Skip to main content
Select Source:

Negation

NEGATION

The term negation (Verneinung ) denotes a mental process in which the subject formulates the content of an unconscious wish in a negative form. The content of the wish finds expression in consciousness, yet the subject continues to disown it.

This concept first appeared in Freud's work in connection with the analysis of the "Rat Man" when the patient produced an association having to do with the death of his father but immediately "rejects the idea with energy" (1909d, p. 178). Yet Freud's main discussion of the topic appears in "Negation" (1925h), where he sets forth a theory of negation that is close to being a theory of forms of language or a theory of judgment.

Freud posits two distinct processes of negation: one involves the rejection of a thought, the other the acknowledgment of a disappointed expectation. The first kind of negation, involving rejection, is the kind encountered in the "Rat Man" case. Another example is when a patient refuses to believe that the woman he has just dreamed about is his mother: "You're going to think it was my mother," he will say to the analyst, "but it wasn't my mother." This negation may be interpreted to mean, "I reject the idea that this person could be my mother because I dislike that idea." Negation is a rejection of an unpleasant idea by means of the pleasure principle alone. The process of projection is already at work in the utterance "You're going to think it was my mother," for in this way the patient projects into the mind of the analyst a thought that is in fact the patient's.

Negation as a defense mechanism is more supple than repression in that it preserves the thought content that repression would render unconscious. The defensive aspect of the mechanism is confined to the distancing achieved by means of the negation, which allows the patient to avoid shouldering the disagreeable implications of a thought that has successfully formed.

In addition to this first kind of negation, Freud describes a second type, namely a judgment by a psyche that fails to encounter in the outside world a satisfying mental representation of what it desires. The psyche is then obliged to arrive at the negative conclusion that what it has been seeking in external reality is indeed not present. This type of negation thus amounts to an assertion of absence. In making this assertion, the psyche recognizes the independent existence of the outside world and, thus achieving effective reality-testing.

The idea of negation lies at the center of a very dense conceptual nexus within the Freudian model. Several other terms are closely linked to Verneinung (negation) and overlap with it in meaning to a greater or lesser extent. Occasionally Freud used the Latinate German term die Negation to refer to a basic trait of the "system Ucs.," in which there is "no negation" (1915e, p. 186). This enabled him to define the system of the unconscious as prior to intellectual judgment. By contrast, the Germanic word Verneinung, embracing as it does both negation as a mental process and negation as a grammatical form, presupposes a psychic agency capable of making judgments.

In Freud's usage there is a wider difference in meaning between Verneinung and Verleugnen, which is translated into English as either "denial" or (following the preference of the editors of the Standard Edition ) "disavowal." In the process of disavowal, the subject refuses to embrace the psychic consequences of something perceived. Thus the "Wolf Man" (1918b [1914]) said, in effect, "I see that a woman does not have a penis, but I deny any force to this observation, and what is more, I shall continue to believe that she has a penis." In disavowal, a reality judgment produces a conclusion ("A woman does not have a penis"), but this conclusion is a dead letter having no impact on the psyche. Thus the recognition of a reality ("[I see that] a woman does not have a penis") is juxtaposed to a wish ("[I want] a woman to have a penis") without being integrated together. In both disavowal and negation, the subject avoids responsibility for a disagreeable thought. The two differ, however, in that disavowal is rejection of a disagreeable perception, whereas negation is the acceptance of a wish.

Lastly, the term foreclosure (French forclusion ) was introduced by Jacques Lacan to render Freud's use of the term Verwerfung in connection with the psychotic mechanism of "expulsion of a fundamental 'signifier' " (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973, p. 166).

The theory of negation is no doubt an area where the psychoanalytic theorization of mental processes comes very close to linguistic concerns, especially to the study of utterances. From a linguistic standpoint, one might say that negation in the sense of rejection is equivalent to a polemical negation (as in, for example, "For me, this woman in my dream is not my mother"), whereas the recognition of absencea negation that can be expressed as a reality judgmentis equivalent to a "simple" negative report, much like a statement such as "I have not had a dream for a long time."

Clear boundaries need to be drawn between negation, absence, and the idea or representation of absence. These distinctions, in broad outline, are as follows. In all cases, negation is directed at an ideational content. This content, in the context of the theory of the hallucinatory satisfaction of a wish, emerges as a consequence of the absence of the wished-for object. This absence obliges the subject to hallucinate, to represent, the missing object. Absence is thus a precondition of the emergence of the representation. In this regard, absence is distinct from negation, which is an operation affecting an ideational content. As for the representation of absence, it arises only after the capacity for judging reality has been established, when the subject is able to articulate the gap between what he wants and what he sees.

Laurent Danon-Boileau

See also: Binding/unbinding of the instincts; Constructions in analysis; Contradiction; Death and psychoanalysis; Death instinct (Thanatos); Defense; Disavowal, denial; Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, The ; Id; "Negation"; Primitive; Projection; Splitting.

Bibliography

Freud, Sigmund. (1909d). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. SE, 10: 151-318.

. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.

. (1918b [1914]). From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.

. (1925h). Negation. SE, 19: 233-239.

Hyppolite, Jean. (1988). A spoken commentary on Freud's Verneinung. In The seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book 1: Freud's papers on technique, 1953-1954 (John Forrester, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1954)

Lacan, Jacques. (1988). Introduction and reply to Jean Hyppolite's presentation of Freud's Verneinung. In The seminar of Jacques Lacan. Book 1: Freud's papers on technique, 1953-1954 (John Forrester, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1954)

Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1973). The language of psycho-analysis (Donald Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). London: Hogarth and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. (Original work published 1967)

Further Reading

Litowitz, Bonnie. (1998). An expanded developmental line for negation. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46, 121-148.

Tyson, Robert L. (1994). Neurotic negativism and negation in the psychoanalytic situation. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 49, 293-314.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Negation." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Negation." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation

"Negation." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation

NEGATION

NEGATION A grammatical term for the process that results in changing a positive (affirmative) sentence or clause into a negative one: from They came to They did not come. This is sometimes known as a contrast in polarity. In English, a sentence is typically negated through the verb, by the insertion of not or its contraction n't after the first or only verb: It is raining becoming It is not/isn't raining. If an auxiliary verb is present, as with is in the above sentence, not follows it or n't is attached to it as an enclitic (must not, mustn't). If no auxiliary is present, then the relevant form of the auxiliary do (do, does, or did, according to tense and person) is inserted to effect the negation: I know him becoming I do not/don't know him.

Special cases

(1) The verb be is used in the same way when no auxiliary is present: Justin was ill becoming Justin was not/wasn't ill. (2) The verb have allows both alternatives, but in a variety of forms. The negation of Benjamin has his own bedroom can be B. has not his own b. (traditional BrE), B. hasn't his own b. (its informal variant), B. has not got his own b. (a current emphatic, especially BrE usage), B. hasn't got his own b. (its common, informal equivalent), B. does not have his own b. (a widely used formal, especially AmE usage), B. doesn't have his own b. (its common, informal equivalent). (3) See MODAL VERB.

Contracted forms

The contraction n't is typically informal, especially in speech, except when the negation is emphasized, as in a denial of something said before, in which case the full not is used and stressed. With many auxiliaries, there is often also a possibility of auxiliary contraction in informal English: It isn't fair It's not fair (more common); He won't object (more common) or He'll not object; They haven't finished (more common) or They've not finished.

Tag questions

When tag questions are used to invite confirmation, positive sentences are normally followed by negative tag questions (David is abroad, isn't he?) and negative sentences by positive tag questions (David isn't abroad, is he?). Positive sentences are sometimes followed by positive tag questions (So David is abroad, is he?), indicating an inference or recollection from what has been said. Occasionally, they suggest suspicion or a challenge: So that's what Doris wants, is it?

Expressions used with negation

Some expressions are found exclusively or typically in negative sentences: the notany relationship in Doris hasn't produced any plays, contrasted with Doris has produced some plays; the noteither relationship in David doesn't smoke a pipe, either (in response to such statements as John doesn't smoke a pipe), contrasted with David smokes a pipe, too (in response to John smokes a pipe).

Negation other than through the verb

No, not, and other negative words may be introduced in order to negate a sentence: Jeremy has no difficulties with this (compare Jeremy hasn't any difficulties with this), Ray said not a word to anybody (compare Ray didn't say a word to anybody); Maurice will never make a fuss, will he? (compare Maurice won't make a fuss, will he?); Nothing surprises them, does it? (compare There isn't anything that surprises them, is there?); Mervyn hardly ever makes a mistake, does he? (compare Mervyn doesn't ever make mistakes, does he?).

Implied contrasts

The negative particle or word extends its scope over the whole or part of the sentence. The extent is manifested when expressions associated with negatives are present, as in the difference between I didn't read some of the papers (that is, I read others) and I didn't read any of the papers (that is, I read none). The focus of the negation (marked intonationally in speech) is the part of the sentence which presents a negative contrast: Ted doesn't teach history may imply that someone else does or that Ted teaches something else.

Double negation

Prefixes such as un- and in- make the word negative but not the sentence in which it is used: unhappy in They are unhappy about their new house; insensitively in They spoke rather insensitively to him when he lost his job. Such words may be combined with another negative to cancel out, to a large extent, the force of the negative prefix: Jeremy was not unhappy, meaning that he was fairly happy. See LITOTES. This type of double negation, which results in a positive meaning, is different from the kinds of multiple negation found in both general non-standard English (I didn't see nothing: I didn't see anything) and in some DIALECTS (Glasgow Ah'm no comin neer Ah'm no: I am not coming neither I am not). Such usages are widely stigmatized and equally widely used. See DOUBLE NEGATIVE.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"NEGATION." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"NEGATION." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/negation-0

"NEGATION." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/negation-0

negation

ne·ga·tion / nəˈgāshən/ • n. 1. the contradiction or denial of something: there should be confirmation—or negation—of the findings. ∎  Gram. denial of the truth of a clause or sentence, typically involving the use of a negative word (e.g., not, no, never) or a word or affix with negative force (e.g., nothing, non-). ∎  Logic a proposition whose assertion specifically denies the truth of another proposition: the negation of A is, briefly, “not A.” ∎  Math. inversion: these formulae and their negations. 2. the absence or opposite of something actual or positive: evil is not merely the negation of goodness. DERIVATIVES: neg·a·to·ry / ˈnegəˌtôrē/ adj.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"negation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"negation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation-0

"negation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation-0

negation

negation
1. In arithmetic, the operation of changing the sign of a nonzero arithmetic quantity; the negation of zero is zero. Negation is usually denoted by the minus sign.

2. In logic, the application of the NOT operation on a statement, truth value, or formula.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"negation." A Dictionary of Computing. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"negation." A Dictionary of Computing. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/computing/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation

"negation." A Dictionary of Computing. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/computing/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation

negation

negation negative statement, denial. XVI. — (O)F. négation or L. negātiō, -ōn-, f. negāre say no, deny, f. neg-; see NO3, -ATION.
Also negative adj. and sb. XIV. — (O)F. or late L.; hence vb. XVIII.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"negation." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"negation." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation-1

"negation." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation-1

negation

negationashen, fashion, passion, ration •abstraction, action, attraction, benefaction, compaction, contraction, counteraction, diffraction, enaction, exaction, extraction, faction, fraction, interaction, liquefaction, malefaction, petrifaction, proaction, protraction, putrefaction, redaction, retroaction, satisfaction, stupefaction, subtraction, traction, transaction, tumefaction, vitrifaction •expansion, mansion, scansion, stanchion •sanction •caption, contraption •harshen, Martian •cession, discretion, freshen, session •abjection, affection, circumspection, collection, complexion, confection, connection, convection, correction, defection, deflection, dejection, detection, direction, ejection, election, erection, genuflection, imperfection, infection, inflection, injection, inspection, insurrection, interconnection, interjection, intersection, introspection, lection, misdirection, objection, perfection, predilection, projection, protection, refection, reflection, rejection, resurrection, retrospection, section, selection, subjection, transection, vivisection •exemption, pre-emption, redemption •abstention, apprehension, ascension, attention, circumvention, comprehension, condescension, contention, contravention, convention, declension, detention, dimension, dissension, extension, gentian, hypertension, hypotension, intention, intervention, invention, mention, misapprehension, obtention, pension, prehension, prevention, recension, retention, subvention, supervention, suspension, tension •conception, contraception, deception, exception, inception, interception, misconception, perception, reception •Übermenschen • subsection •ablation, aeration, agnation, Alsatian, Amerasian, Asian, aviation, cetacean, citation, conation, creation, Croatian, crustacean, curation, Dalmatian, delation, dilation, donation, duration, elation, fixation, Galatian, gyration, Haitian, halation, Horatian, ideation, illation, lavation, legation, libation, location, lunation, mutation, natation, nation, negation, notation, nutation, oblation, oration, ovation, potation, relation, rogation, rotation, Sarmatian, sedation, Serbo-Croatian, station, taxation, Thracian, vacation, vexation, vocation, zonation •accretion, Capetian, completion, concretion, deletion, depletion, Diocletian, excretion, Grecian, Helvetian, repletion, Rhodesian, secretion, suppletion, Tahitian, venetian •academician, addition, aesthetician (US esthetician), ambition, audition, beautician, clinician, coition, cosmetician, diagnostician, dialectician, dietitian, Domitian, edition, electrician, emission, fission, fruition, Hermitian, ignition, linguistician, logician, magician, mathematician, Mauritian, mechanician, metaphysician, mission, monition, mortician, munition, musician, obstetrician, omission, optician, paediatrician (US pediatrician), patrician, petition, Phoenician, physician, politician, position, rhetorician, sedition, statistician, suspicion, tactician, technician, theoretician, Titian, tuition, volition •addiction, affliction, benediction, constriction, conviction, crucifixion, depiction, dereliction, diction, eviction, fiction, friction, infliction, interdiction, jurisdiction, malediction, restriction, transfixion, valediction •distinction, extinction, intinction •ascription, circumscription, conscription, decryption, description, Egyptian, encryption, inscription, misdescription, prescription, subscription, superscription, transcription •proscription •concoction, decoction •adoption, option •abortion, apportion, caution, contortion, distortion, extortion, portion, proportion, retortion, torsion •auction •absorption, sorption •commotion, devotion, emotion, groschen, Laotian, locomotion, lotion, motion, notion, Nova Scotian, ocean, potion, promotion •ablution, absolution, allocution, attribution, circumlocution, circumvolution, Confucian, constitution, contribution, convolution, counter-revolution, destitution, dilution, diminution, distribution, electrocution, elocution, evolution, execution, institution, interlocution, irresolution, Lilliputian, locution, perlocution, persecution, pollution, prosecution, prostitution, restitution, retribution, Rosicrucian, solution, substitution, volution •cushion • resumption • München •pincushion •Belorussian, Prussian, Russian •abduction, conduction, construction, deduction, destruction, eduction, effluxion, induction, instruction, introduction, misconstruction, obstruction, production, reduction, ruction, seduction, suction, underproduction •avulsion, compulsion, convulsion, emulsion, expulsion, impulsion, propulsion, repulsion, revulsion •assumption, consumption, gumption, presumption •luncheon, scuncheon, truncheon •compunction, conjunction, dysfunction, expunction, function, junction, malfunction, multifunction, unction •abruption, corruption, disruption, eruption, interruption •T-junction • liposuction •animadversion, aspersion, assertion, aversion, Cistercian, coercion, conversion, desertion, disconcertion, dispersion, diversion, emersion, excursion, exertion, extroversion, immersion, incursion, insertion, interspersion, introversion, Persian, perversion, submersion, subversion, tertian, version •excerption

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"negation." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"negation." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation

"negation." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/negation