“What decides the purpose of life is simply the programme of the pleasure principle. This principle dominates the operation of the mental apparatus from the start. There can be no doubt about its efficacy, and yet its programme is at loggerheads with the whole world, with the macrocosm as much as with the microcosm.” — Sigmund Freud
According to Freud, “the course taken by mental events is automatically regulated by the pleasure principle...[characterized by] an avoidance of unpleasure or a production of pleasure.”
The Pleasure Principle: We seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Pleasure is achieved by satisfying ancient desires like hunger, thirst, safety and sex. Pain is the failure to achieve these desires in sufficient frequency, in a timely manner or all together. This driving force seeks the instant gratification of desires as a means of ensuring survival.
With age and society comes a check against basic desires. This check, according to Freud, “seeks to obtain pleasure, but pleasure which is assured through taking account of reality, even though it is pleasure postponed and diminished.”
The Reality Principle: We delay instant gratification to avoid the consequences of unsuitable behavior.
Where the id is ruled by the Pleasure Principle, the ego is ruled by the Reality Principle. The former impulsively propels us toward pleasure using any means necessary, with little regard to appearances and consequences. The latter guides us along a more responsible path, accepting diminished pleasure to mitigate the cost of our actions.
We exchange time for money to purchase bread and to provide shelter instead of simply taking both when the urge strikes us. Delayed gratification is the cost of living in a civilized society.
Freud's psychoanalytic theory provides great insight into what drives and regulates our behavior, but is there nothing more to life than this constant struggle between the id and the ego?
Is life simply a quest for pleasure?