Eros, Life Instinct: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 Eros Defined
  • 0:25 Freud & the Life Instinct
  • 0:58 Eros & Thanatos
  • 1:38 The Importance of Duality
  • 2:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Cobarrubias
In this lesson, we will define Eros through its Greek Mythology beginnings. We'll also discuss how it has transcended this basic definition to include life instinct, and then we'll define Eros in terms of its polar opposite, Thanatos.

Eros Defined

You may know of Eros as the figure from Greek mythology - the god of love. Not surprisingly, the word is used in English, as it is in Greek, to denote love; however, there are also other Greek terms that mean love: storge, philia and agape. Eros denotes intimate or romantic love, while the other terms refer to familial and other types of love.

Freud and the Life Instinct

In his 1920 book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud applied the concept of Eros to psychoanalysis. He referred to Eros as the life instinct, which includes sexual instincts, the drive to live, and basic instinctual impulses such as thirst and hunger. These elements are all necessary to preserve and prolong life, both for the individual and for the human race. Eros is associated with behaviors that support harmony among people, such as collaboration and cooperation.

Eros and Thanatos

According to Freud, Eros is just one part of a dual system. The other - its counterpart - is Thanatos, which is the death instinct. It includes negative feelings like hate, anger, and aggression. As the counterpart to Eros, it is associated with anti-social behaviors such as sadism and violence, and it serves to balance Eros by driving the individual (and the human race) toward death and extinction. Freud theorized that Eros and Thanatos cannot exist without each other, that both the life instinct and death instinct correspond and clash with each other in a lifelong struggle.

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