biology (biologie) Freud's work is full of references to biology. Freud
regarded biology as a model of scientific rigour on which to base the new
science of psychoanalysis. Lacan, however, is strongly opposed to any attempt
to construct psychoanalysis upon a biological model, arguing that the direct
application of biological (or ethological/psychological) concepts (such as
ADAPTATION) to psychoanalysis will inevitably be misleading and will obliter-
ate the essential distinction between NATURE and culture. Such biologising
explanations of human behaviour ignore, according to Lacan, the primacy of
the symbolic order in human existence. Lacan sees this 'biologism' in the work
of those psychoanalysts who have confused desire with need, and drives with
instincts, concepts which he insists on distinguishing.
These arguments are evident from the very earliest of Lacan's psycho-
analytic writings. In his 1938 work on the family, for example, he rejects
any attempt to explain family structures on the basis of purely biological data,
and argues that human psychology is regulated by complexes rather than by
instincts (Lacan, 1938: 23-4).
Lacan argues that his refusal of biological reductionism is not a contra-
diction of Freud but a return to the essence of Freud's work. When Freud used
biological models, he did so simply because biology was at that time a model
of scientific rigour in general, and because the conjectural sciences had not
then achieved the same degree of rigour. Freud certainly did not confuse
psychoanalysis with biology or any other exact science, and when he bor-
rowed concepts from biology (such as the concept of the drive) he reworked
them in such a radical way that they become totally new concepts. For
example, the concept of the death instinct 'is not a question of biology' (E,
102). Lacan expresses his point with a paradox: 'Freudian biology has nothing
to do with biology' (S2, 75).
Lacan, like Freud, uses concepts borrowed from biology (e.g. imago,
dehiscence), and then reworks them in an entirely symbolic framework.
Perhaps the most significant example of this is Lacan's concept of the
PHALLUS, which he conceives as a signifier and not as a bodily organ. Thus
while Freud conceives of the castration complex and sexual difference in terms
of the presence and absence of the penis, Lacan theorises them in non-
biological, non-anatomical terms (the presence and absence of the phallus).
This has been one of the main attractions of Lacanian theory for certain
feminist writers who have seen it as a way of constructing a non-essentialist
account of gendered subjectivity.
However, while Lacan consistently rejects all forms of biological reduction-
ism, he also rejects the culturalist position which completely ignores the
relevance of biology (Ec, 723). If 'biologising' is understood correctly (that
is, not as the reduction of psychic phenomena to crude biological determi-
nation, but as discerning the precise way in which biological data impact on
the psychical field), then Lacan is all in favour of biologising thought (Ec,
723). The clearest examples of this are Lacan's appeals to examples from
animal ethology to demonstrate the power of images to act as releasing
mechanisms; hence Lacan's references to pigeons and locusts in his account
of the mirror stage (E, 3), and to crustaceans in his account of mimicry (Sll,
99) (see GESTALT).
Thus in his account of sexual difference, Lacan follows Freud's rejection of
the false dichotomy between 'anatomy or convention' (Freud, 1933a: SE XXII,
114). Lacan's concern is not to privilege either term but to show how both
interact in complex ways in the process of assuming a sexual position.