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Zegans, L.S. (1973). Philosophical Antecedents to Modern Theories of Human Aggressive Instinct. Psychoanal Q., 42:239-266.

(1973). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 42:239-266

Philosophical Antecedents to Modern Theories of Human Aggressive Instinct

Leonard S. Zegans, M.D.

Man has long been fascinated by the problems of evil and aggression. Once he turned for explanations to the philosophers and theologians, but in an age when science has attained almost godly status it is scarcely surprising that the speculative thoughts of behavioral scientists should be most prized. Yet, oddly enough, the flurry of criticism that surrounds the work of Freud, Lorenz, or Ardrey on aggression is often a reflection of the critic's evaluation of the moral rather than the scientific implications of their ideas. Consider these words by Ashley Montagu (1968):

… when books such as those of Ardrey and Lorenz appear they are welcomed with all the fervor of a sinner seeking absolution for his sins. Ardrey and Lorenz stand in a sort of apostolic succession to those who with millennial ardor have sought to restore the wicked and unregenerate to the true faith (p. 13).

Montagu believes that the myth of man's early aggressiveness, like the myths of 'the warfare of nature' and of 'original sin', diverts attention from the true causes of human violence, the debilitating social conditions in which man lives.

Ardrey (1966), however, sees his critics as deluded by a 'romantic fallacy' based upon Rousseau's conception of man as originally good and free from inherent sin. He detects in the argument of the primacy of culture over inheritance an effort to disavow man's rootedness in an animal past, a fundamental attack on the very concept of behavioral evolution.

The moral aspect of theories of aggression cannot of course be ignored, but such considerations ought not to blur an objective appraisal of their scientific merits.

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