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Lacan draws a distinction between mere ‘behaviour’, which all animals engage in, and ‘acts’, which are symbolic and which can only be ascribed to human subjects. A fundamental quality of an act is that the actor can be held responsible for it; the concept of the act is thus an ethical concept.

However, the psychoanalytic concept of responsibility is very different from the legal concept. This is because the concept of responsibility is linked with the whole question of intentionality, which is complicated in psychoanalysis by the discovery that, in addition to his conscious plans, the subject also has unconscious intentions. Hence someone may well commit an act which he claims was unintentional, but which analysis reveals to be the expression of an unconscious desire. Freud called these acts ‘parapraxes’, or ‘bungled actions’ (Fr. acte manqué); they are ‘bungled’, however, only from the point of view of the conscious intention, since they are successful in expressing an unconscious desire. Whereas in law, a subject cannot be found guilty of murder (for example) unless it can be proved that the act was intentional, in psychoanalytic treatment the subject is faced with the ethical duty of assuming responsibility even for the unconscious desires expressed in his actions. He must recognise even apparently accidental actions as true acts which express an intention, albeit unconscious, and assume this intention as his own. (1-2)


Evans, Dylan.  An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis.  Routledge. 1996. 

See Also

Lexicon Entries

Efficacious Transference
Foucault's Objective
Freedom and Self-Emergence
Intentional Arc
Linguistic Structure of the Unconscious
Principle of Incompletion
Quest for the Invariant
Reflective Understanding
Relations of Power
Situated Freedom
Socratic Midwifery
Take Care of Yourself
The 'Claro, Pero' Paradox
The Act of Naming
The Analytical Relation
The Central Attitude
The Intention to Speak
The Museum
The Notion of Liberation
The Red Ink
The Scope of Ethics
This Permanent Dissonance
Context and Relevance

Works and Days





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Tags: Jacques Lacan

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