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From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis
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French: acte
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Jacques Lacan


An "act" is not mere "behavior" -- such as that of all animals -- but a uniquely human act, "since to our knowledge there is no other act but the human one."[1]

Ethics of Psychoanalysis

The "act" is an ethical concept insofar as the subject can be held responsible for it.

The psychoanalytic concept of responsibility is complicated in psychoanalysis by the discovery that, in addition to his conscious plans, the subject also has unconscious intentions. Hence someone may well commit an act which he claims was unintentional, but which analysis reveals to be the expression of an unconscious desire.

Freud called these acts "parapraxes," or "bungled actions." They are "bungled" only from the point of view of the conscious intention, since they are successful in expressing an unconscious desire.[2]


In psychoanalytic treatment the subject is faced with the ethical duty of assuming responsibility even for the unconscious desires expressed in his actions.

He must recognize even apparently accidental actions as true acts which express an intention, albeit unconscious, and assume this intention as his own.

Neither "acting out" or a "passage to the act" are true acts, since the subject does not assume responsibility for his desire in these actions.


The ethics of psychoanalysis enjoin the analyst to assume responsibility for his or her acts (i.e. interventions in the treatment).

The analyst must be guided (in these interventions) by an appropriate desire, which Lacan calls the desire of the analyst.

An intervention can only be called a true "psychoanalytic act" when it succeeds in expressing the desire of the analyst -- that is, when it helps the analysand to move towards the end of analysis.

Lacan dedicates a year of his seminar to discussing further the nature of the psychoanalytic act.[3]


A bungled action is, as has been stated, successful from the point of view of the unconscious.

Nevertheless, this success is only partial because the unconscious desire is expressed in a distorted form.

It follows that, when it is fully and consciously assumed, "suicide is the only completely successful act."[4]

The act expresses completely an intention which is both conscious and unconscious, the conscious assumption of the unconscious death drive (on the other hand, a sudden impulsive suicide attempt is not a true act, but probably a passage to the act).

The death drive is thus closely connected with the ethical domain in Lacan's thought.

See Also


  1. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 50
  2. Freud, Sigmund. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. SE VI. 1901.
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XV. L'acte psychanalytique, 1967-68. Unpublished.
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Télévision, Paris: Seuil, 1973. Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, ed. Joan Copjec, trans. Denis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson, New York: Norton, 1990]. p.66-7