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Ethics in Psychoanalysis

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Interview with
Ashley Bickerton


Ethics in Psychoanalysis


Jacques-Alain Miller

translated by Jorge Jauregui and Marguerite Laporte


On the topic of ethics, I shall clarify the Freudian basics of the concept of jouissance in Lacan.
It is a mistake, to stress Lacan's originality over his fidelity to Freud, and I think that if at times his reasoning or his concepts, seem so novel, it's due to people having a poor reading of Freud, and thus his ethics.
Occasionally people imagine that it's Lacan with his supposed intellectualism who introduced ethics to psychoanalysis, perhaps because as a young man he read Spinoza passionately. But actually that's not the case. Just refer to Civilization and its Discontents,1 where Freud explicitly alludes to ethics in relation to therapeutics.
At first glance it seems to exceed his concern, although nowadays ethics gets entwined with science, for example there are collective fears stemming from recent biochemical research, related to human reproduction. Namely, research related to the reproduction of human life.
These fears of scientifique progress brought about governmental desire to check scientific research. In France the "Comité Etatique de l'Ethique" tries to subject the development of science to a supposed ethics: to leave human reproduction untouched. Therefore, presumably a good exists, one considered more valuable than investigation or pursuit of scientific truth. We are at the close of this century, in quite different circumstances than those of the previous, when there was a common belief that, miraculously, the progress of science would coincide with humanity's well-being. Now is the time of civilization and its discontents, and even a little beyond: the time of civilization and its horror.
Since scientific development challenges humanity's very survival, as opposed to in Freud's time, when we discuss ethics in psychoanalysis today, the problem differs. The progress of psychoanalysis may threaten one or another individual because of a therapeutic error, yet for the time being no one believes the human race is threatened by psychoanalytic development.
An analysis isn't an intellectual journey - its praxis is a certain suffering, a kind of complaint: the statement of a being wanting to change- and when these elements are absent, analysis becomes a hard task. Someone who feels fine, at the peak of his possibilities, desiring an analysis in order to become an analyst, for example, would not foster a praxis of the experience. When someone says "everything is great for me," always wait until the second, or third meeting. For, basically the praxis of analysis is a suffering, not an intellectual journey. Certainly, nothing could empower the analyst to take on the complaint unless he presumes to have the means to relieve its suffering. This puts the analyst in the position of the therapist, the person who thinks he might cure. Thus for Lacan's disciples as for Lacan himself, even surely for Freud, psychoanalysis cures; psychoanalysis is a therapy. But, not for that reason, may we deny, exclude ethics and the very notion of cure - in the sense of what results - not in the sense of the process but in the sense of of the outcome, it being the cure itself. If psychoanalysis is a cure, we have a problem with the notion of cure, which in psychoanalysis is problematic, and this is easy to understand: it's that the notion of cure is bound to the notion of symptom.



* "La Etica en Psicoanálisis," Logicas de la vida amorosa, Ediciones Manantial, Buenos Aires, 1991. back to top
1. S. Freud, S.E. XXI, "Civilization and its Discontents," London: The Hogarth Press, 1986, chap. VIII. back up

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