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Penrose, L.S. (1931). Freud's Theory of Instinct and Other Psycho-Biological Theories. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 12:87-97.

(1931). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 12:87-97

Freud's Theory of Instinct and Other Psycho-Biological Theories

L. S. Penrose

Introduction—The Development of Freud's Theories of Instinct, with special reference to the Pleasure-pain Principle—Fechner's Principles of Stability—The Theories of Bernfeld and Feitelberg—Ferenczi's Expansion of the Idea of Repetition-Compulsion—Can a Useful Principle of Stability be Formulated?—Conclusion.


One of the most difficult though most important studies in the domain of psycho-analysis is the investigation of the relation of the pleasure-pain principle to instinct. Many psychologists do not agree that there is any important relation between them, but Freud insists on the principle of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain as the mainspring of action, and this view is in keeping with the rest of his deterministic psychology. For the purpose of the present discussion this principle in one form or another will be accepted as valid. I shall first describe the changes which Freud's ideas on this question have undergone and then deal with the possibility of formulating a fundamental principle describing the behaviour of living organisms. It has evidently been Freud's aim in psycho-analysis to find basic principles similar to those found in other sciences which will describe at once large fields of varying data. He has not succeeded in obtaining any very concrete definitions, as he himself readily admits; but it is important, if any advance is to be made in this direction, to understand as far as possible the nature of the principles already formulated.


One of the great advances which Freud made in psychology was the introduction of dynamic factors: that is to say, he studied processes and their mutual reactions rather than states. This enabled him to form a conception of unconscious mental activity.

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