In psychoanalysis, the anthropological question of what determines a human being has been of fundamental importance since Freud’s early writings. At the dawn of the modern era, for example, Freud developed a series of topological models standing in the great Aristotelian tradition of the scala naturae, including the main question of how body, mind, psyche, and life intertwine. In a more recent publication on the philosophy of mind, Matthias Wunsch (2018) speaks of “models of being human” (p. 471). He cites four models: The addition model, the internal model, the privation model, and the transformation model. Two models – or theories – stand out today: The addition theory, which predominates above all in the natural sciences, but generally determines today’s philosophy of mind, and the transformation theory (Khurana, 2017, p. 354), which is mainly used in more recent psychoanalysis (Fonagy et al., 2004; Laplanche, 2011; Stern, 2005; Bion, 1965). In this paper, I agree with Bion’s distinction between a “theory” that is very abstract and a model that is more oriented towards clinical thinking (Darmstädter, 2001, p. 10). In the main part of the paper I will present a transformative model of rationality intended to map the relationships of psychological being and functioning against the background of transformation theory. With this model, I will mainly keep to the fundamental anthropological situation of Laplanche (2011) and Dejours (2001), but with the addition of further transformative elements from Bion, Lacan, and, especially as a philosophical reference, from Hegel. This new model clarifies the possibilities and limits of mental transformation in an intersubjective field. Supplementing Lacan’s triad of the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic with the register of the “phenomenal atmosphere” (or “phenomenal thoughts”), it is embedded epistemologically in Hegel’s transformative theory of mind. First, however, I will outline the two most important theories of today’s philosophy of mind – additive and transformative theory – in order to develop the aforementioned psychoanalytic model against this theoretical background.
Central to the addition theory, according to Wunsch (2018, p. 472), is the notion that the concept “human being” results from a synthesis of the concept of “animal” and the concept of something additional: Animal + X → human. “Reason”, for example, can be used for X. Following from this, “man is a rational animal”, or a living being with intellect, reason or understanding (as a “ζῷον λόγον ἔχον”, zoon logon echon). The notions of “consciousness” or “self-consciousness”, or in psychoanalytical terms, the “alpha function”, can be used as additional skills for X. Here, the organism’s basic capacities – e.g., perception – remain unchanged, and are merely supplemented by higher mental or cognitive abilities. From an additive point of view, mental capacities are second-order capacities. As typical proponents of additive theories, Evans (1982, pp. 158-159) and Velleman (2000, pp. 11-12) describe two central components of our ability to engage as rational creatures with the world around us:
(1) a more “primordial system” which we share with non-rational creatures, e.g., a perceptual system that adjusts our behavioural dispositions in response to changing sensory inputs; and a motivational system, which translates desires into behaviour directed towards the pursuit of these desires,
(2) a “reasoning system” that “monitors” the activities of the more primordial system, “assesses” the rational warrant for these activities, and “regulates” the activities in response to its evaluations. (cf. Boyle, 2016)
Unlike the addition theory, the transformation theory does not contain any further additions that define human beings in contrast to animals. In the transformation theory, the basic anthropological determinations are taken to mean that a human being’s entire life is permeated by these determinations. Humans and animals are thus different kinds of living beings (Wunsch, 2018, p. 482). The German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is considered to be the founder of transformation theory. In contemporary philosophy, John McDowell (1994, 2013) and Matthew Boyle (2016) are important proponents of a transformative theory of rationality.
McDowell (1994, 2013) postulates that our perception is conceptually determined by rational thinking and judgement. In this respect, according to McDowell, the content of our perception is itself “conceptual”. Perception determines conceptual thinking, and thinking, conversely, determines the act of perception as a conceptual one. In his work Mind and World (1994) in particular, McDowell argues that the perceptual aspect of our animality is permeated with rationality. He sums up his position with two statements: Firstly, our perceptual experiences have conceptual content; and, secondly, these perceptual experiences are themselves actualizations of conceptual capacities:
If we share perception with mere animals, then, of course, we have something in common with them. Now there is a temptation to think it must be possible to isolate what we have in common with them by stripping off what is special about us, to arrive at a residue that we can recognize as what figures in the perceptual lives of mere animals… But it is not compulsory to attempt to accommodate the combination of something in common and a striking difference in this factorizing way: to suppose our perceptual lives include a core that we can recognize in the perceptual life of a mere animal and an extra ingredient in addition… Instead, we can say that we have what mere animals have, perceptual sensitivity to features of our environment, but we have it in a special form. (McDowell, 1994, p. 64)
To go one step further: Conceptual capacities are already present in the sensory experience itself (e.g., through the classification of the perceived world). It is not the case that these conceptual capacities are only applied through judgement. Khurana sums up the idea of transformativity as follows:
Accordingly, rational animals or self-conscious life are not animals plus rationality, life plus self-consciousness, but animals of a completely different kind that lead lives all of their own. […] Rationality is therefore not constituted by a second stratum of capacities that simply joins onto the first stratum… (Khurana, 2017, p. 356)
Figure 1 gives an overview of the additive and transformative theories:
Figure 1: Additive und transformative theories (Boyle 2016)
If Herder is regarded as the founder of a transforming view of man, Hegel (1770-1831) proposes his own variant of the transformative view: In the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, he stresses that it is not just the rational conceptualization of humans, but also their perception or desire/motivation that is permeated by thinking:
Just as thinking makes up the substance of external things, so it is also the universal substance of all things spiritual. Thinking is inherent in all human intuiting. Similarly, thinking is universal in all representations, memories, and generally in every spiritual activity, in all willing, wishing, and so forth. The latter are one and all merely further specifications of thinking. When we construct thinking in this way, it appears in a different context from when we merely say that among and alongside other faculties such as perception, representation, willingness, and so on we also possess the faculty of thinking. When we consider thinking as truly universal in everything natural as well as everything spiritual, then it extends over all of this and is the foundation of everything. We can use this conception of thinking in its objective sense (as nous) as a starting point for explaining what thinking means in the subjective sense. To begin with, we say that humans think – and yet at the same time we also say that they perceive, will, etc. Humans think, and to be human is to be something universal. (Hegel 2010, p. 59, § 24, Z1)
Even with Hegel, the rational capacity transforms the non-rational capacities. The leap from a merely sensitive (in German: empfindsam) animal to a self-consciously living one does not take place through the mere addition of an accompanying self-consciousness that monitors or regulates the animal functions. Rather, self-consciousness captures animality, i.e., the functions of sensitivity (Empfindsamkeit) itself (Khurana, 2017, p. 357). It is a transformation that will never be completed or finished. Instead, as we shall see, it forms a process-like and constitutive activity (Khurana, 2017, p. 359). The subject gains its self-consciousness only through the consciousness of life “…in retreating, in exceeding and in the transformation of living unity” (Khurana, 2017, p. 361). For Hegel, therefore, self-consciousness exists as consciousness, i.e., as knowledge of something else, so that, regarding self-consciousness, “The whole expanse of the world of sense is conserved as its object.” (Hegel, 2001, p. 61). I will now turn to the General Model of the Psychic Being, which proceeds from Laplanche’s considerations on the basic anthropological situation and the modes of psychic processing of this situation. Hegel’s transformation theory will continue to serve as a philosophical reference.
The Psychic Being: Laplanche’s Fundamental Anthropological Situation
Within the framework of his “general theory of seduction”, Laplanche’s “fundamental anthropological situation” (situation anthropologique fondamentale) provides insights into the psychological functions of transformative translation of the subject (Laplanche, 1997; Laplanche, 2011, pp. 99-114). His basic idea is that sexuality is brought to the child from the outside, by the “Other”, i.e., the adult, in the form of “enigmatic messages”, through demands and desires that imply a seductive effect. This situation may be universal and need not necessarily be pathological. In any case, this implantation takes place in the form of a message that is determined by the adult’s repressed preconscious or unconscious and therefore seems puzzling and confusing. The child now has to translate the (sexual) messages into his language. At first, the message of the “Other” in the child’s psyche is only scratched at the surface and held below a thin layer of consciousness. The whereabouts of this inscription is the enclaved unconscious (inconscient enclavé). The content is not yet represented; in Lacan’s terminology, it is “real” (2021, p. 6 ff.). These experiential realms are like “…foreign bodies that cannot be jettisoned, constant sources of excitation which will be reactivated and intensified by all the other interhuman exchanges of the same order” (Scarfone, 2013). We may speak of where these messages are stored as the “enclave of the real unconscious”. The child is now faced with the task of translating these enigmatic messages into its language. It is a translation – or transformation – of more-or-less enigmatic experiences into the preconscious, and then conscious, now verbal, content, which is equivalent to a new creation. The ego is the translated part of the message. But it is also possible that such “translations” must be repressed again, i.e., end up in the repressed unconscious. Laplanche (2004) illustrates his model using a diagram (see Figure 2) taken from Dejours’ Le corps d’abord (Dejours, 2001).
Figure 2: The General Model of the Psychic Being
As shown in Figure 2, the psychological apparatus consists of two parts (A and B) which are both divided and also connected by the transition zone. The transition is maintained by a translation of the real unconscious (B) into the preconscious (A), just as the preconscious or conscious contents can affect the Real. In the case of a mature, more highly structured neurosis, part A is much more extended than part B. In borderline cases or psychoses, part B can even predominate. In Figure 2, however, a number of supplements are already inscribed, which adds several aspects of Lacan’s and Bion’s psychoanalysis to Laplanche’s model and takes Hegel’s transformation model as a philosophical reference. In the following sections, the “General Model of the Psychic Being” will be explained in more detail.
Matter and Idea
First of all, I would like to take up one of Hegel’s considerations, from the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Part 3. In the section on anthropology, he speaks of “sensations”. These are the starting point of any transformation, and figuratively speaking are in the ontological vicinity of matter, i.e., of the excitations of the perceptual system:
Sensibility (feeling) is the form of the dull stirring, the inarticulate breathing, of the spirit through its unconscious and unintelligent individuality, where every definite feature is still ‘immediate’ – neither specially developed in its content nor set in distinction as objective to subject, but treated as belonging to its most special, its natural peculiarity. The content of sensation is thus limited and transient, belonging as it does to natural, immediate being, – to what is therefore qualitative and finite. Everything is in sensation (feeling), if you will, everything that emerges in conscious intelligence and in reason has its source and origin in sensation; for source and origin just means the first immediate manner in which a thing appears. Let it not be enough to have principles and religion only in the head, they must also be in the heart. (Hegel 2012, p. 21, § 400).
In contrast to the body, i.e., material nature, Hegel already rates sensation, which is unconscious, simple, natural, pre-positional, and real, as “immaterial” and “ideal” (in German: immateriell and ideell). It forms the ideal side of matter, that is, of the body and the excitations that arise in the body (as well as in the brain): “The soul is no separate immaterial entity. Wherever there is Nature, the soul is its universal immaterialism, its simple ‘ideal’ life” (Hegel 2012, p. 12, § 389). As Wolff (1992) explains this passage, one speaks of “ideality” (or “ideal”) when something “…is only available for the point of view or in the perspective of a certain observer” (p. 46). Being ideal means, for example, that a thought only exists from the perspective of an observer. Wolff (1992) thinks that this observer can only be the individual person. Hegel speaks of a theoretical process or the standpoint of sensation that allows us to perceive the Immaterial of materiality (both from the perspective of the Other and of the subject). In any case, both excitement (material side) and sensations (ideal side) result from the confrontation with the Other’s message or enigmatic signifier. The excitations form the physical-sensory reaction. The sensations, however, are the prelinguistic, unconscious, de-signified reaction or response to this message. The latter, that is, the sensations, organize themselves as unrepresented “things” (as Lacan terms them). A “thing” is a set of de-signified sensations related to the Other’s message. Lacan completes the ideal with the registers of the Imaginary (i.e., the pictorial representations) and the Symbolic (i.e., the linguistically composed thoughts). This “wholeness”, which is composed of matter (M) and the Ideal, i.e., the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic (R, I, S), is illustrated in Figure 3:
Figure 3: Matter (M) / ideality with the registers of the
Real (R), Imaginary (I) and Symbolic (S).
The physical processes take place on the level of matter (M), e.g., the excitations in the neural, peripheral, and central networks. The ideal side consists of the unconscious sensations (R) and preconscious/conscious thoughts (S, I). At first glance, the sensations are the responses to sensory perception, being part of the Real register. Thoughts are the (pre)-conscious determination of these sensations. These thoughts belong to the imaginary or symbolic register, and the unrepresented contents of the Real sensation are translated into the register of the Imaginary and Symbolic. “Determination” (Bestimmung) in this context is to be understood as the content of sensations, which in the Real remains verbally and pictorially undetermined, and is now determined in the Imaginary-Symbolic register by pictorial ideas and language. This determination gives the contents of the sensation the form of a thought. In the following picture (from a qualitative research project with somatoform pain patients, see Ruettner et al., 2021) the imaginary-pictorial and symbolic-linguistic determination of the gaze, is shown, using the words Herzlichkeit (“warmth of feeling”) or Hass (“hatred”). In the qualitative interview, the patient was talking about her father’s traumatic gaze. The ideal and real sensation of this gaze, of course, as well as the material excitation, is cancelled out in the picture (Figure 4):
Figure 4: Imaginary-pictorial and symbolic-linguistic
determination of the sensation of the father’s gaze (Ruettner et al., 2021).
In Hegel’s philosophy, the sensation is negated; It disappears, is cancelled out in pictorial and linguistically composing thoughts in the form of a “determinate negation” (Hegel, 2001, p. 30; in German: als bestimmte Negation; Hegel, 2017, p. 74), from which a new form immediately arises. Hegel uses the term “sublation” (Aufhebung) in the sense of change and preservation. Through the determinate and thus determining negation, the Real sensation becomes the Other: a pictorial or linguistic thought.