Provinces and Instincts of the Psyche

Freud's three provinces of the psyche (i.e., ego, id, and superego) are all household names. He postulated that they performed their functions through a form of psychic energy derived directly from instincts. He defined an instinct as an inborn and innately compelling directive in psychological processes rooted in organic or biological determinants. Later in his life, Freud divided instincts into two categories: life and death. Life instincts become mental representatives of all bodily needs, which require satisfaction through survival and reproduction (better known as the sex instinct). The life instincts' principal agent is the ego, and according to Freud, the ego owed its very existence to the need for satisfying bodily needs and making realistic transactions with the environment. The ego also transforms or sublimates death instincts that serve the ends of life rather than the ends of death. All life instincts are driven by a very well-known form of psychic energy—the libido (although earlier in his writings he proposed the libido denoted only sexual energy).

Freud apparently developed his notion of death instincts based on the terrible destructions of World War I and through his very realistic fears of future destruction through another world war. His notion of a death instinct was, however, entirely consistent with his core idea that behavior consisted of innate and environmental stimuli. Death instincts, therefore, were built into living matter in the very earliest transmutations of inorganic forms into life forms. The goal of the death instinct was ultimately to return matter into its inorganic, lifeless form. While writing The Future of an Illusion, he even vilified any benevolent Providence and the beginning of any kind of higher existence after death (Freud, 1928). The goal of the death instinct for Freud was extinction.

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