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Rapaport, D. Gill, M.M. (1959). The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 40:153-162.

(1959). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 40:153-162

The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology

David Rapaport, Ph.D. and Merton M. Gill, M.D.


Freud first used the term metapsychology to indicate that his psychology deals with what is beyond the realm of conscious experience (6p. 246). Later, however, he defined metapsychology as the study of the assumptions upon which the system of psycho-analytic theory is based (12p. 222). While metapsychological statements are scattered throughout Freud's writings, the seventh chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, the 'Papers on Metapsychology' (fragments of a never completed work; see Jones (21), pp. 184–187), and the 'Addenda' to The Problem of Anxiety are our sources for reconstructing Freud's metapsychology.

These sources, however, do not fulfil the programme implied in Freud's definition. They do not state systematically that minimal set of assumptions on which the psycho-analytic theory rests. Indeed, in all these sources propositions stating observations, theories, and underlying assumptions are closely interwoven. Systematic studies in metapsychology, however, will have to distinguish between empirical propositions, specific psycho-analytic propositions, propositions of the general psycho-analytic theory, and propositions stating the metapsychological assumptions. In formulating the assumptions which follow here, we have avoided using specific psycho-analytic concepts. We are not yet in a position to present formal definitions of the terms used in stating these assumptions. We are, however, aware that without such definitions a set of assumptions is of limited value and that, indeed, some of the assumptions presented here are little more than covert definitions.

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