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Death Instinct

  The death instinct was first discussed by Freud in his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). It was a brand new theory of the instincts. In the book he asserted for the first time that the death instinct existed and that it and the sexual instinct were the prime motivators of human behaviour. Freud, in his theories of instincts, had always included the existence of conflict and compromise because these are such an essential part of human psychology. He felt the need to postulate opposing instincts to explain these aspects of human nature. The single driving force of the libido was unsatisfactory in this respect.

The theory of the death instinct was a result of Freud\'s reflections on the necessity his patients felt to repeat bad experiences. This compulsion to repeat was particularly marked in shell-shocked soldiers returning from World War I. He felt that this compulsion had an instinctive quality. The necessity to go back over what had happened before was seen by him to be ‘an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier stage of things’ and ‘the expression of inertia inherent in organic life’. He went on to say that the aim of all life was to return to the inert material it came from in death (a straightforwardly mechanistic view). He called the death instinct Thanatos and the sexual instinct Eros. MJ

Further reading S. Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents.



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