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Lacan distinguishes between two types of knowledge:

Savoir is the kind of knowledge which psychoanalytic treatment aims at.

It is both knowledge of the subject's relation to the symbolic order, and also that relation itself.

This knowledge is the articulation of signifiers in the subject's symbolic universe, the signifying chain (S2).

The unconscious is simply another name for symbolic knowledge insofar as it is an "unknown knowledge," a knowledge which the subject does not know it knows.

Psychoanalytic treatment aims at a progressive revelation of this knowledge to the subject, and is based on the premise that theonly menas of access to this knowledge is via a particular form of speech called free association.

However, psychoanalytic treatment does not aim at a Hegelian 'absolute knowledge,' because the unconscious is irreducible; there is an inescapable division between the subject and knowledge.

Symbolic knowledge is knowledge of the truth about one's unconscious desire.

Knowledge in this sense is a form of jouissance: "knowledge is the jouissance of the Other."[1]

Symbolic knowledge does not reside in any particular subject, nor in the Other (which is not a subject but a locus), but is intersubjective.

However, this does not prevent one supposing that somewhere there is a subject who possesses this symbolic knowledge (the subject supposed to know).


Connaissance (and its necessary correlate, meconnaissance) is the kind of self-knowledge that belongs to the imaginary order.

It is by misunderstanding and misrecognition (meconnaissance) that the subject comes to the imaginary knowledge of himself (me-connsaissance) which is constitutive of the ego.[2]

The ego is thus an illusory kind of self-knowledge based on a fantasy of self-mastery and unity.

Imaginary knowledge is called "paranoiac knowledge" by Lacan because it has the same structure as paranoia (both involve a delusion of absolute knowledge and mastery), and because one of the preconditions of all human knowledge is the "paranoiac alienation of the ego."[3]

Imaginary knowledge is an obstacle which hinders the subjects access to symbolic knowledge.

Psychoanalytic treatment must therefore continually subvert the subject's imaginary] self-knowledge in order to reveal the symbolic self-knowledge which it blocks.

knowledge 35-38, 45, 69, 75, 81, 91, 124, 127, 159, 199  ; absolute 126 ; and interpretation 156, 163-64 ; and not wanting to know 23, 60 ; and transference see supposed subject of knowing; and truth 91-92, 96-97, 126, 129, 135, 173-74, 176, 188-89 ; as a symptom of the analyst’s ignorance 133 ; conscious 24, 95 ; in the analyst’s discourse 95-96, 173 ; in the master’s discourse 94 ; limit of 133-34, 137 ; love of 123-30 ; mythical 59 ; neurotic 21-22, 25, 34 ; of the analyst 23, 35, 37, 52-53n45, 69, 75-76, 92-93, 125-29, 132-34, 136, 156, 159-61, 164, 204-5 ; of love 130-40 ; of the other 12 ; of the pervert 47, 143 ; of the Zen-master 163 ; on the place of truth 38, 96, 173-74 ;

  • Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre XVII. L'envers de la psychanalyse, 19669-70. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.13
  • Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.306
  • Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.2; Lacan, 1951b: 12