Talk:Reality Principle

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Freudian Dictionary

In taming the impulses of the Id, the Ego replaces the pleasure principle, which was earlier the sole regulating factor, by the so-called reality principle, which indeed pursues the same ends but takes into account the conditions imposed by the outer world.[1]


Together with the pleasure principle, the reality principle is, according to Freud, one of the two principles governing the workings of the psyche.

The reality principle modifies the pleasure principle by regulating the instinctive search for pleasure.

Under its influence, the search for pleasure ceases to be immediate as momentary and uncertain pleasures are renounced in order to gain a more assured pleasure at a later stage (deferred gratification).

The quest for pleasure is thus modified so as to make it conform to the conditions imposed by external realities. The religious doctrine which holds that those who renounce earthly pleasures can expect to be rewarded in the afterlife is viewed by [[Freud] as a projection of the reality principle.

According to [{Freud]], the psyche is at first regulated entirely by the pleasure principle.

The pleasure principle seeks to experience satisfaction via hallucinatory cathexis of a memory of prior satisfaction.

However, the subject soon discovers that hallucinating does not fully satisfy his needs, and is thus forced "to form a conception of the real circumstances in the external world."[2]

Freud introduces the reality principle (principe de rèalitè), a new 'principle of mental functioning' 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.

Lacan is opposed to what he calls "a naive conception of the Reality principle."[3]

He rejects any account of human development based on an unproblematic notion of 'reality' as an objective and self-evident given.

Lacan (following Freud) argues that the reality principle is still ultimately in the service 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.

"Reality 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]


Respectively, the desire for immediate gratification vs. the deferral of that gratification. Quite simply, the pleasure principle drives one to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. However, as one grows up, one begins to learn the need sometimes to endure pain and to defer gratification because of the exigencies and obstacles of reality:

"An ego thus educated has become 'reasonable'; it no longer lets itself be governed by the pleasure principle, but obeys the reality principle, which also at bottom seeks to obtain pleasure, but pleasure which is assured through taking account of reality, even though it is pleasure postponed and diminished."[6]

See Also


  1. Template:QLA Ch. 3
  2. Freud, 1911b: SE XII, 219
  3. 1951b: ll
  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
  6. Introductory Lectures 16.357