The Significance of Ethology for Psychiatry

  • G. Serban


Theories of human nature attempting to explain man’s behavior developed concomitantly with the evolution of our knowledge of the surrounding world. The discovery of physical laws governing the earth permitted the replacement of the medieval divine model of man with the mechanical one. When the new scientific era was propelled by the Copernican-Newtonian cosmological revolution, psychology, as a new science, progressively adopted the mechanical model of man introduced by Descarte, worked out by La Mettrie, Cabanis, and J. Mills and subsequently modified by Freud. Yet, the ambitious plans of Freud to provide a scientific understanding of man fell short of his own expectations. Without diminishing Freud’s contribution to psychiatry, we can admit that his project of scientific psychology, which was supposed to reduce psychological processes to quantitatively determined physical laws, ended up in metaphysical explanation (Freud, 1954). The Cartesian laws of res cogitans became linked to elusive unconscious motivational drives, thereby changing the mechanical model into a metaphysical one. Conversely, an animal component of human nature was always conceded, although man refused to accept any direct comparison with the animals, in a grandiose vision of himself as a final product of God. In this sense, any mysterious meaning attached to his behavior continued to support his divine origins, which explains why mystical theories are so well entrenched in our thinking.


Human Nature Metaphysical Explanation Instinctual Behavior Divine Origin Sexual Instinct 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Serban
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryNYU Medical CenterNew YorkUSA

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