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Benedek, T. (1973). The Instinct Theory in the Light of Microbiology. Ann. Psychoanal., 1:53-72.

(1973). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 1:53-72

The Instinct Theory in the Light of Microbiology

Therese Benedek, M.D.

This essay is an epilogue to the discussions of the papers republished in the volume, Psychoanalytic Investigations (Benedek, in press). Since they are supplements to the original publications, what motivates or justifies further elaboration of the problems discussed there? Several of my papers demonstrate Freud's second instinct theory (1920, pp. 7–64), according to which fusion and defusion of opposing instinctual forces—libido and aggression—motivate psychological processes. This left psychoanalytic instinct theory in limbo and necessitated a new overview, which may gain a great deal from a confrontation with the results of microbiological investigations.

Studying Freud's writings, one cannot fail to recognize his reluctance to accept the concept of an instinctual force natural to man that would be destructive. Freud arrived at a general conceptualization of aggression when he viewed both libido and aggression divested of the affective potential of their motivational power. On this level of abstraction, libido and aggression are on equal footing, partners in the process of living. Why, then, and wherefore the concept of death instinct, a theory the usefulness of which as an explanatory theory Freud doubted, a theory which he deprecated since he had arrived at it, not by observation and analyzing psychological phenomena, but by speculation. At the same time he pursued it with the determination of a researcher who feels that he is on the right track but does not have the means to reach his goal.

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