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Brierley, M. (1936). General: Ernest Jones. 'Psycho-analysis and the Instincts.' The British Journal of Psychology, 1936, Vol. XXVI, Pt. 3, pp. 273–288.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 17:510-512.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: General: Ernest Jones. 'Psycho-analysis and the Instincts.' The British Journal of Psychology, 1936, Vol. XXVI, Pt. 3, pp. 273–288.

(1936). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 17:510-512

General: Ernest Jones. 'Psycho-analysis and the Instincts.' The British Journal of Psychology, 1936, Vol. XXVI, Pt. 3, pp. 273–288.

M. Brierley

The author points out the fundamental importance and the difficulty of studying human instinct and then gives a concise summary of the contributions of psycho-analysis to this obscure problem by sketching the development of Freud's own views. Freud's interest in instinct was at first only incidental to his study of dream and neurosis; its importance grew on him slowly, and only after thirty years did he venture to theorize about it. Since he was impressed from the start by the significance of conflict in human life, his conception of the mind has remained throughout a dualistic one. 'The terms in which he has at various periods formulated the nature of this conflict represent his contribution to the theory of instinct.'

For fifteen to twenty years Freud used as a working hypothesis the simple dual classification of ego instincts and sex instincts. This enabled him to formulate his theory of neurosis as due to conflict between ego and libido. His conception of instinct is psycho-physiological inasmuch as he regards the source of an instinct as a bodily stimulus. He distinguished between aim and object of instinct. Differences between instincts are due to difference in their sources, as he illustrated in regard to the 'partial impulses' arising in the various erotogenic zones whose integration gives rise to the adult sexual impulse. Since instinctual stimuli arise within the organism and are always being engendered, they cannot be avoided by flight. Where they cannot be gratified through the outer world, they have to be dealt with by such means as repression, turning against the self, or reversal of aim. The plasticity of the sexual instinct, its capacity for displacement both of aims and objects, 'impressed Freud profoundly and inclined him to postulate a similar capacity on the part of other instincts and emotions. For instance, he speaks of love turning into hate. … This is a part of his theory that some of us find hard to follow, since it would appear to depart from a biological outlook. For long he also held the view that libido … when in a state of repression was converted into anxiety. … A quarter of a century ago I suggested as a more likely explanation … that excitation of repressed libido simply stimulated the fear component of the ego instinct and a few years ago Freud has himself come round to this way of regarding the matter'.

This simple dualism, ego and sex instincts, was disturbed by Freud's promulgation, in 1914, of the concept of narcissism, i.e. his recognition of a libidinal component in the ego itself. The antithesis now appeared to be between ego and object libido, and Freud was hard put to it to maintain

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his conception of conflict. Examination of 'resistances' led to the discovery that childish self-love develops into love of an ego-ideal, derived in large part from the parents and from their standards. On the other hand, it appeared that resistances were often unknown to the patient, i.e. part of the ego itself must be unconscious. This part appeared to be derived from the internalization of the prohibiting parents and to act like an inner voice saying 'Check those forbidden impulses, else I shall punish you severely'. The genesis and structure of the super-ego is still obscure in many respects, but it soon became apparent that its severity was out of proportion to the severity of the actual parents. It derived from something in the child himself, since recognized as aggression.

Freud himself arrived at the concept of a non-erotic instinct of aggression through the discovery of what he termed compulsion to repetition, revealed in children's play, traumatic neuroses and 'transference' phenomena. He conceived the idea that it is the instincts themselves that are responsible for the compulsion to repeat. 'He suggested that what called instincts first into being was violent external stimuli, the effect of which was later internalized. Instincts are there to counter these stimuli, to undo the effects of them, and to take the organism back to as near its original state as is possible.' 'Life itself inherently leads to death.' It is difficult to conceive of the aim of the reproductive instincts as death, since they constantly start life afresh. Freud therefore identified the libido with the Eros of the poets, the principle that creates, binds together and sustains all life. 'Freud's final duality was the division of the mind into two sets of instincts which he termed life-instincts and death-instincts respectively' (Eros and Thanatos). 'Eros was visible and audible enough; as Freud put it, from him proceeds the clamour of life. But what familiar mental manifestation can be recognized as proceeding directly from Thanatos? Freud's conclusion is that the instinct of aggression is identical with the death instinct, but directed against the outer world'.

The theory of a death instinct 'is certainly not as yet to be regarded as an integral part of psycho-analysis, since it represents a personal train of thought rather than a direct inference from verifiable data'. Freud admits that 'the assumption of its existence is based essentially on theoretical grounds'. 'Whether there is a positive tendency to self-destruction, kept at bay by the life instincts, or whether, as is generally assumed, the life instincts have only a certain power of keeping going the complicated process of retaining matter in a "living" organic form and sooner or later become exhausted, is a problem on which we may reasonably hope to get light from biological and physiological research.' It is hard to say what is the essence of 'aggression' or whether its aim is always annihilation. Psycho-analytical experience contradicts the anthropological view that man was originally a peaceful animal. In the first months of life the

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infant responds with hate more readily than with love. It is difficult also to say whether aggression ever appears except in association with other impulses, e.g. erotic ones, or as a response to frustration. The purely psychological part of Freud's 'latest theory may be regarded as assured, that our life consists of nothing but a struggle between love and hate'.

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Article Citation

Brierley, M. (1936). General. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 17:510-512

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