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Greenberg, J. (2015). The Paternal Principle: Editor's Introduction. Psychoanal Q., 84(2):331-334.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 84(2):331-334

The Paternal Principle: Editor's Introduction

Jay Greenberg

In two fascinating papers, Cláudio Eizirik and Marilia Aisenstein explore the role of the father in both development and clinical practice. The conceptual frame of both papers is anchored in structural thinking, which is more familiar to Latin American and European analysts than it is to most Anglophone readers; because of this, it is important to highlight their central arguments and to spell out what I see as their challenge to North American theorizing.

The concept of paternal principle—distinct from any actual relationship between a particular father and a particular son—is implicit but central to Freud's understanding of the social structure into which we are born. Historicized—as Eizirik notes—in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913), and developed—as Aisenstein emphasizes in Moses and Monotheism (1939), the structural view posits a paternal function that precedes and even overshadows lived experience. This contrasts dramatically with North American thinking that was influenced first by ego psychology and later by interpersonal thinking, self psychology, and eventually the relational turn. Each of these traditions privileges what is specific, unique, and observable in the unfolding of individual relationships.

Totem and Taboo and Moses and Monotheism focused on the phylogenetic roots of the paternal principle. Freud was less interested in its ontogeny, but two enigmatic passages do address the issue. First, in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), Freud writes that “Identification is known to psychoanalysis as the earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person” (p. 105).

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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