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Beres, D. (1965). Psychoanalytic Notes on the History of Morality. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 13:3-37.

(1965). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 13:3-37

Psychoanalytic Notes on the History of Morality

David Beres, M.D.

THE APPLICATION of psychoanalytic concepts to history is a hazardous undertaking, the more so if the area of investigation is not that of a historical character or a historical period but a whole trend in human development. I must share with you my qualms about presenting to you the topic I have chosen. It is one to which a lifetime should be devoted. I take courage from a statement made by William Langer in a presidential address before the American Historical Association (32), to the effect that there is urgent need for deepening historical understanding "through the exploitation of the concepts and findings of modern psychology," by which he refers not to "classical or academic psychology … but rather to psychoanalysis."

My theme is the history of morality. The concern of psychoanalysis with the problem of morality is not to set moral values or to influence the conduct of men but to study how, in the individual, moral values develop and how the moral function manifests itself. Does morality have a history? Has man changed over the centuries or is man unchanged, and are the differences that we note between the behavior and attitudes of man in past centuries and today due to the effects of different external environments? Does man have innate moral attitudes? Does he have an innate moral sense? These are some of the questions that arise in the broad perspective of a historical approach.

I distinguish between ethics and morals.

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