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Rapaport, D. (1950). On the Psycho-Analytic Theory of Thinking. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 31:161-170.

(1950). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 31:161-170

On the Psycho-Analytic Theory of Thinking

David Rapaport, Ph.D.


The aim of this paper is to piece together what the science of psycho-analysis has taught us concerning thinking.

Such an attempt is fraught with inevitable difficulties. First, it is of necessity incomplete: there is more to cover than time allows. Second, psycho-analytic writing on thinking is fragmentary and belongs to various stages of the development of psycho-analysis; consequently, it requires interpretation and speculative completion. Presenting it therefore invites the timeworn critique: what is good in it is not new and what is new is not good. Third: the psycho-analytic theory of thinking is a part of metapsychology—which, dealing as it does with abstractions and being several steps removed from immediate therapeutic concern, remains the least familiar and to many the least palatable part of psycho-analytic theory. Fourth: the psychology of thinking is in the main ego psychology; and since psycho-analytic ego psychology itself is still in the early phases of its evolution, it does not offer a solid framework for the psychology of thinking. In fact, some of the future development of other aspects of ego psychology will depend on developments in the psychology of thinking. Fifth: the psycho-analytic psychology of thinking cannot be a bridge between psycho-analysis and a solidly built academic theory of thinking because the latter likewise is still fragmentary. Yet the psycho-analytic theory of thinking cannot disregard the important beginnings that have been made in academic psychology.

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