Freud: "The Psychical Apparatus"


Freud, Sigmund. 1900-39. "The Psychical Apparatus and the Theory of Instincts" (130-133)


Freud lived from 1856 to 1939.

This short excerpt lays out the basics of Freud's "anatomy" of the self. Critical to our purposes is not the particulars of his model but two aspects of the overall dynamic. First, the self is described as a dynamic interaction among functionally different parts. Second, these parts have a developmental history — and this history involves socialization. Thus, we have a "social self."

But most important is the idea that there is a more primitive and "natural" part of the self which needs to be tamed and this taming happens via an internalization of society (i.e., parents).

The (natural) instincts — love and death, we can say — are apt to be out of control and ultimately destructive if the ID is allowed free rein.

Freud gives us a basic model of socialization by which asocial infants are transformed into beings with a social self. But his is not an "oversocialized" concept of the human — the tensions among the forces of the ID and the challenge of balancing demands of ID, super-ego, and reality is ongoing.


  1. Two data: the brain/nervous system and our thoughts.
  2. Mental life a function of something real.
  3. We study development of individual and note that the psychic inheritance, present at birth (nature) is called the ID. (130.5)
  4. A second part acts as intermediary between ID and the world : EGO.
  5. Ego = voluntary movement, self-preservation, awareness, memory, flight, adaptation, activity.
  6. Ego struggles to gain control over id and its instincts.
  7. Ego seeks pleasure, avoids pain. Sensation probably derivative of these. Anticipation of pain is anxiety.
  8. During childhood, a version of parents is carved out of the ego in the form of a super-ego.
  9. "Normal" is when action satisfies demands of id, super-ego and reality.
  10. The forces behind the "needs" of the ID are instincts.
  11. Two basic instincts: eros (establishing bonds) and death (destroying bonds). (132.5)
  12. Analogous to attraction and repulsion, these forces oppose one another but also work in combination. (132.7)
  13. Energy of Eros is "libido." It starts out in the ego-id. Then fully in ego as narcissism. Via object-libido toward balance.


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