Reality Principle

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French: principe de réalité

Sigmund Freud

According to Freud, the psyche is at first regulated entirely by the pleasure principle, which seeks to experience satisfaction via a hallucinatory cathexis of a memory of prior satisfaction.

However, the subject soon discovers that hallucinating does not relieve his needs, and is thus forced "to form a conception of the real circumstances in the external world."[1]

A new "principle of mental functioning" is thus introduced (the "reality principle"), which modifies the pleasure principle and forces the subject to take more circuitous routes to satisfaction.

Since, however, the ultimate aim of the reality principle is still the satisfaction of the drives, it can be said that "the substitution of the reality principle for the pleasure principle implies no deposing of the pleasure principle, but only a safeguarding of it."[2]

Jacques Lacan

From early on, Lacan is opposed to what he calls "a naive conception of the reality principle."[3]

That is, he rejects any account of human development based on an unproblematic notion of "reality" as an objective and self-evident given.

He emphasizes Freud's position that the reality principle is still ultimately in the serve of the pleasure principle.

"The reality principle is a delayed action pleasure principle."[4]

Lacan thus challenges the idea that the subject has access to an infallible means of distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

"[R]eality isn't just there so that we bump our heads up against the false paths along which the functioning of the pleasure principle leads us. In truth, we make reality out of pleasure."[5]

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning." SE XII. 215. 1911. p.219.
  2. Freud, Sigmund. "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning." SE XII. 215. 1911. p.223
  3. Lacan, Jacques. "Some reflections on the ego." Int. J. Psycho-Anal. Vol 34. 1953. pp. 11
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p.60
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.225