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Schafer, R. (1970). An Overview of Heinz Hartmann's Contributions to Psychoanalysis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:425-446.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:425-446

An Overview of Heinz Hartmann's Contributions to Psychoanalysis

Roy Schafer


Heinz Hartmann was the guiding genius of modern Freudian theory. He attempted to develop to its highest possible point Freud's natural-science model of mind. With rare consistency he formulated his metapsychological contributions from the specific vantage point of biological adaption. Thus he emphasized evolutionary, organismic, ecological and functional modes of conceptualization. The adaptational vantage point was deliberately chosen by Hartmann; it is not the only possible vantage point for psychoanalytic theorizing. Indeed the natural-science model itself is a theoretical option: rather than its flowing from 'the data', it is an a priori that determines the definition, selection and arrangement of data. Other a priori models, such as the historical and existential, though their adequacy for dealing with the full range of phenomena defined in Freud's psychoanalysis has not yet been established, are available as options for the psychoanalytic investigator and remain to be worked out and evaluated comparatively.

I have discussed the following aspects of Hartmann's contributions: (a) their assault on dualistic constraints in Freud's thinking; (b) their establishing or making clear the legitimacy of different modes of psychoanalytic conceptualizing; (c) their laying bare the anatomy of the natural-scientific Freudian metapsychology as a necessary step towards elegant systematization and detailing of that theory; (d) their synchronization, refinement and amplification of Freud's psychoeconomic propositions, especially through the use of the concepts of neutral and neutralized energy; and (e) their seeming implicitly to follow or parallel a socio-political model of mind as (meaningful and purposive) government.

I have attempted to convey not only the range and many merits of Hartmann's mode of theorizing but also its problems. Some of these problems arise from this mode's being simultaneously conservative and revolutionary. Many problems arise from Hartmann's adherence to the postulate of psychic energy and his attempts to maintain the traditional tripartite structural model despite his having thrown key aspects of that model into question. Certain problems stem from too fixed an interest on his part in establishing a thoroughgoing symmetry in the conceptualization of libido and aggression and also of id–ego–superego.

Broadly viewed, however, the problems arise from Hartmann's commitment to the natural-science approach to conceptualization. This approach excludes meaning from the centre of psychoanalytic theory. It deals with meaning only by changing it into something else (functions, energies, 'principles', etc.). But meaning (and intention) is the same as 'psychic reality'—that which is at the centre of clinical psychoanalytic work. Consequently a radical split between the mode of theorizing and the mode of investigation is a major consequence of adhering to the natural-science model. Hartmann's emphasis on functions and varieties of psychic energy is shown to lead in certain instances to behaviouristic, as opposed to truly psychoanalytic, formulations. It is also shown to retain the anthropomorphism it is intended to expunge from metapsychology. And finally it is shown to be inadequate on its own terms for rendering the complexity of clinical understanding and thus to support illusions of exact explanation. Hartmann's contributions to psychoanalytic theory of increased orderliness, subtlety and comprehensiveness have continued and even added to some difficulties, while diminishing or resolving others.

We are all much indebted to Heinz Hartmann. He gave to new generations of those interested in psychoanalytic thought a multitude of solutions, suggestions, opportunities, ambiguities and problems that demand to be sorted out, appraised and dealt with further. For this continuation of his work to be executed correctly and profitably we must remain aware that Hartmann's is not the general theory of psychoanalysis; it is, as anyone's theory (Freud's, too) has to be, a general theory of psychoanalysis. By his boldness and vision, Hartmann made it possible to consider alternative conceptual approaches, other a prioris and their consequences, and to do so without having to ignore the basic clinical understanding and methods of Freudian psychoanalysis.

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