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Waelder, R. (1963). Psychic Determinism and the Possibility of Predictions. Psychoanal Q., 32:15-42.

(1963). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 32:15-42

Psychic Determinism and the Possibility of Predictions

Robert Waelder


The problem of determinism has not been systematically discussed in psychoanalysis. There are occasional references to it in psychoanalytic literature, which as a rule emphasize that determinism is part and parcel of the scientific approach and therefore a basic assumption of psychoanalysis as a scientific psychology.

Freud referred several times to the subject. In some instances, it was to justify the rule of free association; it would follow from the principle of determinism that nothing enters the mind haphazardly, without a cause. In other instances, it was to justify his interest in every detail of psychic life, no matter how trivial, and his readiness to take it as an expression of a psychic trend. 'Psychoanalysts', says Freud, 'are marked by a particularly strict belief in the determination of mental life. For them there is nothing trivial, nothing arbitrary or haphazard. They expect in every case to find sufficient motives …' (10p. 38). He speaks of 'the strictness with which mental processes are determined' (10p. 29), and of 'a strict and universal application of determinism to mental life' (10p. 52), or of 'a strong belief in the strict determination of mental events' (12p. 238).

However, there is some question as to what Freud means by events being 'determined': whether the word is to indicate that one can always find conditions which are both necessary and sufficient for the particular event to materialize, or merely whether one can find necessary conditions.

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