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In his pre-1950 writings, Lacan sees psychoanalysis and psychology as parallel disciplines which can cross-fertilize each other. Although he is very critical of the conceptual inadequacies of associationist psychology, Lacan argues that psychoanalysis can help to build an "authentic psychology" free from such errors by providing it with truly scientific concepts such as the imago and the complex.
However, from 1950 on, there is a gradual but constant tendency to dissociate psychoanalysis from psychology. Lacan begins by arguing that psychology is confined to an understanding of animal psychology (ethology):
"The psychological is, if we try to grasp it as firmly as possible, the ethological, that is the whole of the biological individual's behaviour in relation to his natural environment."
Thus psychology is reduced to general laws of behavior which apply to all animals, including human beings; Lacan rejects "the doctrine of a discontinuity between animal psychology and human psychology which is far away from our thought." However, Lacan vigorously rejects the behaviorist theory according to which the same general laws of behaviour are sufficient to explain all human psychic phenomena. Only psychoanalysis, which uncovers the linguistic basis of human subjectivity, is adequate to explain those psychic phenomena which are specifically human.
In the 1960s the distance between psychoanalysis and psychology is emphasised further in Lacan's work. Lacan argues that psychology is essentially a tool of "technocratic exploitation", and that it is dominated by the illusions of wholeness and synthesis, nature and instinct, autonomy and self-consciousness. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, subverts these illusions cherished by psychology, and in this sense "the Freudian enunciation has nothing to do with psychology. For example the most cherished illusion of psychology is "the unity of the subject",, and psychoanalysis subverts this notion by demonstrating that the subject is irremediably split or "barred".
- Lacan, Jacques. "Au-delà du 'principe de realité'", 1936. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. pp. 73-92
- Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p. 7
- Although at one point Lacan does state that the theory of the ego and of narcissism 'extend' modern ethological research.Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 472
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 484
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.851; Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 832
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 832
- Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XVII. L'envers de la psychanalyse, 19669-70. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 144
- Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 294