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Alexander, F. (1929). The Need for Punishment and the Death-Instinct. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:256-269.

(1929). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10:256-269

The Need for Punishment and the Death-Instinct

Franz Alexander

The problem of the need for punishment leads us to the most remarkable aspects of the psychic life of man. It leads us to those actions, unintelligible to rationalistic psychology, which harm the agent himself, cause him pain and hurt, and reveal a plainly self-destructive purpose. These actions appear paradoxical to our ordinary thinking, because we are accustomed to assume, from self-knowledge and the observation of others, that actions are in general performed to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. Actions and other psychic manifestations clearly intended to procure suffering seem to contradict this general principle. The investigation of such occurrences, not subject to the pleasure principle, or not exclusively so, led Freud to the assumption of an instinct which operates in the direction of death, the aim of which is destruction. In his view it is of secondary importance whether this instinct is directed outward, sadistically, to the destruction of other life, or inward, masochistically, against the subject himself; in both cases it is the same instinct.

Freud assigns primary significance to the impulse towards self-destruction, the death instinct, and derives outwardly directed destruction from this primary death instinct. Other investigators, e.g. Jones and Reich, believe, however, that self-destructive human behaviour can be derived from the turning inward of the destructive instinct originally directed outwardly; i.e. masochism from sadism, and not vice versa. This second view dispenses with the concept of a death-instinct and contents itself with the assumption of a destructive instinct which can also, in suitable circumstances, turn inwards.

A great deal of psychic happening with a self-destructive purpose can certainly be explained—since the time when Freud grasped the meaning of melancholia—by aggressions directed inwardly which were originally intended for an external object and only later turned upon the ego itself.

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