Unconscious Concept

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Freud defined the term unconscious concept in "From the History of an Infantile Neurosis": "'Feces', 'baby' and 'penis' thus form a unity, an unconscious concept (sit venia verbo )the concept, namely, of 'a little one' [une petite choses ] that can be separated from one's body" (1918b [1914], p. 84).

In philosophy, a concept is an idea that is abstract and susceptible to generalization and that allows for the apprehension of content a priori (Kant). It also refers to the grouping of objects of experience into classes. It is this latter, empirical aspect that Freud retains, since it is the equivalence of objects within a certain relationship that allows him to speak of a concept. The notion presented by Freud is complicated by the fact that the concepts under discussion are "unconscious." In other words, they are not the result of a process of judgment.

Unconscious concepts as defined by Freud come very close to the notion of symbolic equivalence, which is fundamental to the symptom. They also illustrate the unconscious origin of thought in its connections with (anal) sensation and the related fantasy elaboration that arises from it.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Demand; Feces; Infantile psychosis; Phallus; Phallic stage; Symbolic equation; Symbolism; Symbolization, process of.


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

Mijolla-Mellor, Sophie de. (1992). Le plaisir de pensée. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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