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Ethics

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French: éthique
Jacques Lacan

Lacan asserts that ethical thought "is at the centre of our work as analysts,"[1] and a whole year of his seminar is devoted to discussing the articulation of ethics and psychoanalysis .[2]

Psychoanalytic Treatment

Simplifying matters somewhat, it could be said that ethical problems converge in psychoanalytic treatment from two sides:

The Analysand

On the side of the analysand is the problem of guilt and the pathogenic nature of civilized morality.

Civilized Morality

In his earlier work, Freud posited a basic conflict between the demands of "civilized morality" and the essentially amoral sexual drives of the subject.

When morality gains the upper hand in this conflict, and the drives are too strong to be sublimated, sexuality is either expressed in perverse forms or repressed, the latter leading to neurosis.

In Freud's view, "civilized morality" is at the root of nervous illness.[3]

Sense of Guilt
Superego

Freud further developed his ideas on the pathogenic nature of morality in his theory of an unconscious sense of guilt, superego, an interior moral agency which becomes more cruel to the extent that the ego submits to its demands.[4]).

The Analyst

On the side of the analyst is the problem of how to deal with the pathogenic morality and unconscious guilt of the analysand, and also with the whole range of ethical problems that may arise in psychoanalytic treatment.

Sense of Guilt

Firstly, how is the analyst to respond to the analysand's sense of guilt?

Certainly not by telling the analysand that he is not really guilty, or by attempting "to soften, blunt or attenuate" his sense of guilt,[5] or by analyzing it away as a neurotic illusion.

On the contrary, Lacan argues that the analyst must take the analysand's sense of guilt seriously, for at bottom whenever the analysand feels guilty it is because he has, at some point, given way on his desire.

Superego

Secondly, how is the analyst to respond to the pathogenic morality which acts via the superego?

Freud's views of morality as a pathogenic force might seem to imply that the analyst simply has to help the analysand free himself from moral constraints.

However, which such an interpretation may find some support in Freud's earlier work,[6] Lacan is firmly opposed to such a view of Freud, preferring the more pessimistic Freud of Civilization and Its Discontents[7] and stating categorically that "Freud was in no way a progressive."[8]

Psychoanalysis, then, is not simply a libertine ethos.

Psychoanalytic Treatment

This seems to present the analyst with a moral dilemma.

On the one hand, he cannot simply align himself with civilised morality, since this morality is pathogenic.

On the other hand, nor can he simply adopt an opposing libertine approach, since this too remains within the field of morality.[9]

The rule of neutrality may seem to offer the analyst a way out of this dilemma, but in fact it does not, for Lacan points out that there is no such thing as an ethically neutral position.

The analyst cannot avoid, then, having to face ethical questions.

Neutral Ethical Position

An ethical position is implicit in every way of directing psychoanalytic treatment, whether this is admitted or not by the analyst.

The ethical position of the analyst is most clearly revealed by the way that he formulates the goal of the treatment.[10]

For example the formulations of ego-psychology about the adaptation of the ego to reality imply a normative ethics.[11]

It is in opposition to this ethical position that Lacan sets out to formulate his own analytic ethic.

Psychoanalytic Ethics

The analytic ethic that Lacan formulates is an ethic which relates action to desire.

Lacan summarizes it in the question "Have you acted in conformity with the desire that is in you?"[12].

He contrasts this ethic with the "traditional ethics"[13] of Aristotle, Kant and other moral philosophers on several grounds.

Traditional Ethics
Good

Firstly, traditional ethics revolves around the the concept of the Good, proposing different "goods" which all compete for the position of the Sover­eign Good.

The psychoanalytic ethic, however, sees the Good as an obstacle in the path of desire; thus in psychoanalysis "a radical repudiation of a certain ideal of the good is necessary."[14]

The psychoanalytic ethic rejects all ideals, including ideals of "happiness" and "health"; and the fact that ego-psychology has embraced these ideals bars it from claiming to be a form of psychoanalysis.[15]

The desire of the analyst cannot therefore be the desire to "do good" or "to cure".[16]

Pleasure

Secondly, traditional ethics has always tended to link the good to pleasure; moral thought has "developed along the paths of an essentially hedonistic problematic."[17]

The psychoanalytic ethic, however, cannot take such an approach because psychoanalytic experience has revealed the duplicity of pleasure; there is a limit to pleasure and, when this is transgressed, pleasure becomes pain.

"Service of Goods"

Thirdly, traditional ethics revolves around "the service of goods"[18] which puts work and a safe, ordered existence before questions of desire; it tells people to make their desires wait.[19]

The psychoanalytic ethic, on the other hand, forces the subject to confront the relation between his actions and his desire in immediacy of the present.

Psychoanalytic Theory

After his 1959-60 seminar on ethics, Lacan continues to locate ethical questions at the heart of psychoanalytic theory.

He interprets the soll in Freud's famous phrase Wo es war, soll Ich werden ("Where id was, there ego shall be")[20] as an ethical duty,[21] and argues that the status of the unconscious is not ontological but ethical.[22].

Speech

In the 1970s he shifts the emphasis of psychoanalytic ethics from the question of acting ("Have you acted in accordance with your desire?") to the question of speech; it now becomes an ethic of "speaking well" (l'éthique du Bien-dire.[23]

However, this is more a difference of emphasis than an opposition, since for Lacan to speak well is in itself an act.

See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 38
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VI. L'éthique de la psychanalyse, 1959-60. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1986 [The Seminar. Book VI. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992].
  3. Freud, Sigmund. "'Civilized' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness." 1908d. SE IX, 179
  4. Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id. 1923b. SE XIX, 3.
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 3
  6. Freud, Sigmund. "'Civilized' Sexual Morality and Modern Nervous Illness." 1908d. SE IX, 179
  7. Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. 1930a. SE XXI, 59.
  8. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 183
  9. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 3-4
  10. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 207
  11. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 207
  12. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 314
  13. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 314
  14. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 230
  15. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 219
  16. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 218
  17. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 221
  18. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 314
  19. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p. 315
  20. Freud, Sigmund. New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. 1933a: SE XXII, 80
  21. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 128
  22. 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. 33
  23. Lacan, Jacques. 1973a: 65