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Lacan on Drive V. Instinct

In On Freud’s Trieb” and the Psychoanalyst’s Desire in the Écrits, Lacan says.

It can never be often enough repeated that the drive —the Freudian drive— has nothing to do with instinct (none of Freud’s expression allow for confusion here).1

One of the things that drives me nuts when I teach is how so many students are lead astray by the English language translations that make up the Standard Edition. These translation translate both Trieb (drive) and Instinkt (instinct) as instinct.

Lacan points out that Freud used the two different terms because they mean two different things.

  1. Instincts — A things that we refuse tension in the service of keeping the human body alive. They can be seen in things like sleeping, digesting food, expelling waste, and breathing. Doing what an instinct tells our body to do is (generally) very easy, and doing it keeps our body alive.
  2. Drives — Are things that serve no purpose, but we get enjoyment from doing them. Drives go beyond the pleasure principle” which the instincts adhere to. Example of drive include things like over eating, smoking, or staying up late to talking into the small hours of the morning when you need to work the next day. Drives attach to things we enjoy a lot but do not need to do in order to stay alive.

It is so important to be able to understand how these concepts are not the same thing if one is to understand psychoanalytic theory.

  1. Jacques Lacan, On Freud’s Trieb” and the Psychoanalyst’s Desire,” in Écrits, Bruce Fink translation, New York, Norton, 2006, p. 722.

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