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Hendrick, I. (1943). The Discussion of the 'Instinct to Master'—A Letter to the Editors. Psychoanal Q., 12:561-565.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:561-565

The Discussion of the 'Instinct to Master'—A Letter to the Editors

Ives Hendrick


In two recent contributions to ego psychology published in this QUARTERLY (Instinct and the Ego During Infancy, XI, 1942, p. 33, and Work and the Pleasure Principle, XII, 1943, p. 311), I have introduced the theory of an 'instinct to master'. This hypothesis was suggested to provide a dynamic explanation of the force impelling the development and exercise of ego functions.

Adverse criticism of these papers has centered almost entirely on this hypothesis. There was general agreement by discussants as to the validity and significance of the other chief conclusions advanced in these papers, namely, the nature of the 'work principle', the rôle of infantile partial functions in ego development, and the 'regression of the ego to the phase of the unlearned functions', which occurs in neurosis. I am therefore adding this footnote, first, to emphasize that the validity of these other inductions does not depend upon acceptance of the hypothesis of an 'instinct to master'; and, secondly, to clarify my reasons for personally finding the 'instinct to master' a useful concept.

The arguments against the instinct to master, offered by such competent discussants as Thomas French, Karl Menninger, Robert Waelder, and Edward Bibring stem from several points of view and may be adequately summarized under three headings:

1. It is simpler to regard the ego as an organization, distinguished from the id, and providing forms of pleasure which are not themselves instinctual gratifications.

2. The instinct to master is unnecessary, as the phenomena I have discussed can be satisfactorily interpreted in terms of our present instinct classifications.

3. It adds confusion to the already involved discussion of the psychoanalytic theory of instincts.


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