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Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)

by Sigmund Freud (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In this work Freud presents his theory for a pyschological force that acts as the counterbalance of the sexual instinct, or libido, with which much of his previous work is concerned. Previously, he groups all forms of mpulse (such as self preservation and creativity) as being derived from the sexual instinct, which together with the other instincts such as feeding ourselves he categorises as the "Pleasure Principle". Whether we agree with this is not ever so important, it is partially a matter of semantics and redefining what is meant by libido and the sexual (Jung uses the term "libido" to refer to energy of the psyche in general).
The important development that is introduced here is Freud's introduction of a counter force, a "death instinct" or "death drive", that acts against the life forces of the libido. He asserts that its primary and most common manifestation is a compulsion to repeat, which is as much a product of the instincts and the unconscious as the libidinal impulses.
Freud presents various theoretical justifications for the death instinct, several from a biological /physical perspective: life originated from inanimate matter, and all life will die (and therefore this is its goal, thermodynamically speaking). The problem that I find in this is that from the point of view of a physicist, this is true, and there is no need to invoke a psychological principle to explain something that thermodynamics can explain, and from the point of view of a biologist, the idea of a universal death drive is not something that would have been selected for by natural selection. This, however, is not say that the death drive does not exist, only that some of Freud's justifications for his theory are ill-chosen. The clinical evidence, relating to masochism, and the link to repetition compulsion, however, does carry more weight.
Freud, throughout, acknowledges that this theory is speculative, in accord with his lack of evidence. As is said, the more remarkable a theory, the more remarkable the evidence that is needed to support it. Here there is no remarkable evidence, which is partly why this remains Freud's most controversial work. If one is interested in the thought of Freud, and psychology, then this is worth reading, however it raises more questions than it answers, and does not help the understanding of psychology like his other works. If, however, the reader wants to be given a difficult problem to think about, then this book is ideal. A previous knowledge of Freud's works, for example the material in his first volume of Introductory Lectures, would be more or less essential before reading this. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jun 2, 2013 |
What a strange book! Not what I was expecting at all... Freud is not at his best, I think, when dabbling in pseudo-biology. Ultimately, the idea of a death instinct is more compelling than the argument as it appears here. ( )
  amydross | Nov 18, 2012 |
I bought this because I was interested in learning about Freud's theory of the "Death Drive," humans' paradoxical longing for self-destruction. Though he has fallen from grace in the eyes of the contemporary psychological community, I think Freud was genuinely one of the world's true geniuses, and his ideas deserve a second look. He had some truly profound insights into human nature, but I think he and his followers took them too literally. Viewed as metaphors, there's some profound truth in classic psychoanalytic theory.
  yonderboy777 | Dec 13, 2009 |
Freud is a pretty polarizing figure in academia, so it's not surprising that Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a fairly contentious work. Yet, in contrast to a great deal of what Freud wrote before this, there is a great deal of contrition, and much room for doubt. Which was, in my eyes, a good thing, seeing as much of what he argues is tenuous at best.

The notion of a death instinct is a radical and fascinating notion, but I don't feel that he defends it in the most reasonable way possible, though his assertion that instinct may lead not towards evolution but rather towards regression is surprisingly well-defended and has consequences that are interesting to consider. However, while Freud admits that much of what he reasons may be off the mark (even though he defends those assertions with apparent biological proof, some of which is admittedly borderline non sequitur), it is his willingness to amend his previous theories and to speculate adventurously that should be his most recognized legacy.

To that end, this book is a fine look at a mind at work. To consider this as an accurate landmark in psychological studies, however, may be too great a leap.
2 vote dczapka | Mar 19, 2008 |
This little book is indubitable proof of the breadth and depth of Freud's thinking. It is a fascinating and multi-faceted read, containing elements of psychoanalysis, philosophy, poetry, biology, and the literary theory. You will not believe how quickly Freud is able to move from topic to topic and the absurd range within which he is able to speculate. This is also an extraordinarily challenging read, it requires patience and many re-readings. Freud discusses the compulsion to repeat, transference neurosis, life and death drives, and a number of other cognitive and behavioral topics.Here is a curious quote I adore: "In the last resort, what has left its mark on the development of organisms must be the history of the earth we live in and its relation to the sun" (pg. 45).

Beyond the Pleasure Principle is a seminal component of his expansive corpus, and should be standard reading for psychologists. ( )
1 vote bloom | Jul 17, 2006 |
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Freud, SigmundAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strachey, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Beyond the Pleasure Principle, first published in 1920, is the first clear statement of Freud's changed drive theory: love and life now stand over against aggression and death. The book represents an important theoretical revision of Freud's earlier ideas and a turning point in psychoanalytic theory.… (more)

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