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> 1923b

The Ego and the Id

Freud, Sigmund 1923b, The Ego and the Id, SE 19: 1-66, trs. from Das Ich und das Es, GW 13: 237.

[Mitchell:] In 1923, in The Ego and the Id (SE 19), Freud introduced a new metapsychology. As well as the division into unconscious, preconscious and conscious we now have id, ego and super-ego. (Mitchell)

Roughly speaking, during the first twenty years of this century the very diverse preoccupations of Freud's work can be subjugated to two central tenets: the formative importance of infantile sexuality and the existence of an unconscious mind that works on principles quite distinct from those of the conscious mind. These two discoveries come together in Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex and its destruction by the castration complex. (Mitchell 1986: 12)

Freud made the act of repression critical for the formation of that aspect of psychic life which psychoanalysis could decipher: it was the particular defence which constructed the unconscious whose manifestations could be understood in the distortions of neurosis. (Mitchell 1986: 20)

Editor's Introduction to 1923b
But the question now arose whether, as applied to a system, the term "unconscious" was at all appropriate. In the structural picture of the mind what had from the first been most clearly differentiated from "the unconscious" had been "the ego". And it now began to appear that the ego itself ought partly to be described as "unconscious". This was pointed out in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in a sentence which read in the first edition (1920g): "It may be that much of the ego is itself unconscious; only a part of it, probably, is covered by the term 'preconscious'." In the second edition, a year later, this sentence was altered to: "It is certain that much of the ego is itself unconscious …; only a small part of it is covered by the term 'preconscious'." And this discovery and the grounds for it were stated with still greater insistence in the first chapter of the present work.
… "being conscious" was henceforward to be regarded simply as a quality which might or might not be attached to a mental state. The old "descriptive" sense of the term was in fact all that remained.

Chapter 1 Consciousness and what is unconscious 13-18
Defines 'unconscious'
mental dynamics
economic factor
The repressed is the prototype of the unconscious for us. (1923b: SE 19: 15)
We restrict the term unconscious to the dynamically unconscious repressed. (1923b, SE 19: 15)
In the descriptive sense there are two kinds of unconscious, but in the dynamic sense only one. (1923b, SE 19: 15)
The ego controls the approaches to motility. (1923b, SE 19: 17)
[The ego ] ... exercises the censorship on dreams. From this ego proceed the repressions, too ... (1923b, SE 19: 17)
We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed—that is, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious. (1923b, SE 19: 17)

Ch. 2 The Ego and the Id 19-27
A thing becomes preconscious "Through becoming connected with the word-presentations corresponding to it." These word-presentations are residues of memories they were at one time perceptions, and like all mnemic residues they can become conscious again. (1923b, SE 19: 20)

It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs.; in a sense it is an extension of the surface-differentiation. (1923b, SE 19: 25)

Ch. 3 The Ego and the Super-Ego (Ego Ideal) 28-39
This leads us back to the origin of the ego ideal for behind it there lies hidden an individual's first and most important identification: his identification with the father in his own personal prehistory. (1923b, SE 19: 31)

The broad general outcome of the sexual phase dominated by the Oedipus complex may, therefore, be taken to be the forming of a precipitate in the ego, consisting of these two identifications in some way united with each other. This modification of the ego retains its special position it confronts the other contents of the ego as an ego ideal or super-ego.
The super-ego is, however, not simply a residue of the earliest object-choices of the id; it also represents an energetic reaction-formation against those choices. Its relation to the ego is not exhausted by the precept: 'You ought to be like this (like your father).' It also comprises the prohibition: 'You may not be like this (like your father)—that is, you may not do all that he does some things are his prerogative.' This double aspect of the ego ideal derives from the fact that the ego ideal had the task of repressing the Oedipus complex, indeed, it is to that revolutionary event that it owes its existence. ... The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on—in the form of conscience or perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt. (1923b, SE 19: 34-5)

But now that we have embarked upon the analysis of the ego we can give an answer to all those whose moral sense has been shocked and who have complained that there must surely be a higher nature in man: 'Very true,' we can say, 'and here we have that higher nature, in this ego ideal or super-ego, the representative of our relation to our parents. When we were little children we knew these higher natures, we admired them and feared them and later we took them into ourselves.' (1923b, SE 19: 36)

The ego ideal is therefore the heir of the Oedipus complex , and thus it is also the expression of the most powerful impulses and most important libidinal vicissitudes of the id. By setting up this ego ideal, the ego has mastered the Oedipus complex and at the same time placed itself in subjection to the id. Whereas the ego is essentially the representative of the external world, of reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as the representative of the internal world, of the id. Conflicts between the ego and ideal will, as we are now prepared to find, ultimately reflect the contrast between what is real and what is psychical, between the external world and the internal world. ...
What has belonged to the lowest part of the mental life of each of us is changed, through the formation of the ideal, into what is highest in the human mind by our scale of values. It would be vain, however, to attempt to localize the ego ideal, even in the sense in which we have localized the ego, or to work it into any of the analogies with the help of which we have tried to picture the relation between the ego and the id.
It is easy to show that the ego ideal answers to everything that is expected of the higher nature of man. As a substitute for a longing for the father, it contains the germ from which all religions have evolved. The self-judgement which declares that the ego falls short of its ideal produces the religious sense of humility to which the believer appeals in his longing. As a child grows up, the role of father is carried on by teachers and others in authority; their injunctions and prohibitions remain powerful in the ego ideal and continue, in the form of conscience, to exercise the moral censorship. The tension between the demands of conscience and the actual performances of the ego is experienced as sense of guilt. Social feelings rest on identifications with other people, on the basis of having the same ego ideal. (1923b, SE 19: 36-7)

Reflection at once shows us that no external vicissitudes can be experienced or undergone by the id, except by way of the ego, which is the representative of the external world to the id. ... Thus in the id, which is capable of being inherited, are harboured residues of the existences of countless egos; and, when the ego forms its super-ego out of the id, it may perhaps only be reviving shapes of former egos and be bringing them to resurrection. (1923b, SE 19: 38)

New: 19 May, 2015 | Now: 19 May, 2015 | Garry Gillard | garrygillard[at]