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Freud spoke of the unconscious as '(an)other scene' - the immutable realm of human desire. Lacan speaks of the unconscious as quite simply the 'discourse of the Other' (1977e [1960]). There is an important distinction being made here by Lacan between the little other and the capitalized big Other. The lower case 'other' always refers to imaginary others. We treat these others as whole, unified or coherent egos, and as reflections of ourselves they give us the sense of being complete whole beings. This is the other of the mirror phase who the infant presumes will completely satisfy its desire. At the same time the infant sees itself as the sole object of desire for the other (see Chapter 1). The big Other, on the other hand, is that absolute otherness that we cannot assimilate to our subjectivity. The big Other is the symbolic order; it is that foreign language that we are born into and must learn to speak if we are to articulate our own desire. It is also the discourse and desires of those around us, through which we internalize and inflect our own desire. What psychoanalysis teaches us is that our desires are always inextricably bound up with the desires of others.

The 'other'/'Other' (French: autre/Autre is perhaps the most complex term in Lacan's work.

Freud uses the term 'other' to speak of der Andere ('the other person') and das Andere ('otherness').

Jacques Lacan

When Lacan first begins to use the term, in the 1930s, it is not very salient, and refers simply to 'other people'.

Lacan was introduced to the work of German philosopher Hegel in a series of lectures given by Alexandre Kojève (at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes) in 1933-9.

Lacan seems to have borrowed the term from Hegel

Little Other versus the Big Other

In 1955, Lacan draws a distinction between the 'little other' and the 'big Other' ('the Other').[1]

This distinction remains central throughout the rest of his work.

Lacan asserts that an awareness of this distinction is fundamental to analytic practice: the analyst must be 'thoroughly imbued' with the difference between A and a,[2] so that he can situate himself in the place of Other, and not of the other.[3]


In Lacanian algebra, the big Other is designated with an upper-case A (French for Autre) and the little other is designated with a lower-case and italicized a (French for autre).

For a more detailed discussion of the development of the symbol a in Lacan's work, see object petit a.

The little other

The little other is the other who is not, in fact, other, but a reflection or projection of the ego.[4]

The little other is inscribed in the imaginary order as both the counterpart and the specular image.

The big Other

The big Other designates radical alterity, an otherness which transcends the illusory otherness of the imaginary because it cannot be assimilated through identification.

Lacan equates the big Other with language and the law.

Hence the big Other is inscribed in the symbolic order.

Indeed, the big Other is the symbolic insofar as it is particularized for each subject.

Thus, the Other is both another subject in its radical alterity and unassimilable uniqueness and also the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that subject.

However, the meaning of "the Other as another subject" is strictly secondary to the meaning of "the Other as symbolic order."

"The Other must first of all be considered a locus, the locus in which speech is constituted."[5]

It is thus only possible to speak of the Other as a subject in a secondary sense, in the sense that a subject may occupy this position and thereby 'embody' the Other for another subject.[6]

The Unconscious is the Discourse of the Other

Lacan argues that speech originates not in the ego or even in the subject but in the Other.

Lacan argues that speech and language are beyond conscious control.

Speech and language come from another place, outside consciousness.

Hence, "the unconscious is the discourse of the Other."[7]

Sigmund Freud

In conceiving of the Other as a place, Lacan alludes to Freud's concept of psychical locality, in which the unconscious is described as "the other scene."


It is the mother who first occupies the position of the big Other for the child, because it is she who receives the child's primitive cries and retroactively sanctions them as a particular message. (see punctuation).

Lack in the Other

The Castration Complex is formed when the child discovers that this Other is not complete, that there is a lack in the Other.

In other words, there is always a signifier missing from the treasury of signifiers constituted by the Other.

The mythical complete Other (written A in Lacanian algebra) does not exist.

In 1957 Lacan illustrates this incomplete Other graphically by striking a bar through the symbol A.

Hence another name for the castrated, incomplete Other is the barred Other.

The Other Sex

The Other is also 'the Other sex' (S20, 40).

The Other sex is always Woman, for both male and female subjects.

"Man here acts as the relay whereby the Woman becomes this Other for herself as she is this Other for him."[8]

See Also

Other, (A), 7-8, 9, 10, 17, 23-24, 28, 39-40, 45, 49, 68, 77, 81, 86, 87, 93, 96-97, 99, 116, 122, 128, 129, 131
desire and, 4, 69, 80, 92, 98-100, 121, 126-27
discourse of, 89
as lacking, 63, 114, 127
language as, 68
subject and, 87-88
symbolic order and, 4, 83, 97-98
See also Barred Other, (A); Signifier of the lack in the Other
  1. 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. Chapter 19
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.140
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.454
  4. This is why the symbol a can represent the little other and the ego interchangeably in schema l.
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book III. The Psychoses, 1955-56. Trans. Russell Grigg. London: Routledge, 1993. p.274
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.202
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.16
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.732