeks, concerns the pursuit of happiness, the nature of which produces a state of equanimity by obtaining freedom from mental anguish.

If psychoanalysis is an ethic whose goal is liberation from psychic conflict, then the nature of that conflict must have something to do with the way one lives, thinks, and behaves. While the character of an individual is no doubt decisive in the outcome of a patient's treatment, the psychoanalytic experience essentially revolves around a kind of work that is performed and accomplished, the outcome of which succeeds or fails. Yet the conventional standard of “success” could never serve as the measure of the treatment outcome since the task of the analytic experience is to come to terms with those failures, losses, and disappointments that we have never managed to accept.

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