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Rangell, L. (2009). The Role of Unconscious Volition in Psychoanalysis: Commentary on Meissner. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 57(5):1157-1165.

(2009). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 57(5):1157-1165

The Role of Unconscious Volition in Psychoanalysis: Commentary on Meissner Related Papers

Leo Rangell

I appreciate the invitation to offer this commentary on William Meissner's paper, as it affords me the opportunity to address a number of issues. First I will comment on the contributions contained in Meissner's paper. In addition, I will relate this material to what I have written on the topic of volition for over six decades, a body of work that serves Meissner as a basis for his thesis and that he presents in an unusually full and amply quoted version.

Last, and most significantly, I will comment on the now conspicuous issue of the long interval—over half a century—between our two similar, intensely argued positions on a vital but neglected question. I consider the topic addressed, the issue of unconscious choice and decision making in psychoanalytic theory—including Meissner's welcome effort to reengage it—to be at the very heart of the psychology of human behavior.

To attend first to the substantive, scientific issues of his contribution, Meissner introduces as a new central subject the role of will in human psychology, and the incorporation of this concept into psychoanalytic theory and practice. Pointing to “operations of will as an executive function of the ego-self” (p. 1123), he elaborates this concept by describing a series of ego activities involving wish, intention, decision, and choice, and finally will as the executive that carries choices into action. Most important for psychoanalysis, he rightly and forthrightly locates these psychic activities in the unconscious, in contrast to the role of these functions already commonly known in conscious life.

Meissner's paper dissects this executive series of intrapsychic events into microscopic distinctions between the various stages, making for a running sequence that continues throughout life, universally and ubiquitously, night and day, if we consider that dreams, fantasies, and other subliminal cognitive phenomena are in constant production and motion.

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