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The Ego and the Id

The Ego and the Id

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In 1923, in this volume, Freud worked out important implications of the structural theory of mind that he had first set forth three years earlier in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

The Ego and the Id ranks high among the works of Freud's later years. The heart of his concern is the ego, which he sees battling with three forces: the id, the super-ego, and the outside world.

Of the various English translations of Freud's major works to appear in his lifetime, only one was authorized by Freud himself: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud under the general editorship of James Strachey.

Freud approved the overall editorial plan, specific renderings of key words and phrases, and the addition of valuable notes, from bibliographical and explanatory. Many of the translations were done by Strachey himself; the rest were prepared under his supervision. The result was to place the Standard Edition in a position of unquestioned supremacy over all other existing versions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393001426
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/17/1990
Series: Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Series
Edition description: The Standard Edition
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 136,568
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is one of the twentieth century's greatest minds and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. His many works include The Ego and the Id; An Outline of Psycho-Analysis; Inhibitions; Symptoms and Anxiety; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis; Civilization and Its Discontent, and others.

Peter Gay (1923—2015) was the author of more than twenty-five books, including the National Book Award winner The Enlightenment, the best-selling Weimar Culture, and the widely translated Freud: A Life for Our Time.

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In this preliminary chapter there is nothing new to be said and it will not be possible to avoid repeating what has often been said before.

The division of mental life into what is conscious and what is unconscious is the fundamental premise on which psychoanalysis is based; and this division alone makes it possible for it to understand pathological mental processes, which are as common as they are important, and to co-ordinate them scientifically. Stated once more in a different way: psychoanalysis cannot accept the view that consciousness is the essence of mental life, but is obliged to regard consciousness as one property of mental life, which may co-exist along with its other properties or may be absent.

If I were to allow myself to suppose that every one interested in psychology would read this book, I should still be prepared to find that some of them would stop short even at this point and go no further; for here we have the first shibboleth of psycho-analysis. To most people who have had a philosophical education the idea of anything mental which is not also conscious is so inconceivable that it seems to them absurd and refutable simply by logic. I believe this is only because they have never studied the mental phenomena of hypnosis and dreams, which — quite apart from pathological manifestations — necessitate this conclusion. Thus their psychology of consciousness is incapable of solving the problems of dreams and hypnosis.

The term "conscious" is, to start with, a purely descriptive one, resting on a perception of the most direct and certain character. Experience shows, next, that a mental element (for instance, an idea) is not as a rule permanently conscious. On the contrary, a state of consciousness is characteristically very transitory; an idea that is conscious now is no longer so a moment later, although it can become so again under certain conditions that are easily brought about. What the idea was in the interval we do not know. We can say that it was latent, and by this we mean that it was capable of becoming conscious at any time. Or, if we say that it was unconscious, we are giving an equally correct description. Thus "unconscious" in this sense of the word coincides with "latent and capable of becoming conscious." The philosophers would no doubt object: "No, the term unconscious does not apply here; so long as the idea was in a state of latency it was not a mental element at all." To contradict them at this point would lead to nothing more profitable than a war of words.

But we have arrived at the term or concept of "unconscious" along another path, by taking account of certain experiences in which mental dynamics play a part. We have found, that is, we have been obliged to assume, that very powerful mental processes or ideas exist — here a quantitative or economic factor comes into question for the first time — which can produce in the mind all the effects that ordinary ideas do (including effects that can in their turn become conscious as ideas) without themselves becoming conscious. It is unnecessary here to repeat in detail what has been explained so often before. We need only say that this is the point at which psycho-analytic theory steps in — with the assertion that such ideas cannot become conscious because a certain force is opposed to them, that otherwise they could become conscious, and that then one would see how little they differ from other elements which are admittedly mental. The fact that in the technique of psycho-analysis a means has been found by which the opposing force can be removed and the ideas in question made conscious renders this theory irrefutable. The state in which the ideas existed before being made conscious is called by us repression, and we assert that the force which instituted the repression and maintains it is perceived as resistance during the work of analysis.

We obtain our concept of the unconscious, therefore, from the theory of repression. The repressed serves us as a prototype of the unconscious. We see, however, that we have two kinds of unconscious — that which is latent but capable of becoming conscious, and that which is repressed and not capable of becoming conscious in the ordinary way. This piece of insight into mental dynamics cannot fail to affect terminology and description. That which is latent, and only unconscious in the descriptive and not in the dynamic sense, we call preconscious; the term unconscious we reserve for the dynamically unconscious repressed, so that we now have three terms, conscious (Cs), preconscious (Pcs), and unconscious (Ucs), which are no longer purely descriptive in sense. The Pcs is presumably a great deal closer to the Cs than is the Ucs, and since we have called the Ucs mental we shall with even less hesitation call the latent Pcs mental. But why do we not choose, instead of this, to remain in agreement with the philosophers and, in a consistent way, to distinguish the Pcs as well as the Ucs from what is conscious in the mind? The philosophers would propose that both the Pcs and the Ucs should be described as two varieties or levels of "psychoid," and harmony would be established. But endless difficulties in exposition would follow; and the one important fact, that the two kinds of "psychoid" as thus defined coincide in almost every other respect with what is admittedly mental, would be forced into the background in the interests of a prejudice dating from a period in which they, or the most important part of them, were still unknown.

We can now set to work comfortably with our three terms, Cs, Pcs, and Ucs, so long as we do not forget that, while in the descriptive sense there are two kinds of unconscious, in the dynamic sense there is only one. For purposes of exposition this distinction can in many cases be ignored, but in others it is of course indispensable. At the same time, we have become more or less accustomed to these two meanings of the term unconscious and have managed pretty well with them. As far as I can see, it is impossible to avoid this ambiguity; the distinction between conscious and unconscious is in the last resort a question of a perception which must be either affirmed or denied, and the act of perception itself tells us nothing of the reason why a thing is or is not perceived. No one has a right to complain because the actual phenomenon expresses the underlying dynamic factors ambiguously.

In the further course of psycho-analytic work, however, even these distinctions have proved to be inadequate and, for practical purposes, insufficient. This has become clear in more ways than one; but the decisive instance is as follows. We have formulated the idea that in every individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes, which we call his ego. This ego includes consciousness and it controls the approaches to motility, i.e. to the discharge of excitations into the external world; it is this institution in the mind which regulates all its own constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it continues to exercise a censorship upon dreams. From this ego proceed the repressions, too, by means of which an attempt is made to cut off certain trends in the mind not merely from consciousness but also from their other forms of manifestation and activity. In analysis these trends which have been shut out stand in opposition to the ego and the analysis is faced with the task of removing the resistances which the ego displays against concerning itself with the repressed. Now we find that during analysis, when we put certain tasks before the patient, he gets into difficulties; his associations fail when they ought to be getting near to the repressed. We then tell him that he is dominated by a resistance; but he is quite unaware of the fact, and, even if he guesses from his feelings of discomfort that a resistance is now at work in him, he does not know what it is nor how to describe it. Since, however, there can be no question but that this resistance emanates from his ego and belongs to it, we find ourselves in an unforeseen situation. We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed, that is, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious. From the point of view of analytic practice, the consequence of this piece of observation is that we land in endless confusion and difficulty if we cling to our former way of expressing ourselves and try, for instance, to derive neuroses from a conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. We shall have to substitute for this antithesis another, taken from our understanding of the structural conditions of the mind, namely, the antithesis between the organized ego and what is repressed and dissociated from it.

For our conception of the unconscious, however, the consequences of our new observation are even more important. Dynamic considerations caused us to make our first correction; our knowledge of the structure of the mind leads to the second. We recognize that the Ucs does not coincide with what is repressed; it is still true that all that is repressed is Ucs, but not that the whole Ucs is repressed. A part of the ego, too — and Heaven knows how important a part — may be Ucs, undoubtedly is Ucs. And this Ucs belonging to the ego is not latent like the Pcs; for if it were, it could not be activated without becoming Cs, and the process of making it conscious would not encounter such great difficulties. When we find ourselves thus confronted by the necessity of postulating a third Ucs which is not repressed, we must admit that the property of being unconscious begins to lose significance for us. It becomes a quality which can have many implications, so that we are unable to make it, as we should have hoped to do, the basis of far-reaching and inevitable conclusions. Nevertheless, we must beware of ignoring this property, for in the last resort the quality of being conscious or not is the single ray of light that penetrates the obscurity of depth-psychology.



Pathological research has centred our interest too exclusively on the repressed. We wish to know more about the ego, now that we know that it, too, can be unconscious in the proper sense of the word. Hitherto the only guide we have had while pursuing our investigations has been the distinguishing mark of being conscious or unconscious; and in the end we have come to see that this quality itself is ambiguous.

Now all our knowledge is invariably bound up with consciousness. Even knowledge of the Ucs can only be obtained by making it conscious. But stop, how is that possible? What does it mean when we say "making it conscious"? How can that come about?

We already know the point from which we have to start in this connection. We have said that consciousness is the superficies of the mental apparatus; that is, we have allocated it as a function to the system which is situated nearest to the external world. Incidentally, on this occasion the topographical terminology does not merely serve to describe the nature of the function, but actually corresponds to the anatomical facts. Our investigations too must take this surface organ of perception as a starting-point.

All perceptions which are received from without (sense-perceptions) and from within — what we call sensations and feelings — are Cs from the start. But how is it with those internal processes which we may — vaguely and inexactly — sum up under the name of thought-processes? They represent displacements of mental energy which are effected somewhere in the interior of the apparatus as this energy proceeds on its way towards action. Do they advance towards the superficies, which then allows of the development of consciousness? Or does consciousness make its way towards them? This is clearly one of the difficulties that spring up when one begins to take the spatial or "topographical" conception of mental life seriously. Both these possibilities are equally unimaginable; there must be a third contingency to meet the case.

I have already, in another place, suggested that the real difference between a Ucs and a Pcs idea (thought) consists in this: that the former is worked out upon some sort of material which remains unrecognized, whereas the latter (the Pcs) has in addition been brought into connection with verbal images. This is the first attempt to find a distinguishing mark for the two systems, the Pcs and the Ucs, other than their relation to consciousness. It would seem, then, that the question, "How does a thing become conscious?" could be put more advantageously thus: "How does a thing become preconscious?" And the answer would be: "By coming into connection with the verbal images that correspond to it."

These verbal images are memory-residues; they were at one time perceptions, and like all memory-residues they can become conscious again. Before we concern ourselves further with their nature, it dawns upon us like a new discovery that only something which has once been a Cs perception can become conscious, and that anything arising from within (apart from feelings) that seeks to become conscious must try to transform itself into external perceptions: this can be done by way of memory-traces.

We conceive of memory-residues as contained in systems which are directly adjacent to the system Pcpt-Cs*, so that the cathexes pertaining to the memory-residues can readily extend outward on to the elements of the latter system. We are immediately reminded of hallucinations here, and of the fact that the most vivid memory is always distinguishable both from a hallucination and from an external perception; but it will also occur to us that when a memory is revived the cathexis in the memory-system will remain in force, whereas a hallucination which is not distinguishable from a perception can arise when the cathexis does not merely extend over from the memory-trace to the Pcpt-element, but passes over to it entirely.

Verbal residues are derived primarily from auditory perceptions, so that the system Pcs has, as it were, a special sensory source. The visual components of verbal images are secondary, acquired through reading, and may to begin with be left on one side; so may the sensori-motor images of words, which, except with deaf-mutes, play an auxiliary part. The essence of a word is after all the memory-trace of a word that has been heard.

We must not be led away, in the interests of simplification perhaps, into forgetting the importance of optical memory-residues — those of things (as opposed to words) — or to deny that it is possible for thought-processes to become conscious through a reversion to visual residues, and that in many people this seems to be a favourite method. The study of dreams and of preconscious phantasies on the lines of J. Varendonck's observations gives us an idea of the special character of this visual thinking. We learn that what becomes conscious is as a rule only the concrete subject-matter of the thought, and that the relations between the various elements of this subject-matter, which is what specially characterizes thought, cannot be given visual expression. Thinking in pictures is, therefore, only a very incomplete form of becoming conscious. In some way, too, it approximates more closely to unconscious processes than does thinking in words, and it is unquestionably older than the latter both ontogenetically and phylogenetically.

To return to our argument: if, therefore, this is the way in which something that is in itself unconscious becomes preconscious, the question how something that is repressed can be made (pre)conscious would be answered as follows. It is done by supplying through the work of the analysis Pcs connecting-links of the kind we have been discussing. Consciousness remains where it is, therefore; but, on the other hand, the Ucs does not rise up into the Cs.

Whereas the relation between external perceptions and the ego is quite perspicuous, that between internal perceptions and the ego requires special investigation. It gives rise once more to a doubt whether we are really justified in referring the whole of consciousness to the single superficial system Pcpt-Cs.


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Table of Contents

Translator's Note, v,
Introduction, vii,
I. Consciousness and the Unconscious, 1,
II. The Ego and the Id, 8,
III. The Ego and the Super-Ego (Ego-Ideal), 19,
IV The Two Classes of Instincts, 33,
V. The Subordinate Relationships of the Ego, 43,

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