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condition. Such a tendency may be, as Freud says, "the manifestation of inertia in organic life." It is thus too general a conception to have any special value in the definition of an instinct: instinct would be but a particular case of the general tendency.
If all organic instincts are strivings towards an earlier condition they must ever tend towards regression, and, as Freud here says, "we are obliged to place all the results of organic development to the credit of external, disturbing and distracting influences" (p. 46). This is just the opposite of what he said in his paper on Instincts and their Destinies. He there said that we may certainly conclude that the instincts and not the external stimuli are the true motive forces in the progress that has raised the infinitely efficient nervous system to its present high level of development. He added, however, that there is nothing to prevent our assuming that the instincts themselves are, at least in part, the precipitates of different forms of external stimulation which in the course of phylogenesis have effected modifications in the living substance. So, also, in these later speculations, Freud declares that "in the last resort it must have been the evolution of our earth, and its relation to the sun, that has left its imprint on the development of organisms" (pp. 46-7). But now he adds: "The conservative organic instincts have absorbed every one of these enforced alterations in the course of life and have stored them for repetition; they thus present the delusive appearance of forces striving after change and progress, while they are merely endeavouring to reach an old goal by ways both old and new" (p. 47).
At this point the trend of Freud's thought becomes apparent. The old goal, towards which all organic striving tends, is death-"that ancient startingpoint which the living being left long ago, and to which it harks back again by all the circuitous paths of development" (p. 47). Adopting a mechanistic view of the origin and nature of life Freud sees in the animation of inanimate matter nothing but the arousing of a tension which immediately strives to attain an equilibrium. The first instinct of life is a striving to return to lifelessness: equilibrium can be attained only by a return to the inanimate condition.
Freud supposes that at first the return to the inanimate was easily accomplished and that the course of life was determined by the chemical structure of the young organism. He thinks that deviation from the original path of life to death was enforced upon the organism by external influences, although he does not specify what the influences are which compel the living substance to more complicated and circuitous ways to death. Whatever changes in the life-course are thus brought about, they are conserved in succeeding generations and these more circuitous routes to death become the phenomena of life as we know it.
According to this view the instincts which we regard as directed towards the preservation of the life of the individual are merely instincts which try to secure that death shall come only in the way laid down in the previous lifehistory of the race "to secure the path to death peculiar to the organism and to ward off possibilities of return to the inorganic other than the immanent ones" (p. 48).
It is hard not to feel that there is something wrong in thus ascribing death to an instinctive force. We are so used to regarding instincts as manifestations of forces making for life, that much evidence would be required to convince us that anything corresponding to what we understand by instinct plays a
part in the onbringing of death. Merely because all life as we know it seems to end in death, we need not suppose that death is a goal towards which life strives, or that its consummation is, in any sense, a direct consequence of the activity of forces peculiar to life, as the instincts are. Death may be at all times a frustration of these forces rather than the attainment of their goal. Life is, as Bergson says, "riveted to an organism that subjects it to the general laws of inert matter. But everything happens as if it were doing its utmost to set itself free from these laws" (Creative Evolution, p. 259).
Freud's sombre analysis thus far of the course of life, ending as it does on the note of "dust to dust, ashes to ashes," is here, no more than in the burial service, the whole of the story. In the phenomena of reproduction we meet with immediate refutation of the view that death is the only goal of life. When sperm cell and germ cell meet we see a new beginning of an old cycle of which not death but everlasting life would seem to be the goal. By this expedient for securing the continuity of the germ-plasm, by the freeing of the reproductive cells from the encumbrance of the soma which threatens to drag them to destruction, the life-process, for a time at least, declares its victory over death. There must, therefore, be something in the nature of living organisms that makes for life and not for death, and through the reproductive cells the continuance of life is assured from generation to generation.
But the continuance of life is dependent upon the safeguarding and the ultimate bringing together of the male and female reproductive cells; and in order that this may be brought to pass the individual is endowed with a group of instincts-the sexual instincts-which Freud says may rightly be called "life-instincts." The final aim of the life-instincts is the union of two cells, and Freud, if he is to adhere to his conception of instinct as a tendency to reinstatement of an earlier condition, is confronted with the question, Of what previous happening is conjugation a repetition; What former condition is reinstated in this union?
The difficulty of answering this question is so great that Freud is tempted to give up the whole enquiry on which he has been engaged and to be doubtful about the conclusions at which he has arrived regarding the repetition-compulsion and the opposition between ego-instincts and sexual instincts. These conclusions were based on the assumption that all life must die from internal causes; that is to say, from some inherent quality of living substance. He, therefore, turns back to examine this assumption in the light of biological
All the most important work that has been done during the past forty years on the biological problems of life and death has been relative to the views first put forward by August Weismann in 1881. At the first glance it would seem that in Weismann's distinction between the mortality of the soma and the potential immortality of the germ-plasm there is a striking corroboration, from the biological side, of Freud's hypothesis of death-instincts and life-instincts. But according to Weismann death is a late acquisition in the development of living beings: death happens only to multi-cellular organisms, the protozoa are potentially immortal; in Freud's hypothesis death-instincts are from the beginning inherent in the very nature of life, and the germ-plasm no less than the soma, the protista no less than the metazoa, contain within them the seeds of death.
The validity of Weismann's theory has been put to experimental test by various observers, and although the results arrived at are inconclusive, the
evidence as a whole points towards the view that the protozoa die natural deaths only when they are not protected from the products of their own metabolism; and this is death due to external influences, not to a death-instinct inherent in the living substance.
Freud somewhat naïvely disregards the results of these experiments, as well as the cogency of Weismann's arguments, and declares that "if we abandon the morphological point of view for the dynamic, it may be a matter of entire indifference to us whether the natural death of the protozoa can be proved or not. With them the substance later regarded as immortal has not yet separated itself in any way from the part subject to death" (p. 62). That is to say, Freud assumes that although the death-instincts of the protozoa find no morphological expression (produce no corpse), they are there all the time as forces making for death, although the influence exerted by them is obscured by the effects of the forces tending to preserve life.
Even if the biological evidence had been more conclusive than it is, it might still be maintained, as is done by Freud, that biology does not “entirely put out of court any recognition of the death-instincts"; for it is always open to us to suppose that death-instincts may be present although they give no sign of their activity. But if such evidence as may be found is to be entirely disregarded, then indeed it may be asked "whether any good purpose has been served in looking for the answer to the question as to natural death in the study of the protozoa" (p. 61).
Along the line of biological investigation Freud finds little to support his conception of death-instincts, and at the end of his enquiry he simply returns to his assumption that they do exist and proceeds to a further examination of their nature and of the relation in which they stand to the life-instincts. In doing so he enters upon a fascinating speculation regarding the action and reaction of the life- and death-instincts pertaining to the individual cells of which the body is composed, and reveals to us, in the interrelation of these bodily units, a new and unexpected application of his theory of the Libido. He supposes that the life-instincts active in every cell take the other cells for their object' and, by partially neutralizing the death-instincts of those cells, help to prolong their lives. Thus the Libido of our sexual instincts would coincide with the Eros of poets and philosophers, which holds together all things living" (p. 64).
There are two glaring gaps in the continuity of Professor Freud's argument. Dominated by his belief that a tendency to repetition is a primordial characteristic of living matter, he seizes upon this tendency and makes it the fundamental basis of all the instincts. Repetition is a reinstatement of an earlier condition and the first instinct of living substance must be a tendency to return to the inanimate from which it sprang. If this be so it should be possible to point to some recognised instinct in operation the activity of which tends towards the death of the organism endowed with it. But this Freud fails to do. The only example he puts forward in support of his contention is the sadistic impulse which aims at 'injury of the object' rather than at selfdestruction. His way out of this contradiction is to assume that sadism is "a death-instinct which is driven apart from the ego by the influence of the narcissistic libido, so that it becomes manifest only in reference to the object" (p. 69).
He anticipates the criticism that this conception of a displaced instinct is
"far from being evident and creates a frankly mystical impression," by reminding us that such an assumption is no new one, for he had made a similar one in a previous work. Clinical observation had led him to believe that masochism is to be understood as a recoil of sadism on to the ego. He gave this "turning against the subject" as one of the destinies which await the instincts, and he maintained that masochism is actually sadism turned against the subject's own ego-a change of object without a change of aim. He regarded sadism as the primary impulse and he did not then believe in the existence of a primary masochism, not derived from sadism.
He appears to justify his new assumption by asserting that "a turning of the instinct from the object to the ego is...essentially the same thing as a turning from the ego to the object" (p. 70). From one point of view—that of mere mechanism or process-this is no doubt true; but from another point of view it is obviously false. As regards the result, the displacement is not essentially the same but essentially different. Masochism is now declared to be primary and the so-called turning of the instinct against the self is in reality a regression—a return to what obtained before the death-instinct was "driven apart from the ego by the influence of the narcissistic libido." This change of standpoint, so far as we are told, is not based upon clinical observation as was the earlier view of the sadism-masochism relation, and we are led to suspect that the new formulation derives its cogency from its congruity with, and the support it accords to, the hypothesis of death-instincts.
The second gap in the argument comes at the other end of the series of speculations by which Freud defends his thesis. The conception of a repetitioncompulsion pointed the way to the conception of death-instincts, but the recognition of life-instincts brought to light a difficulty in relating them to the repetition-compulsion. The final aim of all the life-instincts is "the union of two germ cells which are specifically differentiated." If the sexual instincts are subject to the repetition-compulsion and if they reproduce primitive states of the living being, then, as has been indicated on a previous page, it must be asked: "Of what important happening...in the process of development of the living substance is sexual reproduction, or its forerunner, the copulation of two individual protozoa, the repetition?" (p. 54). Science fails to provide an answer to this question and Freud is forced to seek elsewhere for an hypothesis which will satisfy the demand that this instinct, like all others, arises from the necessity for the reinstatement of an earlier condition. Such an hypothesis he finds in the myth told by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium
-the myth of the round men whom Zeus cut in two. In this way it has come to pass that every human creature, being a counterpart, is always seeking his other half. Are we to assume, Freud asks, "that living substance was at the time of its animation. rent into small particles, which since that time strive for reunion by means of the sexual instincts"? (p. 75). And there he leaves the matter. "I think," he says, "this is the point at which to break off" (p. 76).
Save in regard to the establishment of a repetition-compulsion beyond the pleasure-principle Freud frankly acknowledges the speculative character of this book. He declares that he is neither convinced himself nor does he seek to convince others of the truth of the views he here sets forth. He asserts the right to give oneself up to a line of thought and follow it as far as it leads, simply out of scientific curiosity. But he also declares his belief that in dealing with ultimate things "everyone is under the sway of preferences deeply rooted
within, into the hands of which he unwittingly plays as he pursues his speculation" (p. 77).
The pessimism which hangs like a cloud over the whole of this essay is perhaps the inevitable outcome of a belief, however achieved, in a mechanistic theory of life; and perhaps the criticism which will, in the end, invalidate Freud's arguments, may come, not from those who dispute the accuracy of his deductions, but from those who question the fundamental assumption on which all his reasoning rests--the assumption that all the phenomena of life and mind can be interpreted in terms of the physical sciences. Freud has invoked the myth of Aristophanes in aid of his speculations; is it permissible to appeal to the other myth in the Symposium, the Discourse of Diotima? "What then is Eros?-is he Mortal? Nay, Mortal he verily is not."
T. W. MITCHELL,