Pleasure principle

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French: [[principe de plaisir]]

Sigmund Freud

According to Freud, the pleasure principle is one of the "two principles of mental functioning" -- the other being the reality principle. The pleasure principle directs all mental or psychical activity towards obtaining -- maximizing -- pleasure and avoiding -- minimizing -- unpleasure. All mental or psychical activity is directed -- by the pleasure principle -- towards obtaining pleasure and avoiding unpleasure.


Unpleasure is related to the increase of quantities of excitation. Unpleasure results from increased excitation. Pleasure results from their reduction. The pleasure principle therefore serves to reduce tension and to return the psyche to a state of equilibrium or constancy.

Beyond the Pleasure Principle

Freud suggests that there is something "beyond the pleasure principle" -- namely the death drives -- which attempt to reduce psychic tension to zero, and thus to return living beings to an inorganic state.

Jacques Lacan

For Lacan the pleasure principle is an obstacle to jouissance' that takes the subject to that extreme point where the erotic borders upon death and where subjectivity risks extinction. The pleasure principle is closely linked -- closely related -- to the prohibition of incest, the symbolic law and the regulation of desire. The pleasure principle is "that which regulates the distance between the subject and das Ding. In 1960, Lacan develops an important opposition between pleasure and jouissance. Jouissance is an excessive quantity of excitation which the pleasure principle tries to prevent. The pleasure principle is a commandment -- which can be phrased -- "Enjoy as little as possible."

The function of the pleasure principle is, in effect, to lead the subject from signifier to signifier, by generating as many signifiers as are required to maintain at as low a level as possible the tension that regulates the whole functioning of the psychic apparatus.[1]

Lacan describes the pleasure principle in the seminar of 1954-5.[2]