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Holt, R.R. (1965). Ego Autonomy Re-Evaluated. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:151-167.

(1965). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 46:151-167

Ego Autonomy Re-Evaluated

Robert R. Holt

In a presidential address to the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Chein (1962) recently declared that psychology 'must choose between two images' of man—two basic conceptions of man's nature, which he finds implicit in all of the general theories of behaviour.

The first is that of Man as an active, responsible agent … a being who actively does something with regard to some of the things that happen to him … who insists on injecting himself into the causal process of the world around him. … The contrasting and, among psychologists whose careers are devoted to the advancement of the science, the prevailing image of Man is that of an impotent reactor, with its responses completely determined by two distinct and separate, albeit interacting, sets of factors: (i) the forces impinging on it and (ii) its constitution (including … momentary physiological states).

To the reader who is conversant with the recent literature on psycho-analytic ego psychology, it sounds as if Professor Chein is pointedly posing the question of ego autonomy. Change his term 'Man' to 'ego' and one alternative sounds like the autonomous ego of Rapaport and Hartmann, which actively intervenes as a 'third force' in the operation of causal pressures from the environmental 'forces impinging on it' and from the id (cf. 'physiological states') and does not merely submit to them, being pitted against the familiar conception of the passive 'ego as a poor creature owing service to three masters and consequently menaced by three dangers: from the external world, from the libido of the id, and from the severity of the superego' (Freud, 1923p.

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