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Peskin, M.M. (1997). Drive Theory Revisited. Psychoanal Q., 66:377-402.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 66:377-402

Drive Theory Revisited

Mervyn M. Peskin, M.D.

Fallacious energic formulations and phylogenetic oversimplifications have led drive theory into disfavor. However, the advantages of a drive concept based on evolutionary principles outweigh the disadvantages. A psychological drive concept best captures the innately endowed, self-enhancing motivational push compatible with evolutionary principles, while at the same time being consonant with the intrapsychic dynamics of psychoanalytic observation. Current evolutionary principles and their implications are discussed. Incorporating these principles as cogent theoretical postulates is a crucial part of maintaining a link to the natural sciences and thereby to our involvement in the great enterprise of elaborating a comprehensive psychology. To exclude these concepts is to promote a detachment from our involvement in the natural sciences and to lose a powerful heuristic guide for our theoretical endeavors.

Together with the concepts of unconscious mental processes and mental conflict, a concept of drives, underlying psychic determinism, is one of the original, fundamental features which has distinguished psychoanalysis as a general theory of psychology. Yet today, drive theory occupies an uncertain position in psychoanalytic thinking. Its status, complex and contentious, seems to have acquired a certain disrepute. Contention is not new—the postulates of a drive theory, invoking basic innate motivations, have always tended to stir controversy. As a consequence of the exhaustive theoretical disputes associated with the topic, some have wearied of it or raised the objection that science has passed the drive concept by (Modell, 1990).

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