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Smith, J.H. (1977). The Pleasure Principle. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 58:1-10.

(1977). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 58:1-10

The Pleasure Principle

Joseph H. Smith


The pleasure principle is one way of conceptualizing the inevitability of directionality of behaviour. In radically intentionalized terms — as though pure intentionality were possible — regulation by the pleasure principle is such that one always, without exception, strives to do what he wants to do in the way he wants to do it and to the extent he wants to do it. This is not hedonism. It covers anything and everything that a human being could conceivably want to do from the relatively passive pre-intentional (prior, that is, to any possibility of wanting or willing) directionality of primitive function and holds through the highest degree of human autonomy. Of course the content of what one wants to do — which is quite a different thing from the empty, formal assumption that all behaviour is directional — can radically change depending upon a host of factors which might be relevant to a particular stage of development and a particular situation. Obstacles, for instance, not only interfere with one's doing what he wants to do, they also instigate modification of motive and thus differentiation of possible motives. When the infant learns that the hallucinated object of wish-fulfilment does not provide satisfaction; that is one step in differentiating inner and outer, which permits the content of his wishing to be directed toward the object in reality along the pathway of thought.

Freud confused the content of directionality with the formal assumption of directionality. He thus enunciated two pleasure principles, one capital and the other a kind of lower-case content version referring to the fact that the direction of behaviour is often away from pain and towards pleasure. Freud was aware that the two could not be compressed into one without radically redefining pain and pleasure from their ordinary meanings; he was aware, that is, that the lower-case pleasure principle did not hold universally. Conceptualization in terms of the lower-case pleasure principle required invocation of a reality principle when the situation changed. His acknowledgment that the reality principle was but a modification of the pleasure principle indicated his awareness that something universal — the Pleasure Principle — persisted through change.

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