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Logic refers to the formal structures determining a coherent order in a sequence of ideas. With its notion of the primal, psychoanalysis has extended the question of logic beyond conscious rational thought and developed hypotheses on the primitive modalities (modes) of representation.

According to Freud in the "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b), "It is probable that thinking was originally unconscious in so far as it went beyond mere ideational presentations and was directed to the relations between impressions of objects, and that it did not acquire further qualities, perceptible to consciousness, until it became connected with verbal residues" (p. 221). The earliest psychoanalytic view of logic is thus limited to connections, if not among objects themselves, at least among the subjective impressions they leave on the observer, which then unite with memories of other analogous perceptions.

With The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), Freud demonstrated the logical functioning of unconscious thought by elucidating the opposition between "primary process" and "secondary process." Thus causality, the basis for reasoning in conscious thought, is expressed in dreams by means of simple succession, where the main clause is represented by the most developed part of the dream and the dependent clause is represented by the briefest part: " 'Because I am of such low descent, the course of my life has been so and so' " (p. 315).

In this essay, Freud asked: "What representations do dreams provide for 'if', 'because', 'just as', 'although', 'either/or', and all the other conjunctions without which we cannot understand sentences or speeches?" He concluded that "dreams have no means at their disposal for representing these logical relations between the dream-thoughts. For the most part dreams disregard all these conjunctions, and it is only the substantive content of the dream-thoughts that they take over and manipulate. The restoration of the connections which the dream-work has destroyed is a task which has to be performed by the interpretative process" (p. 312).

Freud's thinking suggested, if not a plurality of logics, at least diversity in their modes of representation, and this idea was extended by other authors. Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion showed how the logic of the infant's fantasies corresponds to relational categories other than that of causality (for example, destructive desire in response to frustration or projective identification). Piera Aulagnier, described categories of the primal (pictogram), the primary (fantasy), and the secondary (idea)representational modalities impelled by specific logics: the postulate of self-procreation, the all-powerfulness of the desire of the other, and causality, respectively.

In Les Logiques de l'inconscient (Logics of the unconscious; 1978), Michel Neyraut reexamined and analyzed the issue of the plurality of logics (primitive, primary, and secondary), thus reinitiating reflection on the opposition between the rational and the irrational.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Pictogram; Primary process/secondary process; Rationalization; Sense/nonsense; Thought; Unconscious fantasy.


Aulagnier, Piera. (2001). The violence of interpretation: From pictogram to statement (Alan Sheridan, Trans.). East Sussex, U.K., and Philadelphia: Brunner/Routledge, 2001.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.

. (1911b). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. SE, 12: 213-226.

Neyraut, Michel. (1978). Les Logiques de l'inconscient. Paris: Hachette.