Sie sind auf Seite 1von 9


International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 86: 1463-1476

The four antinomies1 of the death instinct

Ignacio Matte Blancoh2
Matte Blanco examines four paradoxical positions that arise out of Freud's writings on the death instinct. He notes that
death is not a content known to the unconscious. Furthermore, the absence of time and space in the unconscious means
that the conditions necessary for any process such as instinct are similarly absent. Matte Blanco demonstrates the way
in which the antinomies that he explores can be explained in terms of the logics that obtain in the unconscious, and he
suggests that the concept of the death instinct is one of the most profound expressions of the relationship between the
modes that underlie conscious and unconscious logic.
Translator's introduction to Matte Blanco's conceptual vocabulary
This is not a comprehensive introduction to the work of Matte Blanco. The purpose is to concentrate only on the terms (in italic
below) that Matte Blanco uses here, 3 years before the publication of The unconscious as infinite sets (Matte Blanco, 1975).
Matte Blanco's observations start with The unconscious (Freud, 1915) in which the five characteristics of the unconscious are
enumerated. Paraphrasing, these are: displacement; condensation; timelessness; the confusion of (inner) fantasy with (outward)
reality; the absence of negation and of the principle of non-contradiction.
Matte Blanco observes that condensation and displacement define a realm in which any element can be interchanged with any other
element, so that no element may be said to precede or follow any other. Thus, fixed points that might define time or space do not exist,
so time cannot exist, nor can space, nor therefore any differentiation between inner (fantasy) and outer (reality). Interchangeability
means further that no element can be said not to be any other element and there is no negation or contradiction.
In this unconscious realm, the interchangeable elements in any statement can be reversed to yield its symmetrical opposite. This is
unlike conscious thought that depends upon the notion of bivalent logic that cannot be reversed. Bivalent propositions are
asymmetrical, do not admit of contradiction and are either true or not true (i.e. bivalent). Symmetry has no such constraints.
So-called symmetrical logic is really a misnomer in that its definition depends on its violations of bivalent logic and, for this reason,
Matte Blanco suggests the

1 Antinomy: a paradox (Concise Oxford dictionary).

2 Translated by Richard Carvalho, and published, with permission, from: Matte Blanco (1973). Le quattro antinomie dell'istinto di morte. In: Enciclopedia 73,
p. 447-56. Rome: Enciclopedia Italiana. Address any correspondence concerning this article to Dr Carvalho at: 51 Woodsome Rd, London, NW5 1SA, UK
- 1463 -

term anaclitic logic, in that it is dependent for its definition on bivalent or asymmetric logic and its violations of this logic.
Symmetric logic is, Matte Blanco stresses, characteristic of the unrepressed unconscious, something that Matte Blanco felt that Freud
somewhat lost sight of in his attempts to resolve the contradictions of his successive models. At its extreme, symmetrical logic defines
a zone in which the absence of time and space preclude happening or event: it is a zone of being in which event is impossible. He
suggests that there are two modes of being, a symmetrical mode and an asymmetric mode with their respective logics. Any psychic
phenomenon is the product of both these modes in simultaneous operation, and the greater the ratio of symmetry is to asymmetry, the
more unconscious the phenomenon will be. Symmetry, by virtue of its complexity, defies consciousness, and unconsciousness is a
function of symmetry. Contents that are repressed from consciousness will bear the traces of asymmetry they bring with themselves
from previous conscious processing. The coexistence of symmetric and asymmetric logic is called bi-logic, and it is therefore to
symmetric logic and to bi-logic that Matte Blanco is referring in this paper when he talks about the logics of the unconscious. Matte
Blanco (1988) would later refer to the coexistence of the two modes as the fundamental antinomy of the human mind. He briefly refers
to this fundamental antinomy towards the end of this paper, though this is not one of the four antinomies of the title.
In the symmetrical mode which is also known as the indivisible mode, there are no contradictions. What appears as an indivisible
unity in the indivisible mode appears when translated into the divisible mode as contradictory opposites by virtue of having been
unfolded, or of what he refers to in this text also as doubling, a word that seems not to appear in any subsequent writing.3 These
last two terms seem to be synonymous.
As will be observed in this paper, Matte Blanco says that there are two particular problems with the concept of the death instinct. One
is that the idea of death is absent from the unconscious (Freud, 1926). The second is that the idea of instinct, which is process, is
incompatible with the absence of space and time in the unconscious for process to unfold; and we might add, the absence of the
distinction between any subject and object between which an instinct might operate. Instinct must, therefore, according to Matte
Blanco, have its origin in areas of the psyche that have access to a greater degree of asymmetry. As will be seen, Matte Blanco
suggests that the idea of the death instinct is more eloquent of the expression of the antinomian nature of the psyche than of an instinct
for destructiveness as such. He feels able to explain the four paradoxes or Hegelian antinomies that he identifies in Freud's
formulations of the death instinct in terms of the principle of symmetry in the first of these; of the coexistence of logical opposites in
the indivisible mode which unfold into opposites in the divisible mode in the second; of the misunderstanding of the absence of process

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
or movement in the symmetrical mode as the equivalent of death and a movement towards it by the asymmetric mode in the third; and
of the absence of the principle of contradiction in the fourth: life = death. This final antinomy is also a logical antinomy, in Matte
Blanco's view, to which the other three can be reduced.
No significant developments in his conceptualization of the death instinct appear in Matte Blanco's subsequent work (1975, 1988).

3 See footnote 5.
- 1464 -

1. Introduction: The problem; the method

Of all Freud's innovations, it is his concept of the death instinct that has met with most resistance among analysts. What
Freud presented initially as often far-fetched speculation (Freud, 1920, p. 24) gradually became indispensable to him (Jones,
1957, p. 276) and constituted his final theory of the mind (p. 271).
This paper is concerned with the different levels of the Freudian concept of the death instinct. It is important to keep in mind
that the Freudian view of biology and the world is that of a psychoanalyst whose starting point is that of internal reality seen
through psychoanalytic eyes and only later turns towards to the external world. This will therefore be a study of the death
instinct in the light of the logic of the unconscious and of its relations with simple bivalent logic. The method I shall employ will
be to analyse the various aspects of the death instinct in terms of these two logics.
I would like to state at the outset that psychoanalytic study reveals that the concept of the death instinct yields four
antinomies that are implicit rather than explicit in the psychoanalytic theory that follows the concept. Though they are
distinguishable from one another, they all are at bottom expressions of the unconscious mode of being.
The term antinomy has had different meanings according to the author in question and even the area of research. In antiquity
and the medieval period, it was used with various meanings in relation to law and theology. Kant used and amplified the same
concepts and applied them to pure reason, to judgement and to religion. In a stricter sense, and in the singular, Kant means by
antinomy the antagonism (opposition) of laws (Hinske, 1971, p 394). There is a wider meaning, for which Kant uses the plural,
and which refers to the opposition of two assertions (thesis and antithesis), both of which are well founded. In this sense,
antinomy and antithesis have the same meaning.
Hegel probably gives the term, which he regularly uses in the plural, greater precision: for him, antinomies are the assertion
of two laws which are opposed in relation to the same object (p. 395).
The meaning which mathematics and logic give to the term is much more precise. Lombardo-Radice (1967) distinguishes
between paradoxes which refer to results that are surprising though perfectly acceptable, and antinomies, that is, true and
proper contradictions. Other authors, on the other hand, use both terms with the same meaning, that is, the second of the two to
which I have just referred.
One should add a further aspect of this notion which von Kutschera expresses clearly: if one considers the existence of
several different logical systems, one can talk more exactly about an antinomy in a system S in the sense of a contradiction which
can be demonstrated in S (1971, p. 395). This distinction holds great importance for our enquiry because, as we will see, what is
an antinomy in bivalent logic is not one in the logic of the unconscious. In fact, I believe that the fundamental difficulties that
arise from the concept of the death instinct all centre around this distinction which has not been considered clearly enough.
- 1465 -

I want finally to notice that two types of antinomy or paradox have been defined: 1) semantic antinomies into which
questions of truth or falsity come. A typical example would be of the liar paradox: how can you know whether the statement I am
lying is true or false? And 2) logical antinomies. The classic example is Russell's catalogue paradox: if one were to construct a
catalogue that included all the catalogues that did not include themselves and none other, then if this catalogue did not include
itself, it would be incomplete because it did not include one catalogue, i.e. itself. If, however, it were to include itself, a catalogue
would have been included that failed to meet the condition of not including itself.
Both these antinomies have been resolved by a more searching study, which managed greater precision than before,
suggesting the existence of apparent or pseudo-antinomies rather than real ones, and this is another distinction that we also need
to keep in mind.
A quotation from Freud at this point will help to focus this paper:
At this point I will venture to touch for a moment upon a subject which would merit the most exhaustive treatment. As a result of
certain psycho-analytic discoveries, we are to-day in a position to embark on a discussion of the Kantian theorem that time and space
are necessary forms of thought. We have learnt that unconscious processes are in themselves timeless. This means in the first place
that they are not ordered temporally, that time does not change in them in any way and that the idea of time cannot be applied to them

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
I know that these remarks must sound very obscure, but I must limit myself to these hints (1920, p. 28).

It would be absurd to think that Freud could have written this paragraph from Beyond the pleasure principle casually, and at
the same time we have to recognize that Freud, in his study of the instincts, did not explore all the aspects and all the difficulties
inherent in this double logic of man, the one that cannot conceive time, and that which can. We will see that all problems of life
and of death are inextricably linked to this duality.

2. Conflict and relations between the logic of the unconscious and bivalent logic
First antinomy
The most casual study of biology, and especially of evolution, suggests that an essential element in the concept of life is that
of defence, together with the continuation of individual life and that of the species by means of reproduction. In this process of
the struggle for survival which favours those best equipped in this respect, living organisms that show increasing organization
and complexity have developed, whose most evolved form is man. All this might be summarized in terms of the following
concept of life:
a) life tends to conserve itself.
On the other hand, as the result of his observations and reflections, Freud arrived at the conclusion that the aim of all
life is death (1920, p. 38). We might express this conclusion in the form of the following proposition:
b) life tends to destroy itself.
If we put the two propositions in sequence, we are confronted with antinomies in the sense that Hegel described them.
- 1466 -

Of great interest is also the question as to whether these are logical antinomies. If we assert that a and b are both essential
parts of the concept of life, such an assertion would appear not to respect the principle of contradiction. But, on reflection, this is
not the case because one could say that, on the one hand, life tends towards conservation and, on the other, towards destruction
without any implicit contradiction.
We may note that, at the beginning of his conceptualization of the death instinct, Freud asserts only b and then immediately
adds a, in such a way that the final concept is a true and proper Hegelian antinomy, although not a logical one. This is something
to which we will return later on. Thinking about the sort of reasoning that led Freud to formulate the death instinct would seem to
throw a great deal of light on the problem of the interaction between the two logics. He writes,
The attributes of life were at some time evoked in inanimate matter by the action of a force of whose nature we can form no
conception The tension which then arose in what had hitherto been an inanimate substance endeavoured to cancel itself out. In this
way the first instinct came into being: the instinct to return to the inanimate state (1920, p. 38).

A close examination of Freud's thinking on this theme leads one to the conclusion that the passage I have just cited above
represents the decisive moment, one might even say, the crystallization of the fundamental presupposition that drew him to
postulate the death instinct. Everything that follows about this concept is present in embryonic form in this quotation. The
reasoning implicit in it, however, cannot be justified and is unsatisfactory from the point of view of bivalent logic. Tension might
be extinguished by the interaction of the forces in play, but the supposition that the same tension tends to extinction (in this case,
that of life) seems unconvincing as it is presented. Otherwise, entropy would have seemed a sufficient explanation at the time.
If, however, we look at this discussion from the point of view of unconscious logic, we might understand it more easily.
Freud writes, then we shall be compelled to say that the aim of all life is death and looking backwards, that inanimate things
existed before living ones (1920, p. 38).
If we take this quotation together with the preceding one, we can say that the following equation between two relations is
Inanimate material seeks life = life seeks inanimate material.
In bivalent logic, the inverse of the first proposition is life is sought by inanimate material. In other words, life moving in
the direction of inanimate material does not logically follow from the fact that the process of inanimate material moves in the
direction of life. In the logic of the unconscious or symmetrical logic in contrast, the first proposition entails the second because
the logic of the unconscious treats every relation whatsoever as if it were symmetrical, i.e. identical to its inversion. Since, on the
other hand, the biological reasons that Freud gives for his hypothesis seem unsatisfactory, and since, furthermore, as we know, he
arrived at his idea via a route that was psychological rather than biological, we have every right to presuppose the participation of
unconscious logic in his reasoning. So it should come as no surprise
- 1467 -

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
that Freud's reasoning seems strange and paradoxical: the unexpected presence of the unconscious is at work in it.
It would be presumptuous to suggest that Freud allowed himself to be drawn by his personal unconscious into a logical
blunder. Rather, there would seem more justification to suppose that he himself was seeking to demonstrate the presence of the
unconscious in the so-called death instinct, and that, in order to formulate his hypothesis, he took his departure from his
observations of the unconscious. Freud was, as it were, the interpreter of the unconscious. It would seem that he made rather
vague reference to a concept he barely adumbrated and never developed, that is, the work of translation from the unconscious
into bivalent logic (i.e. conscious thought). He spoke about this in the second paragraph of his work on the unconscious (1915, p.
166). In other words, it seems to me that the concept of the death instinct was the most important attempt that Freud made to
study the relation that exists between the logical structure of the unconscious and the logical structure of the material4 world.
This view opens a new avenue and it is not surprising that Freud continued to emphasize his concept in his subsequent work.
But we would be failing the truth were we not to add that he did not use the unequivocal language that his researches needed
at that time to some extent accounts for his lack of clarity, the disturbing obscurity and the mystery of the concept. Many issues
remained obscure as a result. In 1933, Freud wrote, The logical laws of thought do not apply to the id, and this is true above all
for the law of contradiction (p. 73). Furthermore, as we have already mentioned, Freud noted that the unconscious does not know
time. The concept of death, however, presupposes time, so that, in postulating the death instinct, Freud was postulating a paradox:
how can the reflection of the instinct in the unconscious aspire to or tend towards something that is alien to the very nature of that
unconscious, which is in itself atemporal? We will revisit this theme later on.

Second antinomy
These considerations will facilitate some further ones.
Before Beyond the pleasure principle, sadism was considered to be a component of the sexual instincts. In that work, Freud
recalls that this was his earlier position (1920, p. 53). As we have seen, once he had established that the aim of life was death, he
went on to assert that the instincts of self-preservation, of self-assertion and of mastery are at the service of the death instinct (p
39). Thus these guardians of life, too, were originally the myrmidons of death. It is true that he was clearer when he added that
they were at the service of the death instinct in a special way, that is, in assuring that death was arrived at in a way that was the
organism's own, but this does not affect the fundamental formulation.
The first Freudian conception is in line with the usual view of biology (see, for instance, Morris, 1967; Lorenz, 1969). And
we need to be aware that Freud

4 Translator's note. The use of the word material here as antithetical to unconscious is probably best explained by the idea that the realm of conscious logic is
predicated on three dimensions of space and one of time, like the tangible world; whereas the unconscious behaves like a realm of more than four dimensions.
(See footnote 5.)
- 1468 -

modified his second version a few pages later, in the same book, where he makes the distinction between the life instincts and
death instincts, without the former being at the service of the latter. But this stage of Freud's thought, i.e. his second version,
however fleeting, is very illustrative of the process of his thinking. We can in fact summarize the first and the second alternatives
in the following relations:
1) destructiveness (towards life) is in the service of life;
2) life is at the service of destructiveness (towards life).
Taken together, these two propositions form typical antinomies in the Hegelian sense of the word. It is obvious that neither of
them in itself is a logical antinomy. The one is the opposite of the other. Unconscious logic treats opposites as if they were
identical. Bearing this in mind, the development of Freudian thought is striking. In an earlier stage, he implicitly asserted the first
of these propositions as if it were in isolation [not linked to the second]; then he explicitly asserted the second, albeit briefly, as if
that too were in isolation; and finally he asserted both together at the same time, not as identical, but as coexistent. As it is, the
hypothesis of life instincts and death instincts with their mutual influence amounts, in the end, to an affirmation of both the
propositions together, as is evident from the overall impression of Freud's writings on the subject. One can see here, much more
clearly, a process of translation or duplication:5 what for the unconscious is a single entitythe identity of oppositesbecomes
for the purposes of translation the coexistence of two opposites that are clearly and vigorously experienced as different and

The third antinomy

If we consider the concept of movement in its widest sense, that is, in the sense of any displacement whatsoever in space and
located in time, then part of the essence of life is movement. Metabolism, growth and reproduction are the movements that

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
characterize life, even if they are sometimes found in elementary form in some non-living material. In order to avoid
misunderstanding, I would like to note here that catabolism6 is as much in the service of life as anabolism: without catabolic
destruction, life would not

5 Translator's note. As mentioned in the introduction, doubling (sdoppiamento) is probably best understood as synonymous with unfolding (dispiegamento),
used below. The equivalence does not seem to occur later in his major works which he wrote in English, The unconscious as infinite sets (1975) and Thinking,
feeling and being (1988), nor does sdoppiamento appear in the indexes of either of the Italian translations of these books. In the final paragraph of section 3,
Matte Blanco mentions the way in which what might be contradictory in a system of fewer dimensions may not be in one of more dimensions. A geometric
example of the doubling involved in unfolding' would be the expression of a triangle, ABC which is two-dimensional, unfolded along a single
(one-dimensional) line. In order to achieve this, one of the terms has to be repeated, and the two-dimensional structure would unfold into, say, ABCA: the term
A is unfolded into two linear oppositesdoubled (cf. Matte Blanco, 1975, p. 410). If A here represents the immobile unity that is life-death' (vide infra),
then what is non- contradictory life-death in two dimensions becomes contradictory in one dimension: life and death (see section 4).
6 Catabolism: The breakdown of complex molecules in living organisms to form simpler ones, together with the release of energy; destructive metabolism
(Concise Oxford dictionary).
- 1469 -

exist. Catabolism, no less than anabolism, is the expression of all that is most vital in life. To propose, as does Freud, that
catabolism is an activity of the death instinct (1920, pp. 49-50) poses a fascinating logical problem, which, again, has to do with
translation. Catabolism is disintegration, as is death. Both belong to a broad logical class but are subsets which can be
differentiated within that class. Treating them as if they were the same involves applying the principle of symmetry which renders
part equivalent to whole or to any other part. As it happens, we use this sort of logic every day in a disguised kind of way. We
experience tearing up a piece of paper at some level, however hidden, as if it were a killing. This is a reflection of the fact that in
some zones of the unconscious, such an action is taken to be mortal aggression. Certain obsessive neurotics and schizophrenics in
fact feel it in this way.
Scientific thinking needs to be critical. We need to know when one logic is being used and when the other is. This is
something that we are beginning to understand, although the limits of this paper do not permit us to pursue the topic here.
I shall now return to my central theme. Life is movement and develops as movement. Evolution towards species which are
ever more complex is the response of life to the threat of life itself disappearing, of the extinction of the motion characteristic of
life: metabolism, growth and reproduction.
Death on the other hand is sensed as stasis. The death instinct is therefore the inclination to stasis, that is of the movement
which characterizes life, given that there are other sorts of movement. If we now lay out these two concepts as two propositions:
1) life unfolds by means of the movements that characterize it;
2) life unfolds towards the extinction (repose) of movement that characterizes life.
Put together in this way, these propositions constitute a third antinomy that arises out of the concept of the death instinct.
Even at a glance, this is an antinomy in Hegel's sense. The only way of understanding it is to appreciate, that, at its deepest levels,
the unconscious knows neither time nor space and so is a stranger to the notion of movement. The other mode of being in man,
for which I have proposed the term asymmetric mode, on the other hand, does use asymmetric relations which are indispensable
for the concepts of time and space (if a is before b, then b follows a; if c is to the right of d, then d is to the left of c). So that, in
man, there is one aspect that is spatio-temporal, and another that is aspatial-atemporal. If the latter is thought asymmetrically,
looked at from the point of view of asymmetry, which is the only possible mode in which it is possible for man to think (Matte
Blanco, 1975),7 the presence of this [symmetrical] aspect of man is perceived or thought of by the asymmetric mode as a
tendency towards an absolute absence of movement. Atemporality-aspatialness is perceived as absolute stasis, and this in turn is
confused with death. And thus a reality [i.e. the symmetric mode] which is in itself alien to movementin the same way as

7 The anomalous date, in an article published in 1973, is due to Matte Blanco (1975) being in press at the time (the reference in the foot note to the original
Italian article gives 1974 as the date of the book which was the expected date of publication, but the translator has inserted the actual date so as to avoid confusion)
(Enciclopedia Italiana, personal communication, 2005).

- 1470 -

one could not say that square of a binomial or the number 3 is in repose or in motion as they are alien to the notionis perceived
[by the asymmetric mode] as death; and the presence of this [symmetric] reality is felt [by asymmetry] as an attraction which
promotes movement, a being drawn towards, a movement towards death. It is in this way that the death instinct is configured.
And here is an example of a process of translation [by the asymmetric mode] which in reality fails to translate the true nature of
the unconscious. This is due to the limitations of the asymmetrical mode, and its inability to express itself other than in terms of
its own nature.

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
The fourth antinomy
We have already seen that Freud said that the unconscious seems to contain nothing that could give any content to our
concept of the annihilation of life (1926, p. 129). In other words, the unconscious does not know about the idea of death. How is
it possible to reconcile this with the death instinct?
This is the most serious problem we have had to confront so far. An easy way out would be to say that the death instinct as a
concept refers not to the unconscious but to the body. This is, as it happens, an idea that Freud put forward on various occasions,
suggesting that the unconscious came into contact with instinct at its deepest extremity, and that the instincts represent the
somatic demands upon the mind (1940, p. 148). If we follow this line of thought, we are led to the conclusion that the distinction
between life and death instincts is at a somatic level. But, on its own, this argument does not hold, because it does not take into
account the facts that we have already noted which are those other aspects of the concept of the death instinct which bear the clear
imprint of the unconscious. How can we account for this?
The solution that presents itself lies in the study of the characteristics of the unconscious. As Freud said,
Urges with contrary aims exist side by side in the unconscious without any need arising for an adjustment between them. Either they
have no influence whatever on each other, or, if they have, no decision is reached, but a compromise comes about which is
nonsensical since it embraces mutually incompatible details. With this is connected the fact that contraries are not kept apart but
treated as though they were identical (1940, p. 169).

In keeping with this mode of being of the unconscious, the following equation is established. It is one that we encounter in
various unconscious manifestations, and sometimes explicitly in schizophrenics:
Life = negation of life.
As death is the negation of life, we can both logically and psychologically write the same equation as follows:
Life = death.
Here we are without doubt confronted with an antinomy in the most rigorous sense of the word. This fourth antinomy is the
quintessential expression of the unconscious. The principle of contradiction asserts that p and not-p [p(p.p] are not possible; it
seems however that we can formulate this antinomy and assert that for the unconscious,
- 1471 -

it is possible to have p and not p: p.p. This is probably in certain ways even more faithful to the nature of the unconscious than
some of the formulations of the equivalences to which Freud makes reference. As it is, he points out the coexistence of both the
possibilities contained in the last sentence of the quotation above (Freud, 1940, p. 169). The antinomy in question also reveals the
contrast between the two logics in man: it is the revelation of bi-logic.

3. The antinomies in the light of the logic of the unconscious

If the unconscious treats opposites as if they were equivalent, we can see the consequences of applying this characteristic of
unconscious logic to the antinomies we have mentioned. We have already done this for the fourth one and it remains to consider
the other three. In accordance with unconscious logic then, we shall treat each of the two propositions in the antinomies as if they
were equivalent, as if each were a term in an equation.
The first antinomy: life tends towards self-conservation = life tends towards self-destruction. Put in this way, as is obvious,
the equation is between conservation and destruction of life. As conservation is the negation of destruction and vice versa, the
Hegelian antinomy is transformed into a logical antinomy, life = death, i.e. our fourth antinomy.
The second antinomy. Transformed into an equation would read: the destruction of life is in the service of life = life is in the
service of the destruction (of life). We have already seen that such an equation implies the application of the principle of
symmetry. We might now add that it also implies an identity between life and the destruction of life. If we were to consider the
destruction of life not so much as an activity or action, but as an outcome, the outcome is obviously death. If we remember that,
for the unconscious, movement does not exist since action does not, nor does the distinction between part and whole, then this
interpretation of the destruction of life, not as an action but as something that just is, is the only possible one. The result is: life =
death. Once again, the Hegelian antinomy is reduced to a logical one, and the fourth one we have described. Third antinomy: life
tends to movement = life tends to repose. Once again, the application of unconscious logic and reading the results in terms of
bivalent logic yields: movement = repose. We have already agreed that here movement is to be understood in terms of movement
as a property of life. So this equation implies: life = death. And once again the Hegelian antinomy is transformed into a true and
proper logical antinomy. And for the third time, this antinomy turns out to be the fourth one.
To conclude this section, we can say that, when we apply unconscious logic and read the results in terms of bivalent logic,
the four antinomies are all reduced to the fourth: life = death. At this point, I must point out that anyone who has followed me

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
attentively will doubtless have felt some reservation about this way of proceeding. They might be saying, Either you apply
bivalent logic and nothing else, and then there wouldn't be all these antinomies; or you apply what you're calling unconscious
logic, in which case, without the principle of contradiction you simply wouldn't be able to think at all.
- 1472 -

And they would be right, if that were the case. But the trouble is that, if you look at the reality of the unconscious, at
schizophrenic thought or at dreams, you find all these absurdities, and we can't ignore them. What I have put forward might seem
strange, but it accords with reality. From the point of view of logic, it implies an unused procedure: the setting up and the use of a
logic, unconscious logic, which is not an alternative that is altogether independent of bivalent logic; it leans on it and parasitizes
it. Although it is different, it cannot exist in the absence of bivalent logic. I have suggested that we call this system a bi-logical
system. A discussion of it and all its implications would take us far from the theme under discussion. Suffice it to say that, if one
takes unconscious logic seriously, especially as it affects the principle of contradiction, then the whole basis of thought, and the
foundation of being as we have known it hitherto, looks decidedly shaky if not completely swept away. Personally, I am certain
that these factsand there is no doubt that they are factscannot but impel us towards a much deeper knowledge of human
nature and the world we inhabit. I suspect that solutions will come out of a more systematic application of the concept of
dimensions in logical systems: what is contradictory in a two-dimensional system might well not be in one of more dimensions,
say, four or more. We might remember at this point that the solution to some paradoxes has been found with the introduction of
the hierarchy of types (Stahl, 1962, p. 69ff). This concept [the hierarchy of types] implies one of order or level, and this in turn, I
think, lends itself to being put into correspondence to the concept of geometric dimensions.

4. The psychological nature of the death instinct in the light of the four antinomies
If life and death are the same thing as far as the unconscious is concerned, how are we to distinguish between life instincts
and death instincts? The truth is that this problem is incomprehensibleas is, at bottom, psychoanalysisunless one takes into
account the interaction between the two modes of being in man, that of the unconscious and that of consciousness. In view of
their respective logical structures, I have suggested that we call these the symmetric and the asymmetric modes of being,
A second fundamental feature is that the interaction between the modes occurs at different levels, a level being understood as
the respective proportions of each mode in any given human manifestation. We may agree that a level is deeper to the extent that
it contains a greater proportion of symmetry, or more superficial to the extent that it manifests more asymmetry. The deeper the
level, then, the less relevant the concepts of time and space, and the more inclusive are the classes involved. At a certain depth
therefore, movement is no longer conceivable, and so, at this level, the concept of instinct which implies movement disappears, as
does the distinction between life and death: life = death.
At more superficial levels with more asymmetry, on the other hand, the concepts of time and space do exist, both of which
imply asymmetric relations (if a is to the right of b, then b is to the left of a; if c comes before d, than d comes after c). At
- 1473 -

these spatio-temporal levels, then, movement and instinct exist, and life is different to and opposed to death.
We have to recognize that it is terribly difficult, given our nature, to think in terms of levels if we take the implications of the
concept seriously, because we are not used to time and space, as it were, dissolving in our hands, nor of seeing how a notion as
clear and defined as that of life gradually melts into its opposite, death; but, if we are not prepared to do so, all sorts of avenues
close to us.
The asymmetric mode of being seeks precision and clear delimitation as a consequence of its nature; or, if one prefers, it is
characterized by precision. Faced with the blurred imprecision of symmetry, it automatically puts in train a process of definition:
it isolates all the possible implications, separating them and making them distinct. This is the process of translation and
duplication. Faced with the immobile unity that is life-death, it translates, duplicates this unity into two opposites, life and death,
and introduces movement, the tendency towards'. And so, through this process, what Freud calls the death instinct becomes
possible for the mind. I should add, however, that the death instinct is not overcome in this way, simply made possible.
To summarize this section, the Freudian concepts of the life instincts and the death instincts become possible in the mind via
a process of translating or duplicating the immobile unity of life-death that exists in the symmetrical mode into opposing terms
and into terms of space-time. These concepts, because of their spatio-temporal implications, and by the simple fact of being
concepts, cannot belong to the deep unconscious which is an homogenous and indivisible mode of being. They are expressions of
more superficial layers, even when they are unconscious, of asymmetrical relations and of the process (put in motion by the
asymmetrical mode) of capturing and translating the depth and of the purest symmetrical mode of being.

5. Final considerations

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
Freud's conception of the death instinct, in the way that he presented it, threw up enormous perplexity and contradictions.
It might seem perfectly feasible to formulate it in terms of a crude understanding of biological facts. On the other hand, the
postulation of a death instinct, as Freud framed it, seems both unnecessary and foreign to our usual notions of instinct, as
Money-Kyrle (1955) suggested.
We might be tempted to allow this to stop us in our tracks. If, on the other hand, we try to use the knowledge that Freud
provided us about the unconscious, refined with the beginnings of a more precise formulation in terms of logic to come to some
understanding, things change. We can in this spirit turn our attention, not so much to the existence or non-existence of the death
instinct, as to the profundity of Freud's reflection on the topic, however obscure and imperfectly expressed.
While the coarse facts of biology do not seem to bear Freud out, we must not forget that he was groping after something
beyond the pleasure principle and, we may add, beyond biology. And it is thus that a subtle analysis of the facts, such as Flugel's,
seems to reveal a concept of life that at a certain point becomes confused
- 1474 -

with that of death. Mindful of Lazarus, it seems that there are some crucial moments where life stinks of corpses, pointing to its
close relation to death. As Flugel quoted, in the midst of life we are in death (Flugel, 1955).
In this view, Freud's conception of the death instinct, which is, in the end, only a facet of the concept of the unconscious,
poses important problems about the presence of the unconscious, or, to express it better, of its laws, in the material world.
Modified in this way, abandoning perhaps that aspect which has to do with instinct, but taking up and developing that which
reveals the interaction between conscious and unconscious, it [the death instinct] can perhaps assume a broader significance and
the fullness of its possibility.
It would seem that Freud's genius, once he had come to the limit of his knowledge, his discoveries and his life, intuited a faint
glimmer of the enigma to which his discoveries had carried him. Perhaps, armed with the instruments of thought which he himself
has left, it may be possible for us to undertake the long and painstaking labour towards the clarification of this enigma, which,
after all, is the enigma of existence, of life and death.
Acknowledgements. The translator would like to acknowledge the kind permission of Lucia Bon de Matte and that of the
Enciclopedia Italiana in authorizing this translation. He would also like to thank the following for their assistance in preparing it:
Gina Alexander, Alessandra Ginzburg and Paula Mariotti.
- 1475 -

Flugel J (1955). The death instinct, homeostasis and allied concepts. In: Feelings and desires.London, Duckworth.
Freud S (1915). The unconscious. SE 14.[]
Freud S (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE 18.[]
Freud S (1926). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE 20.[]
Freud S (1933). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE 22.[]
Freud S (1940). An outline of psycho-analysis. SE 23.[]
Hinsnke N (1971). Antinomie, I. In: Ritter J, editor. Historisches Wrterbuch der Philosophie. Vol 1, p. 394-6. Basel-Stuttgart:
Jones E (1957). The life and works of Sigmund Freud. Vol 3. London: Hogarth.[]
von Kutschera F (1971). Antinomie, II. In: Ritter J, editor. Historisches Wrterbuch der Philosophie. Vol 1, p. 396-406.
Basel-Stuttgart: Schwabe.
Lombardo-Radice L (1967). Istituzioni di Algebra Astratta [Foundations of abstract algebra]. Milano: Feltrinelli.
Lorenz K (1969). On aggression. London: Methuen.
Matte Blanco I (1973). Le quattro antinomie dell'istinto di morte [The four antinomies of the death instinct]. In: Enciclopedia 73,
p. 447-56. Rome. Enciclopedia Italiana.
Matte Blanco I (1975). The unconscious as infinite sets. London: Duckworth.
Matte Blanco I (1988). Thinking, feeling and being. London: Routledge.[]
Money-Kyrle R (1955). An inconclusive contribution to the theory of the death instinct. In: Klein M, Heinemann P, Money-Kyrle
R. New directions in psycho-analysis. London: Tavistock.
Morris D (1967). The naked ape. London: Cape.
Stahl G (1962). Introducon a la logca simblica [Introduction to symbolic logic]. Santiago di Chile: Editorial Universitaria.
- 1476 -

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.
Article Citation [Who Cited This?]
Blanco, I. M. (2005). The four antinomies of the death instinct. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 86: 1463-1476

WARNING! This text is printed for the personal use of the owner of the PEP Archive CD and is copyright to the Journal in
which it originally appeared. It is illegal to copy, distribute or circulate it in any form whatsoever.