Freud, Sigmund

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Freud, Sigmund 1856-1939







The founder of the intellectual discipline and psychotherapeutic method known as psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud aimed to throw light upon the unusual, abnormal, or pathological manifestations of the mind by tracing them to the psychological forces that produced them (1936, p. 447). The odd manifestations he sought to illuminate ranged from the blatantly strange, such as neurotic symptoms, to deviations from strict rationality found in all people, such as those that occur in dreaming, mental lapses of waking life, such as slips of the tongue, or other special experiences, such as the feeling of uncanniness. His inquiries also included ordinary experiences that defied straightforward explanation, such as the capacity of jokes to evoke laughter, and cultural trends that Freud believed exhibited properties of mental life he had identified in individual psychology, such as humans susceptibility to religion.

The psychological forces to which Freud traced these phenomena led inevitably, in his view, to childhood. Childhood has the influence it does, Freud maintained, because it affords a unique mode of experience that, on account of its distinctness from later developments of the mind, both produces lasting impressions on people and renders these impressions inaccessible to later consciousness. The most dramatic and best-known consequence of this dynamic is the operation after infancy of unconscious mentation, or ideas and impulses of which people remain unaware that nonetheless influence their behavior. Since the publication in 1900 of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freuds first major treatise on psychoanalysis, Freuds ideas have indelibly altered both popular thought and a wide array of professional disciplines.


Freud was born in Frieberg, Moravia (now the Czech Republic) on May 6, 1856, and his family moved to Vienna three years later. During the 1890s, as a young doctor collaborating with Viennese physician Josef Breuer, he began treating nervous disorders through the use of a talking cure, as he and Breuer called it. The method initially consisted of patients under hypnosis recalling memories associated with their symptoms. This recall, accompanied by the affect connected with the memories, resulted in the elimination of symptoms. An early patient treated in this way, one Anna O., for example, who presented with paralyses and an inability to drink that lacked any organic base, regained her ability to drink when she recalled with disgust a scene from her childhood in which she had discovered her governesss dog drinking from a (human) cup.

On the basis of observations of this kindreported with Breuer in Studies on Hysteria (1895)Freud came to believe people are moved in part by mental forces unknown to them. The unconscious, as it came to be known, is composed mostly of thoughts and impressions people pushed from consciousness (or repressed) when they were very young. The thoughts and impressions linger in the mind and, unable to discharge, remain on alert for opportunities for expression. When they reach expression, they usually appear in disguise, so as not to elicit fresh repressions. The resulting manifestations include psychopathological symptoms, dreams, lapses of (conscious) speech or action (which Freud called parapraxes) such as slips of the tongue, and aspects of character, as well as a variety of ordinary individual and cultural experiences.


Freuds is a general psychological theory that attempts to explain why people think, feel, see, and do as they do. A systematic theory, it contains an integrated body of concepts and propositions from which other concepts and propositions follow. It builds from a small group of first principles, described by Freud as essential constituents of human thought and action that admit of no further reduction and yet account for all conceivable instances of human behavior. Based upon observation and reflection over the course of the forty-plus years spanned by his psychoanalytic writings, Freud eventually changed his ideas about these principles.

Initially, Freud believed all human behavior conforms to what he called the pleasure (or pleasure-unpleasure) principle. According to the pleasure principle, people always strive to avoid pain and, where possible, attain pleasure. Even behavior that appears inconsistent with this principle, such as the nightmare, must in some way conform to it. Freud theorized in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), for example, that nightmares serve to divert the dreamer from dangerous wishes whose fulfillment would produce frightening consequences. The fearsome content of the nightmare both embodies the dreamers perception of dangersuch that, on occasion, the dreamer might awaken and thereby terminate the dreamand serves to disguise the wish.

Freud originally conceived the state of pleasure as a reduction in excitation, or tension, on the model of the reflex. Our reflexes, such as the eye-blink or knee-jerk reflex, function to rid the body of stimuli. Thus, at bottom, according to this initial conception, the function of the nervous system is to keep the level of stimulation in the body as low as possible, and pleasure is the consequence of the reduction. As happened with the governing principle itself, Freud changed his view of the nature of pleasure over the course of his writings.

Freud believed that early in their development, in order to survive, humans would have to have formed a reality principle subordinate to the pleasure principle. Although the hallucinated satisfaction of ones needs, which would constitute the shortest path to their fulfillment, might produce pleasure in the short term, for example, it would lead to ultimate disappointment. Thus, Freud says in his Formulations Regarding Two Principles in Mental Functioning (1911), the mind had to decide to form a conception of circumstances in the real outer world, so as to be able to alter them and bring about real satisfaction.

Whereas the pleasure principle operates reflexively from birth, the reality principle develops over time in the individual, according to Freud, and likewise developed in the evolution of the species. The reality principle, in turn, would have prompted further developments of the mind, beyond reflexive, or direct wish-fulfilling, functioning. Attention would have given individuals the ability to search their environment for the results of their actions; memory would have given them a means of notating and storing the results; thought would have arisen as a kind of experimental action, allowing individuals to test the (real) consequences of their behavior.

Within the compass of the pleasure/reality principles, Freud distinguished instinct as the driving force of all action. Instinct, as he details in Instincts and Their Vicissitudes (1915), is a stimulus to the mind originating within the body that exerts a constant pressure, or impetus toward relief. Because instincts originate within the person and operate at a constant force, rather than originating externally and acting in a single impact, simple reflexive action, such as the withdrawal of the impacted portion of the body, has no effect against the impact. One needs instead to satisfy the instinct. When ones stomach grinds with hunger, for example, one cannot eliminate the pain by withdrawing ones stomach from any impinging force. One must eat or be fed. Because instincts require machinations more complicated than reflexive action to be discharged, Freud viewed them as important to the development of the nervous system beyond the primitive reflex.

Freud originally distinguished two classes of instincts, which he believed admit of no further reduction: the sexual instincts and the ego, or self-preservative, instincts. He defined sexual broadly, so that it includes, with respect to its physical quality, excitation to any portion of the body, including the skin, for example, as well as the oral, anal, and genital areas.

Psychologically, the sexual instincts subsume the entire field of erotic relations, including those relations inhibited in aim, such as friendships and parent-child relations, which entail positive and even excitatory feelings, but not, in the usual course of conscious life, an aim of genital satisfaction. In their most developed manifestation, the sexual instincts serve reproduction. The ego instincts, meanwhile, serve only the individual and have the individuals safety as their object. In claiming that all human behavior emanates from one or the other of these two classes of instincts, Freud meant that all human impulses and actions remain compatible with one or both fields, not that all human impulses and actions can be reduced to a sex or survival drive. Ones labors on a mathematics problem reduce to a sex or survival drive no more than a sheet of paper reduces to the tree from which the paper was milled. Rather, according to Freud, all of our aspirations and behavior must be traceable in some way to the reflexive bundle from which we arose. The reflexive bundle, in turn, seeks, at bottom, to eliminate the tensions created by its needs, and thus to gain pleasure.

Approximately twenty years after he articulated the pleasure principle, Freud identified an apparent exception to the principle and suggested that a still more basic force operates in the mind. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) he argued that, in contrast with numerous other negative experiences that only appear to contradict the pleasure principle, the traumatic, and more specifically war, neuroses genuinely do so. These neuroses manifest in, among other symptoms, recurrent dreams in which dreamers return to the scene of previous near-death experiences and then awake in a terrible fright. For instance, soldiers returning from war relive attacks in the trenches, and survivors of train wrecks return to the wreck. Each then awakens in terror that no amount of repetition of the dream lessens.

Although Freud could detect no long- or short-term gain in the pattern, he conceded it could embody an attempt at a purpose. Extrapolating from his observation that traumatic neuroses tend to afflict those victims of trauma who did not incur a major injury, Freud surmised that, whereas direct physical insult tends to divert masses of energy to the site of the insult, victims who have escaped injury are left with rampant masses of energy released by the shock of the event. Wholly breached, the psychical system attempts to master the onslaught in retrospect, by generating anxiety that, had it been present during the traumatic event, would have reduced the shock of the event. But after the fact, the attempt serves no purpose. The system neither heals nor learns.

Freud extrapolated from these observations to the existence of a tendency more primordial than the pleasure principle and inherent in all organic life: the compulsion to repeat. The tendency can be witnessed, he believed, in behavior as primitive as the thumb sucking of human babies or the return of schools of fish to the site of previous spawning. In the psyche compromised by the war neuroses, the tendency manifests in a mechanical and almost diabolical repetition of a behavior, in total disregard of its impact upon the person.

From his extrapolation to the repetition compulsion, Freud made the admittedly speculative and far-fetched leap to the idea that all living things seek to return not only to previous states, but ultimately to their original state. Given that all living matter began as inorganic substance, all living things seek to return to an inorganic state; they seek to die.

Freud thus arrived at a new category of instinct, the death instinct, or Thanatos, which he conceived as functioning in opposition to the life instincts, or Eros. After equivocating briefly on the point, Freud subsumed under the life instincts the two classes of instinct he had originally delineated, the sexual and ego (self-preservative) instincts. Whereas the life instincts, especially as represented by the sexual instincts, seek to unify living matter and create more of it, the death instinct aims to dissolve it.

As Freud originally conceived it, the death instinct denotes the tendency of every living thing to drift toward a state of minimal, and ideally no, excitation. The death instinct of this formulation thus verges on the pleasure principle, according to which pleasure arises with a reduction in stimulation. Freud soon modified his view of the nature of pleasure, however, in a way that lessened this overlap. Although he continued to believe the nervous system functions, at bottom, to rid the organism of tension, and pleasure arises by this means, he acknowledged peoples potential to derive pleasure from an increase in stimulation, as occurs in sexual foreplay, for example. Thenceforth, he distinguished between the Nirvāna principle, which expresses organisms tendency toward quiescence (and hence the death instinct), and the pleasure principle, which expresses the drive toward pleasure in all its forms, including excitatory ones, and which Freud attributed to the influence of the life instincts.

In the course of Freuds later works, the death instinct assumes an increasingly active aspect and becomes almost synonymous with aggression. As early as his discussion in The Ego and the Id, published three years after Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud reasoned that individual organisms live long enough to combine with one another, rather than die off, because the death instinct must be neutralized in some way by the life instincts. It is diverted outward over the musculature, he proposed, in the form of aggression, which is eventually directed against others. However, in the wanton destruction he observed in two world wars, Freud perceived an aggressiveness totally divorced from erotic aims, and hence a sign of the ascendance of something close to a culture of pure death instinct. He concluded the 1931 edition of Civilization and Its Discontents with the question of whether Eros would rise again and prevail over humanity.


Many of the remaining portions of Freuds theory follow from the foregoing primitives of mental life and particularly from the pleasure and reality principles, which Freud continued to believe dominate mental life even after he developed the scheme that incorporates the death instinct.

Meaning and Determinism One such result is the idea that all behavior, including the most apparently nonsensical, has a reason, or, as Freud says in his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1917) with respect to psychopathological symptoms in particular, symptoms have a sense. Anna O.s refusal to drink resulted from her (unconscious) disgust at her governesss dog, according to Breuer and Freud. Given that people who feel revolted by something normally find it difficult to eat or drink, Anna O.s behavior followed coherently from its source. Unlike healthy people who refuse food or drink because they feel revolted, however, Anna O. was unaware of both her disgust and its source. Therein lay her pathology. In conceiving dreams as wish fulfillments and parapraxes as products of concealed motives, Freud again followed the assumption that all behavior has a source and a sense. He believed it possible, moreover, for unconsciously motivated behavior, such as dreams, to have not just one source or one meaning, but to be overdetermined, having multiple sources and meanings. Thus, for instance, the leering monster in a nightmare might embody both a childs anger at a parent and the childs fear of recriminations from the parent.

Freud admitted that some apparently odd behavior arises without apparent motivation. However, he found the occurrence of such behavior improbable. Freud noted in Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1909) that although some aberrations, such as slips of the tongue, might occur when people operate under fatigue or other stresses, the mistakes cannot be caused by these limitations, because other similar mistakes occur when people are fully attentive (p. 29). Further, precisely because numerous associative pathways lie open and can cause a person accidentally to utter one word instead of another (in the case of slips of the tongue), one needs to explain why a given pathway is chosen on a given occasion.

Conscious and Unconscious The separation between conscious and unconscious mental processes arises, according to Freud, primarily through the operation of repression, a reflexive and hence infantile response driven by the pleasure principle, in which individuals withdraw consciousness from painful or frightening impulses in the manner in which one might withdraw ones hand from a hot stove. The pain can be caused either by the clash between impulse in itself and other motives the person may have, or by the individuals anticipation of the external consequences of acting upon the impulse. The repressed impulse, or idea, remains in unconscious memory, sustained by its struggle for expression and at the same time denied that end by the forces that originally led to its repression. In the final chapter of Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud postulates a second, smaller category of inherited unconscious ideas. This category includes the most primitive embodiments of the instincts and impulses that, based upon an analysis of modern emotion, he concluded must have been passed along by earlier generations. The latter impulses include guilt for the killing of the primal father and a portion of the hostility that led to the presumed deed.

Freud reserved the term unconscious for these two groups of ideas, repressed unconscious ideas created by individual experience and inherited unconscious ideas, both of which are unavailable to consciousness at the moment and inaccessible to consciousness in general (except with extraordinary effort of the sort embodied by psychoanalysis). As detailed in his 1915 essay The Unconscious, Freud distinguished as preconscious a separate category of ideas not apprehended by consciousness that, like ones knowledge of ones street address, one can access easily if prompted. Consciousness, within this scheme, is but a characteristic that can attach to mental processes. Freud likened it to a sensory organ that, in this case, illuminates ideation in progress. He attributed to language a primary role in allowing a mental process to become conscious.

Unconscious and conscious ideation exhibit different characteristics, Freud maintained, paralleling the divide between the pleasure principle, which dominates unconscious processes, and the reality principle, which operates only within conscious thought (for purposes of this discussion, preconscious thought is subsumed by conscious thought). Unconscious ideation observes primary process thought, wherein ideas are interconnected associatively one to the next, with no consideration for the whole. One idea may also replace another (displacement) and several ideas may converge in a single embodiment (condensation). These methods produce dreams, symptoms, and other phenomena, such as jokes, to which Freud ascribed an unconscious contribution. Only conscious ideation incorporates secondary-process thought, which consists of the higher cognitive processes, such as judgment, reasoning, planned action, and the ordering of events in time.

It follows from the properties of the two types of thought that the unconscious admits of blatant contradiction. No feature of unconscious mentation can detect or feel troubled by incoherence. It also knows no denial. Thus, in ones unconscious, one can both love and despise ones mother, or both want freedom from ones parents and want to be constrained and even punished by them. In waking life, normally, one would have difficulty tolerating these ambivalences and would probably repress one pole of the conflict.

Id, Ego, and Superego Freud eventually decided that the division of mental qualities into conscious, preconscious, and unconscious did not entirely capture the dynamics of the mind. In particular, unconsciousness appears to attach to mental formations other than those produced by repression that, nonetheless, arise on the basis of experience. In addition to finding their repressed memories elusive, patients undergoing psychoanalysis resist discovering the memories. Other forces in their mind must act to keep the repressed material from consciousness, Freud inferred, and these forces, too, lie outside awareness. Freud labeled these opposing forces as resistances.

He developed a new scheme, which he expounds in The Ego and the Id (1923), to capture this mental dynamic. He now designated as id the portion of the mind containing repressed and inherited unconscious impulses. He defined as ego peoples efforts to avert danger, whether from internal (i.e., repressed) or external sources, and to maintain their bearings in the environment. The ego includes the resistances and thus has both a conscious and an unconscious portion. Freud designated a third entity, the superego, which judges the ego. Although the superego resembles the ego in its judging role, it shares an unconscious and irrational element with the id, from which it derives.

According to Freud, the superego is the precipitate of the Oedipal complex. The Oedipal conflict, according to Freud, is a normal part of the development of every individual. All children desire more from their parents (or parent surrogates) early in life than the parents can giveat bottom, everyone wants total possession of them. Within this dynamic, children may form a preference for the parent of the opposite sex, although they yearn for both parents and experience the Oedipal conflict with respect to each. Thus, children harbor both love and hostility for each parent. Therefore, as Freud illustrates in Totem and Taboo (1913), ambivalence exists at the core of our emotional life. Eventually, childrens desires are frustrated and, in the interest of survival, subjected to repression, with the conflicts embodied by them left unresolved.

The end of the Oedipal period, at around five years of age, prompts individuation from the parents, and consequently their loss. The loss, in turn, prompts children to internalize the parents, which preserves their relationship with them. The internalization is accompanied by an exaggeration of the parents power, which results from childrens earlier repression of their own hostile feelings toward the parents. Emanating now from the internalized parents, the hostile feelings are turned back upon the subjectthe childon whom they discharge more safely than they would have done if the child had unleashed the feelings against the real parents. In exchange, the now browbeaten ego suffers. The entire dynamic, according to Freud, explains much of both psychopathology and the psychology of healthy people.

The Concept of a Person Freuds view of the person is represented by his three schemes for describing the mind. From the perspective of the motivating forces of our actionthe pleasure principle and its derivativespeople universally seek, on some level, to avoid pain. In the interest of long-term gain, they may modify their claim to comfort and pleasure in the short term, as Freud discusses in an exegesis on happiness in Civilization and Its Discontents. From the perspective of the division of the mind into conscious (including preconscious) and unconscious, people are ruled by forces both known and unknown to them, and they are thus capable of acts and thoughts both consistent and inconsistent with the traits and values they may (consciously) consider central to their identity. From the perspective of Freuds division of the mind into the dynamic entities of id, ego, and superego, both our behavior and our felt experience are colored by the deeply conflicting forces that confer our humanity upon us: our appetites and our drive for security and survival. In all three views, the person is a compilation of forces, defined by the interaction of dynamic parts. Freud did not distinguish more holistic entities such as the personality or the self.

The Concept of Illness The cause of (neurotic) illness, according to Freud, is unresolved and unconscious conflict, on account of which sufferers retreat into fantasy. Symptoms embody a fulfillment of the fantasies, distorted to escape recognition by the conscious mind. Healthy people struggle with the same conflicts as do neurotic people, and, like neurotic people, they form fantasies to improve upon a sometimes disappointing reality. However, whereas healthy people either find adaptive outlets for their fantasies or indulge them while otherwise going about their business, neurotics repressed impulses overwhelm their capacity for normal function.

Beginning with his earliest cases, Freud maintained that neurosis is caused specifically by the conflict between sexual and ego drives. Patients earliest sexual impulses lead to thoughts their self-protective inclinations regard as dangerous, and are thus subject to repression. Although Freud initially believed the forbidden thoughts traced back to actual experiences of seduction, he soon determined, as he noted in his 1909 Rat Man case history, that the impression or fantasy of such experiences can alone suffice to initiate pathogenic processes.

Therapy Psychoanalytic therapy presumes that, insofar as repressed complexes (conflicts) cause illness, the path to cure lies in the exposure of the repressed material to consciousness. Repressed complexes have the far-reaching effects they do because the cut-off ideas continue to strive for expression through an increasingly large web of associations. It follows, therefore, that one may recover the instigating ideas by undoing the web of associations. Thus, the free association of ideas forms the principal technique of therapy. Beginning with a symptom, dream, or passing thought, patients say whatever comes into their mind in connection with the symptom, and then whatever comes into their mind in connection with the new idea, and so on. Freud believed that all paths lead ultimately to the repressed complex or complexes, so that patients can start with any leading idea to begin to unravel the associative chain or chains.

As their associations veer progressively closer to the material under repression, patients find it increasingly difficult to pursue given lines of thought. Freud believed these experiences of resistance form an integral part of the therapeutic process. They provide a window on the forces that are keeping the repressed material hidden and, in becoming manifest, afford patients the means for defeating the forces and allowing the repressed ideas to reach consciousness, where they can be confronted. To defeat the resistances, patients need to express all associations that occur to them and combat the temptation to block them.

Because of the importance of uncovering and disarming the resistances to the achievement of a lasting cure, Freud abandoned the use of hypnosis in psychoanalysis. Although hypnosis might allow the freeing of repressed content in susceptible patients, in Freuds experience it led mostly to only short-term cures. Patients resistances, still present, rose again and repressed the forbidden thoughts anew. Hypnosis carries the additional disadvantage that not everyone is susceptible to it, whereas the conscious talking cure via free association is open, in principle, to all.

Development The development of the mind, in Freuds conception, follows three broad pathways. The first, within sexual (or as Freud called it, libidinal) development, consists of a progression from autoeroticism, wherein individuals achieve satisfaction diversely from the stimulation of parts of their body, to narcissism, during which individuals, now having gained a unifying seat of experience in the form of the ego, take themselves as the love object, and finally to the phase of (external) object love. Having initially distinguished only autoeroticism and object love as phases in this development, Freud interpolated the phase of narcissism when he found himself otherwise unable to account for the so-called narcissistic disorders of adulthood, such as schizophrenia, in which the ego seems to lose its boundaries. Another development in sexuality encompasses changes in the focus of sexual sensitivity in people from the oral to the anal and, finally, to the genital areas, respectively.

The second trend in development progresses from impulsive toward reflective thought. It is embodied by the development of secondary-process thought, wherein impulses can be inhibited and action tested and planned, and by the gradual replacement of repression by judgment as a means of dispatching painful impressions. It is expressed by the reality principle.

A third trend proceeds from more transparent to more complexly derived, and thus more obscure, behavior. Whereas the dreams of small children often express the unfulfilled (conscious) wishes of the previous day, for example, adults dreams contain bizarre and inscrutable (manifest) imagery that must be painstakingly unpacked to uncover the instigating (latent) dream thoughts. Whereas the motives of childrens sense of humor are clear, adults, who may laugh from similar motives, do not know what they are laughing at. Trends of these kinds arise, Freud believed, from both the separation of conscious and unconscious thought, which makes repression possible, and from the natural surmounting (as Freud describes it in his 1919 essay The Uncanny) of one developmental stage by another. Regarding the latter process, when one stage succeeds another in development, both the mode of experience embodied by the earlier stage and the experiences accrued in it remain in the psyche. They continue to exert an influence there, though reshaped by the superimposition of later stages.


After incorporating the three previously unlinked fields of dreams, neurotic symptoms, and parapraxes, Freuds theory came to encompass phenomena as diverse as art, creative writing, the appreciation of beauty, the comic, morality, religion, superstition, the fate of social movements such as communism, and peoples disparagement of the transience of things. In these and other manifestations of human nature, Freud not only perceived the operation of unconscious thought, the contribution for which he is most widely known, but also speculated provocatively about the nature of phenomena that otherwise elude explanation. His commentary exposes the elusiveness.

Freuds account of the comic in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), for instance, emphasizes the need for investigation to penetrate beyond the necessary and sufficient conditions of what makes something funny to the question of why laughing is what people do when an event meets these conditions. His brief remarks on beauty in Civilization and Its Discontents show the need for theory to reach beyond the delineation of the attributes of beautiful things to an account that explains the feeling that accompanies peoples perception of beauty. In his extensive, though scattered, treatment of morality, he labors to account for the compulsiveness of morality and the feelings that accompany moral sensibility, such as moral righteousness and moral indignation, as well as the scope and nature of moral rules.

In his short essay On Transience (1916), Freud both awakens the reader to the possibility that one could appreciate things more, rather than less, on account of their transience (for instance, they could better appreciate the beauty of spring because it will disappear), and provides an explanation of the common tendency instead toward the disparagement of transience. With respect to communism, which he considers in a longer discussion of the problem of aggression in society in Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud, who reserved judgment on the economic claims of the system, suggested its psychological premises are untenable. He believed that when human aggression is deprived of one of its essential tools, namely material property, it will find other outlets. In all of these and in other areas, Freud opened lines of inquiry that remain interesting and novel. Because of its vast reach and systematic base, Freuds theory has profoundly influenced disciplines throughout the social sciences and humanities, as well as the arts. It has shaped the way human nature is viewed by scholar, practitioner, and layperson.


Freuds theory has been challenged since its inception, initially for its stipulation of unconscious mentation altogether, and later for its claims regarding the nature and influence of unconscious thought. Many believe Freud overinterpreted behavior. Experimental psychologists such as J. Allan Hobson and Daniel Schacter, for instance, maintain that parapraxes and dreams, respectively, may arise from normal features of cognitive process and brain function, rather than from unconscious motives. Likewise, critics suggest neurotic symptoms may reflect relatively superficial adaptations to faulty wiring or chemical imbalance, rather than deep-seated conflict.

Adolf Grünbaum and other commentators have questioned Freuds characterization of psychoanalysis as a science on the grounds that the theory is not testable. For a theory to be testable, one needs to conceive limiting cases with respect to which the theory could be proved wrong, according to these authors. However, they continue, one cannot refute the claim that neurotic symptoms express repressed complexes or that dreams fulfill wishes (the dreams of traumatic neurosis, which Freud excepted, notwithstanding), because any given symptom might express a repressed complex and any given dream might fulfill a wish. One simply may not have uncovered the hidden material. It goes without saying that Freuds more speculative claims, such as his stipulation of a death instinct, are dismissed by critical and even supportive discourse altogether. Psychoanalysis, as a means of cure, has been variously assailed as ineffective, subject to suggestion by the analyst, and unnecessarily costly to patients. In its standard form it involves multiple sessions per week and a highly trained practitioner.

Theorists who followed Freud, including his own disciples, subsequently modified his theory and the practice of psychoanalysis. Some, such as Carl Jung, reconceived the nature of the unconscious, while others, such as Melanie Klein, replaced drives or instincts with interpersonal (object) relations as the pivot of the psyche. Others, such as Alfred Adler, placed relatively greater emphasis than Freud did on the ego, while lessening the emphasis on the sexual drives. In Freuds wake, many varieties of talking therapy were created, some ultimately with little connection to the tenets of psychoanalysis, save the notion that peoples ways of thinking about their lives, cultivated by their previous experience, may taint their happiness more than do the external events that befall them. Diverse therapies also share the belief that giving expression to ones concerns may both begin to lift the burden they impose and promote self-enlightenment.

Freud died on September 23, 1939, in England, where he lived for the last year of his life. The cause was mouth cancer, which had plagued him for many years. Since then, the controversies over the credibility of his theory and the promise of psychoanalytic treatment have continued. Regarding treatment, Freud established as an ideal the absence of suggestion, as Jonathan Lear notes. Conducted appropriately, psychoanalytic therapy has met with modest success. At the same time, no other type of therapy has proved universally effective. Regarding the credibility of the theory, Freud himself addressed many of the concerns raised by both his contemporary and subsequent critics. In numerous writings, for instance, he reviewed and rejected face-value accounts of the phenomena he addressed, and he made comparative assessments of the plausibility of competing psychoanalytic interpretations of behavior. In these exercises, he extrapolated to the predictions of competing claims and assessed their plausibility, given the data, as would befit any exercise in hypothesis-testing. He also stated, with respect to some claims, that he was following out the logic of an idea, rather than asserting testable claims. He claimed this, for instance, in the often-dismissed Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), regarding his ideas about the death instinct. Although it remains to be seen whether evidence and logic require hypotheses in the direction of Freuds tenets, it is difficult to identify alternative theories that address, let alone attempt to explain, the quintessentially human phenomena Freud took as his central object.

SEE ALSO Jung, Carl; Memory in Psychology; Oedipus Complex; Psychoanalytic Theory; Psychology



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Freud, Sigmund. 1905. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1910. Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1911. Formulations Regarding Two Principles in Mental Functioning. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Rieff, 2128. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1913. Totem and Taboo. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1914. On Narcissism: An Introduction. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff, 5682. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1915a. Instincts and Their Vicissitudes. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff, 83103. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

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Freud, Sigmund. 1936. A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis: An Open Letter to Romain Rolland on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. In Pelican Freud Library. Vol. 11, On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis, 443456. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1984.


Grünbaum, Adolf. 1984. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Berkeley: University of California

Press. Hobson, J. Allan. 1988. The Dreaming Brain. New York: Basic Books.

Laplanche, Jean, and J. B. Pontalis. 1967. The Language of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Norton, 1973.

Lear, Jonathan. 1999. Open-Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schacter, Daniel L. 2001. The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Susan Sugarman

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)

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Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis, butcontrary to much apocryphal lore that dies hardcertainly not the originator of the hypothesis that unconscious ideation is essential to explain much of human overt behavior.

The generic doctrine of an unconscious domain of the mind has a venerable, long pre-Freudian history. Indeed, many of the most important doctrines commonly credited to Freud as his creations were tenets of his intellectual patrimony. Thus, as we recall from Plato's dialogue The Meno, Plato was concerned to understand how an ignorant slave boy could have arrived at geometric truths under mere questioning by an interlocutor with reference to a diagram. Plato argued that the slave boy had not acquired such geometric knowledge during his life. Instead, he explained, the boy was tapping prenatal but unconsciously stored knowledge, and restoring it to his conscious memory.

At the turn of the eighteenth century, Gottfried W. Leibniz gave psychological arguments for the occurrence of subthreshold sensory perceptions and for the existence of unconscious mental contents or motives that manifest themselves in our behavior (Ellenberger 1970). Moreover, in his New Essays on Human Understanding (1981), Leibniz pointed out that when the contents of some forgotten experiences subsequently emerge in our consciousness, we may misidentify them as new experiences, rather than recognize them as having been unconsciously stored in our memory.

Historically, it is more significant that Freud also had other precursors who anticipated some of his key ideas with impressive specificity. As he himself acknowledged ([the abbreviation "S.E." will be used to refer to the Standard Edition of Freud's complete psychological works in English] S.E., 1914, 14:1516), Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche had speculatively propounded major psychoanalytic doctrines that he himself reportedly developed independently from his clinical observations only thereafter. Indeed, in a 1995 German book, Die Flucht ins Vergessen: Die Anfänge der Psychoanalyse Freuds bei Schopenhaeur, the Swiss psychologist Marcel Zentner traces the foundations of psychoanalysis to the philosophy of Schopenhauer.

But, as Freud then pointed out illuminatingly, it is one of the greatest threats to human self-esteem to face that "the [human conscious] ego is not master in its own house " (S.E., 1917, 17:143; emphasis in original). On the other hand, it is evasive to dismiss substantive criticisms of Freudian theory as being due to fears induced by psychoanalytic accounts of presumed unconscious motivations. Such a dismissal does not address the merits of the strictures directed against psychoanalysis.

Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1856. But when he was three years old, his family moved to Vienna, where he entered the University of Vienna in 1873 to study medicine. He lived there until he was expelled by the Nazis, when he moved to London, where he died in 1939.

It is important to distinguish between the validity of Freud's work qua psychoanalytic theoretician, and the merits of his earlier work. The zealous Freudian partisan Mark Solms has edited and translated a presumably forthcoming four-volume series, The Complete Neuroscientific Works of Sigmund Freud. One focus of these writings is the neurological representation of mental functioning; another is Freud's supposed discovery of the essential morphological and physiological unity of the nerve cell and fiber.

They also contain contributions to the histology of the nerve cell, neuronal function, and neurophysiology. As a clinical neurologist, Freud wrote a monograph on aphasia (Solms and Saling, 1990). As Solms claims furthermore in his preview An Introduction to the Neuro-Scientific Works of Sigmund Freud (unpublished), Freud wrote major papers on cerebral palsy that earned him the status of a world authority. And he was a distinguished pediatric neurologist in the field of the movement disorders of childhood. Besides, Freud did scientific work on the properties of cocaine that benefited perhaps from his own use of that drug. Alas, that elating intake may well also account for some of the abandon featured by the more bizarre and grandiose of his psychoanalytic forays.

In 1880, he published a (free) translation of some of John Stuart Mill's philosophical writings. Yet, as Paul-Laurent Assoun notes in his 1995 Freud, La Philosophie, et les Philosophes, Freud was often disdainful of philosophy, despite clearly being indebted to the Viennese philosopher Franz Brentano, from whom he had taken several courses. The marks of Brentano's quondam representationalist and intentionalist account of the mental in the 1995 edition of his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint are clearly discernible in Freud's conception of ideation. And the arguments for the existence of God championed by the quondam Roman Catholic priest Brentano further solidified the thoroughgoing atheism of Freud, who has been called a "godless Jew " (Gay, 1987, pp. 34; Grünbaum, 1993, ch. 7).


The most basic ideas of psychoanalytic theory were initially enunciated in Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud's Preliminary Communication of 1893, which introduced their Studies on Hysteria. But the first published use of the word psychoanalysis occurred in Freud's 1896 French paper on Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses (S.E., 1896, 3:151). Therein Freud designated Breuer's method of clinical investigation as "a new method of psychoanalysis." Astonishingly, the coauthored 1893 prolegomenon, which lays bare the logical foundation of the cornerstone theory of repression, has been overlooked and untutoredly neglected in the literature, both psychoanalytic and philosophical. Breuer used hypnosis to revive and articulate a patient's unhappy memory of a supposedly repressed traumatic experience. The repression of that painful experience had occasioned the first appearance of a particular hysterical symptom, such as a phobic aversion to drinking water. Thus, Freud's mentor also induced the release of the suppressed emotional distress originally felt from the trauma. Thereby Breuer's method provided a catharsis for the patient.

The cathartic lifting of the repression yielded relief from the particular hysterical symptom. Breuer and Freud (1893) believed that they could therefore hypothesize that the repression, coupled with affective suppression, was the crucial cause for the development of the patient's psychoneurosis (S.E., 1893, 2:67; 3:2931).

Having reasoned in this way, they concluded, in Freud's later words: "Thus one and the same procedure served simultaneously the purposes of [causally] investigating and of getting rid of the ailment; and this unusual conjunction was later retained in psycho-analysis" (S.E., 1924, 19:194).

In his 1924 historical retrospect, Freud acknowledged the pioneering role of Breuer's cathartic method: "The cathartic method was the immediate precursor of psychoanalysis; and, in spite of every extension of experience and of every modification of theory, is still contained within it as its nucleus" (S.E., 1924, 19:194).

Yet Freud was careful to highlight the contribution he made himself after the termination of his collaboration with Breuer. Referring to himself in the third person, he tells us: "Freud devoted himself to the further perfection of the instrument left over to him by his elder collaborator. The technical novelties which he introduced and the discoveries he made changed the cathartic method into psycho-analysis" (S.E. 1924, 19:195). Later on, Freud regarded repressed wishes rather than forgotten traumata as the principal pathogens of neuroses. These extensive elaborations have earned him the mantle of being the father of psychoanalysis.

It is important to recognize that there are major differences between the unconscious processes hypothesized by current cognitive psychology, on the one hand, and the unconscious contents of the mind claimed by psychoanalytic psychology, on the other (Eagle, 1987). These divergences are such that the existence of the cognitive unconscious clearly fails to support, if not impugns, the existence of Freud's "dynamic" unconscious.

His so-called dynamic unconscious is the supposed repository of repressed forbidden wishes of a sexual or aggressive nature, whose reentry or initial entry into consciousness is prevented by the defensive operations of the ego-agency of the mind. Though socially unacceptable, these instinctual desires are so imperious and peremptory that they recklessly seek immediate gratification, independently of the constraints of external reality.

But, in the cognitive unconscious, there is great rationality in the ubiquitous computational and associative problem-solving processes required by memory, perception, judgment, and attention. By contrast, as Freud emphasized, the wish-content of the dynamic unconscious makes it operate in a highly illogical way.

Having populated the dynamic unconscious with repressions, Freud reasoned that the use of his new technique of free association could lift these repressions of instinctual wishes, and could thereby bring the banished ideas back to consciousness unchanged. But in the case of the cognitive unconscious, we typically cannot bring to phenomenal consciousness the intellectual processes that are presumed to occur in it, although we can describe them theoretically. For example, even if his/her life depended on it, a student of czarist history simply could not bring into his/her phenomenal conscious experience the elaborate scanning or search process by which he/she rapidly comes up with the name of the Russian czarina's confidant G.Y. Rasputin, when asked for it. In sum, the presumed psychoanalytic unconscious as such cannot derive any credibility from the hypothesized cognitive unconscious.

Psychoanalysis and Western Culture

The poet W.H. Auden claimed that psychoanalysis is a whole climate of opinion. And indeed, it has been argued dubiously that the supposed pervasive influence of Freudian ideas in our culture vouches for the validity of the psychoanalytic enterprise. But even the premise that Freudian theory has become part of the intellectual ethos and folklore of Western culture cannot be taken at face value. As the distinguished Swiss scholar Henri Ellenberger stressed in his major historical work of 1970 The Discovery of the Unconscious, the prevalence of vulgarized pseudo-Freudian concepts makes it very difficult to determine reliably the extent to which genuine psychoanalytic hypotheses have actually become influential in our culture at large.

For example, any slip of the tongue or other bungled action (parapraxis) is typically yet incorrectly called a Freudian slip. But, as Freud himself pointed out, what is required for a slip or so-called parapraxis to qualify technically as Freudian is that it be motivationally opaque rather than transparent, precisely because its psychological motive is repressed (S.E., 19161917, 15: 41). Once it is clear what is meant by a bona fide Freudian slip, we need to ask whether there actually exist any such slips at all, that is, slips that appear to be psychologically unmotivated but are actually caused by repressed, unpleasant ideas. It is very important to appreciate how difficult it is to provide cogent evidence for such causation, as shown by strenuous attempts to furnish it experimentally.

Thus, as long as good empirical support for the Freudian scenario is unavailable, we actually do not know whether any bona fide Freudian slips exist at all. Just this lack of evidence serves to undermine the thesis that cultural influence is a criterion of validity. After all, if we have no cogent evidence for the existence of genuinely Freudian slips, then Freud's theory of bungled actions (parapraxes) might well be false. And if so, it would not contribute one iota to its validity even if our entire culture unanimously believed in it and made extensive explanatory use of it: When an ill-supported theory is used to provide explanations, they run the grave risk of being bogus, and its purported insights may well be pseudo-insights.

The Cornerstone of Psychoanalysis

In his 1914 On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement, Freud wrote: "The theory of repression is the cornerstone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests. It is the most essential part of it" (S.E., 1914, 14:16) The pillars of the avowed cornerstone of Freud's theoretical edifice comprise several major theses: (1) Distressing mental states induce the operation of a psychic mechanism of repression, which consists in the banishment from consciousness of unpleasurable psychic states (S.E., 1915, 14:147); (2) once repression is operative (more or less fully), it not only banishes such negatively charged ideas from consciousness, but plays a further crucial multiple causal role: It is causally necessary for the pathogenesis of neuroses, the production of our dreams, and the generation of our various sorts of slips (bungled actions); and (3) the method of free association can identify and lift (undo) the patient's repressions; by doing so, it can identify the pathogens of the neuroses, and the generators of our dreams, as well as the causes of our motivationally opaque slips; moreover, by lifting the pathogenic repressions, free association also functions therapeutically, rather than only investigatively.

Freud provided two sorts of arguments for his cardinal etiologic doctrine that repressions are the pathogens of the neuroses: His earlier one, which goes back to his original collaboration with Josef Breuer, relies on purported therapeutic successes from lifting repressions; the later one, designed to show that the pathogenic repressions are sexual, is drawn from presumed reenactments (transferences) of infantile episodes in the adult patient's interactions with the analyst during psychoanalytic treatment. The process of repression, which consists in the banishment of ideas from consciousness or in denying them entry into it, is itself presumed to be unconscious (S.E., 1915, 14:147). In Freud's view, our neurotic symptoms, the manifest contents of our dreams, and the slips we commit are each constructed as "compromises between the demands of a repressed impulse and the resistances of a censoring force in the ego" (S.E., 1925, 20:45; and 19161917, 16:301).

By being only such compromises, rather than fulfillments of the instinctual impulses, these products of the unconscious afford only substitutive gratifications or outlets. For brevity, one can say, therefore, that Freud has offered a unifying compromise model of neuroses, dreams, and parapraxes. Since the repressed impulse made a compromise with the repressing ego, compromise-formations are products of unsuccessful repressions!

But what, in the first place, is the motive or cause that initiates and sustains the operation of the unconscious mechanism of repression before it produces its own later effects? Apparently, Freud assumes axiomatically that distressing mental states, such as forbidden wishes, traumata, disgust, anxiety, anger, shame, hate, guilt, and sadnessall of which are unpleasurablealmost always actuate, and then fuel, forgetting to the point of repression. Thus, repression regulates pleasure and so called "unpleasure" or displeasure by defending our consciousness against various sorts of negative affect. Indeed, Freud claimed perennially that repression is the paragon among our defense mechanisms. As he put it dogmatically: "The tendency to forget what is disagreeable seems to me to be a quite universal one" (S.E., 1901, 6:144), and "The recollection of distressing impressions and the occurrence of distressing thoughts are opposed by a resistance" (S.E., 1901, 6:146).

Freud tries to disarm an important objection to his thesis that "distressing memories succumb especially easily to motivated forgetting". He says:

The assumption that a defensive trend of this kind exists cannot be objected to on the ground that one often enough finds it impossible, on the contrary, to get rid of distressing memories that pursue one, and to banish distressing affective impulses like remorse and the pangs of conscience. For we are not asserting that this defensive trend is able to put itself into effect in every case.
(S.E., 1901, 6:147, italics added).

He acknowledges as "also a true fact" that "distressing things are particularly hard to forget" (S.E., 19161917, 15:7677).

Indeed, Freud himself told us as an adult that he "can remember very clearly," from age seven or eight, how his father rebuked him for having relieved himself in the presence of his parents in their bedroom. In a frightful blow to the boy's ego, his father said: "The boy will come to nothing" (S.E., 1900, 4:216).

But Freud's attempt here to uphold his thesis of motivated forgetting is evasive and unavailing: Since some painful mental states are vividly remembered, while others are forgotten or even repressed, it appears that factors different from their painfulness determine whether they are remembered or forgotten. For example, personality dispositions or situational variables may in fact be causally relevant. To the great detriment of his theory, Freud never came to grips with the unfavorable bearing of this key fact about the mnemonic effects of painfulness on the tenability of the following pillar of his theory of repression: When painful or forbidden experiences are forgotten, the forgetting is tantamount to their repression due to their negative affect, and thereby produces neurotic symptoms or other compromise formations.

The numerous and familiar occurrences of vivid and even obsessive recall of negative experiences pose a fundamental statistical and explanatory challenge to Freud that neither he nor his followers have ever met. Astonishingly, Freud thinks he can parry this basic statistical and explanatory challenge by an evasive dictum, as follows: "Mental life is the arena and battle-ground for mutually opposing purposes [of forgetting and remembering] (S.E. 19161917, 15:76) ; there is room for both. It is only a question of what effects are produced by the one and the other" (S.E., 19161917, 15: 77). Indeed, just that question cries out for an answer from Freud if he is to make his case. Instead, he cavalierly left it to dangle epistemologically in limbo.

Freud's argument here is an evasive attempt to neutralize the ubiquitous refuting instances undermining his aforecited claim (S.E., 1901, 6:144) that "The tendency to forget what is disagreeable seems to me to be a quite universal one." And he tries to do so by peremptorily inventing ad hoc an opposing tendency to remember negatively charged experiences. But since this gambit clearly fails, he has forfeited his basis for his pivotal etiologic scenario that forbidden or aversive states of mind are usually repressed and thereby cause compromise formations, such as neurotic symptoms.

Unsuccessful Repressions as Pathogens of the Psychoneuroses

Let us articulate and scrutinize Breuer and Freud's 1893 argument, in their foundational Preliminary Communication, for the pathogenicity of unsuccessful repressions. There they wrote:

For we found, to our great surprise at first, that each individual hysterical symptom immediately and permanently disappeared when we had succeeded in bringing clearly to light the memory of the event by which it was provoked and in arousing its accompanying affect, and when the patient had described that event in the greatest possible detail and had put the affect into words. Recollection without affect almost invariably produces no result. The psychical process which originally took place must be repeated as vividly as possible; it must be brought back to its status nascendi and then given verbal utterance.
(S.E., 1893, 2:67).

Breuer and Freud make an important comment on their construal of this therapeutic finding:

It is plausible to suppose that it is a question here of unconscious suggestion: the patient expects to be relieved of his sufferings by this procedure, and it is this expectation, and not the verbal utterance, which is the operative factor. This, however, is not so. (S.E., 1893, 2:7)

And their avowed reason is that, in 1881, that is, in the "'pre-suggestion' era," the cathartic method was used to remove separately distinct symptoms, "which sprang from separate causes" such that any one symptom disappeared only after the cathartic (abreactive) lifting of a particular repression. But Breuer and Freud do not tell us why the likelihood of a placebo effect should be deemed to be lower when several symptoms are wiped out seriatim, than in the case of getting rid of only one symptom. Thus, as is pointed out in Grünbaum (1993), to discredit the hypothesis of placebo effect, it would have been essential to have comparisons with treatment outcome from a suitable control group whose repressions are not lifted. If that control group were to fare equally well, treatment gains from psychoanalysis would then be placebo effects after all.

In sum, Breuer and Freud inferred that the therapeutic removal of neurotic symptoms was produced by the cathartic lifting of the patient's previously ongoing repression of the pertinent traumatic memory, not by the therapist's suggestion or some other placebo factor (see Grünbaum 1993). This claim can be codified as follows:

T. Therapeutic Hypothesis : Lifting repressions of traumatic memories cathartically is causally relevant to the disappearance of neuroses.

As we saw, Breuer and Freud (S.E., 1893, 2:6) reported the immediate and permanent disappearance of each hysterical symptom after they cathartically lifted the repression of the memory of the trauma that occasioned the given symptom. They adduce this "evidence" to draw an epoch-making inductive etiologic inference, which postulates "a causal relation between the determining [repression of the memory of the] psychical trauma and the hysterical phenomenon" (S.E., 1893, 2:6). Citing the old scholastic dictum Cessante causa cessat effectus (When the cause ceases, its effect ceases), they invoke its contrapositive (S.E., 1893, 2:7), which states that as long as the effect (symptom) persists, so does its cause (the repressed memory of the psychical trauma). And they declare just that to be the pattern of the pathogenic action of the repressed psychical trauma. This trauma, we learn, is not a mere precipitating cause. Such a mere "agent provocateur" just releases the symptom, "which thereafter leads an independent existence." Instead, "the [repressed] memory of the trauma acts like a foreign body which long after its entry must continue to be regarded as an agent that is still at work" (S.E., 1893, 2:6).

The upshot of their account is that their observations of positive therapeutic outcome from the abreactive lifting of repressions, which they interpret in the sense of their therapeutic hypothesis, spelled a paramount etiologic moral as follows:

E. Etiologic Hypothesis : An ongoing repression accompanied by affective suppression is causally necessary for the initial pathogenesis and persistence of a neurosis.

Clearly, this etiologic hypothesis E permits the valid deduction of the therapeutic finding reported by Breuer and Freud as codified in their therapeutic hypothesis T : The cathartic lifting of the repressions of traumatic memories of events that occasion symptoms engendered the disappearance of the symptoms. And, as they told us explicitly (S.E., 1893, 2:6), this therapeutic finding is their evidence for their cardinal etiologic hypothesis E.

But this inductive argument is vitiated by what might be called the fallacy of crude hypothetico-deductive (H-D) pseudo-confirmation. Thus, note that the remedial action of aspirin consumption for tension headaches does not lend H-D support to the outlandish etiologic hypothesis that a hematolytic aspirin deficiency is a causal sine qua non for having tension headaches, although such remedial action is validly deducible from that bizarre hypothesis.

Wesley Salmon called attention to the fallacy of inductive causal inference from mere valid H-D deducibility by giving an example in which a deductively valid pseudo-explanation of a man's avoiding pregnancy can readily give rise to an H-D pseudo-confirmation of the addle-brained attribution of his nonpregnancy to his consumption of birth control pills. Salmon, in his coauthored 1971 book Statistical Explanation and Statistical Relevance, states the fatuous pseudo-explanation:

John Jones avoided becoming pregnant during the past year, for he had taken his wife's birth control pills regularly, and every man who regularly takes birth control pills avoids pregnancy. (p. 34)

Plainly, this deducibility of John Jones's recent failure to become pregnant from the stated premises does not lend any credence at all to the zany hypothesis that this absence of pregnancy is causally attributable to his consumption of birth control pills. Yet it is even true that any men who consume such pills in fact never do become pregnant. Patently, as Salmon notes, the fly in the ointment is that men just do not become pregnant, whether they take birth control pills or not.

His example shows that neither the empirical truth of the deductively inferred conclusion and of the pertinent initial condition concerning Jones nor the deductive validity of the inference can provide bona fide confirmation of the causal hypothesis that male consumption of birth control pills prevents male pregnancy: That hypothesis would first have to meet other epistemic requirements, which it manifestly cannot do.

Crude H-D confirmationism is a paradise of spurious causal inferences, as illustrated by Breuer and Freud's unsound etiologic inference. Thus, psychoanalytic narratives are replete with the belief that a hypothesized etiologic scenario embedded in a psychoanalytic narrative of an analysand's affliction is made credible merely because the postulated etiology then permits the logical deduction or probabilistic inference of the neurotic symptoms to be explained.

The Psychoanalytic Method of Clinical Investigation by Free association: Is it Both Investigative and Therapeutic?

This method, the so-called "Fundamental Rule" of clinical investigation in the setting of psychoanalytic treatment, is the supposed microscope, and even X-ray tomograph, as it were, of the human mind. Freud devised it, when he became dissatisfied with the use of hypnosis, which Breuer and he had employed theretofore as their probe.

The rule of free association directs the patient to tell the analyst without reservation whatever comes to mind. Thus, it serves as the fundamental method of clinical investigation. We are told that by using this technique to unlock the floodgates of the unconscious, Freud was able to show that neuroses, dreams, and slips are caused by repressed motives. Just as in Breuer's cathartic use of hypnosis, it is a cardinal thesis of Freud's entire psychoanalytic enterprise that his method of free association has a twofold major capability, which is both investigative and therapeutic: (1) It can identify the unconscious causes of human thoughts and behavior, both abnormal and normal; and (2) by overcoming resistances and lifting repressions, it can remove the unconscious pathogens of neuroses and thus provide therapy for an important class of mental disorders.

But on what grounds did Freud assert that free association has the stunning investigative capability to be causally probative for etiologic research in psychopathology? Is it not too good to be true that one can put a psychologically disturbed person on the couch and fathom the etiology of her or his affliction by free association? As compared to fathoming the causation of major somatic diseases, that seems almost miraculous, if true at all. Freud tells us very clearly (S.E., 1900, 5:528) that his argument for his investigative tribute to free association as a means of uncovering the causation of neuroses is, at bottom, a therapeutic one going back to the cathartic method of treating hysteria.

In a nutshell, his argument for claiming that free associations are causally probative for etiologic research in psychopathology, as well as vehicles of therapy, is as follows: (1) As he and Breuer had contended, unsuccessful repressions are the pathogens of the psychoneuroses; (2) The supposedly free associations departing from the patient's neurotic symptoms uncover the pertinent repressions; (3) Hence the method of free associations can identify the pathogenic repressions, and in so doing, it lifts them and thereby provides therapy for the neurosis and its symptoms. But it behooves us to expand this argument with a view to then seeing why it fails in several respects, no matter how revealing the associative contents may otherwise be in regard to the patient's psychological preoccupations and personality dispositions.

Drawing on his joint work with Breuer, Freud first inferred that the therapeutic disappearance of the neurotic symptoms is causally attributable to the cathartic lifting of repressions by means of the method of free association. Relying on this key therapeutic hypothesis, he then drew two further major theoretical inferences: (1) The seeming removal of the neurosis by means of cathartically lifting repressions is good inductive evidence for postulating that repressions accompanied by affective suppression are themselves causally necessary for the very existence of a neurosis (S.E., 1893, 2:67), and (2) granted that such repressions are thus the essential causes of neurosis, and that the method of free association is uniquely capable of uncovering these repressions, this method is uniquely competent to identify the causes or pathogens of the neuroses.

But the argument fails for the following several reasons. In the first place, the durable therapeutic success on which it was predicated did not materialize, as Freud was driven to admit both relatively early and very late in his career (S.E., 1925, 20:27; 1937, 23:216253). And indeed, over a century later, three currently practicing English psychoanalysts, (Fonagy et al., 2005, p. 367) conceded ruefully: "Notwithstanding a history of over 100 years, psychoanalytically informed psychological therapies have a poor evidence base." But even insofar as Freud achieved transitory therapeutic gain, it will be recalled that he had failed to rule out a rival hypothesis which undermines his attribution of such gain to the lifting of repressions by free association: the ominous rival hypothesis of placebo effect, which asserts that treatment ingredients other than insight into the patient's repressionssuch as the mobilization of the patient's hope by the therapistare responsible for any resulting improvement. (For a detailed account of the placebo concept in both psychiatry and medicine, see Grünbaum, 1993, chap. 3). Nor have other analysts ruled out the placebo hypothesis during the past century.

Last, but not least, the repression etiology is inductively ill-founded, as will be recalled, and will now be seen further. It is unavailing to the purported etiologic probativeness of free associations that they may lift repressions, because Freud failed to show that the latter are pathogenic. In sum, Freud's argument has forfeited its premises.

Long after the Preliminary Communication of 1893, Freud (S.E., 1914, 14:12) offered an argument in his theory of "Transference" for the pathogenic role of repressions, hailing that argument as the most unshakable proof for his sexual etiology of the neuroses. It is a commonplace that many, if not all, adults carry over (transfer) to their adult interactions with other people attitudes and notions that they had acquired in (early) childhood. In this vein, Freud elaborates on this phenomenon in the context of the interpersonal transactions between the psychoanalyst and the patient. Thus, we learn, the patient transfers onto his or her psychoanalyst feelings and thoughts that originally pertained to important figures in his or her earlier life. In this important sense, the fantasies woven around the psychoanalyst by the analysand, and quite generally the latter's conduct toward his or her doctor, are hypothesized to be thematically recapitulatory of childhood episodes. And by thus being recapitulatory, the patient's behavior during treatment can be said to exhibit a thematic kinship to such very early episodes. Therefore, when the analyst interprets these supposed reenactments, the ensuing interpretations are called transference interpretations.

Freud and his followers have traditionally drawn the following highly questionable causal inference: Precisely in virtue of being thematically recapitulated in the patient-doctor interaction, the hypothesized earlier scenario in the patient's life can cogently be held to have originally been a pathogenic factor in the patient's affliction. For example, in his 1909 case history of the "Rat-Man," Freud infers that a certain emotional conflict had originally been the precipitating cause of the patient's inability to work, merely because this conflict had been thematically reenacted in a fantasy the "Rat-Man" had woven around Freud during treatment.

Thus, in the context of Freud's transference interpretations, the thematic reenactment is claimed to show that the early scenario had originally been pathogenic. According to this major etiologic conclusion, the patient's thematic reenactment in the treatment setting is also asserted to be pathogenically recapitulatory by being pathogenic in the adult patient's here and now, rather than only thematically recapitulatory. Freud extols this dubious etiologic transference argument in his On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement (S.E., 1914, 14:12).

On the contrary, the patient's thematically recapitulatory behavior toward his or her doctor does not show that it is also pathogenically recapitulatory. The etiologic belief that it does so commits the "thematic affinity fallacy" (Grünbaum, 1993, p. 129; 2002, p. 134). How, for example, does the reenactment, during treatment, of a patient's early conflict show at all that the original conflict had been pathogenic in the first place? Indeed, it is epistemologically circular to infer the occurrence of infantile episodes from the adult patient's reports, and then to claim that these early episodes are thematically recapitulated in the adult analysand's conduct toward the analyst. Quite generally, how do transference phenomena focusing on the analyst show that a presumed current replica of a past event is pathogenic in the here and now?

Freud went on to build on the quicksand of his etiologic transference argument. It inspired two of his further fundamental tenets: first, the investigative thesis that the psychoanalytic dissection of the patient's behavior toward the analyst can reliably identify the original pathogens of his or her long-term neurosis; second, the cardinal therapeutic doctrine that the working through of the analysand's so-called transference neurosis is the key to overcoming his or her perennial problems.

The Psychoanalytic Theory of Dreaming

As we learn from Freud's opening pages on his method of dream interpretation, he extrapolated the presumed causally probative role of free associations from being only a method of etiologic inquiry aimed at therapy, to serving likewise as an avenue for finding the purported unconscious causes of dreams (S.E., 1900, 4:100101; 5:528). And in the same breath, he reports that when patients told him about their dreams while associating freely to their symptoms, he extrapolated his compromise model from neurotic symptoms to manifest dream contents. A year later, he carried out the same twofold extrapolation to include slips or bungled actions.

But what do free associations tell us about our dreams? Whatever the manifest content of dreams, they are purportedly wish-fulfilling in at least two logically distinct ways: For every dream D, there exists at least one normally unconscious infantile wish W such that: (1) W is the motivational cause of D ; and (2) the manifest content of D graphically displays, more or less disguisedly, the state of affairs desired by W. As Freud opined: "When the latent dream-thoughts that are revealed by the analysis [via free association] of a dream are examined, one of them is found to stand out from among the rest the isolated thought is found to be a wishful impulse" (S.E., 1925, 20:44). But as Clark Glymour (1983) has emphasized, Freud manipulated and doctored the free associations to yield a distinguished wish motive. Thus, Freud had declared with categorical universality (S.E. 1900, 4:134) "there cannot be any dreams but wishful [i. e., wish-generated] dreams"

Quite independently of Freud's abortive therapeutic argument for the causal probativeness of free association, he offered his analysis of his 1895 Specimen Irma Dream as a nontherapeutic argument for the method of free association as a cogent means of identifying hypothesized hidden, forbidden wishes to be motives of our dreams. But, in a detailed critique of that unjustly celebrated Irma Dream, it has been shown that Freud's account there is, alas, no more than a piece of false advertising for the following reasons:

  • It does not deliver at all the promised vindication of the probativeness of free association.
  • It does nothing toward warranting his foolhardy dogma that all dreams are wish-fulfilling in his stated sense.
  • It does not even pretend that his alleged "Specimen Dream" is evidence for his compromise model of manifest-dream content.
  • The inveterate and continuing celebration of Freud's analysis of his "Irma Dream" in the psychoanalytic literature as the paragon of dream interpretation is completely unwarranted, because it is mere salesmanship (Grünbaum 1984, pp. 216239).

Moreover, careful studies have shown that the so-called free associations are not free but are strongly influenced by the psychoanalyst's subtle promptings to the patient (Grünbaum 1984). And recent memory research has shown further how patients and others can be induced to generate pseudo-memories, which are false but deemed veridical by the patients themselves (Goleman 1994). As a corollary of the latter epistemological defects of the method of free association, it appears that such associations cannot reliably vouch for the contents of presumed past repressions that are lifted by them.

Once Freud had clearly chained himself gratuitously to the universal wish monopoly of dream generation, his interpretations of dreams were constrained to reconcile wish-contravening dreams with the decreed universality of wish fulfillment. Such reconciliation demanded imperiously that all other parts and details of his dream theory be obligingly tailored to the governing wish dogma so as to sustain it. Yet Freud artfully obscured this dynamic of theorizing, while begging the methodological question (S.E., 1900, 4:135). Wish-contravening dreams include anxiety dreams, nightmares, and the so-called counter-wish dreams (S.E., 1900, 4:157). As an example of the latter, Freud reports a trial attorney's dream that he had lost all of his court cases (S.E., 1900, 4:152).

His initial 1900 statement of his dual wish fulfillment in a dream had been: "Thus, its content was the fulfillment of a wish and its motive was a wish" (S.E., 1900, 4:119). But the sense in which dreams are wish fulfilling overall is purportedly threefold rather than only twofold: One supposed motivating cause is the universal preconscious wish to sleep, which allegedly provides a generic causal explanation of dreaming as such and, in turn, makes dreaming the guardian of sleep (S.E., 1900, 4:234; 5:680); another is the individualized repressed infantile wish, which is activated by the day's residue and explains the particular manifest content of a given dream; furthermore, as already noted, that manifest content of the dream graphically displays, more or less disguisedly, the state of affairs desired by the unconscious wish. The disguise is supposedly effected by the defensive operation of the dream distortion of the content of forbidden unconscious wishes.

But this theorized distortion of the hypothesized latent content must not be identified with the very familiar phenomenological bizarreness of the manifest dream content! By achieving a compromise with the repressed wishes, the postulated distortion makes "plausible that even dreams with a distressing content are to be construed as wish fulfillments" (S.E., 1900, 4:159). Accordingly, Freud concedes: "The fact that dreams really have a secret meaning which represents the fulfillment of a wish must be proved afresh in each particular case by analysis" (S.E., 1900, 4:146).

The Hermeneutic Reconstruction of Psychoanalysis

In concert with the so-called hermeneutic German philosophers Karl Jaspers and Jürgen Habermas, the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur believed that victory can be snatched from the jaws of the scientific failings of Freud's theory by abjuring his scientific aspirations as misguided. Claiming pejoratively that Freud himself had "scientistically" misunderstood his own theoretical achievement, some hermeneuts misconstrue it as a semantic accomplishment by trading on the multiply ambiguous word meaning (Grünbaum 1999, 2002).

In Freud's theory, an overt symptom manifests one or more underlying unconscious causes and gives evidence for its cause(s), so that the sense or meaning of the symptom is constituted by its latent motivational cause(s). But this notion of meaning is different from the one appropriate to the context of communication, in which linguistic symbols acquire semantic meaning by being used deliberately to designate their referents. Clearly, the relation of being a manifestation, which the symptom bears to its cause, differs from the semantic relation of designation, which a linguistic symbol bears to its object.

The hermeneutic reconstruction of psychoanalysis slides illicitly from one of two familiar senses of the term "meaning" encountered in ordinary discourse to another. When a pediatrician says that a child's spots on the skin mean measles, the meaning of the symptom is constituted by one of its causes, much as in the Freudian case. Yet, when speaking of Freud's making sense of a patient's symptoms, the analyst Anthony Storr (1986) conflates the fathoming of the etiologic sense or meaning of a symptom with the activity of making semantic sense of a text, preposterously transmogrifying Freud into a semanticist: "Freud was a man of genius whose expertise lay in semantics" (p. 260). And Ricoeur even wrongly credits Freud's theory of repression with having provided, malgré lui, a veritable semantics of desire.

Relatedly, John R. Searle has noted illuminatingly in his 1990 book Intentionality that, unlike many mental states, language is not intrinsically intentional in Brentano's directed sense; instead, the intentionality (aboutness) of language is extrinsically imposed on it by deliberately decreeing it to function referentially. Searle points out that the mental states of some animals and of pre-linguistic very young children do have intrinsic intentionality but no linguistic referentiality.

Thus, it is a fundamental hermeneuticist error to slide illicitly from the intrinsic, non-semantic intentionality of (many, but not all) mental states to the imposed, semantic sort possessed by language. Moreover, some of the neurotic symptoms of concern to psychoanalysts, such as diffuse depression and manic, undirected elation even lack Brentano intentionality.

Yet some version of a hermeneutic reconstruction of the psychoanalytic enterprise has been embraced with alacrity by a considerable number of analysts no less than by professors in humanities departments of universities. Its psychoanalytic adherents see it as buying absolution for their theory and therapy from the criteria of validation mandatory for causal hypotheses in the empirical sciences, although psychoanalysis is replete with just such hypotheses. This form of escape from accountability also augurs ill for the future of psychoanalysis, because the methods of the champions of the hermeneutic reconstruction of psychoanalysis have not spawned a single new important hypothesis. Instead, their reconstruction is a negativistic ideological battle cry whose disavowal of Freud's scientific aspirations presages the death of his legacy from sheer sterility, at least among those who demand the validation of theories by cogent evidence.

Freud on Theistic Religion

In his 1933 essay The Question of a Weltanschauung, Freud appraised theism under the label of religion and wrote:

Religion is an attempt to master the sensory world in which we are situated by means of the wished world which we have developed within us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. But religion cannot achieve this. Its doctrines bear the imprint of the times in which they arose, the ignorant times of the childhood of humanity. Its consolations deserve no trust. Experience teaches us that the world is no nursery.
(S.E., 1933, 22:168).

And in his 1927 critique of theism entitled The Future of an Illusion, he stresses the logical priority of his atheism vis-à-vis his psychology of theism:

Nothing that I have said here against the truth-value of religions needed the support of psycho-analysis; it had been said by others long before analysis came into existence. If the application of the psycho-analytic method makes it possible to find a new argument against the truths of religion, tant pis [so much the worse] for religion; but defenders of religion will by the same right make use of psycho-analysis in order to give full value to the affective significance of religious doctrines.
(S.E., 1927, 21:37).

This avowed entitlement of religious partisans is presumably an allusion to Freud's friend Oskar Pfister, a Lutheran clergyman and avid champion of the use of psychoanalysis in pastoral work. Relatedly, though, like Freud, also a committed atheist, Karl Marx had expressed sympathy for the quest for solace in the face of the trials and tribulations of life. Marx wrote:

"Religion is the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of an unspiritual situation. It is the opium of the people."
(Feuer 1959, p. 523).

Marx's use of the term opium here to characterize the consoling function of religion is descriptive rather than pejorative: In his time, opium was a commonly used anodyne, available without prescription.

Freud maintained that religious beliefs are engendered by the synergism of three significantly different sorts of powerful, relentless wishes. And for each of this trio of wishes, he conjectures a distinct scenario that specifies their content and mode of operation.

As he points out, the first set of these psychogenetic assumptions features wish motives that are largely conscious or manifest, instead of being the repressed wishes postulated by psychoanalytic theory. Accordingly, this component of Freud's triadic psychology of religion does not rely on any of his technical psychoanalytic teachings. But what are the relevant archaic conscious wishes? He explains eloquently in his 1927 book The Future of an Illusion :

the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protectionfor protection through lovewhich is provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life; the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which have so often remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and temporal framework in which these wish-fulfillments shall take place. Answers to the riddles that tempt the curiosity of man, such as how the universe began or what the relation is between body and mind, are developed in conformity with the underlying assumptions of this system
(S.E., 1927, 21:30).

Understandably, therefore, the protector, creator, and lawgiver are all rolled into one. No wonder, says Freud (S.E., 1933, 22:163164), that in one and the same breath, Immanuel Kant coupled the starry heavens above, and the moral law within as both being awe-inspiring. After all, Freud asks rhetorically, "what have the heavenly bodies to do with the question of whether one human creature loves another or kills him?" And he answers: "The same father (or parental agency) which gave the child life and guarded him against its perils, taught him as well what he might do and what he must leave undone" (S.E., 1933, 22:164).

Insofar as Freud's psychogenetic portrayal of religion depicts it as the product of conscious wishes, his account draws, not only on Ludwig A. Feuerbach, but also on commonsense psychology. After all, at least prima facie, it is rather a commonplace that people seek to avoid anxiety, and that they therefore tend to welcome the replacement of threatening beliefs by reassuring ones. Hence, for brevity, this component of Freud's triadic psychology of religion can be designated as the "commonsense hypothesis," which is not to say, however, that it is obviously true. Each of the other two components of this trinity is a set of psychoanalytic claims, asserting the operation of repressed motives. And yet they differ from each other, because one of them relies on Freud's theory of the psychosexual development of the human individual, while the other consists of ethnopsychological and psychohistorical averrals pertaining to the evolution of our species as a whole. Accordingly, the former psychoanalytic assumptions can be dubbed ontogenetic, while the latter can be labeled phylogenetic.

The legitimacy of any psychogenetic portrait of religious creeds depends on the evidential merit of the explanatory psychological hypotheses adduced by it. Even the commonsense component of Freud's triad is subject to this caveat. Invoking the criticisms of his great predecessors, he took it for granted that there is no cogency in any of the arguments for the existence of God offered by believers. But he coupled this philosophical judgment with the daring motivational claim that the faithful who nonetheless adduce such proofs had not, in fact, themselves been decisively moved by them, when giving assent to theism. Instead, he maintained, psychologically this assent is emotional or affective in origin.

Thus he is telling us that motivationally, the dialectical excogitations offered as existence proofs are post hoc rationalizations in which an elaborate intellectual façade takes the place of the deep-seated wishes that actually persuaded the theologians. Speaking epigrammatically in another context, Freud quotes Shakespeare's Falstaff as saying that reasons are "as plenty as blackberries" (S.E., 1914, 14:24).

It would seem to be basically a matter of empirical psychological fact whether the commonsense constituent of Freud's psychogenetic portrait of religion is sound. Yet, it is not clear how to design a cogent test even of this hypothesis. For note that the required design needs to have two epistemic capabilities as follows: (1) It needs to yield evidence bearing on the validity of the functional explanation of religious belief as being anxiety-reducing; presumably this explanation postulates some kind of stabilizing psychic servomechanism that reacts homeostatically to psychological threat; and, furthermore, (2) the required test needs to be at least able to rank-order the intensity of the wish to escape from anxiety, as compared to the motivational persuasiveness of the theological existence proofs. Perhaps oscillating anxieties of believers who went through cycles of doubt and belief have already gone some way toward meeting the first condition by Mill's method of concomitant variations. In any case, it would seem that an explicitly fideist belief in the existence of Godwhich avowedly is not based on any argumentscalls for psychological explanation in terms of wish motives!

The second requirement, however, seems to be a tall order indeed, although it does not warrant putting a cap on the ingenuity of potential empirical investigators. It, too, must be met, because of Freud's bold claim that even the best of the arguments for the existence of God would not have convinced the great minds who advanced them, unless stronger tacit wishes had carried the day, or had prompted these intellects to prevaricate. But note that, so far, Freud's portrayal of the motives for religious belief has studiously refrained from claiming that this belief is false, although he does avow its falsity later, after arguing that it is delusional. Hence whatever the empirical difficulties of validating his psychogenetic portrait, they are hardly tantamount to his commission of the hackneyed genetic fallacy, a mode of inference that he had explicitly rejected by means of disclaimers and qualifications.

In accord with his diagnosis of religion as an unwholesome childish fixation, Freud did advocateas an experiment worth makingthat children be given an irreligious education. But he took pains to say at once: "Should the experiment prove unsatisfactory I am ready to give up the reform and to return to my earlier, purely descriptive judgment that man is a creature of weak intelligence who is ruled by his instinctual wishes" (S.E., 1927, 21:4849).

The two psychoanalytic components of Freud's triadic psychology of theismits ontogeny and phylogenyeven more than its pre-psychoanalytic commonsense constituent, exigently require evidence for the existence of the two different sorts of wishes postulated by them. Insofar as even the very existence of these hidden desires is questionable, one remains less than convinced, when told that they contributed significantly to the initial genesis and later persistence of religious creeds. It is a corollary of the evidential scrutiny of the pertinent hypotheses that the psychoanalytic ontogeny of theism still lacks cogent evidential warrant (Grunbaum 1984, 1993).

But Freud was not content to confine himself to explanatory reliance on the conscious quest for anxiety reduction, and on his ontogeny of theism. Rather, he went on to develop a psychoanalytic phylogeny of theism (S.E., 1913, 13:100). In his view, this historical ethnopsychology is a valid extension of psychoanalysis.

As he sees it, by combining ethnography with psychoanalysis, he has discerned a third set of strong wishes that unite synergistically with the other two classes of this triad, and make the psychogenesis of belief in God the Father the more imperative. Therefore he proclaimed: "We now observe that the store of religious ideas includes not only wish-fulfillments but important historical recollections. This concurrent influence of past and present must give religion a truly incomparable wealth of power" (S.E., 1927, 21:42).

Daring and ingenious though it is, Freud's psychoanalytic phylogeny of theism is dubious, if only because it assumes a Lamarckian inheritance of repressed racial memories. Furthermore, contrary to the uniform evolution of religions required by his account, more recent historical scholarship seems to call for developmental pluriformity, as pointed out by Hans Küng in his 1979 book Freud and the Problem of God (p. 67).

Professor Edward Erwin's essay Psychoanalysis: Theory, Therapy, and Method of Inquiry Created by Sigmund Freud (18561939) herein covers the post Freudians.

See also Atheism; Brentano, Franz; Common Consent Arguments for the Existence of God; Dreams; Egoism and Altruism; Existential Psychoanalysis; Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas; Habermas, Jürgen; Hermeneutics; Intentionality; Jaspers, Karl; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Marx, Karl; Mill, John Stuart; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Philosophy of Religion; Plato; Popular Arguments for the Existence of God; Psychoanalysis; Psychoanalytic Theories, Logical Status of; Ricoeur, Paul; Salmon, Wesley; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Searle, John; Unconscious.


primary works by freud

Breuer, Josef, and Sigmund Freud. "On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena: Preliminary Communication" (1893). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 2, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena: A Lecture" (1893). In J. Strachey, The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 3, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses" (1896). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 2, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"The Interpretation of Dreams" (1900). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vols. 4 (Part I) and 5 (Part II), edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"The Psychopathology of Everyday Life" (1901). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 6, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"The Claims of Psycho-Analysis to Scientific Interest" (1913). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 13, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"The Return of Totemism in Childhood" (1913). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 13, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement" (1914). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"Repression" (1915). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis" (19151917). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 15 (Parts I and II) and Vol. 16 (Part III), edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis" (1917). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 17, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"A Short Account of Psychoanalysis" (1924). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 19, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"An Autobiographical Study" (1925). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 20, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"The Future of an Illusion" (1927). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 21, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

"New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis" (1933). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 22, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1933.

"Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (1937). In The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 23, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 19531974.

secondary works

Assoun, Paul-Laurent. Freud, La Philosophie, et les Philosophes. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.

Brentano, Franz. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1995.

Eagle, Morris N. "The Psychoanalytic and the Cognitive Unconscious." In Theories of the Unconscious and Theories of the Self, edited by R. Stern. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 1987.

Ellenberger, Henri. The Discovery of the Unconscious. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Fonagy, Peter. "The Outcome of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for Psychological Disorders." Clinical Neuroscience Research 40 (2005): 367.

Gay, Peter. A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1987.

Glymour, Clark. "The Theory of Your Dreams." In Physics, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis: Essays in Honor of Adolf Grünbaum, edited by R.S. Cohen and L. Laudan. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Reidel, 1983.

Goleman, Daniel. "Miscoding Is Seen as the Root of False Memories." New York Times May 31 (1994): C1 and C8.

Grünbaum, Adolf. "Critique of Psychoanalysis." In The Freud Encyclopedia, Theory, Therapy, and Culture, edited by E. Erwin. New York; London: Routledge, 2002.

Grünbaum, Adolf. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Grünbaum, Adolf. "The Hermeneutic Versus the Scientific Conception of Psychoanalysis: An Unsuccessful Effort to Chart A Via Media for the Human Sciences." In Einstein Meets Magritte, An Interdisciplinary Reflection: The White Book of Einstein Meets Magritte, edited by D. Aerts. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 1999.

Grünbaum, Adolf. Validation in the Clinical Theory of Psychoanalysis: A Study in the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1993.

Küng, Hans. Freud and the Problem of God. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

Leibniz, Gottfried W. New Essays on Human Understanding (1705). Translated by P. Remnant and J. Bennett. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Salmon, Wesley. Statistical Explanation and Statistical Relevance. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971.

Searle, John R. Intentionality. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Solms, Mark, and Michael Saling. A Moment of Transition: Two Neuroscientific Articles by Sigmund Freud. New York: Karnac Books, 1990.

Storr, Anthony. "Human Understanding and Scientific Validation." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 9 (1986): 259260.

Zentner, Marcel. Die Flucht ins Vergessen: Die Anfänge der Psychoanalyse Freuds bei Schopenhauer. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgessellschaft, 1995.

Adolf Grünbaum (2005)

Freud, Sigmund

views updated May 09 2018

Freud, Sigmund

The development of Freud’s ideas

Major contributions and weaknesses

Historical background



Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia (now Czechoslovakia), and died September 23, 1939, in exile in London. When the boy was three, his father, a small wool merchant, was forced by economic reverses to move for a year to Leipzig and thence to Vienna, where Freud spent the rest of his life—1860 to 1938— except for his last year. His biographers agree that the unusual structure of the family into which he was born was partly responsible for his interest in intimate human relationships: Freud’s father had two sons by his first wife; when he remarried after her death, it was to a woman of their age. Sig mund, her first child, often played with his year-older nephew. A brother who was born when Sigmund was not yet a year old died after eight months; then came four sisters and another brother.

A dedicated student, Freud graduated summa cum laude from the Gymnasium at age 17 and entered the University of Vienna medical school. After three years Freud became deeply involved in research, which delayed his m.d. until 1881; re search was to remain his main interest. In 1882 he met and became engaged to Martha Bernays, and he began clinical training in order to be able to earn a living from the practice of medicine. He continued research and publishing, was made Dozent, and received a grant in 1885 to study for several months with Charcot in Paris. The next year he married and began practicing neurology; three sons and three daughters were born between 1887 and 1895.

Since existing therapies were not effective for his patients, most of whom were neurotic, he turned to hypnotic suggestion and in 1889 briefly visited Bernheim and Liébeault to perfect his technique. He learned a more helpful method, however, from a close friend, Josef Breuer, whose patient “Anna O.” (Bertha Pappenheim) had managed to overcome some hysterical symptoms by talking freely about the circumstances of their first occurrence. Freud’s successful experiences with and modifications of this “cathartic” treatment were reported in the book he wrote jointly with Breuer, Studies on Hysteria (1893–1895). For the next five years, he continued to develop this psychotherapeutic method into psychoanalysis, gradually withdrawing from neurology, although by then he had an international reputation in that field. [SeeHysteria; Psychosomatic illness.]

The way his own self-analysis contributed to the growth of his ideas during this period may be seen in the letters and drafts of papers sent to a Berlin colleague, Wilhelm Fliess, who became a close friend and confidant (see 1887-1902; 1895). The first major statement of his theories was The Inter pretation of Dreams (1900). In 1902 he was made professor extraordinarius at the University of Vienna, and about that time his publications and lectures began to attract a group of followers, which became in 1908 the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society.

The principal focus of Freud’s life thereafter was the growth of psychoanalysis—as a theory, a form of treatment, and a movement. The movement did not remain monolithic: dissident followers who withdrew and formed their own schools included Adler (in 1911), Stekel (in 1912), Jung (in 1913), and Rank (in 1926). As Freud’s ideas began to become more widely known, they attracted respect and scientific interest, but also met with a great deal of hostility as well as extreme rejection. A truly objective weighing of these two kinds of reactions at various periods of Freud’s career has yet to be done, but in any event Freud seems to have been more keenly aware of the negative than of the positive reception. An especially welcome early sign of recognition was the award of an honorary degree by Clark University in 1909, on which occasion he visited America with Jung, Ferenczi, and Jones and delivered a series of lectures.

In 1923 he had the first of many operations for cancer of the upper jaw, which finally proved fatal. During his last 16 years, Freud suffered almost constant pain and difficulty in speaking because of an awkward prosthesis, but he continued psycho analyzing and writing into his final year. Only after the Nazi Anschluss could he be persuaded to leave Vienna, though he often had declared his detestation for the city. Long before the end, he had achieved world-wide acclaim and recognition as one of the decisive shapers of the twentieth century.

The development of Freud’s ideas

Freud’s first scientific contribution was published in 1877; his last was written only a few months before his death. Only the most superficial sketch of the development of his thought in the six hundred-odd papers and books he produced over these 63 years can be given here. There were four major and overlapping phases of that development.

(1) His prepsychoanalytic work, which lasted about twenty years, may be subdivided into an initial ten years of primarily histological-anatomical research and a partly overlapping 14 years of clinical neurology, with increasing attention to psychopathology, beginning in 1886 when he returned from Paris.

(2) The first theory of neurosis dates from the decade of the 1890s, when Freud used hypnosis and Breuer’s cathartic method of psychotherapy, gradually developing the psychoanalytic methods of free association, dream interpretation, and the analysis of transference. The first dozen truly psy choanalytic papers appeared during this time, expounding the view that neurosis is a defense against intolerable memories of a traumatic experience— infantile seduction at the hands of a close relative. With the discovery of his own Oedipus complex, however, Freud came to see that such reports by his patients were fantasies, which led him to turn his interest away from traumatic events in external reality and toward subjective psychic reality. A notable but only recently discovered event in the development of Freud’s thought occurred in 1895 after the publication of the book he wrote with Breuer: he wrote but did not publish a “Psychology for Neurologists” (or “Project for a Scientific Psychology” see Freud 1895), presenting a comprehensive anatomical-physiological model of the nervous system and its functioning in normal behavior, thought, and dreams, as well as in hysteria. He sent it to Fliess in high excitement, then quickly became discouraged by the difficulties of creating a thoroughgoing mechanistic and reductionistic psychology, tinkered with the model for a couple of years in letters to Fliess, and finally gave it up.

The turn of the century marked many basic changes in Freud’s life and work: he severed his close and dependent friendships with colleagues (first Breuer, then Fliess) and his contacts with the Viennese medical society; his father died; his last child was born; he psychoanalyzed himself; he gave up neurological practice, research, and conceptual models; and he created his own new profession, research method, and theory, in terms of which he worked thereafter.

(3) Freud’s topographic model was the foundation of two decades of work, during which he published his major clinical discoveries, notably, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905); his papers on the technique used in psychoanalytic treatment; his five major case histories, the central works of metapsychology; and a series of important surveys and popularizations of his ideas, in addition to his principal applications of his theories to jokes, literature and art, biography, and anthropology. A complete or metapsychological explanation, Freud wrote in 1915, requires “describing a psychical process in its dynamic, topographical and economic aspects”—that is, in terms of a theoretical model in which the central concepts are psychological forces, structures, and quantities of energy (Rapaport & Gill 1959). Hence, we speak of three meta psychological points of view. The topographic model, which was first set forth in Chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams and was further elab orated in the metapsychological papers (1915), conceptualizes thought and behavior in terms of processes in three psychological systems: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious (none of which has an explicit locus in the brain).

(4) In the final period, extending between the two world wars, Freud made four main types of contributions: the final form of his theory of in stinctual drives (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920); a group of major modifications of both general and clinical theory—most notably, the structural model of the psychic apparatus (The Ego and the Id, 1923) and the theory of anxiety and defense (Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, 1926); appli cations of psychoanalysis to larger social problems; and a group of books reviewing and reformulating his theories.

To grasp the structure of Freud’s work, it is useful not only to adopt such a developmental approach but also to view his theories from the perspective of the following threefold classification:

First and best known is the clinical theory of psychoanalysis, with its psychopathology, its accounts of psychosexual development and character formation, and the like. The subject matter of this type of theorizing consists of major events (both real and fantasied) in the life histories of persons, events occurring over spans of time ranging from days to decades. This theory is the stock in trade of the clinician—not just the psychoanalyst, but the vast majority of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatric social workers. Loosely referred to as “psychodynamics,” it has even penetrated into general academic psychology via textbooks on personality.

Second, there is what Rapaport (1959) has called the general theory of psychoanalysis, also called metapsychology. Its subject matter—proc esses in a hypothetical psychic apparatus or, at times, in the brain—is more abstract and impersonal; and the periods of time involved are much shorter—from fractions of a second up to a few hours. The processes dealt with are mostly those occurring in dreams, thinking, affect, and defense; Freud’s reasoning in working out this theory is much closer, and he made more use of theoretical models of the psychic apparatus. The main works are the “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” Chap ter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams, and the meta-psychological papers.

Third is what might be called Freud’s phylogenetic theory. The subject matter is man as a species or in groups, and the periods of time involved range from generations to eons. Here are Freud’s grand speculations, largely evolutionary and teleological in character; they contain no explicit models of a psychic apparatus, employing instead many literary, metaphorical concepts. The principal works of this type are Totem and Taboo (1913), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), and Moses and Monotheism (1934–1938).

His clinical contributions are among the earliest of Freud’s papers that are still being read, and he continued to write in this vein all of his life. As far as the other two types of theory are concerned, however, they overlap fewer developmental periods: the major metapsychological works came early, the main phylogenetic ones late. As Freud’s concepts became more metaphorical and dealt with such remote issues as man’s ultimate origins and the meaning of life and death, he became less concerned with describing or systematically accounting for the course and fate of an impulse or thought.

The rest of this article will concentrate on hypotheses and observations about two groups of Freud’s ideas: what now appear to have been his major, lasting contributions, those that have been most influential on and most assimilated into the behavioral sciences (not to mention literature, art, and other aspects of contemporary Western culture); and his major errors, those concepts that have been most cogently criticized by psychoan alysts and other scientists. Finally, it will discuss historical antecedents of his ideas and influences upon them. The literature on these topics is al ready large and growing rapidly, so this survey must be highly selective.

Major contributions and weaknesses


Freud may be said to have made five major contributions.

(1) He based his work on the assumption of psychic determinism. the lawfulness of all psychological phenomena, even the most trivial, including dreams, fantasies, and slips of the tongue.

(2) The lastingly valued aspects of Freud’s complex doctrine of the unconscious include the general proposition that cognitive and other psychological events can go on outside of awareness; the influence of unconscious motivation on behavior; and the special qualitative characteristics of unconscious processes—the primary process and symbolism. The primary process is the kind of primitive functioning of the “psychic apparatus” that characterizes the unconscious id; indeed, it is the principal property by means of which the latter is denned. Processes characterized by magical rather than rational logic and by wishfulness—a seeking for immediate gratification of crude sexual or aggressive impulses—are called primary. Freud emphasized the concepts of displacement and condensation of psychic energy in his conceptualization of the primary process and noted that it often makes use of symbols, which differ from other types of displacement substitutes in having been shared by many persons for generations. These were the main theoretical resources Freud called upon to explain dreams, neurotic symptoms, psychotic thought and language, normal character traits, myths, creative thought, art, and humor.

(3) Of the many contributions Freud made to our understanding of sexuality, the following seem to enjoy the most acceptance: his stress on its great importance in human life generally; his broad defi nition, which includes oral, anal, and other bodily pleasures and links them to the phallic-genital; his conception of its plasticity—it can be delayed, transformed, or fixated, and interest can be shifted from one “component drive” or “partial instinct” to another; his discovery that it appears early in human life (infants and young children masturbate, have sexual curiosity, etc.) and follows a typical developmental sequence; his insistence that bisexuality and “polymorphous perversity” are uni versal endowments or potentialities; his explanation of sexual perversions as pathological developments, not (or not wholly) as constitutional givens and not as sins; and his elaborations of many aspects of the Oedipus complex—the fact of inevi table but tabooed incestuous attraction in families, the associated phenomena of anxiety about castration (or, more generally, mutilation), and of intra-familial jealousy, hatred, and envy, much of it unconscious.

(4) Three of Freud’s concepts—conflict, anxi ety, and defense—are so interrelated that we may look on them as constituting one major contribution. He saw the pervasive importance of conflict (not merely the traditional opposition of reason and passion, or ego versus id, but also ego versus superego and superego versus id) in both normal and abnormal behavior. One of his earliest insights was that defenses—structuralized means of controlling impulse and preventing the outbreak of anxiety, thus being in effect resolutions of conflict —are major factors in the formation of symptoms and character traits and are shaping influences on the organization of thought. He also described the specific mechanisms of defense, such as repression, projection, reaction formation, isolation, and mastery via the turning of passivity into activity. [SeeAnxiety; Conflict, article onPsychological Aspects; Defense Mechanisms.]

(5) A number of Freud’s lasting discoveries and insights make up the genetic point of view. He showed the necessity of knowing facts of development in order to understand personality; the importance of the events of early life for the main features of character, including the specific syndromes of the oral and anal character types as outgrowths of events at the corresponding psychosexual stages; the role of identification as a principle of learning and development; the importance of drive delay and control in development; and the nature of psychopathology as regression along a developmental path.

As Shakow and Rapaport (1964) have pointed out, in each instance it is the general conception and the observations that have been accepted, not the specific concepts and the explanatory theory in which they are embedded. But this is to be expected: theories necessarily age, and any theory in the behavioral sciences formed as long ago as Freud’s is bound to contain many anachronisms, obsolete assumptions, and unfortunate turns of thought.


Three weaknesses in Freud’s work seem to have had the most extensive negative effects upon theory, research, and practice (see Holt 1965a; 1966). However necessary they may have been to his positive contributions, they are logically separable from them.

(1) His basic operating model (at first, of the central nervous system; later, of the psychic apparatus) was a passive reflex apparatus with no energies of its own, operating only to rid itself of inputs from the body (instinctual drive) and from the environment (reality), these inputs being conceptualized as quantities of energy (subjectively experienced as tension), and the regulative rule formulated as the principle of constancy. Consequently, the fundamental principle of motivation and affect is tension reduction.

Even in Freud’s fourth period, when he said little directly about it, the passive reflex model seems to have operated as a silent pressure in the following directions:

(a) Freud tended to overemphasize quantitative as against qualitative aspects of behavior and thought, though only the latter were observable. The quantitative emphasis would have been more defensible if it had actually led to measurement, which is needed, but it did not. The result was a relative neglect of the phenomenology of affects in favor of a primary emphasis on pleasure and unpleasure, including anxiety (Kardiner et al. 1959), and a relative neglect of the phenomenology of the primary process, such as the various specific forms taken by condensation and displacement, in favor of an elaborate theory about unmeasurable energies of various qualitatively and directionally specific types.

(b) Similarly, Freud tended to reduce motivation to the somatically based; for example, he assumed that love and affection are derivative forms of a seeking after sensuous pleasure.

(c) There was a relative neglect of motives that do not easily fit the tension-reduction conception, such as curiosity and positive interest in stimuli and the seeking of challenges to master (White 1963).

(d) The passive reflex model suggests a simple theory of pleasure and unpleasure as perceived concomitants of rises and falls in energic tension. Yet from the beginning, Freud was aware of conflicting data, and he was never able either to abandon the original theory entirely or to account for the anomalous observations in a way that was consonant with the model.

(e)There were other shortcomings in the metapsychological economic point of view—the notion of a fixed and limited amount of energy which has to be withdrawn from one locus if used at another: for example, a scarcity economics of love, according to which the more one loves others the less self-esteem is possible—and in the quasi-vitalistic, unmeasurable, and overelaborated concept of psychic energy (Holt 1966).

(f) The model was hospitable to the death in stinct and nirvana principle as ultimate extensions of tension reduction. But outwardly directed ag gression was difficult to fit into the model and was relatively neglected for years.

(2) The second fundamental flaw was Freud’s originally physicalistic conception of reality: basically, as “masses in motion and nothing else” ([1895] 1954, p. 369); more generally, as a welter of dangerous energies in which may be found some tension-reducing objects. In this conception, reality lacks significant organization on a large scale, as in the social structures or value systems (especially the latent ones) postulated by modern sociology and anthropology. To be sure, Freud did not con sistently hold to such reductionism; he always dealt with meanings as such. Nevertheless, a physicalistic notion of reality lingered in his mind as an implicit conceptual ideal, with several consequences:

(a) Without a way to conceptualize an enduring structure of society and culture, Freud needed to assume individual genetic transmission of stable but latent cultural themes by way of a Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics and to assume also that much of what he observed was inherited and universal, not culturally specific (for example, the Oedipus complex, or the inferior status of women as determined by anatomical differences).

(b) Freud tended to neglect the problems of adaptation and the relations to reality studied more recently in ego psychology.

(c)There were problems in the theory of object relations: for example, the “primary hate of ob jects,” which the model requires, conflicts with the facts of infant observation; the theory also had difficulty in accounting for sustained interest and affection in a sexually consummated relationship, and psychoanalysts were led to a relative neglect of the natural history of subtleties in human relations.

(3) Freud’s third basic error was his unclear and ambivalent handling of the mind-body problem, alternating between psychophysical parallelism and interactionism. The consequences began to show up as soon as he gave up the neurological model of 1895: he carried over its basic assumptions (the passive reflex model and the implicitly physicalistic concept of reality) in his later, osten sibly psychological, theories. There were several consequences of Freud’s failure to take a consistent position on the mind-body problem.

(a) The status of the basic model remained undeveloped, unclear with regard to the existential status both of psychic energies and forces and of psychic structure.

(b)Since the basic model was not made fully explicit, there followed a relative neglect of structural considerations in favor of a “motivational reductionism” (Gill 1959), the explanation of the control and restraint of impulses (especially ag gressive ones) in terms of instinctual fusion and defusion instead of in structural terms, and the neglect of adaptive and health-maintaining capacities in favor of an emphasis on pathology.

(c) A further consequence was Freud’s tend ency to reify functions as structures and to per sonify theoretical entities of uncertain existential status.

(d) Psychoanalysis became isolated from progress in medical and physiological sciences because of the difficulty in assimilating their findings.

It should be emphasized that none of these shortcomings was as crippling as it might have been if the underlying assumptions had been applied rigidly and consistently. As a group, they did steer Freud’s thinking to a demonstrable extent, but thanks to the creative looseness of his cognitive style (Holt 1965b) he was able to observe much and to develop many specific theories that were logically incompatible with them.

Historical background

Before examining the antecedents of those ideas of Freud’s that have been outlined above, it will be helpful to sketch in some of the grand trends of intellectual history in the nineteenth century.

“Naturphilosophie” and its rejection

The way for the romantic revolt that broadly characterized all aspects of intellectual life in the early 1800s had been prepared by Naturphilosophie, a mystical and often rhapsodic view of Nature as perfused with spirit and with conflicting unconscious forces and as evolving according to an inner, purposive design. Not a tightly knit school, its constituent thinkers included (in chronological order) Kant, Lamarck, Goethe, Hegel, Schelling (perhaps the central figure), Oken, and Fechner. With the exception of Fechner, who lived from 1801 to 1887, they all lived athwart the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Naturphilosophie encouraged the recrudescence of vitalism in biology, championed by the great physiologist Johannes Miiller, and stimulated a humanistic school of romantic medicine (Galdston 1956). In psychiatry, the early part of the century was dominated by the reforms of Pinel, Esquirol, and their followers, who introduced an era of “moral treatment”: firm kindness in place of restraints, therapeutic optimism based on etiological theories of a more psychological than or ganic cast, and an attempt to involve inmates of asylums in constructive activities.

The tough-minded reaction to this tender-minded era was greatly aided by the strides being made in physics and chemistry. Three of Müller’s students, Brücke, du Bois-Reymond, and Helmholtz, met Carl Ludwig in 1847 and formed a club (which became the Berlin Physical Society) to “constitute physiology on a chemico-physical foundation, and give it equal scientific rank with Physics” (Ludwig, quoted by Cranefield 1957, p. 407). They did not succeed in their frankly reductionist aim but did attain their other objectives: to promote the use of scientific observation and experiment in physiology and to combat vitalism. Among themselves, they held to the following program:

No other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the organism. In those cases which cannot at the time be explained by these forces one has either to find the specific way or form of their action by means of the physical-mathematical method, or to assume new forces equal in dignity to the chemical-physical forces inherent in matter, reducible to the force of attraction and repulsion, (du Bois-Reymond, quoted by Bernfeld 1944, p. 348)

In Germany especially, this materialistic ferment of physicalistic physiology, mechanism, and reductionism became the mode, gradually putting romantic medicine and other aspects of Naturphilosophie to rout. Where earlier there had been Psychic, Psycho-somatic, and Somatic schools in German psychiatry (Earle 1854, see in Hunter & Macalpine 1963, pp. 1015-1018), the Somatic gradually won out; Meynert, for example, conceived mental disorders to be diseases of the forebrain. Despite its therapeutic successes, moral treatment was banished along with its psychogenic (often sexual) theories as “old wives’ psychiatry,” in favor of strictly organic-hereditarian views and very little by way of therapy (Bry & Rifkin 1962).

The University of Vienna medical school was an outpost of the new hyperscientific biology, with one of its promulgators, Briicke, holding a major chair and directing the physiological institute (Bernfeld 1944). Ironically, Freud tells us that his decision to enter medical school was determined by hearing the “Fragment on Nature” attributed to Goethe read aloud at a public lecture. This short prose poem is an epitome of Naturphilosophie, and it must have swayed Freud because of his long standing admiration for Goethe and perhaps because of a “longing for philosophical knowledge,” which had dominated his early years, as he said later in a letter to Fliess. Evolution had been a major tenet of Naturphilosophie; so it is not surprising that this 1780 dithyramb could be part of a lecture on comparative anatomy, the discipline that furnished much of the crucial evidence for Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859).

Energy and evolution

Perhaps the two most exciting concepts of the nineteenth century were energy and evolution; both of these strongly influenced Freud’s teachers at the medical school. Helmholtz had read to the 1847 group his fundamental paper on the conservation of energy—presented as a contribution to physiology. Thirty years later, Briicke’s lectures were full of the closely related (and still poorly differentiated) concepts of energy and force. To use these dynamic concepts was the very hallmark of the scientific approach; Brücke taught that the “real causes are symbolized in science by the word ‘force’” (Bernfeld 1944, p. 349). It seems obvious that the first of Freud’s three metapsychological points of view, the dynamic (explanation in terms of psychological forces), had its origins in this exciting attempt to raise the scientific level of physiology by the diligent application of mechanics and especially of dynamics, that branch of mechanics dealing with forces and the laws of motion. The heavily quantitative emphasis of the school of Helmholtz and its stress on energy are clearly the main determinants of metapsychology seen from the economic point of view (explanations in terms of quantities of energy). The fact that, among authors Freud respected most, such disparate figures as Fechner and Hughlings Jackson held to dynamic and economic viewpoints no doubt strengthened Freud’s unquestioning conviction that these viewpoints are absolutely neces sary elements of an explanatory theory.

Despite its physicalistic program, the actual work of Briicke’s institute was largely classical physiology and histology. Freud had had his Darwinian scientific baptism under Claus in a micro scopic search for the missing testes of the eel, and his several attempts at physiological and chemical experiments under other auspices were fruitless. He was happy, therefore, to stay at the microscope where Brücke assigned him neurohistological studies, inspired by and contributing to evolutionary theory. When he worked with Meynert, it was again in a structural discipline with a genetic method— the study of brain anatomy using a series of fetal brains to trace the medullar pathways by following their development. His subsequent clinical practice was in neurology, a discipline which, as Bernfeld (1951) has noted, was “merely a diagnostic application of anatomy.” Moreover, Freud’s first fullscale theoretical model, the “Project” of 1895, is foremost a theory about the structural organization of the brain, both gross and fine. His early training thus demonstrably convinced him that a scientific theory has to have a structural (or topographic) base.

Of Freud’s enduring contributions listed above, the two that are most plausibly traced to the intellectual climate of physicalistic physiology and to specific teachings of Brücke and Meynert are psy chic determinism and the genetic point of view. The evolutionary surge of Naturphilosophie, given a modern, scientific, and nonteleological form in Darwinism, inspired all the biological sciences of the late nineteenth century with a conviction that phenomena of life cannot be understood without the elucidation of how the organism develops—out of its own parental germ plasm and out of a phylogenetic series. This point of view pervaded all of Freud’s work in this first period; it would have been surprising if he had not carried it over and extended it when he turned to psychopathology, as Spencer was doing in academic sociology and psychology.

The assumption of exceptionless determinism was so fundamental a principle of mechanistic science as hardly to need discussion. Freud was exposed to it on all sides in the university and in much of his reading, then and later. Doubtless, this conviction that all phenomena are lawful and are thus legitimate subjects of scientific interest helped Freud to pay attention to the trivia of mental life and underlay his conviction that even if a patient relaxed the controls of conscious purpose in favor of free association, the material he produced would not be random but would betray an inner organi zation, a deeper and more meaningful set of psychological laws.

The unconscious

But the existence of psychological forces determining a meaningful inner organization required the assumption of a dynamic unconscious realm of the mind, besides conscious ness. Many writers have shown how much a part of the thought of the time one part of this assumption was: “the general conception of unconscious mental processes was conceivable … around 1700, topical around 1800, and fashionable around 1870-1880” (Whyte 1960, pp. 168-169). Among the scientists known to have been familiar to Freud during his formative years (before 1900)—Charcot, Bernheim, Breuer, Lipps, H. Jackson, Galton, Fechner, and Helmholtz—all had one or another con cept of the unconscious; other such concepts are to be found in writings known to have influenced Freud: those of the philosophers Plato, Kant, and Spinoza (Aron 1963-1964), the Bible, and the works of his favorite writers of fiction, Goethe, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Dostoevski. Moreover, the Herbartian psychology taught in all Austrian secondary schools when Freud was in the Gymnasium was presented “not as one of several schools of psychology but as a well-established semi-official psychology” (Andersson 1962); together with asso-ciationism, it was adopted by Meynert and trans lated into neurological terms. It was a theory of the dynamic interaction of ideas, some of which may repress others below the threshold of consciousness, whence they may be hindered from rising by the resistance of the more or less inte grated masses of ideas. This is, not surprisingly, precisely the terminology used by Breuer and Freud in 1893 ([1893-1895] 1955, chapter 1) in their first attempt at a psychological explanation of hysteria.

It is possible to find some predecessor who expressed one or another of most components of Freud’s conception of the unconscious (though it is not established that any of them were known to Freud before he formed his own hypotheses)—for example, symbolism in dreams (von Schubert, Schemer), the role of dream symbols in myths (Carus, von Schubert), dreams as wish fulfillments (Plato, Maass), and the unconscious as the source of powerful motives (Herder, Richter) and of artis tic creativity (Goethe, Schiller). Nevertheless, these were mostly isolated apercus; even von Hartmann, whose Philosophy of the Unconscious touches on all of them, was not able to integrate these fragmentary insights into a coherent theory, like the psycho analytic theory of the primary process. Further more, Freud differed from all his “anticipators” in that they remained outside the cave and made remarks—often profound ones—on what they glimpsed inside, but Freud went boldly in and devoted himself for decades to its painstaking (and painful) empirical exploration. Although the idea of unconscious processes had been around for centuries, Freud forced us to see the true power and pervasiveness of these processes in man’s thought, feeling, and behavior.


The enormous importance of sexuality as a basic human motive had long been explored by poets and dramatists, and there had been many times when it was freely discussed in science and medicine as well as in everyday conversation. The prevailing belief today is that the second half of the nineteenth century, when Freud grew to maturity, was an era of unusually strong shame about sexuality and of moralistic attempts to suppress even its scientific study in the name of Christian morality; this climate of opinion influenced Freud’s own personality and behavior, so characterized by propriety, self-control, and conventional monogamy. Yet our stereotype of Victorian prudery is probably oversimple; in any case, by the end of the nineteenth century the tide had begun to turn; Bry and Rifkin (1962) and Rieff (1959, chapter 10) have documented many social, literary, artistic, and scientific countermovements. In addition, it might be mentioned that sexology was already an established (if minor) science when Freud’s con tributions first appeared. Though Freud and Fliess felt like lonely pioneers, Magnus Hirschfeld and Krafft-Ebing had preceded both of them, and Havelock Ellis and G. Stanley Hall were their contemporaries. We know little about how a Zeitgeist of slowly liberalizing attitudes about sex may have been transmitted to Freud. We do know that there were contemporary moves to broaden the concept of sexuality and extend it backward in the life span, such as the observations of diffuse sexuality in children by Bell (1902), the relation of sucking and masturbation in the first year by Roehmer (1891), and the plasticity of the sexual drive in children (Barnes 1892).

Again, diligent historical scholarship can uncover predecessors for many, perhaps most, of Freud’s lastingly valid formulations about sex. For example, Shakow and Rapaport (1964) have pointed to James’s (1890) recognition of the potentiality for perversion in all of us; and many authors have discussed the similarities between Freud’s and Plato’s broad concept of eros. Freud himself ac knowledged that the idea of universal bisexuality had first been suggested to him by Fliess. In the era of moral treatment, various sexual etiologies had been suggested for a number of neurotic conditions, which made Freud’s first psychoanalytic papers seem more reactionary than radical to many of his organically minded psychiatric colleagues.

As with the difference between Freud and earlier writers on the unconscious, so here again it was he alone who really devoted himself to prolonged, focused empirical as well as theoretical work on sexuality. In addition, however, Freud differs from most of the others who have helped to liberalize sexual mores in his mode of presenting his conclusions: he always refused to pull his punches, to make any concessions to prudishness in hopes of gaining a more sympathetic hearing; but at the same time, he had not the slightest tendency to glorify or romanticize sexuality. He presented his facts and theories dryly and as directly as his own distaste allowed him. In the short run, he antagonized the bluestockings and undermined the fem inists, while disappointing the libertines and disillusioning the sexual Utopians. By overstating the centrality of sexuality and stretching the concept of libido, he laid himself open to misunderstanding as a pansexualist and attained the unwelcome no toriety of a succes de scandale. In the long run, however, the net effect was to force the world’s attention to the problems of sex, greatly advancing the contemporaneous anti-Victorian movements and, despite vicious opposition and vilification, probably getting his ideas a hearing and ultimate acceptance faster than he could have done in any other way.

Role of conflict

Views of man’s behavior as the outcome of interior conflicts have been propounded since ancient times. The pervasive human tendency to think in terms of dichotomies is speculatively traceable to anatomical bilateral symmetry and to the diurnal cycle of light and dark. In any case, a probable shaping influence on Freud’s conceptual orientations is the centrality of conflict between unconscious purposive forces in the world view of Naturphilosophie. More immediately, the Herbartian psychology of Lindner that Freud studied in the Gymnasium treats the life of the mind in terms of conflicting ideas, which could be smoothly absorbed into the paradigm of parallelo grams of forces in physicalistic physiology. Hughlings Jackson, whom Freud greatly admired, held to even more proto-Freudian views on the role of conflicting forces (Stengel 1954a; 1954b).

The substance of the conflicting forces in Freud’s final model is clearly related to traditions in Western thought going at least as far back as Empedocles, for whom love alternated with its antithesis, strife, and to religious sources: God versus Satan and the doctrine of conscience as the opponent of the base passions. In the era of moral treatment, there had been no dearth of psychiatrists who saw these inner battles as a cause of neurosis. Carter, writing in 1853, observed the conflict between sexual desire and moral scruple in chaste hysterics of both sexes and even blamed “the mod ern necessity of [a single woman’s] entire conceal ment” of her sexuality as the social cause of most hysteria (see Hunter & Macalpine 1963, pp. 1002-1003).

Defense and repression

Freud’s conception of defense, more particularly his ideas about defense against anxiety, seems to be a more original clinical innovation than most other parts of psychoanalytic theory. Perhaps its model was the medical conception of the body’s defenses against pathogenic invasion; and the proposition that ideas can be repressed was familiar in Herbartian psychology. Nietzsche described the general outlines of several specific defenses—according to Brandt (1955), repression, isolation, reaction formation, sublimation, and projection—but there is no evidence that Freud knew about it. These conceptions and the closely related signal theory of anxiety are as directly derived from clinical observation as any in psycho analysis and are among Freud’s most original contributions.


The Darwinian origins of the genetic viewpoint in psychoanalysis have been briefly mentioned. An important specific mediator of Darwinism was Hughlings Jackson, from whose view of the evolutionary organization of the brain Freud took the conception of a hierarchic organization of psychic structures (Rapaport 1959), and from whose correlated theory of neurological diseases as “reversals of evolution,” Freud derived the concept of regression as an explanation of psychopathogenesis (Stengel 1954a; 1954fa). The genetic discipline of embryology had been given an enormous impetus by Darwin; Freud’s use of fetal materials in his medullar researches must have caused him to study this discipline with particular care and to become familiar with the epigenetic principle that is implicit in his doctrine of psychosexual development. The phenomenon of identification and its role in interpersonal and social relations of all kinds, as well as its outstanding importance in development, appears to be largely the outgrowth of clinical observation; Rieff’s (1959) hint that it may owe something to the “sympathy” of earlier social theorists (for example, Adam Smith) re mains unexplored. By contrast, it is easy to find plenty of antecedent recognition of the importance of impulse control in the growth of character.

Passive reflex model

Freud put his personal stamp upon all the conceptions he drew—directly or indirectly—from his broad intellectual heritage. His reworking of the ideas of others often brought to the forefront their latent potentialities for advancing the understanding of the central problems—the innermost longings and agonies— of real persons. At times, however, the usefulness of Freud’s ideas was marred by his need to fit them into his set of basic working assumptions, the passive reflex model of the nervous system.

This model was synthesized by Freud from the physicalistic physiology of his teachers and was more clearly enunciated in the “Project” than in any of the works of Brücke, Meynert, Breuer, or Exner, in which its elements may be clearly discerned (Amacher 1965). Anticipations of the dynamic, economic, and topographic points of view are plainly to be seen in books that Freud cited, for example, those by Fechner (Ellenberger 1956) and Jackson (Stengel 1954a; Spehlmann 1953); the economic point of view is also traceable to Darwin (Andersson 1962). It seems safe to conclude, therefore, that this set of principles was concurrently developed by many leading scientists in Germany and Austria in their attempts to apply the physics of Helmholtz and his school to biology and to generalize the reflex arc as a model of all mental processes in order to close the doors to such romantic notions as spontaneity, free will, and vitalism. Although virtually all of the assumptions underlying the passive reflex model are demonstrably untrue, much of the same doctrine underlies the behavioristic schools of psychology and is only now being painfully modified.

When Freud put aside explicit neurological theorizing, he was unable to give up the passive reflex model and the closely related physicalistic concept of reality (Spehlmann 1953; Holt 1965a). Although he explicitly postponed any attempt to relate the terms of metapsychology to processes and loci in the body, he substituted psychological theories that carry the same burden of anachronistic assumptions.

Nevertheless, Freud did not make a clean break from neurology, which fact contributed to his unclear and inconsistent stand on the mind-body problem (Rubinstein 1965; Holt 1965a). Jones (1953-1957, vol. 1) and a number of other authors portray him as a consistent follower of Jackson in a psychophysical parallelism that makes mind an “independent concomitant” of brain. But neither Jackson himself, who at times postulated that physical energy is directly transformed into psychic energy (Spehlmann 1953), nor Freud’s teachers held to a consistent position (Amacher 1965); it was common to slip into interactionism, and Freud followed suit (Andersson 1962, p. 107). The concept of hysterical conversion is the most obvious instance of interactionism.

Speculative elements

The concept of Freud’s most frequently rejected, at least among psychoanalysts, is the death instinct; not surprisingly, many of them have attributed this concept to Freud’s own needs and conflicts. While the evidence is impressive that for many years Freud had an unusual and probably pathological preoccupation with death, there are plenty of less tendentious hypotheses about sources for this notion. Freud himself traced it to the ancient Greeks; it has been likened to the Christian concept of original sin; pessimistic, late romantic philosophers like Nietzsche contributed a strain of thought of which Freud could not have been unaware, however little he read them directly. More generally, the works in which he developed the theory of the repetition compulsion (clearly related as it is to the ancient conception of “the eternal return”) and the virtually mythic concepts of life- and death-instincts are part of his phylogenetic theory. It is tempting to interpret this last development in Freud’s thought as a kind of return of the repressed: that youthful speculative bent and yearning for broad philosophical knowledge which he repeatedly admitted fearing in himself and suppressed for many years (Holt 1963). His exposure to and enthusiasm for Natur-philosophie antedated his conversion to physicalistic physiology, which helped him put such unscientific ways of thought out of mind. Even the philosopher with whom he studied, Brentano, strongly opposed Naturphilosophie and advocated the scientific method as the only valid source of knowledge.

Yet the old mode of thought remained an undercurrent in his thinking, as it did in that of his friend Fliess (Galdston 1956). Finally, after Freud’s change of identity at the turn of the century, after his great discoveries, the establishment of the psychoanalytic movement, and his first international recognition, the old mode of thought may have seemed less threatening. In Totem and Taboo (1913), one of his favorites among his own books, he created what he himself called a “scientific myth” (the slaying of the Darwinian primal horde’s father). Shortly thereafter, he first read Lamarck, who was strongly identified with Naturphilosophie. It is Fechner the Naturphilosoph, not the psychophysicist, whom he cited in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), and the loose, analogical, teleological, and personifying mode of thought he employed there is in marked contrast to the cognitive style of his metapsychological works (Holt 1965b). Many properties of his concept of psychic energy can be traced to the vitalism that was a prominent feature of Naturphilosophie (Holt 1966). Some of the specific fallacies in his phylogenetic works can be traced to sources on the more mechanisticmaterialistic side: Haeckel’s “biogenetic law” that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny seemed to provide respectable scientific auspices for the extension of genetic speculations based on individuals to the development of all mankind; Spencer and various post-Darwinians were the source of his linearevolutionary conception of anthropology; and the inheritance of acquired characters had been a general assumption of the organic-hereditarian psychiatrists of Freud’s formative period (Andersson 1962), as well as having been given some currency by Darwin himself (Ritvo 1965). Nevertheless, the major flaws of both manner and matter in Freud’s speculative works show the unmistakable earmarks of Naturphilosophie.

Freud’s stature is too great for his errors to require any whitewashing; it is not an apology for him but a fact that the least tenable aspects of his theories are traceable to influences that shaped his basic outlook when he was still a student, while his enduring achievements seem to owe less to antecedent influences. It appears to be one of the marks of a genius that he finds more sources of ideas in his reading and observation and subjects them to a truer integration and transmutation than does the less gifted man. The great contributor to knowledge (who may or may not be a genius) does not only toss off brilliant sparks of ideas; he lights and tends an enduring fire. Freud had both of these innovative capacities and more; his ideas have the remarkable property of being self-transcending. He taught us how to know more than he could, how to find and use the best in what he left by testing it against reality.

Robert R. Holt

[For a listing of articles describing Freud’s influence upon psychology, psychiatry, and the other social sciences, see the detailed guide under the entryPsychoanalysis. Directly related to Freud’s work and influence are the biographies ofAbraham; Adler; Alexander; Charcot; Ellis; Fechner; Ferenczi; Helmholtz; Horney; Jones; Jung; Klein; Müller, Johannes; Rank; Rapaport; Reich; Roheim; Sullivan.]


(1887–1902) 1954 The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes: 1887–1902. New York: Basic Books.

(1893–1895) 1955 Breuer, Josef; and Freud, Sigmund Studies on Hysteria. Volume 2 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1895) 1954 Project for a Scientific Psychology. Pages 347-445 in Sigmund Freud, The Origins of Psycho analysis. New York: Basic Books.

(1900) 1953 The Interpretation of Dreams. Volumes 4-5 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychologi cal Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1905) 1953 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Volume 7, pages 123-245 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1913) 1959 Totem and Taboo. Volume 13, pages ix-162 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychologi cal Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1915) 1957 Papers on Metapsychology. Volume 14, pages 109-243 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1920) 1955 Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Volume 18, pages 7-66 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1921) 1955 Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Volume 18, pages 69-134 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1923) 1961 The Ego and the Id. Volume 19, pages 12-63 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psycho logical Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1926) 1959 Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Volume 20, pages 77-178 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1927) 1961 The Future of an Illusion. Volume 21, pages 5-58 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1930) 1961 Civilization and Its Discontents. Volume 22, pages 64-148 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1934–1938) 1964 Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays. Volume 23 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

Gesammelte Schriften. 12 vols. Leipzig, Vienna and Zurich: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1924–1934.

Gesammelte Werke. 18 vols. London: Imago, 1940–1952.

The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 24 vols. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan, 1953–1964.


Amacher, Peter 1965 Freud’s Neurological Education and Its Influence on Psychoanalytic Theory. Psycho logical Issues, Vol. 4, No. 4; Monograph No. 16. New York: International Universities Press.

Andersson, Ola 1962 Studies in the Prehistory of Psychoanalysis: The Etiology of Psychoneuroses and Some Related Themes in Sigmund Freud’s Scientific Writings and Letters, 1886–1896. Stockholm: Svenska Bokforlaget Norstedts.

Aron, William 1963-1964 Freud and Spinoza. Harofe haivri [1963] no. 2:260-242; [1964] no. 1:284-265; [1964] no. 2:260–242.

Barnes, E. 1892 Feelings and Ideas of Sex in Children. Pedagogical Seminary 2:199–203. → Now called the Journal of Genetic Psychology.

Bell, Sanford 1902 A Preliminary Study of the Emotion of Love Between the Sexes. American Journal of Psychology 13:325–354.

Bernfeld, Siegfried 1944 Freud’s Earliest Theories and the School of Helmholtz. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 13:341–362.

Bernfeld, Siegfried 1951 Sigmund Freud, M.D.: 1882–1885. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 32:204–217.

Brandt, Rudolf 1955 Freud and Nietzsche: A Com parison. Ottawa, University of, Revue 25:225–234.

Bry, Ilse; and Rifkin, Alfred H. 1962 Freud and the History of Ideas: Primary Sources, 1886–1910. Pages 6-36 in Academy of Psychoanalysis, Science and Psychoanalysis. Volume 5: Psychoanalytic Education. New York: Grune.

Cranefield, Paul F. 1957 The Organic Physics of 1847 and the Biophysics of Today. Journal of the His tory of Medicine 12:407–423.

Darwin, Charles (1859) 1964 On the Origin of Species. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Ellenberger, Henri F. 1956 Fechner and Freud. Menninger Clinic, Bulletin 20:201–214.

Galdston, Iago 1956 Freud and Romantic Medicine. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 30:489–507.

Gill, Merton M. 1959 The Present State of Psychoanalytic Theory. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 58:1–8.

Holt, Robert R. 1963 Two Influences on Freud’s Scientific Thought: A Fragment of Intellectual Biography. Pages 364-387 in Robert N. White (editor), The Study of Lives. New York: Atherton.

Holt, Robert R. 1965a A Review of Some of Freud’s Biological Assumptions and Their Influence on His Theories. Pages 93-124 in Norman S. Greenfield and William C. Lewis (editors), Psychoanalysis and Current Biological Thought. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Holt, Robert R. 1965b Freud’s Cognitive Style. American Imago 22:163–179.

Holt, Robert R. 1966 Beyond Vitalism and Mechanism: Freud’s Concept of Psychic Energy. Unpublished manuscript.

Hunter, Richard A.; and macalpine, Ida (editors) 1963 Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry, 1535-1860: A History Presented in Selected English Texts. Oxford Univ. Press. → See especially pages 1002-1003 and 1015–1018.

James, William (1890) 1962 The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York: Smith.

Jones, Ernest 1953-1957 The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. 3 vols. New York: Basic Books. → Vol ume 1: Formative Years and the Great Discoveries, 1953. Volume 2: Years of Maturity, 1955. Volume 3: Last Phase, 1957.

Kardiner, Abram; Karush, Aaron; and Ovesey, Lionel 1959 A Methodological Study of Freudian Theory. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 129:11-19, 133-143, 207-221, 341–356.

Parsons, Talcott (1952) 1953 The Superego and the Theory of Social Systems. Pages 13-29 in Talcott Parsons, Robert F. Bales, and Edward A. Shils. WorkingPapers in the Theory of Action. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Parsons, Talcott (1958) 1964 Social Structure and the Development of Personality: Freud’s Contribution to the Integration of Psychology and Sociology. Pages 78-111 in Talcott Parsons, Social Structure and Per sonality. New York: Free Press.

Rapaport, David 1959 The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory: A Systematizing Attempt. Pages 55-183 in S. Koch (editor), Psychology: A Study of a Science. Volume 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rapaport, David; and Gill, Merton 1959 The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 40:153–162.

Rieff, Philip 1959 Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. New York: Viking.

Ritvo, Lucille B. 1965 Darwin as the Source of Freud’s Neo-Lamarckianism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 13:499–517.

Roehmer, A. 1891 Ueber psychopatische Minderwertigkeiten des Sauglingsalter. Medizinisches Korrespondenzblatt filr Wurtemberg 61:265-269, 273-279, 281-285, 289–292.

Rubinstein, B. B. 1965 Psychoanalytic Theory and the Mind-Body Problem. Pages 35-56 in Norman S. Greenfield and William C. Lewis (editors), Psycho analysis and Current Biological Thought. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Shakow, David; and rapaport, david 1964 The Influ ence of Freud on American Psychology. Psychological Issues, Vol. 4, No. 1. New York: International Universities Press.

Spehlmann, Rainer 1953 Sigmund Freuds neurologische Schriften: Fine Untersuchung zur Vorgeschichte der Psychoanalyse. Berlin: Springer.

Stengel, E. 1954a A Re-evaluation of Freud’s Book On Aphasia: Its Significance for Psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 35:85–89.

Stengel, E. 1954b The Origins and Status of Dynamic Psychiatry. British Journal of Medical Psychology 27: 193–200.

White, Robert W. 1963 Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory: A Proposal Regarding Independent Ego Energies. Psychological Issues, Vol. 3, No. 3. New York: International Universities Press.

Whyte, Lancelot L. 1960 The Unconscious Before Freud. New York: Basic Books.

Freud, Sigmund

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Freud, Sigmund

(b. Freiberg, Moravia [now Příbor, Czechoslovakia], 6 May 1856; d. London, England, 23 September 1939)


Freud’s father, Jakob, was a wool merchant in Freiberg. His mother, Amalie Nathanson, was Jakob’s second wife and twenty years younger than he. Freud was the oldest child in the father’s second family. An older half brother, about the age of Freud’s mother and with a child of his own about Freud’s age, lived nearby. Freud was to write that the confusion all this caused him as an infant sharpened his intellect and his curiosity. He also wrote of himself: “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.”1 The wool trade in Freiberg, which had made Jakob mildly prosperous, collapsed, and the family moved to Vienna in 1860. For the rest of his long life Jakob was often unemployed, and the family was at times on the brink of poverty. In this respect, Jakob provided an unheroic ideal for his son. The family was Jewish and kept to Jewish society and customs, but they were not strongly religious. The father was something of a freethinker, and the son had lost any religious beliefs by his adolescence. Freud attended Sperl Gymnasium in Vienna from the age of nine to the age of seventeen, graduating with distinction in 1873. The curriculum emphasized modern and classical languages and included mathematics. Freud was studious and was encouraged in this by his parents, who made considerable financial sacrifice for his education. They anticipated a distinguished career for their son, which anticipation he shared. Freud’s unusual degree of ambition lasted well into his middle years.

In 1873 Freud entered the University of Vienna to study medicine. He chose medicine, not out of a desire to practice it, but with a vague intention of studying the human condition with scientific rigor. In choosing his career—and throughout his life—Freud placed a high ethical value on the physical sciences. He took Ernst von Brücke, professor of physiology at Vienna, as a model. Brücke was one of the founders of the Helmholtz school of German physiologists, who had accelerated the progress of that science with their own work and teaching. Freud spent three years more than was necessary in qualifying for his medical degree, which he finally received in 1881. This delay resulted from starting what he intended to be a career in biological research. He spent an increasing amount of time in Brücke’s Physiological Institute from 1876 through 1882. His first studies were on the connections of a large nerve cell (Reissner’s cell) that had been discovered in the spinal cord of a primitive genus of fish, and his observations made it possible to fit these cells into an evolutionary scheme. He also studied the structure of nerve fibers in living crayfish and devoted some time to the anatomy of the human brain. He had made a successful start on a research career when the poor economic prospects of his position forced him to change his plans. Brücke’s two assistant professors were only ten years older than Freud, so the chance for moving up to a position with an adequate salary seemed remote. Freud met his future wife in 1882 and had to face the fact that he could not continue at the institute and support a wife. He decided to obtain the clinical experience that would gain him respectable status as a practitioner. He joined the resident staff of the Vienna General Hospital in July 1882 and remained there until August 1885, working in the various clinical departments of the hospital for short periods of time. He stayed fourteen months in the department of nervous diseases because he wished to specialize in neuropathology.

Freud did not limit his activities to training in clinical medicine while at the Vienna General Hospital. He found time to continue his anatomical research on the human brain, tracing the course of nerve tracts in the medulla oblongata. He also began a series of studies in clinical neurology. This work was in the tradition of patient investigation that he had learned at Brücke’s institute, in contrast with his research on the therapeutic use of cocaine, which he began in 1884. He used the drug himself, finding it made him euphoric and able to work well. His letters to his fiancée show high hopes that the research would bring quick recognition and would enable him to afford marriage sooner. He published two articles on the use of cocaine as a stimulant, as an analgesic, and as an aid in withdrawal from morphine addiction. Within two years there were reports of cocaine addiction, and Freud’s reputation was clouded. Freud spent four months studying with J. M. Charcot, the foremost French neurologist, after leaving the Vienna General Hospital.

Freud set up practice as a neuropathologist on his return from Paris and was soon married. His bride was Martha Bernays, the daughter of an intellectually distinguished German Jewish family. It had taken four years from his decision to give up a research career for marriage to become a financial possibility. His prolonged engagement had been full of near breakups and reconciliations. Freud had been extremely jealous of anyone for whom Martha showed any affection, including her mother. Since Martha was in Hamburg for much of their engagement, they left a vivid record of this tempestuous period in their letters. Freud was thirty at his marriage (1886); Martha was twenty-five. In the first decade of their marriage the couple had three sons and three daughters. Freud’s professional offices were adjacent to the living quarters in their first and subsequent apartments. After he married, Freud’s practice, home, family, and extensive writing occupied most of his time. In the early years of his practice he went several times a week to Kassowitz’s Children’s Clinic, where he headed the department of neurology. Throughout his career he was on the faculty (without chaired appointments) of the University of Vienna, where he lectured, first on neuropathology and then on psychoanalysis.

Freud’s psychological life was not as smooth as the description of his everyday life might imply. Psychoanalysts have found a search for a father figure important in Freud’s psychological history, his own father not having provided an adequate model. At least it is clear that he sought authoritative approbation of his career. Yet he was not swayed from a self-determined course by the successive candidates for father figure, most prominently Brücke, Josef Breuer, and Wilhelm Fliess. Brücke remained a loyal friend after Freud gave up his research career, but Freud’s career was diverging too far from Brücke’s for Freud to seek sanction from him. Breuer was fourteen years older than Freud, had made signal contributions to neurophysiology in his younger years, and was a distinguished physician. They culminated a decade of collaboration with their joint publication of Studies in Hysteria (1895), which described the clinical experience that was one of Freud’s bases for psychoanalysis. Breuer was unwilling to join Freud in the radical innovations of psychoanalysis; he was dubious about the emphasis on sex that developed and, being established, did not share Freud’s driving ambition. The publication of their joint work came near the end of their collaboration. Freud harshly criticized Breuer’s personality in later years.

Fliess was a Berlin physician with whom Freud corresponded regularly from 1893 until 1900. During this period Freud was conducting his self-analysis and rapidly developing his psychoanalytic theories, the two being aspects of a single venture. His letters to Fliess rather fully disclose his thoughts during this crucial phase. Fliess also was developing radical theories on the periodicity of biological events (which have never appeared to have any validity). While there seems to have been little significant mutual influence, each provided the other an audience. Fliess took Breuer’s place as someone who apparently could understand and who approved of Freud’s ideas. Fliess broke with Freud in 1900 over a trivial matter. There is no equivalent of the Fliess correspondence, which exhibits Freud’s bitterness toward Breuer, after their professional estrangement. Perhaps Freud was then intellectually more self-confident. In any event, he was soon to become the intellectual father figure of the psychoanalytic movement. The meetings of his followers began at Freud’s house in 1902.

Freud was in robust health into his late sixties. He was bothered, but never disabled, by a number of afflictions, including some intestinal problems that he considered psychosomatic. World War I was difficult for the Viennese, with food and fuel in short supply. There was the stress of having two sons in combat. The shortage of cigars was also an affliction for Freud, who had been accustomed to smoking fifteen to twenty each day, preferably Schimmelpenninck cigars from Holland. It was a sign of Freud’s vigor that he came through all this without a decline in health. In 1923 cancer of the jaw, the disease that led to his death, was detected. From then on, he had repeated operations, metal appliances were put in his jaw to replace the bone removed, and he was frequently in pain. He preferred to remain mentally alert rather than take pain-killing drugs. After 1923 he wrote three books and many articles, and continued his practice and his extensive correspondence.

Freud remained in Vienna even though he was well aware of the impending danger from the Nazis. He was offered foreign asylum in 1936 and 1937 but, partly out of his identification with less fortunate Jews, remained until June 1938, three months after the Nazis gained control in Austria. He was allowed to go to England after Ernest Jones managed some complicated diplomatic maneuvering and the payment of a ransom, and he died in London in September 1939.

Freud made a solid contribution to conventional neuropathology. His first book was Aphasia, published in 1891. It was a masterly review and critique of the literature on the subject and presented a synthetic view of the condition. Freud refuted the view, prevalent among German-speaking neurologists, that the losses of function in aphasia were due to lesions in anatomically circumscribed centers corresponding to the various functions involved in language. He demonstrated that the anatomical postulates would not fit with specific case studies and that it was necessary to assume that the cerebral areas involved in language were less circumscribed. Freud also incorporated into his synthesis the view that function could be reduced in an area, not simply canceled, by the disease. Here he relied on John Hughlings Jackson, the English neurologist. Hughlings Jackson used the term “disinvolution” to describe the lesser vulnerability to pathological weakening of cortical complexes acquired earlier in the life of the individual. Freud’s book had little immediate impact, perhaps because it contained no new case material. Part of his motivation to write it must have been the desire to get at the neurological events underlying complex psychological processes. In this it foreshadowed his Psychology for Neurologists, which he wrote in 1895. Freud’s three works on cerebral paralysis in children, published in 1891, 1893, and 1897, were immediately recognized as definitive works on the subject and have remained so valued. In them he presented his own cases from the Kassowitz clinic, as well as a review of the literature. His studies brought order out of a confusing array of paralyses.

The development of Freud’s psychoanalytic thought can usefully be described as occurring in three phases. In the first phase he gradually developed his ideas during his experience in the therapy of hysteria. Breuer had some part—just how much is impossible to determine—in the formation of the ideas, and certainly held Freud back from making the large speculations that characterized the second phase. In the second phase, in the middle of the 1890’s, Freud developed his ideas more rapidly and with less reference to clinical experience than he had before and would later. He formed a comprehensive theory of the determinants of human thought and behavior, which became his metapsychology. This was in large part based on previous theories. During this phase Freud had only Fliess for his critical audience. In the third phase, which lasted from the late 1890’s until the end of his career, Freud elaborated greatly on the ideas developed during the first two phases. There was again much reference to his clinical experience, but it was often interpreted so that it fit his previous ideas.

The first phase of Freud’s intellectual development occurred during his first years of treating hysteria. Although at the Kassowitz clinic he saw patients assumed to have definite physical damage to the nervous system, most of the patients who came to his office he considered hysterics. Hysteria was considered to have both physical and psychological causes. Most theories emphasized hereditary weakness of the nervous system as the physical cause. It was commonly considered that a psychologically traumatic event, with this background of a weak nervous system, brought on the condition. Physicians usually tried physical therapeutic approaches. In the first years of his practice Freud used bed rest and low-voltage stimulation to paralyzed limbs of hysteric patients. He had begun his practice with some knowledge of psychological therapy for hysteria; Breuer had told him in 1882 about what was to become known as the “case of Anna O.” Breuer treated the patient, whom he considered a hysteric, from 1880 to 1882. Her symptoms included an intermittent paralysis of the limbs and severe speech and visual disturbances. Breuer found, rather by accident, that if the patient described in detail the manifestations of a symptom, it was relieved for a time. Breuer called this method “catharsis.”

Breuer also used hypnotic suggestion with Anna O. and with other patients. He told the hypnotized patient that such-and-such a symptom would disappear and found that the symptom disappeared, at least temporarily. Hypnotic suggestion had been used for years by Liébeault and Bernheim at Nancy, and a few other physicians in Vienna were using it. When Freud left the Vienna General Hospital in 1885, he received a traveling grant to study in Paris with Charcot, who was then making hysteria the focus of his attention. He maintained that the manifestations of hysteria were regular and that the common medical opinion (prevalent in Vienna) that they were feigned by hysterics was therefore erroneous. Freud never accepted Charcot’s elaborate systematization, but his reputation sanctioned Freud’s taking the condition seriously, as deserving of scientific study, and his considering its psychological as well as physical aspects. Freud’s growing doubt as to the efficacy of electric stimulation and other physical therapeutic techniques led him to employ Breuer’s method of hypnotic suggestion. He considered the method useful and became an advocate of it in Vienna.

In 1889 Freud was using Breuer’s carthartic method in conjunction with hypnosis. This gradually developed into the free association method. Instead of leading the patient to talk about the first occurrence of a symptom, he encouraged the patient to say whatever came into his mind, without exercising any conscious control over it. Freud believed that the patient exhibited parts of the network of associated ideas which had already been established during his life. The therapist could surmise those ideas which made up the neurosis from those which the patient disclosed in free association. Freud formed the essentials of his concepts of the unconscious, of repression, and of transference during the development of the free association method. Parts of the complex of associated ideas, unacceptable in the conscious thought of the patient, were repressed. They remained in the unconscious, influencing what came into consciousness, but never themselves came into consciousness. Freud made great progress in technique and concept with the case of Elizabeth von R., which he probably began in 1892. The patient could not accept her love for her brother-in-law, especially after the untimely death of her sister, repressed it, and developed hysteria. Using free association, Freud interpreted the unconscious ideas, related them to the patient, and gradually got her to accept the situation in her conscious thought. Freud found transference, the basically erotic feeling of the patient for the therapist, to be a regular development in an analysis and necessary for its success.

Freud wrote the crucial document of the second phase of the development of his psychoanalytic ideas in 1895. The “Project for a Scientific Psychology” was a comprehensive theory of the neurological events underlying human thought and behavior. The essentials of some of his central psychoanalytic concepts were in it, to be elaborated in his later writings. Freud did not publish it (it first appeared in 1954) but sent it to Fliess and discussed and revised it in their correspondence for several years. To attempt to explain human thought and behavior in terms of the structure and function of the nervous system was not unusual; an enthusiasm for physical science and a confidence in its methods for dealing with complex phenomena permeated German medicine. More specifically, two men with whom Freud was in close and frequent contact had made this attempt. Freud’s professor of psychiatry at Vienna was Theodor Meynert, and he continued to work with Meynert while at the Vienna General Hospital. Meynert and Sigmund Exner, one of Brucke’s two assistants at the Physiological Institute, both wrote large works correlating neurology with thought and behavior. These works resemble Freud’s “Project” in their basic theories.

In the view of Meynert, Exner, and Freud, all nervous system function consisted of reflexes of a certain type. There was an analogy—sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit—between the flow of an electric current through a network of wires and the passage of nerve impulses through nervous pathways. A quantitative phenomenon (called excitation, nerve energy, or quantity in the “Project”) flowed through the pathways with an unspecified force, tending to make it flow from the sensory periphery to the motor periphery of the system. The force was generated by the sense organs when they were stimulated, in proportion to the intensity and duration of the stimulation. The excitation was discharged at the motor periphery of the nervous system, primarily in triggering the contraction of muscles. Excitation was neither added nor lost during its passage through the system, so that the amount of motor activity was proportional to the amount of stimulation. There was ample evidence from neurological experiments that reflex contractions were, in general, proportional to the amount of stimulation. Since the middle of the eighteenth century, scientists had noted that the more painful the stimulation of a limb of an experimental animal, the greater the reflex flection of the limb. When Freud was at Brucke’s institute, electrical recordings from nerve tracts were interpreted as supporting this view. An increase in voltage was recorded from sensory nerve tracts when the intensity of the stimulus increased. That this increase resulted from bringing into function more channels, or nerve cells, was not recognized. Experimentally based observations of spinal reflexes and the anatomical evidence that the gray matter of the brain was histologically similar to the gray matter of the spinal cord had led to the doctrine that the entire system functioned reflexly. It was assumed that food-seeking in response to somatic stimuli was a reflex response, with the central transfer of excitation taking place through brain pathways. Consciousness occurred when the excitation, on its way from sense organs to motor organs, passed through the cerebral cortex. In spinal reflexes, excitation passed through innately determined pathways. The reflex ended in a motor act, which brought about the end of the stimulation of the sense organ. The painfully stimulated limb was flexed and withdrawn. In the cortex, pathways were put into function during the life of the individual; this was the neurological event resulting in learning. The coming into function of new pathways took place when the innately determined pathways did not serve to end the excitation from the sense organs.

Freud followed Meynert in taking a baby’s learning to nurse as a paradigm of the opening up of cortical pathways. Freud did so in the “Project” and in his two most important published works, The Interpretation of Dreams and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. When excitation entered the infant’s nervous system—the concomitant of hunger—it was first channeled through innately determined pathways. The baby kicked and screamed, which was to no avail in bringing about the ending of the influx of excitation from the somatic sense organs. Then the mother turned the baby’s mouth to her nipple, the baby sucked, and the inflow from the sense organs ceased. The next time the baby was hungry, the excitation passed through the cortical pathways that had been opened up, those which served the sight of the nipple and the turning of, the baby’s head to the nipple. The nervous system did not transfer excitation through innate pathways or those serving learning until the sense organs were stimulated. There was no nervous function without stimulation. Meynert put it thus: “The brain ... does not radiate its own heat; it obtains the energy underlying all cerebral phenomena from the world beyond it.”2 In the terminology of Freud’s metapsychology, this became the pleasure principle, the tendency of the psychic apparatus to function so as to discharge the excitation that impinged upon it.

The outline of the distinction between the ego and the id is in the “Project.” Freud defined the ego as that complex of cortical pathways that were put into function during the baby’s learning to turn to the nipple and in other learning experiences. This was a term common in psychology. When the ego was again subject to the inflow of excitation, the correlate of hunger, the baby carried out the same motor acts that had previously ended the inflow. This reusing of pathways, without alteration of the pattern of transmission of excitation and without any change in the resulting behavior, Freud called the primary process in the ego. When the baby was hungry at a later time, part of the current stimuli to the sense organs was not the same as it had been when the pathways serving the primary process were put into function. For example, if the mother presented her other breast to the baby, the stimulation of the eyes would be different. To cover this situation, Freud postulated an inhibiting ego that did not allow discharge over the primary process pathways, which would result in an exact repetition of the first turning to the breast, but compared current perceptions with those making up the pathways serving the primary process. By a complex process, which Freud did not succeed in reducing to plausible mechanical terms, the necessary change in the motor act was determined by the inhibiting ego. In Freud’s later formulation, the ego became roughly the equivalent of the inhibiting ego, while that part of the ego not under the control of the inhibiting ego became the id, the part of the psychic apparatus that mediated primary processes.

The whole construct depended to a large extent on certain ideas that were proper to psychology rather than neurology. Meynert and Freud accepted association psychology as an adequate statement of the determinants of human thought and behavior. For example, a law of association psychology—that simultaneous or temporally contiguous sense perceptions become associated, so that they tend to be recalled jointly—provided the background for their assumption that the sight of the nipple, the perception of hunger, etc. would have their nervous concomitants connected in the pathways of the primary process. There was of course no neurological evidence that the cortical pathways serving a visual perception and those serving the perception of a somatic state, when both had nervous excitation transmitted to them, would come into functional connection. The evidence was first behavioral, then incorporated into association psychology. German association psychology, which Freud had studied, also included the concept of affect as a quantitative entity attached to ideas. This agreed with the concept that the cortical pathway serving an idea has excitation passing through it. This association psychology was commonly described in mechanical terms and lent itself to theories of brain function.

Freud was led to his concept of the sexual origin of neuroses by this view of the function of the nervous system. In Studies in Hysteria, he and Breuer (Breuer is listed as the author of the theoretical section, but Freud took an equal—if not major—part in developing the ideas in it) wrote that the intense and longlasting nervous and mental activity manifested in hysteria resulted from excitation impinging from the sex organs. The primary causes of the increase of excitation were the need for oxygen, food, and water. However, their patients were not deprived of oxygen, food, or water, so that the sex organs were “undoubtedly the most powerful source of persisting increases of excitation (and consequently of neuroses).”3 Excitation was passing through the nervous pathways in quantity, the theory of nervous function required a sensory source for it, and the sex organs were the obvious choice. Certainly Freud’s and Breuer’s patients had disturbances in their sexual lives; it would be expected in lives so generally disordered. Yet the theory of nervous function led to selection of such disturbances as the essential etiology of neuroses.

Freud’s idea that dreams are wish-fulfillment processes was a special instance of his view that all mental processes were wish-fufillment processes, which in turn followed from the theory of nervous function. He stated in the “Project” that by “wish” he meant the cortical pathway which had previously been opened up to discharge excitation impinging from the sense organs. The hungry baby wished for the mother’s nipple because a cortical pathway representing the nipple had been part of the complex of channels put into function when the baby had first stopped the inflow of hunger excitation. In the simplest type of dream, a slightly hungry baby would dream of the nipple because there was a slight inflow of excitation from the sense organs serving hunger. If there was too much excitation flowing, the baby would wake up. Freud thought that excitation impingement of low quantity was a condition of sleep. He had not given much attention to the interpretation of dreams until after he had arrived at the theory of their wish-fulfillment nature. He made this momentous theoretical advance while he was writing the “Project” in the summer of 1895. The first dream he interpreted in detail was one he had during that summer and reported in the “Project.” Thereafter he interpreted many of his own dreams as part of his regular self-analysis, using the wish-fulfillment theory as the essential interpretive tool.

Freud’s observations and interpretations of his own mental states during the second phase of the development of his psychoanalytic thought were as important as all his case studies taken together. His wishfulfillment theory was formed after the dream (which has become known as that of “Irma’s injection”) he had while writing the “Project.” In July 1897, Freud began a regular analysis of himself, devoting some time to it each day, with the definite aim of unearthing the roots of his own character. In the fall of the same year, he reached his concept of infantile sexuality after interpreting his own dreams. The crucial phase of his self-analysis seems to have ended by 1900, but he continued it, on a regular basis, for the rest of his life.

Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality was a momentous step forward in the understanding of human psychology. The theory was shaped by the “Project” and by Freud’s powerfully working intuition. The influence of the “Project” can be traced, while only its results give evidence of his intuition. Freud’s interpretation of his dreams was the central part of his accelerated self-analysis in 1897. Using the wishfulfillment concept, he found evidence of intense mental activity, with an erotic content, in his own infancy. There is no detailed record of these dream interpretations, but the results of them are in his letters to Fliess. In October 1897, he wrote that when he was two, “Libido towards matrem was aroused; the occasion must have been the journey with her from Leipzig to Vienna, during which we spent the night together and I must have had the opportunity of seeing her nudam.” Libido was intended in the sense he used it later, where he described it as the sexual counterpart of hunger. In his next letter Freud described his love of his mother and jealousy of his father, stated that this was a general occurrence in early childhood, and related it to the Oedipus legend. The next letter after that described infants’ desire for “sexual experiences” they had already known.

Because he held the idea of the nervous reflex as a transfer of a quantity of excitation originating at the sensory periphery, Freud had to assume that the infant must have a source of considerable excitation in order to have aroused libido and “sexual experiences.” By the next month, November 1897, Freud had taken this step. He wrote to Fliess: “We must suppose that in infancy sexual release is not so much localized as it becomes later, so that zones which are later abandoned (and possibly the whole surface of the body) stimulate to some extent the production of something that is analogous to the later release of sexuality.”4 The occurrence of sexual dreams implied the existence of previous sexual experiences. The theory of nervous function implied that excitation from the sense organs had been discharged over pathways opened up during these experiences; this in turn necessitated sense-organ sources of this excitation. Freud did not need to suppose anything about sources of excitation to make the generalization that infants have mental activity that becomes related to adult sexuality. But to save his comprehensive theory he needed to postulate infantile erogenous zones. His developed theory of psychosexual development, in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, is a great elaboration of the ideas he presented to Fliess. His later ideas are elaborations of the 1897 concept that infantile sexual experiences are shaped by the character of inflows of excitation from the sense organs.

The third phase of the development of Freud’s ideas is marked by the elaboration, in terms of a wealth of clinical experience, of the ideas he pioneered in the first two phases. He also applied his psychoanalytic understanding to social theory. The pace of development was slower, but his publications from this period (after 1900) fill nineteen volumes in his collected works. The work published previously and judged psychoanalytic by the editors of the Standard Edition of his writings fill four volumes. His writings in neuropathology, if similarly collected, would fill an additional three or four volumes.

The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1901, has usually been considered Freud’s most important work. In the famous seventh chapter he published for the first time much of the general theory he had formulated in the “Project” in 1895. He remarked that the book had been essentially finished in 1895, but not “written down” until the summer of 18995. In the seventh chapter the brain becomes the “psychic apparatus,” and most other neurological terms are replaced by psychological and psychoanalytic terms (but not all terms are replaced; the basic mode of function is still called the reflex). The volume contains many detailed accounts of dreams and many interpretations, primarily of his own dreams following his formulation of the wish-fulfillment theory. In carrying out these interpretations, Freud refined his understanding of the mode of operation of the unconscious. He discussed displacement, the transfer of hate or love from one person to another, when the transfer makes the resulting conscious emotion acceptable to the ego. For example, sexual desire for the mother might be transferred to another woman. He pointed to the extensive appearance in conscious thought of symbols for repressed thought. The consciously desired woman might be wearing shoes such as the unconsciously desired mother had worn. Regression, the tendency to think in a manner that was appropriate in the earlier life of the individual, was the neurotic equivalent of earlier thought patterns in dream consciousness.

Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, the second in importance of his books, in 1905. This and The Interpretation of Dreams were the only two of his books that he continually revised for succeeding editions. The same concern with the quantity of excitation, its origin, and the time of its impingement that led Freud to postulate infantile sources of sexual excitation in 1897 shaped his elaboration of infantile psychosexual development in this book. The paradigm of the infant learning to suck was, with additions, used in describing the oral stage of development. The lips were an erogenous zone which originated excitation (now libido). The baby did not know (there were no innate processes) how to end this inflow of excitation any more than he knew how to end the inflow of excitation caused by hunger. The inflow of excitation from the lips was ended by the act of sucking. Freud had to make all the erogenous zones consistent with the obvious model of the genitals, which cease to originate excitation after “some kind of manipulation that is analogous to sucking”6. The child’s dependence on the mother for stopping the inflow of excitation, or pleasure, resulted in a psychological makeup marked by receptive dependency.

In the anal phase of infantile development the source of excitation was the anus, and the inflow of excitation was brought to an end by the passage of feces. The child might retain feces so that there would be greater mechanical effect on the anus when the feces was passed or might manipulate the anus. Toilet training interfered with the child’s management of excretion for his pleasure. The psychology of this phase is dominated by obstinacy and retentiveness, with toilet training imparting defensive prohibitions, such as disgust and cleanliness, against manipulating the anus. The phallic phase foreshadows adult sexuality, with the genitals the source of excitation and infantile masturbation the means of ending the inflow. The psychology of this phase is dominated by the Oedipus complex and its derivative competitiveness. Sexual maturity, or the genital phase, had of course the same source of excitation as the phallic phase, but with ego mastery of the drives that dominated the earlier phases.

Passage through the successive stages of psychosexual development influenced the behavior of the adult. In some individuals, the psychological patterns appropriate to infantile stages were dominant in their adult life. The traits associated with the successive phases were not as tidily stated as this summary implies. It was left to Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s most capable followers, to work out the character types associated with the dominance of thought patterns appropriate to each stage of psychosexual development.

The Interpretation of Dreams and Three Essays made evident a novel feature of Freud’s thought: his emphasis on the similarity between normal and abnormal thought and behavior. Dream consciousness was very much like neurotic thought processes. The difference between normal and neurotic sexual behavior could be only a matter of the relative strength of the processes established during the individual’s passage through oral, anal, and phallic phases. That normal and abnormal phenomena were so similar was by no means a new idea, but the theorists of the dominant association psychology, psychiatrists, and theorists in neurology such as Meynert had made only trivial use of the idea.

Freud’s last major contribution to psychoanalytic theory was The Ego and the Id, published in 1923, in which he elaborated on the concept of the superego. In the “Project” he had assumed that ego (then called inhibiting ego) processes were conscious and that those of the id (a term introduced later) were unconscious. The superego was a part of the ego that did not involve consciousness. In what Freud regarded as normal development, the infant first took his mother as the desired sexual object. Oedipal fear of the father (essentially fear of castration by the father) led the infant to give up this object. Fear preventing the mother from being the object of libido, she was replaced with the mental representation of the person himself. The discharge of excitation (now libido) could take place through acts that were in accord with parental commands and therefore did not produce fear. The superego, the result of parental criticism and prohibitions, was Freud’s version of conscience. Two years later Freud wrote in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety that guilt feelings are the result of thoughts or acts not in accord with the superego, the internal representation of the parents. In the new scheme the aim of therapy remained the same: bringing unconscious processes under the control of the conscious ego. But it was now necessary to analyze not only the relatively simple unconscious processes in the id but also the more complex processes in the superego. Freud’s beginning in ego analysis was advanced especially by his daughter Anna.

The focuses in Freud’s writings fit with his view on the use of psychoanalysis. He regarded psychoanalysis as important primarily as a research tool and a theory of the determinants of human thought and behavior based on his research. The therapeutic usefulness of the method and theory he considered quite secondary. He did not believe psychoanalytic therapy was efficacious except in cases of hysteria and obsessional neuroses provided that the patient was relatively young and intelligent. In keeping with this view, he wrote only four detailed case studies after Studies in Hysteria (1895). He used fragments of cases in the rest of his publications to advance and buttress his theoretical expositions. The elaboration of his ideas in the third phase required that the therapist interpret clinical data differently, but there is little discussion in Freud’s work on how to get at clinical data or how to impart interpretations to the patient so that the patient can bring the unconscious material under the control of his ego.

Totem and Taboo, published in 1913, was Freud’s first and most important volume on social theory. He took cues from Darwin’s theory that the first human society consisted of a horde of brothers led by a strong father and from Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough, which described a universal taboo against incest and against killing the totem animal. The sons, driven by their Oedipal urges, killed the father and became leaderless. Their need for a strong leader led them to deify the totem animal, thus establishing the forerunner of religious systems. Social development depended on overcoming, with institutions which forbade incest, the Oedipal desire for the mother. Freud emphasized the continuance of hostile impulses within developed societies in Civilization and Its Discontents (1927). Aggression against the father was repressed by the incorporated parental image, the superego. This repression was institutionalized in social justice. Discontent was an inevitable aspect of civilization because, even though Oedipal aggression had been repressed, the wish had not; and the wish had the same power to produce guilt that the act did.

The dispersion of Freud’s thought in Europe centered in the psychoanalytic movement. The weekly meetings that began at Freud’s house in 1902 developed into the International Psychoanalytic Association, established at Nuremberg in 1910. Swiss participants, including Carl Jung, and of course the Viennese, including Alfred Adler and Sándor Ferenczi, were dominant. At this meeting Ferenczi, with Freud’s encouragement, proposed an authoritarian structure, with an elite determining proper psychoanalytic doctrine. Freud’s attitude was expressed in a statement he made about succession: “When the empire I founded is orphaned, no one but Jung must inherit the whole thing.”7 This aspect of the organization led to the resignation of Eugen Bleuler, professor of psychiatry in Switzerland and the only European member of the association with solid academic credentials in psychiatry. This was the first instance of a failure by the psychoanalytic movement to keep open the lines of communication with European academic psychiatry, and of course it decreased the European influences of Freud’s ideas. Those who were not willing to subordinate their intellects to that of Freud left the association. Alfred Adler disagreed with Freud over the importance of the Oedipus complex and left in 1911. Jung departed in 1914 over differences on the importance of sexuality and also because of personal conflicts with Freud.

The response to the developing threat of Jung’s schism was the formation of the Committee, a permanent elite to guarantee the maintenance of what had already become an orthodoxy. The members of the committee agreed that if any of them wished to depart from any of “the fundamental tenets of psychoanalytical theory—for example, the conception of repression, of the unconscious, of infantile sexuality—he would promise not to do so publicly before first discussing his views with the rest.”8 The founder and for many years chairman of the committee was Ernest Jones; the other members were Abraham, Harms Sachs, Ferenczi, Otto Rank, and, later, Max Eitingon. Freud had passed from seeking to being an intellectual father figure: Breuer was fifteen years older than Freud, Fliess a year younger, and the members of the committee were between sixteen and twenty-nine years younger than Freud. All remained loyal except Rank, who broke with Freud in 1929 after several years of agonizing over the departure from his mentor. The committee had at least equal responsibility with Freud for the authoritarian nature of the movement. In the case of Rank, Freud first welcomed Rank’s radical departure from his theory of psychosexual development, in which Rank made the birth trauma crucial, but was influenced by the committee not to accept this novelty. Freud became convinced that Rank’s own neurotic psychology led to his revisionism, a reason too often used by Freud and his followers to explain objections to Freud’s ideas.

The cultish aspect of the European psychoanalytic movement was one of the reasons for the relatively small influence of Freud’s views there. (More important reasons will emerge in the discussion below of his far greater influence in America.) Most important was that their opportunity to influence was blocked when the Nazis came to power in the early 1930’s They regarded psychoanalysis as a Jewish doctrine, proscribed it, and forced many of its adherents, the majority of whom were Jewish, to flee. Often they went first to England, where psychoanalysis was more accepted than in any country except America. With appropriate employment limited in England, many came to America, where they greatly augmented the influence of Freud’s ideas.

The United States has given Freud his stature in the history of thought. Long before he was accorded any equivalent honor in Europe, he was invited to give a series of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, to mark its twentieth anniversary. G. Stanley Hall, a prominent psychologist and president of Clark, extended the invitation. Freud was enthusiastically received by James Putnam, professor of neurology at Harvard, who was to become president of the new American Psychoanalytic Society in 1910. Reputable American journals were open to Freud and his followers, while in Europe they published mostly in journals that they themselves had established. American physicians were the central element in the transmission of Freud’s through. From its beginnings, they dominated the American Psychoanalytic Association. (This led to the break of this association with the International Psychoanalytic Association over the question of whether psychoanalysts should be physicians in addition to having analytic training under the supervision of the psychoanalytic organization. In 1938 the American association, opting for medical qualification, separated from the international association. Freud had repeatedly stated that medical training was not of value to psychoanalysts.) The physicians’ dominance of organized psychoanalysis, and the acceptance of parts of Freud’s thought by physicians outside organized psychoanalysis, led American laymen, with their general respect for physicians, to respect psychoanalysis. Only the influence on American medicine will be outlined here, the rationale being that while Freud’s thought affected all Americans who studied human thought and behavior, the influence on physicians was crucial for the general acceptance of Freud and the content of the influence tended to be the same for an anthropologist or a literary critic as it did for a physician.

By 1920 most American physicians interested in neurology and psychiatry had taken some account of Freud’s theories. They prided themselves on their eclecticism, and many of them had accepted part of his thought. An important reason for this was that they were familiar with psychological therapies for illnesses assumed to have important, if not exclusively, psychological causes. Adolf Meyer had emphasized the patient’s specific psychological history, as Freud did, and had used counseling as therapy. William A. White was ready to include a discussion of Freud’s thought in a textbook of psychiatry he published in 1909, because his own dynamic psychiatry had prepared him to accept much of Freud’s work as soon as he became familiar with it. Many American physicians had begun using psychotherapeutic techniques, two variants being called persuasion and reeducation, in the first decade of the twentieth century. These methods did not carry with them the theoretical luggage that Freud’s free association method did. The Americans did or did not use such methods according to each physician’s estimate of their efficacy; they approached psychoanalysis in the same pragmatic way. They thus reversed Freud’s position that psychoanalysis was valuable chiefly as a theory and a research method to advance the theory and only secondarily as a means of therapy. There was an open-mindedness among American physicians not evident in Europe. A. A. Brill, the most energetic advocate of Freud in the United States, had patients referred to him by physicians who were opposed to Freud’s thought. They apparently acted on the assumption that for these particular cases it might work, and they did not isolate Brill for his opinions. Psychoanalysts remained part of the medical establishment, albeit a small part.

Freud’s name became the one most often associated with psychotherapy in general, and the distinction between the Freudian approach and any psychotherapy was blurred for many physicians. Nevertheless, there were influences more specific than Freud’s furthering of psychotherapy in general. His thought brought about a greater emphasis on early childhood and on the sexual determinants of behavior. Psychotherapy used more exploratory techniques, in an attempt to reconstruct the etiology of a disease, and less exhortation to the patient to change himself. The few members of the American Psychoanalytic Association were of course more conversant with Freud’s thought, and most of them used free association in relatively pure form.

The culmination of Freud’s influence on American medicine came after World War II. Frorp 1920 until the late 1930’s the number of psychoanalysts in the United States did not greatly increase. The European refugees increased their numbers in the 1930’s but it was one small group joining another. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s there was a rapid increase in their number. Psychiatry shared in the great increase of federal funds available for medical research and education, and the disbursement of these funds was often controlled by people strongly inclined toward a Freudian approach. Federal funds after the war financed research and academic positions that were most often filled with psychoanalysts or with men who had indicated their acceptance of analysis by undergoing analysis themselves. Nearly all the chairmen of psychiatry departments since 1946 have been psychoanalyzed. Psychoanalysis became entrenched in the medical school curriculum, often being the core of the basic course in psychiatry. The general increase in prosperity in the United States was also essential to the increased number of psychoanalysts. Psychoanalysis required far more time from the physician than any other therapy, psychological or physical, and was therefore costly. Only an affluent people could afford psychoanalysis. The sponsorship of Freud’s thought by the medical establishment was an important part of the context in which one implication of his thought became influential—an implication he never intended. He had emphasized the similarity of normal and abnormal behavior. Especially in his writing on social theory, he had found aspects of mental illness manifest in society at large. An extension of this emphasis was a radical redefinition of mental illness. Mental illness had been that which was marked by bizarre symptoms. Freud’s patients, for example, had psychogenic paralyses. were unable to go out into the street, or repeatedly washed their hands. American psychoanalysts only rarely saw such cases. Their patients typically had an inability to form adequate personal relationships. Such inabilities were explicable in terms of Freud’s thought, but he never proposed devoting most of the resources of psychiatry to curing them. The other side of this coin was a neglect of the mentally ill who did have bizarre symptoms, mainly those in institutions in a period in which psychiatry had far more financial support than it had ever had before.

Psychoanalysis was no longer equated with Freud’s thought, but his influence remained. The libidinous inflow of excitation was no longer taken as the sole motive power for the symptoms of mental illness but was one among several drives given equal theoretical status. Yet much of Freud’s descriptions of infantile psychosexual development as the primary determinant of adult psychology was incorporated into more complex theories. Above all, his general view of the unconscious remained influential. Most psychoanalytic theories included the unconscious as the sum of processes that, while not observable consciously, determine conscious thought and are organized so as to satisfy needs, although the needs are not necessarily consciously recognized. While the psychoanalytic hegemony over American psychiatry and the medical hegemony over psychotherapy began to break up in the 1960’s, there was by 1970 no clear indication of how this would affect the influence of Freud’s thought.


1. Jones, I, 5

2. Amacher, p. 24

3.Studies in Hysteria, in Standard Edition, II, 199–200

4.The Origins of Psychoanalysis, pp. 215–232

5. Jones, I 351

6.Three Essays, in Standard Edition, VII, 184.

7. Ludwig Binswanger, Sigmund Freud: Reminiscences of a Friendship (New York, 1957), p. 31.

8. Jones II, 152.


I. Orinigal Works. The definitive ed. of Freud’s work is in English: Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, James Strchey ed 23 vols. (London, 1953–1966) vol. XXIV in preparation. This is a magnificently edited work, with many annotations giving both details and interpretations. It is a variorum edition and includes with each article or book a bibliography of earlier eds. in German and English Vol. XXIV will contain a full bibliography and an index to the entire work. Freud’s neurological writings (and an incomplete bibliography of his works) are listed in The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes: 1887–1902, Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Ernst Kris, eds. (New York, 1954). This includes an annotated English trans. of the “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (also in vol. I of the Standard Edition). An incomplete listing of the various eds. of Freud’s works and of secondary works on Freud is in Alexander Grinstein, ed., The Index of Pyschoanalystic Writing 9 vols, (New York 1956–1966). These vols. list works published through 1960: vols. in preparation will list works published through 1968.

II. Secondary Literature. The standard biography of Freud remains Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols. (New York, 1953–1957). This must be used with caution regarding two of its aspects. Jones brought together a great deal of material, but he was not consistently accurate in his use of it and was too much the disciple of Freud to make very critical interpretations. For Freud’s life, a recent book by Paul Roazen is somewhat corrective to Jones and otherwise useful: Brother Animal (New York, 1969). It has valuable biographical information on Freud, references to material not available to Jones, and discussions of the tendentious editing for publication of Freud’s letters by his followers.

The Freud Archive in the Library of Congress apparently contains most of the unpublished material relevant to Freud. The largest part of it was not to be used for fifty years, but this restriction has not been applied consistently. Serious scholars should consult the library as to the possibility of using the archive. The present study is in part based on the author’s Freud’s Neurological Education and Its Influence on Psychoanalytic Theory, Psychological Issues Monograph no. 16 (New York, 1965). The discussion of Freud’s American influence relies heavily on John Chynoweth Burnham, Psychoanalysis and American Medicine, 1894–1918: Medicine, Science, and Culture, Psychological David Shako and David rapport. The Influence of Freud on American Psychology, Psychological Issues Monograph no. 13 (New York, 1964), are unusual in their careful analyses of Freud’s influences.

Peter Amacher

Freud, Sigmund Schlomo (1856-1939)

views updated May 21 2018


Sigmund Schlomo Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg (now Priborg), Moravia (now the Slovak Republic), and died on September 23, 1939, in London. He was the son of Amalia Nathanson and of Jakob Freud, a draper, who had two children (Emanuel and Philipp) from a previous marriage. Freud was the first child of a couple in which the husband was forty years old, twice as old as his young wife. Over the next ten years, five daughters and two more sons would be born.

He was circumcised a week after birth. When he was two years old, a younger brother, Julius, died at the age of seven months, the first of several traumas of his early childhood. Others included the arrest for theft of "Nanie" his nurse; the departure of his father for Austria after a series of bad business dealings; the emigration to Great Britain of his older half-brothers and their children, his first playmates; and, most crucially, his own exile at the age of three. He rejoined his father in Vienna in the company of his mother after a lengthy train trip that left a deep impression on him.

He remembered his constant poverty following his arrival in the Austrian capital in 1859 and during his childhood, but alluded only once to the family's shame after his uncle Josef was condemned to ten years of forced labor for trafficking in counterfeit currency in 1866. He was a brilliant student, however, and after completing his "matura" (equivalent of the first year of college), was able to choose between law and natural science. He enrolled in medical school and after briefly studying philosophy (Franz Brentano was one of his teachers), decided to major in zoology.

In the summer of 1875, after a brief stay in Great Britain with his half-brothers in Manchester, he was able to put together a better idea of his place in the family genealogy. The following year he obtained a research grant to work at the Experimental Zoology Station of the University of Vienna in Trieste, where his work helped demonstrate the existence of testicles in the male eel. His work was presented to the Academy of Sciences in March 1877 and published in April (1877b), signaling his entry, at the age of twenty-one, into the world of science. In the following years his research and personal interest led him to study the anatomy of the nervous system; he hoped that through his research he would be able to achieve what he had always dreamed offinancial security. But in spite of his success, his material life remained precarious.

In October 1876 he entered Professor Ernst Brücke's Physiologisches Institut, where he remained until 1882. He became friends with the two assistants, Ernst von Fleischl and Josef Breuer, and investigated the posterior nerve roots of the Petromyzon, or sea lamprey. Impressed by Ernst Brücke's personality, he became an adept of the positivist school of Emil Du Bois-Reymond, who claimed that biology could be explained by physico-chemical forces whose effects are strictly deterministic. In March 1881, Freud was made doctor of medicine, while continuing his research and writing on subjects as distant from human clinical practice as the nerve cells of crayfish.

But his future as a laboratory researcher was called into question when he met Martha Bernays, who became his wife four years later. He needed to provide an income for his future household, and followed the advice Brücke had given him in Juneto abandon pure research and go into medical practice. This prospect failed to excite Freud, as he wrote many years later, "After forty one years of medical activity, my self-knowledge tells me that I have never really been a doctor in the proper sense. I became a doctor through being compelled to deviate from my original purpose; and the triumph of my life lies in my having, after a long and roundabout journey, found my way back to my earliest path. I have no knowledge of having had any craving in my early childhood to help suffering humanity. My innate sadistic disposition was not a very strong one, so that I had no need to develop this one of its derivatives. Nor did I ever play the 'doctor game'; my infantile curiosity evidently chose other paths. In my youth I felt an overpowering need to understand something of the riddles of the world in which we live and perhaps even to contribute something to their solution" (1927a).

Freud worked in various departments of the Vienna General Hospital to complete his training. While continuing his research on cerebral anatomy and pathology, he became interested in psychiatry (while working with Professor Theodor Meynert) and the nascent field of neurology. This very likely contributed to Freud's failure to reap the rewards of his research on cocaine, which he had begun in 1884. More preoccupied with its euphoric effects and what he incorrectly believed to be its ability to serve as a substitute for the opiates, he missed the opportunity to discover its local ocular anesthetic properties. For several years he continued to ingest a certain amount of cocaine to overcome his timidity and increase his ability to work, which he discussed openly in his correspondence.

Appointed privatdocent in July 1885, he requested a grant to study neurology with Jean Martin Charcot in Paris. His internship at the Salpêtrière Hospital from October 13, 1885, to February 23, 1886 derailed his other projects, by exposing him to disturbances of mental origin. In terms of etiological research as well as his career as a specialist in neurology, the clinical lessons of the Parisian master, then at the height of his glory, demonstrated to Freud the importance of syndromes that had until then been characterized as "hysterical." Charcot's personality fascinated Freud and this first trip outside the Viennese family circle was to have a decisive effect on his future.

After returning to Vienna he set up a private practice on April 25, 1886, after a short stay in Berlin working with Professor Joseph Baginsky, where he familiarized himself with pediatrics. This enabled him, over a ten-year period, to maintain a steady practice in the department of neurology that the pediatrician Max Kassowitz (1842-1923) had opened at the Vienna Institute for Child Diseases. Once established he was finally able to get married, which he did on September 13, 1886. But his attempt to become Charcot's spokesman among Viennese neurologists and psychiatrists met with open rejection, especially from Theodor Meynert. Demanding, vulnerable, and passionate, for years he interpreted criticism or ignorance of his contributions as a form of systematic hostility that he often attributed to anti-Semitism, which was widespread in Vienna, especially in academic and medical circles.

His solitude was broken by a meeting that would later develop into a close friendship that lasted for nearly fifteen years. Wilhelm Fliess, an otorhinolaryngologist (ear-nose-and-throat specialist) in Berlin, gradually became a confidant who could share some of Freud's doubts and research activities, and a witness to the clinical experiments and theoretical hypotheses that littered the long road leading to the birth of psychoanalysis. An extensive correspondence and several meetings, referred to as "conferences," enabled them to exchange ideas about their research, which often fell upon deaf ears when Freud clearly overestimated his friend's comprehension. They also exchanged personal information. For Freud it was the anxiety about money and the birth of six children in succession, something Fliess's theories on menstruation and the hope that they brought of a possible method of contraception failed to resolve.

Their friendship gradually took the place of an earlier friendship with an older Viennese doctor, Josef Breuer. Breuer, who had helped Freud financially and professionally early in his career, had also related to him, in 1882, the story of his patient Anna O. and her treatment by the "cathartic method" that she and Breuer had invented. Having experimented with hypnosis for a period of time, Freud had determined that it was ineffective, especially after an 1889 visit to Nancy to see Hippolyte Bernheim, Charcot's rival. He then decided to make use of the "talking cure" Breuer had mentioned. This involved, in the attempt to overcome the patient's resistance, bringing back to consciousness an apparently forgotten memory, which had been repressed, of the first appearance of a symptom. This made hypnosis no longer necessary; gradually, the technique of incessant questioning it had given way to was in turn abandoned, in favor of the free association of ideas. Freud had developed the hypothesis of the unconscious, together with the idea that disturbances had their origin in the history of the subject's infantile sexuality.

These statements were shocking to many, especially because of Freud's public intransigence concerning them, and it was not without considerable reluctance, ultimately leading to the end of their friendship, that Josef Breuer agreed to cosign the Studies in Hysteria in 1895. Wilhelm Fliess remained his only confidant and the only one who listened to his theoretical suggestions and the results of his day-to-day clinical observations. Sexual etiology and childhood seduction by a parent were among the earliest etiological ideas, but the death of his father in October 1896 led Freud to question these ideas, and to practice the same methods on himself he had been using on his patients. His self-analysis continued throughout the summer and fall of 1897 and the discoveries followed: psychic reality, the Oedipus complex, and so on. Under various forms Freud would continue to question himself, as shown by his statement to James Jackson Putnam in 1911"A self-analysis must be continued indefinitely. I note, in my own case, that each new attempt has brought surprises" (November 5 letter)and the article dedicated to Romain Rolland, "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis." (1936a)

Prompted by the frequency with which his patients spontaneously reported their dreams to him, Freud began to investigate their unconscious meanings. The first dream to which he applied his new method of interpretation through the fragmentation and association of ideas was the "injection given to Irma," of July 23, 1895. His systematic investigation of this dream became the origin of The Interpretation of Dreams, published at the end of 1899, but dated 1900 (1900a). It is a fundamental work in what Freud had referred to for the first time in 1896 (in an article published in French in the Revue neurologique ) as "psychoanalysis."

The book was widely praised but sold poorly (421 copies in six years), although this did not impede his work. It was a period in which he described himself as a "conquistador," thereby summarizing the mixture of enthusiasm and obstinacy that characterized his personality. Anxious, suffering from hypochondriacal illnesses of the stomach and heart, preoccupied with the calculation of dates predicting his death, undecided about whether to continue or abandon smoking; there is nothing of the austere scholar depicted by his biographers. But he was primarily an indefatigable worker, who stayed up late at night to answer letters (a correspondence estimated at more than twenty thousand letters) and would fill large sheets of paper with his broad gothic handwriting.

As his friendship with Fliess waned, he prepared the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b) and took notes for the Dora case, which was not published until 1905. Some of those who attended his courses at the university went to see him, either to be treated, like Wilhelm Stekel, or to discuss innovative theories with him. They formed the "Wednesday Psychological Society," which met every week and, in 1908, became the first Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. The publication of Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905c) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d); followed by a collection of his earliest articles, Sammlung kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre aus den Jahren 1893-1906 (1906b); helped him break out of what he described as his "splendid isolation." Readers intrigued by the originality of his hypotheses came to visit him in Vienna: Max Eitingon in January 1907, Ludwig Binswanger and Carl Gustav Jung in February, Karl Abraham in December 1907, Sándor Ferenczi in February 1908. They were to form the core group of his future disciples.

In response to the growing number of followers and the high level of interest, the first International Psychoanalytical Congress was held in Salzburg on April 27, 1908. Freud spoke for nearly five hours on the Ratman (1909d), a case which, by systematizing nondirectivity, helped establish the parameters of the psychoanalytic "framework." Here the patient was stretched out on a couch with the psychoanalyst seated behind him, out of sight of the patient, sessions were held daily and lasted for about an hour, the patient was free to say whatever he wished. Freud laid down the groundwork for the theory of "transference" with the therapist and, in 1910, in response to Curl Gustav Jung's affair with his patient Sabina Spielrein, the theory of the "counter-transference." That same year, the risks of "wild" psychoanalysis led to the creation, at Ferenczi's initiative, of an international psychoanalytic association to monitor the development of "die Sache" (the cause) and distinguish the wheat from the chaff among its practitioners.

Although Freud maintained friendly relations with Sándor Ferenczinotwithstanding periods of tension and the short analysis his younger colleague began with him in 1914until Ferenczi's death in 1933, his relationships with his other students were often strained. Alfred Adler, who developed a theory based on aggression, the will to power, and organ inferiority, and rejected sexual etiology, distanced himself from Freud to found a new school in 1911. He was followed by Wilhelm Stekel in 1912. But the greatest disappointment came from Carl Gustav Jung, who in 1909 had been declared "successor and crown prince" by Freud, who had glimpsed the doors of academic psychiatry opening to him, along with the possibility that psychoanalysis would no longer be viewed as a "Jewish matter." Their personal relationship, as shown in their correspondence, and the intellectual exchange this involved, encouraged Freud to study psychosis, using the Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Schreber (1911c), and to speculate on anthropological issues, of which Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a) is the first expression.

However, Jung's personality was such that he could not remain for long in the position of the submissive son, and his religious training and interest in mysticism led to no more than a superficial acceptance of Freud's materialism and insistence on sexual etiology. This rejection of what was considered an outrageous and obscene "pansexualism" was fairly general, even though Freud gradually enlarged the concept of sexuality, which the majority of his critics reduced to adult forms of genital sexuality. The concepts of "infantile sexuality" and "polymorphous perversity" were even more unacceptable to those who believed they sullied what was believed to be an original infantile purity.

As is often the case in such situations, Jung's departure in 1914 served as a spur to Freud's creativity, who wrote "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c) and developed his analysis of the primal scene in his essay on the Wolfman, which he also completed that year (1918b [1914]). He also provided the first historical overview of the origins of psychoanalysis in On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement (1914d), which was intended to sway those who were still undecided between him and Jung.

The First World War seemed to sound the death knell for the young science of psychoanalysis. Freud's sons were at the front and he initially supported a German victory. However, he soon revised his position, which he explained in "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" (1915b). Times were difficult and material scarcity became a growing problem as war progressed. However, it was also a period of considerable intellectual creativity, and Freud laid out the groundwork for the broad theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis, primarily the twelve essays on metapsychology, only five of which (and the newly discovered draft of the twelfth) were published. In spite of his pessimism there was renewed interest in psychoanalysis among the public and within the medical establishment when it proved useful in treating war neuroses. The end of hostilities brought about a minor institutional triumph for, following the Fifth International Psychoanalytical Congress in Budapest (September 28-29, 1918), Béla Kun's revolutionary government offered a university chair to Sándor Ferenczi. Another Hungarian, the rich brewer Anton von Freund, whom Freud analyzed, invested his fortune in "the cause," which led to the creation of the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, but he died of cancer in 1920.

Freud was sixty-five at this time, and around him he saw sickness and death. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g) reflected this, with its theory of the repetition compulsion and the duality between a life impulse, Eros, and a death impulse, Thanatos, whose theoretical necessity Freud maintained until his death, despite the opposition of many psychoanalysts to such "speculation." In real life his daughter Sophie (he called her "Sunday's child") died during the Spanish flu epidemic, on January 25, 1920. Three years later, in April 1923, he experienced the first signs of cancer of the jaw, which had a profound effect on the remaining sixteen years of his life; that same year, on June 19, his favorite grandson, Heinele, died.

He was now sixty-seven years old and, although he often complained of growing old, this was but one of the many hypochondriacal conditions he had always referred to in his letters. His fear of death is most evident in his superstitious fears and morbid calculations, borrowed from Wilhelm Fliess, but the fateful days passed without event. Freud also showed considerable interest in telepathy and clairvoyance, and conducted experiments in this field, often together with Sándor Ferenczi.

In spite of his shortness, he was still the "professor" and was authoritarian with his family, his students, and his patients. He showed himself to be the undisputed leader of the psychoanalytic movement, interest in which he stimulated through his many publications. He had overcome pain and disappointment, and watched as the "cause" to which he had devoted his life continued to grow. Interest spread to France, and its identification with a founding father, a Mosesfor Freud the creator of monotheismseemed increasingly justified. It is in this context that his decision to become his daughter Anna's analyst must be understood. This is not as unusual as it may seem, especially for the time, and Freud speaks of it in his letters. It was only after the Second World War that Anna Freud's accession to the status of guardian of Freudian orthodoxy cast into oblivion a form of training so inconsistent with the strict criteria that had been laid out. There was a risk the lapse would be viewed as something very nearly incestuous.

With the onset of his cancer, old age and death became a reality for Freud. It was at this time that he strengthened the death instinct and deepened the concept of identification discussed in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c). He also revised the theoretical model that he had been developing for the past quarter-century with the "second topographical" structure introduced in The Ego and the Id (1923b). Some of his contemporaries, like Otto Rank, were reluctant to accept Freud's newest theories, which appeared to disturb the fantastic and somewhat unreal experience represented by the birth of psychoanalysis for those who had lived through it. Freud's life was now marked by painful and disfiguring operations that forced him to interrupt his activities while he recovered in the Weiner Cottage-Sanatorium or the Schloss Tegel clinic, which Ernest Simmel ran from 1927 to 1931 in Berlin. The uncomfortable prosthetic devices he was required to wear caused him to remain silent for long periods of time.

Change was in the works, however. There were disagreements within the secret committee, formed at the request of Ernest Jones in 1912 to provide support for Freud during Jung's defection, and it ceased to exist entirely in 1927. The quarrels weren't so much about who would inherit Freud's mantle, as they were about jealousies and rivalries, all of which helped feed Freud's increasingly pessimisticsome would say realisticvision of the human race. The first generation of psychoanalysts had evolved and began to develop their own theories. It often fell to Freud to resolve the resulting theoretical disputes and arbitrate personal conflicts.

Freud never claimed to be a great therapist and was often irritated by the "furor sanandi " shown by some of his followers, notably Sándor Ferenczi, as being contrary to a strictly psychoanalytic attitude. Although he had encouraged the use of "active technique" in 1918-1920, he hesitated to complete the project for a "psychoanalytic method" that his followers demanded of him and which he had begun to write down in 1908. During this last period of his life, he devoted himself almost exclusively to training analyses. Having been a patient of Freud was widely viewed as a kind of diploma, and there was an unending stream of candidates, especially from North and South America.

His theoretical interest turned increasingly to what he felt to be his most important contribution: the importance of psychoanalysis to culture. It was in keeping with this that he resumed his anthropological ideas about the primitive horde and the murder of the primitive father, which had been introduced in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a), extending their scope with the new theory of impulses, the importance of primal fantasies, and the concept of primary identification (in 1923b). In The Future of an Illusion (1927c), Freud analyzed religious sentiment; aside from being an affirmation of his scientific and materialist beliefs, the book also served as a warning against the religious leanings that jeopardized psychoanalysis. Civilization and its Discontents (1930a) resumed the discussion of human destiny, torn between its contradictory impulses and condemned to negotiate the avoidance of suffering for its survival. Freud's focus on culture in his writings became increasingly obvious; he described a "process of civilization" whose evolution paralleled the process of mental development in the individual. The last essay, "Weltanschauung," in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933a) resumed these themes, which had also been discussed in his letter to Albert Einstein, "Why War?" (1933b), but it was in Moses and Monotheism (1939a) that Freud outlined the last great fresco of man's relation to culture, which continued to preoccupy him.

Freud continued to refine psychoanalytic theory. The second topographical model and the theory of impulses, "our mythology," as he called it in 1933, as well as upheavals in the psychoanalytic movement, led to new considerations and refinements. Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926d) is a response to the reduction of the Oedipus theory to the "birth trauma" proposed by Otto Rank in 1924, the first manifestation of a defection that would continue until 1926. "The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex," (1924d) "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes," (1925j) and "Female Sexuality" (1931b) provide an outline of the libido that was supported by the work of the first female psychoanalysts. The emphasis on a phallic phase responded to the criticism of Ernest Jones on Freudian views about femininity, discussed in chapter 30 of the New Introductory Lectures (1930a). There, Freud insists on the primordial role played by the threat and fear of castration. The ego defenses raised to counter the threat led Freud to introduce elements for a new approach to perversion, which he did in "Negation" (1925h). "Fetishism," (1927e) and his final manuscript, "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense." (1940e [1938]) Freud gave increasing consideration to the death impulse in his clinical work and eventually it became not speculative but a key element of his theory, in spite of the opposition of many of his students.

Some of his older students passed awayKarl Abraham in 1925 and Ferenczi, who had grown distant from him, in 1933. The most important person in Freud's circle was now Anna, his daughter. While she was undergoing analysis, Freud arranged her initial contacts with the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, to which she was elected a member in 1922. The worsening of his cancer and subsequent infirmity led to his becoming increasingly dependent on his "Antigone," who began to represent him at conferences and accepted the Goethe Prize in his stead, when it was awarded in 1930 by the city of Frankfurt to acknowledge the literary value of his writing. She took his place at the funeral of his mother, Amalia Freud-Nathanson, who died at the age of ninety-five in September 1930. It is easy to understand why Freud looked askance at Ernest Jones and English psychoanalysts when, in 1925, they welcomed Melanie Klein and her theories, which contradicted the views of Anna Freud on child psychoanalysis.

Moreover, the Old World was crumbling, incapable of stopping the rise of Adolf Hitler. Freud's books were burned publicly in May 1933, and Jewish psychoanalysts were forced to flee or condemned to death. Initially, Freud negotiated in the hope of preserving the "cause," but the Anschluss forced him to face the bleak reality. With the assistance of Princess Marie Bonaparte, who, after an analysis begun in 1925, had become an attentive and influential friend, and the U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt, with whom he had attempted to write a psychological study of President Woodrow Wilson (1966b), he was able to emigrate with his wife and daughter to Great Britain on June 6, 1938. His other children as well as his brother Alexander left Austria, but his four sisters remained in Vienna; they died in the Nazi concentration camps in 1942 and 1943.

The "peau de chagrin " (Balzac's novel was one of the last books he read) began to tighten around Freud, who had settled on the outskirts of London, where he continued to write and see patients. The onset of the Second World War on September 1, 1939, and his physical decline led him to ask Max Schur, his doctor, to keep the promise they had made when they first met: not to give him a sedative but to shorten his suffering when he felt the hour was near. He died on September 23, 1939, and three days later his ashes were placed in a Greek urn that, knowing his fondness for antiques, Marie Bonaparte had given him.

Freud's death did not go unnoticed in spite of the upheavals in Europe and elsewhere. Aside from the eulogies and numerous critical assessments, it marked the beginning of a considerable expansion of psychoanalysis that began in the United States, a country Freud claimed to have little liking for. It also resulted in an astonishing idolization of Freud in the years following the war. For a time, under the impetus of the lengthy biography written by Ernest Jones, Freud became a subject for hagiography; mention of his name took the place of original thinking and the "return to Freud" served as a theoretical pretext, for others as for Jacques Lacan in France. The home at Maresfield Gardens, where Martha Freud died in 1951, became, under the watchful eye of Anna Freud, the center of Freudianism and, after her death in 1982, was transformed into a museum, as was Freud's apartment at Berggasse 19 in Vienna. In New York, Kurt Eissler began gathering documents and eye-witness accounts of Freud for the Freud Archives. However, because of his demand for secrecy, this material was for years kept from researchers, arousing their anger, exciting their curiosity, and giving rise to a number of spiteful rumors.

By the 1960s Freud's books were often bestsellers. The body of Freud's writings increased with the publication of his correspondence to his students and friends. His letters to Wilhelm Fliess, purchased in 1937 by Marie Bonaparte and miraculously preserved throughout the Second World War, provided insights into the birth of psychoanalysis, a theme that was to serve as inspiration for filmmakers and dramatists (among others, John Huston's film, Freud, of 1962). Unfortunately, some passages were censured, which led to the growth of research on an unexpurgated history of Freud and psychoanalysis. Paul Roazen helped promote these efforts with his study on the relationship between Freud and Viktor Tausk (1969), which emphasized Freud's responsibility in the suicide of this brilliant student and triggered a backlash against "orthodox" Freudians by adversaries who, thirty years later, would be labeled "revisionists." Ardent supporters and angry critics confronted one another on a regular basis. Freud and his ideas were called into question by an increasingly large number of people, in a way compensating for the glorious early years psychoanalysis. The number of essays and criticisms multiplied with the discovery of historical documentssome authentic, some not. The anger and bitterness of his critics became increasingly obvious, betrayed by the excess of the accusations: there was an alleged attempt on Fliess's life, reports of lies about his patients or errors of diagnosis by a Freud who was hungry for glory, tales of a ménageà trois involving Minna Bernays, and rumors of an abortion. A band of "moralists" obsessed with the "truth" about Freud and Freudianism kept up the pressure, especially in the United States.

On a more serious note, after the leading biography by Fritz Wittels, which had irritated Freud in 1924, and the monument erected by Ernest Jones from 1953 to 1957, a number of books have been written to describe Freud's life and work, by serious scholars: Max Schur (1972), Ronald W. Clark (1980), Peter Gay (1988). Some of these presented original, and often questionable, interpretations of Freud's work, such as the biographies by Frank Sulloway (1979) and Marianne Krüll (1979). The gradual appearance of new documents and the opening of the secret archives opened the door to future research and new assessments of Freud's importance for the history and evolution of the civilization of his time and for human thought.

Alain de Mijolla

Works discussed: Autobiographical Study, An ; Civilization and its Discontents ; "Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest" "Contributions to the Psychology of Love"; "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming"; "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva"; "Dostoyevsky and Parricide"; Ego and the Id, The ; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego ; "Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses"; Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety ; "Instincts and their Vicissitudes"; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious ; "Klinische Studie über die halbseitiger Cerebrallähmung der Kinder" [Clinical study of infantile cerebral diplegia]; Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood ; "Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy"; "Metapsychologic Supplement to the Theory of Dreams"; Moses and Monotheism ; Moses of Michelangelo, The"; "Mourning and Melancholia"; "Negation, The"; "Neurasthenia and Anxiety Neurosis"; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; "Note upon the 'Mystic Writing Pad', A"; "Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis" (Rat Man); "On Narcissism: An Introduction"; "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement"; "On the Sexual Theories of Children"; Phylogenetic Fantasy, A: Overview of the Transference Neuroses ; "On Transience"; "Project for a Scientific Psychology, A"; Question of Lay Analysis, The ; "Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psychoanalysis"; "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through"; "Repression"; "Seventeenth-century Demonological Neurosis, A"; "Sexual Enlightenment Of Children, The"; "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes"; Studies on Hysteria ; "Theme of the Three Caskets, The"; "Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-eighth President of the United States. A Psychological Study"; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality ; "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death"; "Totem and Taboo"; "Uncanny, The"; "Unconscious, The"; "Why War?"; "'Wild' Psycho-Analysis."


Mijolla, Alain de. (1982). Aux origines de la pratique psychanalytique. In R. Jaccard (Ed.), Histoire de la psychanalyse (v. I, pp. 11-43). Paris: Hachette.

. (1989). Images of Freud from his correspondence. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 5, 87-110.

. (1993). Freud, biography, his autobiography and his biographers. Psychoanalytic History, 1 (1), 4-27.

. (1996). Un adolescent bien tranquille. Sig(is)mund Freud, 1870-1876. Cahiers du Collège international de l'Adolescence, 1, 231-267.

Wittels, Fritz. (1924). Sigmund Freud, his personality, his teaching, his school (E. and C. Paul, Trans.). London: Allen & Unwin.

Freud, Sigmund (Siblings)

views updated May 29 2018


Sigmund Freud, born May 6, 1856, was Jakob Freud's third child. From a previous marriage, in 1832 to Sally Kanner, he had two sons, Emanuel and Philipp. After Sally died in 1852, a brief second marriage to a woman named Rebekka also ended with her death. Jakob's third marriage, to Amalie Nathanson on July 29, 1855, produced eight more children. In addition to Sigismund (Sigmund), the firstborn, were born Julius, Anna, Rosa, Marie, Adolfine, Pauline, and Alexander.

Freud, Emanuel

Born in 1833 in Tysmenitz in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Emanuel Freud worked in his father's textile business. In 1852, he married (Kokach), who was born in Milow in Russia in 1834 (perhaps 1836). In Freiberg he settled a few blocks from his father's home at 42, place du Marché. His children's nurse, Monika Zajicova, was said to also have been Sigismund's "Nannie."

Freud's oldest nephew, Johann, was born in Freiberg on August 13, 1855. I have also long known," wrote Freud to Fliess in 1897, "the companion of my mis-deeds between the ages of one and two years; it is my nephew, a year older than myself, who is now living in Manchester and who visited us in Vienna when I was fourteen years old. The two of us seem occasionally to have behaved cruelly to my niece, who was a year younger" (Freud, 1985c, p. 268) "Until the end of my third year we had been inseparable; we had loved each other and fought each other, and, as I have already hinted, this childish relation had determined all my later feelings in my intercourse with persons of my own age" (1900a, p. 424). Freud also wrote, "An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy have coincided in the same person; but not simultaneously, of course, as was the case in my early childhood" (1900a, p. 483). Johann's whereabouts cannot be traced after 1919, and what happened to him in later years is unknown.

On November 20, 1856, Pauline Freud, Sigmund's niece, was born in Freiberg; she would die a spinster in Manchester in 1944. The games she played with John and Sigmund in the meadow covered in yellow flowers, which Freud recalled in "Screen Memories" (1899a), are thought to have taken place during the summer of 1859. Freud's unconscious fantasy of Pauline's defloration by John and himself led some to believe that both boys sexually assaulted the little girl (Krüll, 1979). Towards 1875, it seems that Jakob Freud had the idea of sending Sigmund to England with his brothers and having him marry Pauline.

On February 22, 1859, Bertha Freud was born in Freiberg. She died accidentally from a fall on a staircase in 1944.

Toward 1859-1860, while Jakob and his family left Freiberg for Vienna, Emanuel emigrated with relatives and his brother Philipp to Manchester, England. Solomon Samuel (Sam) Freud, Emanuel's fourth son, was born there on June 28, 1860. His correspondence with Sigmund Freud was eventually published (Freud 1996 [1911-38]. He died in 1945.

On May 12, 1862, Matilda Freud was born in Manchester.

In 1900 Freud described Emanuel to Wilhelm Fliess (Freud 1985c, p. 417) on the occasion of his half-brother's trip to Vienna with his son Sam: "He brought with him a real air of refreshment because he is a marvelous man, vigorous and mentally indefatigable despite his sixty-eight or sixty-nine years, who has always meant a great deal to me."

Freud paid visits to Emanuel in August 1875 and to his sister Rosa in 1884-1885. He went to England for a second two-week visit to his brothers in September 1908.

Emmanuel died from a fall from a train traveling between Manchester and Southport on October 17, 1914, just six days before the anniversary of Jacob's deatha coincidence noted by Freud.

Marie, Emanuel's wife, died in Manchester in 1923.

Freud, Philipp

Philipp Freud was born in Tysmenitz around 1835. He would play an interesting role in his brother's life that Freud would only reconstruct in October 1897 during his self-analysis. It was Philipp who "locked up Nannie in prison" for stealing shortly before the family's departure from Freiberg. He was living across the street from Freud's parents and was the same age as Freud's mother, Amalie. Some authors have imagined from Freud's fantasy that Philipp and Amalie were together as a "couple" with the suggestion that he had an affaire with her (Krüll, 1979). He contributed in any event to the confusion of generations in Freud's mind that was only clarified in 1875 during his visit to England.

Philipp married at about forty years old, in Manchester on January 15, 1873, to Matilda Bloome (Bloomah), from Birmingham (1839-1925). They had two children. Pauline Mary (Poppy) was born on October 23, 1873, married Frederick Oswald Hartwig and died in Bucklow/Chester on June 23, 1951. Morris Herbert Walter was born on April 2, 1876, and died in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on November 28, 1938.

Philipp died in Manchester on August 29, 1911.

Freud (1989a, pp. 126-127) described this part of his family in an 1875 letter to Eduard Silberstein: "You will, no doubt, wish to know about my relatives in England and about my attitude toward them. I don't think I've ever told you much about them. There two brothers on my father's side, from my father's first marriage, twenty-two years older than I, the older, Emanuel, having married in early youth, the younger, Philipp, two and a half years ago. They used to live with us in Freiberg, where the elder brother's three oldest children were born! The unfavorable turn their business took there caused them to move to England, which they have not left since 1859. I can say that they now hold a generally respected position, not because of their wealth, for they are not rich, but because of their personal character. They are shopkeepers, i.e., merchants who have a shop, the elder selling cloth and the younger jewelry, in the sense that word seems to have in England. My two sisters-in-law are good and jolly women, one of them an English woman, which made my conversations with her extremely agreeable. Of those persons in our family whose uncle I may call myself, you are already acquainted with John, he is an Englishman in every respect, with a knowledge of languages and technical matters well beyond the usual business education. Unknown to you, and until recently, to me, are two charming nieces, Pauline, who is nineteen, and Bertha, who is seventeen, and a fifteen-year-old boy by the name of Samuelwhich I believe has been fashionable in England ever since Pickwickand who is generally considered to be a 'sharp and deep' young fellow" (pp. 126-7).

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, the first of Jacob and Amalie Freud's eight children.

Freud, Julius

Julius Freud was born in October 1857 in Freiberg, when Sigmund was eighteen months old. He died the next April, the same year that Amalie's brother, Julius's namesake, also died.

On October 3, 1897, Freud (1985e, p. 268) wrote to Wilhelm Fliess about one of the discoveries of his self-analysis: "that I greeted my one-year-younger brother (who died after a few months) with adverse wishes and genuine childhood jealousy; and that his death left the germ of [self-] reproaches in me."

Bernays-Freud, Anna

Anna Bernays-Freud was born on December 31, 1858, in Freiberg and died on March 11, 1955, in New York. Her relationship with her older brother was often difficult, but she was her father's favorite daughter. In her memoirs (Bernays-Freud, 1940), she recalled Sigmund's special privileges, the fact that he enjoyed his own room, and that it was forbidden to play the piano in order not to disturb him; he also censored what she read.

Anna married Martha's oldest brother, Eli Bernays (1860-1923) on October 14, 1883, with whom Freud, who didn't attend their wedding, felt for a time resentful regarding his sister's dowry.

Anna and Eli emigrated in the United States in 1892 with their two children, Lucy, born in 1886, and Judith born a year earlier. In 1973 the latter, Judith Bernays-Heller, published a brief memoir of her visits to grandparents Jacob and Amalie (Bernays-Heller, 1973). Anna and Eli had three more children: Edward Louis was born in 1891, and Hella and Martha in 1893 and 1894, respectively.

Eli, who enjoyed a brilliant career in business, was in charge of Freud's works in the United States and he had some disagreements with Ernest Jones concerning their English translations. After Eli's death, in 1925 Freud wrote to his son Edward in reply to the latter's proposition: "What deprives all autobiographies of value is their tissue of lies. Let's just say parenthetically that your publisher shows American naivete in imagining that a man, honest until now, could stoop to so low for five thousand dollars. The temptation would begin at one hundred times that sum, but even then I would renounce it after half an hour." On March 8, 1920, he wrote to Ernest Jones, describing Edward as "an honest boy when I knew him. I know not how far he has become Americanized" (Gay 1989, p. 568) and in September he announced, to Jones's chagrin, that his nephew would serve as literary executive for American rights to his works.

Graf-Freud, Regina Deborah (Rosa)

Regina Deborah Graf-Freud (Rosa) was born on March 21, 1860, and died in the Treblinka concentration camp in 1942. Considered his favorite sister, Freud in 1886 acknowledged that the beautiful Rosa, like himself, had "a nicely developed tendency toward neurasthenia" (Freud 1960, p. 210). On October 22, 1874, Freud wrote to Eduard Silberstein: "Rosa has entered a school of drawing and design newly established for the perfection of feminine handicrafts. I have taken charge of the rest of her education and am sacrificing one of my lectures to that end. The gods cannot possibly have rejoiced at this sacrifice as much as I did" (Freud 1989a, p. 67). She would return the favor in various ways, by taking care of his laundry, for example, during his stay in Paris, later by caring for his children during vacations.

Rosa's fate was particularly unfortunate. After a disappointing love affair, she married Heinrch Graf (b. 1852), a physician, on May 17, 1896, but he died in 1908 at the age of fifty-six. Her son, Hermann Adolf, was born on July 13, 1897 and died in action during World War I, in early 1917. Finally, her daughter, Cäcilie, born October 18, 1899, and nicknamed Mausi, whom Freud called "my favorite niece," a dear girl of 23, was unmarried and pregnant when she committed suicide with an overdose of the barbiturate veronal on August 18, 1922.

The last document from Rosa is a letter transmitted by the International Red Cross to Freud's address in London. Twenty five words only were authorized: "Geliebte Martha! Tief bewegt grüssen Dich Alle. Erbitten Deiner Alexanders Familie Befinden. Vier einsam. Traurig. Leidlich. Gesund. S. fruendschaftlich. Ganze Einrichtung bestens engleagert. Graf Rosa" ("Dear Martha! Greetings with heartfelt emotion. Wondering about the state of your Alexander's family. Four alone. Sad. Painful. Health. Yours warmly. Best furnishings in storage. Graf Rosa.")

Rosa was deported in Theresienstadt on August 28, 1942, at the same time as her three sisters, with whom she was living in a increasingly cramped apartment. According to a witness, during the Nuremberg trial, in October 1942 in the Treblinka concentration camp, the commandant of the camp to whom she introduced herself as Sigmund Freud's sister, examined her identification and "said that there was probably some mistake and showed her the railroad signs, telling her that there would be a train to take her back to Vienna in two hours. She could leave her belongings, go into the showers and, after bathing, her documents and her ticket to Vienna would be ready. Rose naturally went into the showers and never returned" (LeupoldLöwenthal, 1989).

Moritz-Freud Maria (Mitzi)

Maria Moritz-Freud (Mitzi) was born on March 22, 1861, and died in the Maly Trostinec, the extermination camp, in 1942. In 1885 she had to work as a governess, which led Freud, then in Paris, while observing nannies with young children, to write Martha: "I couldn't help thinking of poor Mitzi and grew very, very furious and full of revolutionary thoughts" (Freud 1960, p. 173).

In 1887 Mitzi married her Romanian cousin Moritz Freud(1857-1920). They had four children, Margarethe, born in 1887; Lilly Marlé-Freud, born in 1888, who became a well-known actress; Martha Gertrude, born in 1892, who illustrated children books under the name "Tom" and would commit suicide in 1930, a year after her husband the journalist Jakob Seidmann, killed himself; Theodor (Teddy) and born in 1904, whose twin was stillborn and who died from drowning in 1923 in Berlin. Martha's daughter, Angela Seidmann, was in the care of Freud and Anna for a while before emigrating to Haïfa.

Mitzi, reunited with her sisters in Vienna after her husband's death, shared their fate in the Holocaust. She was deported to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, on June 29, 1942, then to Maly Trostinec where she disappeared (Leupold-Löwenthal, 1989).

Freud, Esther Adolfine (Dolfi)

Esther Adolfine (Dolfi) was born on July 23, 1862, and died in 1943 in the concentration camp at Treblinka. She was unmarried and cared for her father Jakob when he fell ill, then of her mother, becoming impetuous Amalie's constant companion, which her nephew Martin considered could not have been a welcome fate. "She was not clever or in any way remarkable, and it might be true to say that constant attendance on Amalie had suppressed her personality into a condition of dependence from which she never recovered" (M. Freud, 1958, p. 16).

Dolfi was deported with Mitzi and Paula to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt on August 28, 1942, where she died from "internal hemorrhages" on February 5, 1943, according to information gathered by Harry Freud after the war, perhaps due to malnutrition. (Leupold-Löwenthal, 1989).

Winternitz-Freud, Pauline Regine (Pauli)

Pauline Regine Winternitz-Freud (Pauli) was born on May 3, 1864, and died in the Holocaust in 1942. She was married to Valentin Winternitz and emigrated to the United States, where their daughter, Rose Beatrice (Rosi), was born on March 18, 1896. After her husband's death in 1900, on Freud's advice, she returned to Berlin, where she lived with her husband's family before joining relatives in Vienna. Deported from that city in June 1942, she was taken first to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, then to the extermination camp or Maly Trostinec (Leupold-Löwenthal, 1989).

In 1913, Rosi, just seventeen years old, developed psychological problems that suggested psychosis. Ten years later and pregnant, she married Ernst Waldinger, a young poet, but the couple was not happy and, in 1931, she had a relapse. Rosi successfully emigrated to the United States and in 1946 entered analysis with Paul Federn in New York, probably with the financial assistance of Anna Freud.

Freud, Alexander Gotthold Efraim

Alexander Gotthold Efraim Freud was born on April 15 (or April 19), 1866, in Vienna, and died in 1943 in Canada. The youngest of the family, his name was chosen by Freud himself at a family meeting.

For a number of years Alexander was closest to his older brother, sharing with him, until Freud married, Easter and summer vacations, mainly in Italy after a first visit there in 1895. He took part in the 1897 trip during which Freud contemplated Luca Signorelli's frescoes, and in the visit to Rome at the end of August 1901. "It was a high point of my life" as wrote Freud to Wilhelm Fliess. He was also with his brother on the Acropolis, during the sudden "disturbance of memory" in Athens in September 1904.

Merry and whimsical and a music-lover, Alexander "was an excellent story-teller who could imitate the various accents of the characters in his stories, as his nephew would write (M. Freud, 1958, p. 17). He did not pursue an education but, intelligent and hardworking, became a specialist in transportation and worked at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. On August 20, 1899, Freud wrote to Fliess: "Alexander was here for four days; he will lecture on tariff rates at the Export Academy and will be given the title and rank of professor extraordinarius after one yearmuch earlier in fact than I" (Freud, 1985c). With his expertise, he was responsible for organizing Freud's voyage to America in 1909.

Also in 1909, Alexander married Sophie Sabine Schreiber in a synagogue, in a double ceremony with his niece Mathilde. His wife gave birth on December 21, 1909, to Harry, their only child. With an excellent livelihood, he shared with Freud the support of their mother and Dolfi. He was, according to his brother, much more upset than he by Amalie's death in 1930. In 1936 he commissioned Wilhelm Victor Krauss to paint Freud's portrait.

In March 1938, shortly after the Alexander emigrated to Switzerland. Sigmund, at the time still in Vienna wrote Ernest Jones (April 28, 1938) that his brother caused him considerable worry; he had reacted badly to the loss of his business and was in poor health. By shared decision, the brothers left a large sum (160,000 Austrian Schillings) to their four sisters that would have been sufficient for a comfortable living in Vienna; they saw no serious danger to their remaining in Vienna. Freud soon realized his mistake and at his request Marie Bonaparte attempted to secure their passage from Austria, but without success.

Alexander gave up his Anglophobia and pro-German sentiments that dated to the First World War to emigrate to London in September 1938, where he also joined his son Harry. It was this latest who wrote to his aunts a letter they never receive and in which he described Sigmund's last days.

Alexander and his wife would emigrate to Canada, where he died in 1943.

See also: Freud, Jacob Kolloman (or Kelemen or Kallamon); Freud-Nathanson, Amalie Malka.


Bernays-Freud, Anna. (November 1940). My brother Sigmund Freud. American Mercury 51 (203), 335-342.

Bernays-Heller, Judith. (1973). Freud's mother and father. In Freud as we knew him. (H.M. Ruitenbeck, Ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Freud, Martin. (1958). Sigmund Freud: Man and father. New York: Vanguard Press.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The Interpretation of Dreams. SE 4-5.

. (1960). Letters. New York: Basic Books.

. (1989). Letters of Sigmund Freud and Eduard Silberstein: 1871-1881. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Krüll, Marianne. (1979). Freud und sein Vater. Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse und Freuds ungelöste Vaterbindung. Beck.

. (1986). Freud and His Father. (Arnold J. Pomerans, Trans.). New York: W.W. Norton. (Original work published 1979).

Leupold-Löwenthal. (1989). Die Vertreibung der Familie Freud 1938. Psyche-Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse und ihre Anwendungen, 43 (10), 908-928.

Freud, Sigmund

views updated Jun 11 2018


(b. Freiburg, Moravia, 6 May 1856; d. London, 23 September 1939)

psychoanalysis, psychiatry, psychotherapy. For the original article on Freud see DSB, vol. 6.

Over the nearly forty years since the original Freud article in the DSB, Sigmund Freud’s biography, his standing, and his influence on twentieth-century thought have been examined in many thousands of books and papers. This article will deal with the more salient developments under three different categories: personal and biobiblio-graphical; scientific, medical, and philosophical; and cultural, institutional, and ethical.

Personal and Biobibliographical . The materials available publicly for the study of Freud’s life and work have expanded enormously, principally through the publication of a major series of correspondences with Freud’s early followers (Wilhelm Fliess, Carl Gustav Jung, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Eugen Bleuler, Ludwig Binswanger, and many others). The archival labors of Kurt Eissler (who founded Sigmund Freud Archives in the 1950s, recorded interviews with many who had known Freud, and amassed a very large number of documents pertaining to Freud) and of Gerhard Fichtner (who has produced reliable databases of Freud’s work and correspondences) have ensured that the wealth of materials relating to Freud rival those of any other major scientific figure (Falzeder 2007). However, some of this material, since deposited at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, was closed to scholars for many years; this policy, like so many other features of Freud’s life and work, became a matter of intense controversy, documented in Janet Malcolm’s fine journalistic account of the politics and personal antagonisms surrounding Freud scholarship (1984).

Freud’s life was celebrated in a quasi-Victorian fashion by the publication in the 1950s of Ernest Jones’s three-volume biography, subsequently criticized for its hagiographical tendencies but never surpassed as a systematically researched and organized source of biographical information. Three major biographies have since been published— by Freud’s doctor Max Schur (1972), Ronald Clark (1980), and Peter Gay (1988)—each with strengths not to be found in Jones, each able to make use of important new material available through archival research and the rapid growth in historical scholarship on Freud, Vienna, and the psychoanalytic movement. In addition, the wave of critical biographical studies of Freud that began in the 1970s sought in his private life (both personal and scientific) and the intimate politics of the psychoanalytic movement the hidden secret that would explain the origins of his thought, his life, his science, and his role in the development of the psychoanalytic profession.

Following on his study of the tense relationship between Freud and a talented Viennese follower, Victor Tausk (1969), Paul Roazen’s study of Freud and his Followers (1974) provided materials for an alternative account of the politics of the growth of psychoanalysis in Freud’s lifetime, centered on a portrait of Freud as an authoritarian, even despotic, and certainly often ruthless leader of his “horde” of followers. In parallel, the researches of Peter Swales on Freud’s life and relationship to his family and patients in the 1890s portrayed Freud’s self-presentation, so important to his account of the development of clinical discoveries, as at best only partial and at worst as fraudulent (Swales, 1983, 1986a, 1986b, 1988, 1989 [1982]).

Equally heterodox and equally headline-catching was the claim of Jeffrey Masson that Freud had, out of intellectual cowardice, reneged on his early etiological claim that the sexual abuse of children was the necessary condition for adult neurosis, and thereby broken faith with his patients: The central position of fantasy and infantile sexuality within psychoanalytic theory was thus, according to Masson, a result of this moral failing, transposed into an equivocal psychological doctrine (Masson, 1984). Importantly for the plausibility of Masson’s revisionist history among a wide audience was the coincidence of his claims with the gathering movement among feminists, clinicians, and social workers throughout the Western world in the early 1980s asserting that the sexual abuse of children, in particular female children, was endemic, consistently underreported, and a major psychopolitical scandal of the twentieth century (Hacking, 1991, 1995). This episode was symptomatic of the way in which revisionist biographical theses concerning Freud and his work could so easily take on larger cultural and medico-scientific resonance (Crews, 1995). Contemporary scientific and political

debates—what was the extent of sexual relations between children and adults? How reliable are procedures for reviving memories of early childhood?—became intimately entangled with biographical claims about Freud. The culmination of the critical and negative attention to Freud’s person was Frederick Crews’s scintillatingly vicious article attacking Freud’s scientific and moral character, “The Unknown Freud” (1993; see Crews, 1995).

Scientific, Medical, Philosophical . If Jones’s biography had set a standard for factual comprehensiveness and James Strachey’s 24-volume Standard Edition(1953– 1974) of Freud in English an unmatchable standard of editorial, philological, and accuracy of translation, furnishing the English language and a series of non-English editions with a literal model, two other works opened up new avenues for serious research on Freud’s ideas: firstly Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967; English translation 1973), a philologically rigorous and philosophically astute conceptual analysis of the key terms in Freud’s scientific work; secondly, Henri Ellen-berger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), which placed Freud’s conception alongside that of Jung, Alfred Adler, and Pierre Janet in a comprehensively researched broader context of a psychodynamic psychiatry that had its roots in the Mesmerism, hypnotism, and German Romantic psychiatry, not to speak of studies of the occult and spiritualism, of the long century preceding Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis. Both the quantity and meticulousness of Ellenberger’s scholarship set a standard that is still rarely met.

Yet both these works were fruits of conventional intellectual history or conceptual analysis. It was increasingly realized that there were many competing visions of Freud’s significance and that these also gave rise to different histories. Through situating Freud in the cultural context of fin-de-siècle Vienna, Carl Schorske gave him the status of an exemplary frustrated political intellectual turning inwards to a science of the interior (1980). Freud’s Jewishness fuelled a considerable number of important studies of the culture of Viennese Jewry (Beller, 1989), of anti-Semitism (Gilman, 1993), of the question of psychoanalysis as a Jewish science (Yerushalmi, 1991). The eruption of political movements in which sexuality and the new historical category of gender played an important part was linked to the social history of sexuality and sexology. The impact on the history of Freud’s theories of sexuality was greatest following Michel Foucault’s three volume study The History of Sexuality(1976), but Stephen Kern (1973) and K. Codell Carter (1980, 1983) and, without influence from Foucault, Gay’s studies of nineteenth-century bourgeois sexuality (1985) provided an entirely new context for Freud’s theories of sexuality. So, too, did Arnold I. Davidson (1988), who reconceived entirely the significance of Freud’s novel “scientific” conception of sexuality with its subversion of the difference between normal and pathological. But the strongest force affecting this aspect of Freud’s work was the rise of feminism and the scholarship that sometimes presented Freud as the principal enemy of the liberation of women’s inner lives from male domination, sometimes as an ally whose inquiry into those inner lives had revealed the complex forces ruling women for the first time (Appignanesi and Forrester, 1992).

Ellenberger’s monumental study was only part of a transformation of the historiography of psychiatry that had profound effects on the portrait of Freud. Foucault in particular demolished the historiography of psychiatry that had portrayed it as the march of enlightened, humanitarian progress culminating in the psychological theories of madness espoused by Freudians. Instead Foucault substituted a history of confinement, of the exclusion of madness and the installation of chains of discipline rather than steel, in which Freud represented the figure of the moral master, the epitome of magical therapeutic power framed by the new institutions, both built of brick and of newly invented therapeutic relationships. The way was prepared for the later historiography of psychiatry, best achieved by Edward Shorter’s A History of Psychiatry(1997), in which Freud represented an interlude between more truly scientific hereditary-genetic, biological-physical, and pharmacological theories of madness that achieved victory in the late twentieth century. Freud’s historical significance for psychiatry now became as inventor of a low-capital-intensive, quasi-scientific practice of talk therapy, easily marketable in middle-class, urban environments, preparatory for the more disguised high-capital-intensive, low-cost delivery of psychopharmacological drugs that would sit uneasily side by side with the still indispensable talk therapies. More specifically on Freud’s relationship with psychiatry, Albrecht Hirschmüller, in addition to providing the definitive study of the science, medical practice, and life of Freud’s mentor and collaborator, Josef Breuer (1989 [1978]), also documented and analyzed major new sources on Freud’s early psychiatric experience and thought (1991).

Applying the sophistication of the professional history of science, Frank J. Sulloway’s Freud: Biologist of the Mind (1979), a major study of the biological roots of Freud’s work, examined its sources within Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionary biology, German developmental biology, and the specific influence of the exotic theories of Freud’s closest scientific colleague in the formative years, Fliess. Even Sulloway’s balanced scholarship became entangled with his less persuasive theses concerning the construction by Freud of “myths” about his own history combined with Sulloway’s internally contradictory thesis that “psychoanalysis” was “really” biology in disguise. The influence of Charles Darwin on Freud, of John Hughlings Jackson and aphasia studies, of Jean-Martin Charcot and the golden era of hysteria in the late nineteenth century, of Freud’s early work on cocaine and its persistent influence on his life and work, of the rise and fall of hypnotism as therapy and as model of human relationships were all comprehensively documented.

Within the philosophy of science, a major study (Grünbaum, 1984) challenged both the Popperian claim that psychoanalysis was not scientific because it was irrefutable, and the claim (as represented by Jürgen Habermas, 1971, and Paul Ricoeur, 1970) that psychoanalysis was not a straightforward natural science, on a par with botany or biochemistry, but a hermeneutic discipline, founded in philosophy and practices of the interpretation of language. Adolf Grünbaum insisted that psychoanalysis did conform to the hypothetico-deductive model of the natural sciences and had generated testable hypotheses, but its principal method of gathering data was irredeemably unreliable and, where trustworthy data had become available, its principal claims had not been confirmed. Some defenders of Freud pointed out that his claims were not scientific in a conventional sense, but rather plausible and effective extensions of everyday psychological explanations and redescriptions—a curious extension and reversal of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s critical claim that psychoanalysis offered only redescription and not conventional, experimentally founded explanations. Analytic philosophers returned to and reexamined Freud’s concepts of the unconscious and explanations of irrational action within the philosophy of mind, where resonances with other contemporary preoccupations—with Jean-Paul Sartre’s account of bad faith, with neuropsychological conceptions of the unconscious—were continually rediscovered.

The reevaluation of Freud as more of an interpreter of the significant world of language and symbol, hence a “social” scientist, maybe even an “artist,” gathered strength as his standing increased in the academic humanities and touched even the question of the appropriate way of translating his work (Bettelheim, 1982; Bourguignon et al, 1989; Ornston, 1992). The strongest, but by no means the only, thread of this reevaluation owed much to the impetus of Jacques Lacan’s “return to Freud” and to the acceptance of Freud in French intellectual life as an unmatched innovator in the “human sciences”; many of these reinterpretations, such as Jacques Derrida’s (1980), portrayed Freud as an unchallengeable explorer of a new philosophy of the human, of the “subject,” as much in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne, Immanuel Kant, and Martin Heidegger as of the empirical sciences (Forrester, 1980, 1990; Spence, 1982).

Cultural, Institutional, and Ethical . A major source of reevaluation of Freud as a scientific figure stems from a feedback loop generated by the influence of his own theories. Philip Rieff’s classic Freud: The Mind of the Moral-ist (1959) had portrayed Freud as a unique kind of scientist, whose work—whose message—was simultaneously a morality (in truth, an anti-morality) for the twentieth century, a medico-scientific antidote to the religion-infused ethical ideals of the European past. This new figure of “psychological man” was expressed in Freud’s theories and disseminated by the practice of therapy, but also in the autobiographical elements of Freud’s writings—and then in the contest over the facts of Freud’s life. Peter Gay’s supremely well-researched Freud (1988) had as its subtitle: A Life for Our Time. The Freud portrayed by Gay, with his stoicism, generosity, intellectual honesty and imaginativeness, also serves as an underpinning of the value and even the truth of psychoanalysis. With a similar evaluation of its crucial character, critics of psychoanalysis over of the last two decades have chosen Freud’s actual person as the primary target. In this way the battle over Freud’s biography is also a battle over the moral values embodied in Freud’s work.

Among the several fundamental additions to Freud’s biography in recent decades, there has been serious attention paid to the fact that he was a major intellectual entrepreneur, whose “movement,” institutional inventions and profession became enduring cultural and economic monuments. The Psychoanalytic Societies, based in major cities, bound together by the International Psychoanalytic Association from 1910 on, led by close disciples bonded to Freud through his extensive correspondence and then by the Secret Committee (Grosskurth, 1991), were independent of universities and medical schools— autonomous in a free market discovered (invented?) by Freud and the other founders of psychotherapy. The products of these institutions—as cultural figure, the “shrink” (Gabbard and Gabbard, 1987), the “therapist” (MacIntyre, 1981)—offered simultaneously a cure and a lifestyle, even a path through life; the market they created and served was analyzed by Ernest Gellner (1985) as a secular pseudoscientific religion, obliged to fulfill this function, and offering its clinical pastoral, because of the wholesale failure of religion in the West.

The upshot of these radical revisions is that for some, Freud is a discredited scientist and progenitor of a parasitic profession; for others, a hybrid figure, philosopher, writer of genius, exemplar of an ethic beyond the illusions of political or religious ideals and repressive moral codes. For some he is still a great pioneer scientist.


Appignanesi, Lisa, and John Forrester. Freud’s Women. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1992.

Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews, 1867–1938: A Cultural History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Bettelheim, Bruno. Freud and Man’s Soul. New York: Knopf, 1982.

Bourguignon, André; Pierre Cotet; Jean Laplanche; and François Robert. Traduire Freud. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989.

Byck, Robert, ed. Cocaine Papers. New York: Stonehill, 1974.

Carter, K. Codell. “Germ Theory, Hysteria, and Freud’s Early Work in Psychopathology.” Medical History 24 (1980): 259–274.

———. “Infantile Hysteria and Infantile Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century German-Language Medical Literature.” Medical History 27 (1983): 186–196.

Clark, Ronald. Freud, The Man and the Cause. New York: Random House, 1980.

Crews, Frederick. The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute. New York: New York Review of Books, 1995.

Davidson, Arnold I. “How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” In The Trial(s) of Psychoanalysis, edited by Françoise Meltzer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Derrida, Jacques. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987 [1980].

Didi-Huberman, George. Invention de l’Hystérie: Charcot et l’iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière. Paris: Macula, 1982.

Ellenberger, Henri. The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Falzeder, Ernst. “Is There Still an Unknown Freud? A Note on the Publications of Freud’s Texts and on Unpublished Documents.” Psychoanalysis and History 9, no. 2 (2007): 201–232.

Forrester, John. Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis. London: Macmillan, 1980.

———. The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan, and Derrida. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Gabbard, Krin, and Glen O. Gabbard. Psychiatry and the Cinema. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Gay, Peter. The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, Vol. 1, Education of the Senses. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

———. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton, 1988.

Gellner, Ernest. The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason. London: Granada, 1985.

Gilman, Sander L. Freud, Race, and Gender. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Greenberg, Valerie D. Freud and His Aphasia Book: Language and the Sources of Psychoanalysis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Grünbaum, Adolf. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Grosskurth, Phyllis. The Secret Ring: Freud’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1991.

Habermas, Jürgen. Knowledge and Human Interests, translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro. Boston: Beacon, 1971 [1968].

Hacking, Ian. “The Making and Molding of Child Abuse.” Critical Inquiry 17 (1991): 253–288.

———. Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Hirschmüller, Albrecht. The Life and Work of Josef Breuer: Physiology and Psychoanalysis. New York: New York University Press, 1989 [1978].

———. Freuds Begegnung mit der Psychiatrie. Von der Hirnmythologie zur Neurosenlehre. Tübingen: Edition Diskord, 1991.

Kern, Stephen. “Freud and the Discovery of Child Sexuality.” History of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psychohistory 1 (1973): 117–141.

Laplanche, Jean, and J.B. Pontalis. The Language of Psychoanalysis. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Hogarth Press, 1973 [1967].

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

Malcolm, Janet. In the Freud Archives. London: Jonathan Cape, 1984.

Masson, Jeffrey M. The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. London: Faber & Faber, 1984.

Micale, Mark S. Approaching Hysteria: Disease and its Interpretations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Ornston, Darius Gray, Jr., ed. Translating Freud. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

Ricoeur, Paul. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation.

Translated by Denis Savage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970.

Rieff, Philip. Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. New York: Viking, 1959.

Roazen, Paul. Brother Animal: The Story of Freud and Tausk. New York: Knopf, 1969.

———. Freud and his Followers. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Ritvo, Lucille B. Darwin’s Influence on Freud: A Tale of Two Sciences. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Schorske, Carl. Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Schur, Max. Freud: Living and Dying. London: Hogarth Press, 1972.

Spence, Donald. Narrative Truth and Historical Truth. New York: Norton, 1982.

Swales, Peter. “Freud, Martha Bernays and the Language of Flowers, Masturbation, Cocaine, and the Inflation of Fantasy.” Privately printed, 1983.

———. “Freud, Breuer and the Blessed Virgin.” Privately printed, 1986a.

———. “Freud, His Teacher, and the Birth of Psychoanalysis.” In Freud: Appraisals and Reappraisals: Contributions to Freud Studies, Vol. 1, edited by Paul E. Stepansky, pp. 3–82. NJ: The Analytic Press, 1986b.

———. “Freud, Katharina, and the First ‘Wild Analysis’.’’ In Freud: Appraisals and Reappraisals: Contributions to Freud Studies, Vol. 3, edited by Paul E. Stepansky, pp. 79–164. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1988.

———. “Freud, Fliess and Fratricide: The Role of Fliess in Freud’s Conception of Paranoia.” In Sigmund Freud. Critical Assessments, Vol. 1: Freud and the Origins of Psychoanalysis, edited by Laurence Spurling, pp. 302–329. London and New York: Routledge, 1989 [1982].

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

John Forrester

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)

views updated May 29 2018

FREUD, SIGMUND (1856–1939)


Austrian psychiatrist, founder of psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud was fifty-eight years old in 1914 when the long nineteenth century came to an abrupt end and Europe plunged into four years of intense, internecine war. The adventure in thought that was his career was roughly half over, and the core ideas of classic Freudian psychological theory, known as psychoanalysis, were already in place. Formulated between the years 1893 and 1911 in a series of essays, case histories, and scientific monographs, psychoanalysis centered on the concepts of unconscious mental activity, childhood psychosexuality, the Oedipal scheme of psychological development, the repressive origins of neurotic symptoms, and the symbolic role of dreams in mental life. Although familiar in the early twenty-first century, these ideas were strikingly original when Freud first published them. A tiny group of intellectuals, mostly in the Germanic world, was familiar with and excited by Freud's work before 1914. A larger minority found his teachings improbable, subversive, or disgusting. Most Europeans remained unfamiliar with Freud up to this time.


This situation changed dramatically in the years following 1914. During and after the First World War, Freud continued his tireless productivity. His intellectual career during the interwar period is marked by a continuing rethinking and refashioning of his ideas in the light of new clinical and historical experience. His major psychological publications during the war and postwar years concerned the psychological drives and psychical structure and function as well as ancillary subjects such as psychological sublimation and the nature of femininity. He also devoted himself to exploring the implications and applications of psychoanalysis to nonclinical domains, including anthropology, sociology, religion, literature, art, and biography. Another characteristic of the latter half of Freud's career is the drive to achieve a comprehensive model of human psychology capable of accounting for everyday normal mental life as well as psycho-pathology. Freud also during the 1920s and 1930s addressed the training of psychoanalysts and aspects of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. And he produced highly readable codifications of his ideas that succeeded in publicizing psychoanalysis to a wider audience. During these same years, Freudian psychology developed from a small, sectarian community in a few central European cities into both a highly dynamic professional movement and a radical cultural force across the European American world.

Two texts—Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and The Ego and the Id (1923)—lie at the center of Freud's postwar output. In the latter, Freud announced his famous tripartite or "structural" theory of the human psyche. Entirely unconscious, the Freudian id, he proposed, was laid down at birth and consists of the deepest, inherited human desires and instincts. In contrast, the superego is an internalized composite of the many authority figures—parents, babysitters, educators, public heroes—encountered in a person's upbringing that collectively form his or her conscience. The ego attempts rationally to mediate between the imperious and persistent id, the strictures of the superego, and the outside environment with its incessant demands for sociable, civilized behavior. Freud's three psychic agencies or processes correspond, in short, with what one wants to do, what one feels one ought to do, and what one will do. An additional line of thought that flowed from The Ego and the Id was the concept of "mechanisms of psychological defense." Freud, and later his psychoanalyst daughter Anna Freud (1895–1982), hypothesized that in daily life people routinely deploy a series of psychological strategies to avoid ideas, situations, and realizations would cause anxiety or "unpleasure." These mechanisms, in Freud's terminology, include denial, rationalization, projection, externalization, and displacement.

Beyond the Pleasure Principle offered Freud's new theory of the human drives. Freud previously had conjectured that Eros, consisting of the intertwined instincts for love, sex, propagation, and self-preservation, was the central psychological drive in human life. In a controversial modification in 1920, however, he broadened his drive theory to include a second, primary impulse derived from the human capacities for aggression, destruction, and self-destruction. This change reflects in part Freud's growing pessimism as he observed the carnage of World War I. Freud labeled this second drive "Thanatos" or "the death instinct," which in his rather biologized view reflected a desire for organic life to return to its original, unorganized, and inorganic state. The concept of a human death instinct tends to be rejected by most psychoanalysts in the twenty-first century, although Freud's wider emphasis on aggression's role in human nature is accepted.

Freud's vision of the psychoanalytic project during the generation following 1914 was stunning in breadth. In several memorably titled monographs, he applied his new system of ideas to social and cultural phenomena outside medical psychology. Totem and Taboo (1913) explores the speculative origins of patriarchal authority in society and the family. In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), Freud ventured into social psychology. Individuals in crowds, organizations, and movements, he maintained, tend to submerge their personal identities into that of a charismatic leader in return for a sense of security and group identity. "The Moses of Michelangelo" (1914) and "Dostoevsky and Parricide" (1928) are among Freud's explorations in psychoanalytic art and literary criticism. Finally, in The Future of an Illusion (1927), he took on organized religion. Candid and courageous in his atheism, Freud argued in this provocative work that the idea of God was an illusion, created by humanity in order to comfort it in the face of its mortality and helplessness when individuals outgrew the protection of their parents. Despite its moral and psychological consolation, he continued, the belief in an absolute, supernatural authority should be jettisoned as the human species matures intellectually. Theologians, cultural conservatives, and believers of all sorts, needless to say, furiously contested Freud's critique of religion.

Freud's most widely read interwar publication was Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Appearing in the aftermath of the stock market crash in New York City, Freud's famous rumination interprets human civilization as a continuing and precarious balance between the deep-seated human tendency toward destructive behaviors and the unique capacity to channel or "sublimate" primitive aggression into constructive, nonviolent cultural activities, such as economics, sports, art, science, and the life of the mind. The necessary psychological cost, or "price of civilization," was the frustration and suffering that follows the continual renunciation of instinctual gratifications required by stable, communal living. This in the Freudian view is the essential human predicament. If The Future of an Illusion features Freud as a latter-day Enlightenment thinker championing rational, critical thinking over age-old dogmatic superstition, Civilization and Its Discontents showcases Freud's increasingly despairing view of human nature as dark forces began to gather across Europe. Freud brought this latter line of thinking to bear on current events in "Why War?" (1932; published 1933), a magnificent exchange of letters with the physicist Albert Einstein, written at the invitation of the League of Nations, that addresses the reasons for human warfare and its possible prevention.

Despite the troubling historical circumstances of these years, Freud continued to push his ideas in ever more directions. This drive toward theoretical and clinical comprehensiveness is yet another distinctive feature of his overall intellectual career. The Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis of 1916 clarifies and systematizes his ideas for a general reading public. From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (1918), known colloquially as the Wolf Man case, is Freud's longest published case history. And in Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety (1926), he revised his earlier theory of psychological anxiety. As more people sought to study psychoanalysis formally, Freud needed to set out the guidelines for proper training. In The Question of Lay Analysis (1926), he rejected the notion that psychoanalysts must be medical doctors. Other publications addressed questions about the psychodynamics of the doctor/patient relationship—or, in psychoanalytic parlance, the analyst/analysand relationship. In a well-known essay written near the end of his life titled "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" (1937), Freud forthrightly acknowledged the limitations and even dangers of psychoanalytic therapy with certain types of patients. In all of his later writings, his focus remained on the neurotic, rather than psychotic, forms of psychopathology. Within the field of the neuroses, he concentrated in the second half of his career on anxiety, obsessions, narcissism, and melancholia rather than the hysterical neuroses, which had absorbed his attention in the 1890s.

Biographically, the last fifteen years of Freud's life were intensely difficult, plagued by two mounting menaces. First, in 1923, at the age of sixty-seven, Freud underwent an operation on his jaw and palate for what turned out to be cancer. Soon thereafter he began wearing a painful and unwieldy prosthesis. Many other surgeries followed; he was in continual, growing pain throughout these years. Second, after a decade of electoral vicissitudes, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany late in January 1933. Freud had struggled against Austrian anti-Semitism since the 1880s, but the ascent to power of the Nazis ushered in a new level of racism across German-speaking Europe. In the spring of 1933, Freud's books were included in the book burnings carried out in Berlin; later that year the Nazis began to close down psychoanalytic societies across Germany. Across the 1930s, vandalism against Jews rose steadily. With the annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis entered the native city of psychoanalysis. They dissolved the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and briefly seized Freud's daughter Anna. Two months later, Freud departed Vienna for London, via Paris, in order "to die in freedom," as he put it. On 23 September 1939, at the age of eighty-three, he died peacefully in his new home in the north London suburb of Hampstead. Three weeks earlier, Hitler had invaded Poland, confirming, it seemed, Freud's somber assessment of humanity's self-destructiveness. Because Hitler clamped down early in his murderous regime on psychoanalysis, the overwhelming majority of analysts were able to leave Germany and Austria safely. Most emigrated, in body, mind, and spirit, to Britain or the United States. The so-called psychoanalytic diaspora enriched immeasurably the psychological communities in these countries.


Knowledge of and fascination with psychoanalysis spread extensively between the two world wars. During the first decade of the twentieth century, small groups of admirers and enthusiasts had gathered at Freud's own home in Vienna and in a few other central European cities to ponder his ideas. With the diffusion of psychoanalysis, however, Freud found it more and more difficult to control or contain his creation. The post-1914 years are marked by schisms within the psychoanalytic community, with participants emerging as loyalists or dissidents. Freud had already, in 1913, broken with the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, once judged his most important adherent. The History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, published in 1914, is Freud's reckoning with a number of newly independent followers, including Jung and Alfred Adler. In 1924 Otto Rank, another early enthusiast, published his own twist on psychoanalytic theory in The Trauma of Birth. Freud was troubled by and intolerant of these departures, which he saw as misguided defections rather than independent, psychoanalytically oriented explorations. From this time onward, factionalism plagued the movement.

At the same time, psychoanalysis as a formal doctrine and practice—with its own conferences, organizations, publications, and membership—spread widely. In 1908 the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society had been founded and the first international congress of psychoanalysts had met in Salzburg. In 1919 the International Psychoanalytic Press was established. A year later, Freud's devoted British disciple Ernest Jones launched the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. As Freudian psychology gained a foothold in one Western country after another, a striking pattern emerged: distinctive national schools or trends took shape that reflected the cultural and intellectual heritages, as well as medical and scientific traditions, of different countries.

Snubbed by the prudish public and conservative medical establishment in Freud's native Austria, psychoanalysis nonetheless achieved brilliant prominence in the German capital during the interwar period. In 1920 a psychoanalytic polyclinic or out-patient clinic, the first of its kind in the world, opened in Berlin. The Berlin clinic assembled a gifted coterie of theorists and therapists, and it accepted paying and nonpaying clients alike from all social classes. Psychoanalytic societies were also founded during the 1920s in Heidelberg, Dresden, and Hamburg. Typically, the staffs of these early societies were heavily Jewish, with political sympathies overwhelmingly on the left. Imperial Wilhelminian Germany had been conservative and repressive in its official moral atmosphere. In contrast, Freud's frank, exploratory attitude toward sexuality corresponded well with the freer, experimental environment of the German Weimar Republic.

Characteristically, Freud's ideas in France followed their own path. Although French intellectuals were slow initially to embrace Freud—they argued that Jean-Martin Charcot, Henri Bergson, and Pierre Janet had been there first—the first translations of Freud's texts into French appeared in the mid-1920s, and the Société psychanalytique de Paris was registered in 1926. Still, at the time of Freud's death and the fall of France in 1939–1940, there was no mass movement around psychoanalysis in the country. "French Freud," as it came to be called, emerged only after the 1968 uprisings in Paris. Since then, a rich, if somewhat overheated, psychoanalytic culture formed in France, dedicated to the working out of Freud's ideas in literature, philosophy, linguistics, and feminist theory.

For a decade after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Freud's thinking found quite receptive ground in Soviet Russia. In the 1920s his most important books and articles were translated into Russian. A Russian psychoanalytic journal appeared, and institutes with sizable memberships were founded in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Peaking in 1921–1923, Soviet Freudianism was drastically curtailed by the late 1920s as Joseph Stalin consolidated his dictatorship.

The British reaction to Freud's ideas was divided: residual Victorianism caused much of the British public to recoil at Freud's forthright discussion of childhood sexuality. Nevertheless, in 1913 Ernest Jones established the London Psycho-Analytic Society. The Bloomsbury circle of avant-garde intellectuals also took up Freud's work with alacrity. In 1924 the Hogarth Press, which had recently been founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, began to publish an ambitious and authoritative edition of Freud's complete psychological writings in English. This definitive edition, which eventually ran to twenty-four volumes, was immensely influential in the spread of Freudian thought throughout the anglophone world. Furthermore, for different reasons both Melanie Klein and Anna Freud eventually moved to London and set up psychiatric shop. A productive institutional and intellectual rivalry developed between the two woman psychoanalysts. Child psychoanalysis became a national specialty, and the prestigious Tavistock Clinic in London was heavily psychoanalytic in orientation.

Beyond doubt, psychoanalysis found its most enthusiastic and wide-ranging reception in the United States. Freud personally disdained America. In 1909, however, he had delivered a powerful set of lectures at Clark University in Massachusetts, which launched a movement in the country. The New York Psychoanalytic Society opened its doors in 1911. In 1914 Boston followed suit, and an American Psychoanalytic Association was created. New translations into English of key texts, as well as the larger libertine social and sexual atmosphere associated with the decade, allowed intellectual and popular interest in psychoanalysis to burgeon in the 1920s. A long period of American enchantment with Freud ensued that waned only in the last quarter of the twentieth century. The American psychoanalytic community's requirement that practitioners obtain a medical license deeply influenced the character of Freudian practice in the country.

The decades from the 1920s to the 1950s also witnessed a remarkable cultural diffusion of Freud's ideas. In many forms—some of them inaccurate, simplified, or bastardized—Freudian motifs flooded films, novels, plays, paintings, advertising, and popular culture during the second quarter of the twentieth century. The distinctive Freudian vocabulary of id, ego, superego, wish fulfillment, sibling rivalry, penis envy, Oedipus complex, and the like cropped up ubiquitously. Not only physicians and mental health workers but the general educated public read Freud's writings, which were clear and concise, full of memorable coinages, and cast in compelling metaphorical language. Inevitably, cultural and popular responses to Freud—in his time and in the early twenty-first century—ranged extravagantly from fascination and adulation to skepticism and hostility.

The "golden age of psychoanalysis" extended into the 1970s. After that time, a new wave of biologically oriented psychiatry supplanted psychoanalysis institutionally and intellectually in many parts of the world. Likewise, shorter-term therapies aimed at symptomatic relief gained currency. After Freud's death, a tendency also developed among some of his well-meaning but reverential followers for his many profound and original insights to harden into doctrine and then dogma.

At the outset of the twenty-first century, Sigmund Freud's standing and legacy are warmly contested. But this much is certain: among European thinkers, only Karl Marx has had as great an influence on the thought and culture of the twentieth century as Freud. For fifty years, he was incontestably the central psychological thinker of the age. During these years, the cultural appeal and prominence of his ideas were tremendous. The volume of his output and the breadth of his thinking remain astonishing. Much of his lifework has become integrated into commonsense psychology and entrenched in modern thought generally. This heritage includes the ideas that a person's early biography is crucial to his or her subsequent psychological development, that psychosexuality is a fundamental part of human personality, that repressed painful or traumatic experiences can over time be harmful, and that speaking systematically with a trained and sympathetic listener about psychological difficulties can be beneficial. This last practice in particular represents the beginnings of the so-called verbal psychotherapies—what the early psychoanalytic patient "Anna O." dubbed "the talking cure"—and may well be his most basic and enduring contribution.

See alsoJung, Carl; Psychiatry; Psychoanalysis; Sexuality.


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Cocks, Geoffrey. Psychotherapy in the Third Reich: The Göring Institute. 2nd ed. New Brunswick, N.J., 1997.

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Zaretsky, Eli. Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis. New York, 2004.

Mark S. Micale

Freud, Sigmund

views updated May 21 2018


FREUD, SIGMUND (1856–1939), Austrian psychiatrist and creator of psychoanalysis. Freud was born in the small town of Freiberg, Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic). When he was four his family moved to Vienna, where he graduated with distinction from gymnasium and then entered university as a medical student. As a Jewish student he encountered certain barriers, but he found a haven from the antisemitism of the university community in Ernst Bruecke's physiological laboratory. He worked productively in research with Bruecke from 1876 to 1882, and studied philosophy with Franz Brentano and biology with Carl Claus, a follower of Darwin.

In 1882 Freud became engaged to Martha Bernays. Though his interest was primarily in research, he decided to enter clinical practice as a resident at the Vienna General Hospital in order to establish himself sufficiently to be able to marry. While working as a clinician at the hospital, he continued to pursue his neurological research as an assistant to the brain anatomist T.H. Meynert.

The work with chronic nervous illnesses of the French neurologist Jean Charcot attracted Freud's interest, and he began to study the clinical manifestations of diseases of the nervous system. In 1885 he was awarded a traveling fellowship, which he spent studying with Charcot at the Salpetrière mental hospital in Paris. Charcot's demonstration that ideas could cause physical symptoms strengthened Freud's determination to investigate hysterical paralyses and anesthesias. In 1886 he married, resigned from the General Hospital, and set up a private practice in nervous diseases so that he could support his new wife.

Freud had already formed a friendship with the Viennese physician Josef *Breuer, who had stumbled upon an innovative treatment for hysteria. In 1880 Breuer had begun treating a young woman who suffered from severe hysterical symptoms – the patient made famous as Anna O. in Freud and Breuer's 1895 epoch-making collaboration Studies in Hysteria. Their work set out for the first time the theory that the unconscious damming up of emotions could produce symptoms of hysterical illness, and its corollary: that if, with the aid of hypnosis or some other method, patients could express this suppressed emotion and the fantasies that accompanied it, their symptoms would disappear.

Breuer was a well-established and respected general practitioner who had experimented with a new way of relieving neurotic symptoms with his patient Anna O. (what she called "the talking cure" or "chimney sweeping"). But as the treatment progressed, Breuer felt increasingly overwhelmed by the sexual nature of her behavior and symptoms; and he could not accept Freud's growing conviction that disturbances in sexual life were fundamental causal factors in neurosis and hysteria. A year after publishing Studies in Hysteria, Freud and Breuer parted company.

Now working on his own, Freud gave up hypnosis and the method of cathartic discharge for a new therapeutic technique. He asked his patients to relinquish self-censorship and to tell him whatever came into their minds. This process, which he called free association, is sometimes referred to as the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis. It allowed the patients to recall forgotten events and experiences, and so helped Freud uncover what he believed lay behind their symptoms. He soon concluded that an unacceptable impulse, feeling, or fantasy and the resistance that it engendered resulted in a special order of intra-psychic conflict. While the unacceptable impulse would (unconsciously) be repudiated and disavowed, less threatening methods of gratifying it in a disguised form would be pursued. The struggle to both thwart and pursue the impulse could manifest itself in mental or physical symptoms. The task of therapy was to uncover the repression and allow the repudiated impulse into consciousness, where it could be judged, and accepted or rejected; the result of this process was that the unconscious modes of regulation that had produced the symptom were no longer necessary and lost their force. Freud called this form of therapy psychoanalysis.

In 1896, almost immediately after his father's death, Freud began the difficult task of working through his own unconscious by analyzing his dreams. He came to the conclusion that a dream-thought is always related to a disavowed infantile (sexual) wish that emerges in the context of the dream only after passing through a mental censorship and distortion that camouflages the wish to such an extent that its expression can be tolerated. The dream thus serves as an exemplary model of the process whereby the repressed achieves expression in a disguised form. Freud articulated this theory in The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900, which he considered his most important work. He identified himself with the biblical character of Joseph, the dream-interpreter, and observed that "the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind" (this sentence was added in 1909 to the second edition).

In 1904 Freud published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which he showed that the numerous unconscious slips and mistakes that people make in everyday life are also the outcome of intra-psychic struggle; and that they are not merely accidental occurrences, but like dreams and neurotic symptoms have a meaning that can be discovered through psychoanalysis. In 1905 Freud's theories on the importance, from earliest infancy, of bodily experience, desire, and the Oedipus complex were elaborated and brought together in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sex. From this point on he continued to develop his notions of repression, symptom formation and sexuality.

Freud's sexual theories were no more acceptable to the medical profession at large than they had been to Breuer, and for almost a decade he was virtually ostracized by the establishment. But a small circle of colleagues interested in Freud's work slowly collected around him, and his professional isolation finally came to an end. He became concerned that attracting non-Jews to the psychoanalytic enterprise was necessary to avoid its becoming a "Jewish national affair" and encouraged non-Jews to take a prominent role in the newly formed International Psychoanalytic Association. In 1906 he heard that a group of psychiatrists in Zurich, one of whom was C.G. Jung (1875–1961), was interested in psychoanalysis. Freud and Jung met in the following year, and the Swiss psychiatrist became his foremost disciple.

Freud applied his psychological theories to primitive cultures, and to mythology and religion. In 1907 he suggested a relationship between obsessive acts and religious rituals. In 1913 in Totem and Taboo he concluded that the dread of incest was universal.

In 1909 Freud and Jung traveled together to the United States and gave a week of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. During that visit, Freud delivered his "Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis" (American Journal of Psychology, 21 (1910), 181–218). Their association lasted until 1912, when Jung went on to found his own school after advancing theories that Freud considered incompatible with psychoanalysis. Jung stressed the importance of universal archetypes in place of the infantile sexual wishes that were at the basis of Freud's view of the unconscious. In 1912 another prominent associate, the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred *Adler, also withdrew from psychoanalysis. Adler, like Jung, also repudiated infantile sexuality; but Adler thought it was the desire for power that was at the basis of character and neurosis.

Freud proposed that infancy is dominated by the pleasure principle, which later, during maturation, is modified and at least partially displaced by the reality principle. Under the regime of the pleasure principle immediate fulfillment and discharge of tension is demanded; while the reality principle operates in realistic terms, takes external conditions into account, includes delay and compromise, and allows the pursuit of gratification by pragmatic means. In 1911 he published "Formulations Regarding the Two Principles in Mental Functioning," which elaborated his view of these two basic principles. Meanwhile, between 1915 and 1917, he was attempting to construct a "metapsychology" by which he hoped to articulate and clarify the principal ideas of psychoanalysis. He explored these ideas in a series of influential papers that included "Instincts and their Vicissitudes" (1915), "The Unconscious" (1915), "Repression" (1915), and "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917).

After World War i Freud gave full scope to his speculative tendencies. In 1920 he published Beyond the Pleasure Principle; in 1921, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego; and in 1923, The Ego and the Id. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle he brought the instincts for the preservation of the self and the species under the concept of Eros, a basic impulse toward life, love, and growth. He contrasted this with Thanatos, a death instinct. Many of his colleagues felt that the concept of a death instinct was purely speculative and not adequately grounded in empirical observation; it only found wide acceptance in the work of the later psychoanalyst Melanie Klein and her followers, who felt that the death instinct accounted for some of the self-destructiveness that seems to be part of human nature. In The Ego and the Id, Freud divided the mental apparatus into an ego, an id, and a superego: the ego supporting reason and reality, the id containing the passions, and the superego representing the internalized ethical standards of the parents.

Freud's work in understanding human psychology and mental disturbance is without parallel in history. He turned psychology's attention in a new direction. He made systematic contributions in three separate but related areas: human development (especially in childhood); the workings of the mind; and the treatment and cure of mental illness. A concern with biological and bodily processes, especially sexuality, underlay his developmental psychology. But Freud's perspective as a natural scientist was balanced by an emphasis on subjective experience and the formative relationships of childhood. Freud stressed the fundamental importance and dynamic nature of unconscious mental processes in everyday life and symptom formation: the centrality of the role of anxiety, the mechanisms of defense, and the functions of repression, sublimation, denial, and regression.

Freud's work has been faulted by many for its emphasis on sexuality and, in particular, for his belief in the universality of the Oedipal drama; on the other hand, there is no question that one of his major contributions was to open up the topic of sexuality for reexamination. Though Freud had a critical understanding of the role of culture and his psychology emphasized its importance in human development, his work has been extensively criticized for being limited by the assumptions of 19th-century science and of his Victorian social milieu. The development of psychoanalysis since Freud's death has involved the elaboration of many of his core ideas; his positions regarding the psychology of women and the contributions of the analyst to the psychoanalytic interaction are among those which have been challenged and significantly modified.

Freud's theories have had a wide and far reaching influence on our society. His contributions to other fields are almost as extensive as his contributions to clinical and theoretical psychoanalysis; and the nature of the wider impact his theories have had on our world has aroused as much interest and controversy as his psychology.

Freud and his daughter Anna *Freud, the child psychoanalyst, were hurried out of Vienna by his colleagues after the German-occupation in 1938. His other children and their families had already left; his sisters, who were old and infirm, refused to leave, and died in Auschwitz. Freud died the following year in London after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

Freud's complete psychological works in English were edited in 23 volumes by J. Strachey and others (1953–66), and his letters were published by E.L. Freud in 1961 (originally published in German 1960).

Freud's Jewish Identity

Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Schlomo Freud) referred to himself as a "Godless Jew." He was a passionate atheist with a commitment to an ethical way of life and an aversion to religious ritual. At the same time, his Jewishness was a significant part of his identity, and throughout his life he felt a strong connection with the Jewish people. Both of his parents came from Orthodox homes in Galicia in the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. After Freud's birth, when the family moved to Vienna, they settled initially in the Jewish district of Leopoldstadt. It is likely that they celebrated the major Jewish holidays, and we know that Jakob Freud taught his son Bible stories; still, from the beginning, Sigmund Freud's life was also suffused with the liberal humanistic Jewish ideals of 19th century Vienna.

His gymnasium taught the classics-based curriculum of the German Enlightenment, although Jews in the school also studied the Bible and Jewish history and ethics. At a time when Austrian society allowed assimilated Jews to advance in society, Freud considered himself part of the wider German culture and, like many of his contemporaries, was ashamed of the "Ostjuden" (East European immigrants) who moved into his neighborhood in great numbers in the 1860s.

Although antisemitism was relatively quiescent in Vienna during his youth, a story his father told him of being humiliated as a young man by an antisemite left a lasting impression on the son. Freud recalled this story in his book The Interpretation of Dreams, along with his own disappointment in his father's passive response to the insult. The resurgence of antisemitism in Vienna, by the time Freud entered medical school, shattered his hopes of living a life of equality with non-Jews. When the option of assimilation was no longer available, Freud chose to express pride in his Jewishness, thus subtly defying those who sought to marginalize, and later to annihilate, him.

Freud chose to remain a Jew at a time when conversion was the only route to career advancement; as a result his promotion at the University of Vienna to full professor was delayed by more than 20 years. In 1897 he banded together with fellow Jews in the newly formed Jewish humanitarian organization *B'nai B'rith. He presented his developing ideas about psychoanalysis in that forum at a time when he felt excluded by the academic and medical community. At the 70th birthday party that his B'nai B'rith brothers prepared for him, he made that choice clear: "That you are Jews could only be welcome to me, for I was a Jew myself, and it had always seemed to me not only undignified, but quite nonsensical to deny it."

Freud never lost his emotional connection with Jewish culture. In private he used Jewish jokes and Yiddish folk tales and phrases to communicate with his friends and colleagues. In 1930 he accepted membership, along with Albert *Einstein and others, in the honorary praesidium of the *yivo Institute (known in English as the Yiddish Scientific Institute) in Vilna, which was founded as a Jewish national academy in 1925 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, and studying Jewish culture and the Yiddish language.

Freud was sympathetic to the goals of Zionism, which his contemporary, Theodore *Herzl, was pursuing as a response to antisemitism. In 1930, in a letter to Einstein, he expressed pessimism over the possibility of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. However, by 1935 he was to write a letter of support to the president of the *Keren Hayesod (the financial part of the World Zionist Organization) for his work "to establish a new home in the ancient land of our fathers." Freud approved when his sons joined Kadima, the Zionist student association at the University of Vienna, and at the age of 80 he asked to become an honorary member himself. He was particularly proud of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and served on its first Board of Governors, chaired by the university's founding father, Dr. Chaim *Weizmann.

Freud thought that religion was essentially a defensive fantasy: a primitive expression of infantile needs (Future of an Illusion, 1927) and unconscious guilt (Totem and Taboo, 1913). Although science and religion were often seen as battling for dominance in the late 19th century, Freud had contemporaries, such as the philosopher and psychologist William James, who held a much more nuanced understanding of religion. Interestingly, Freud married an Orthodox Jewish woman – Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Rabbi Isaac *Bernays, who was the chief rabbi of Hamburg. Their marriage was a loving one, but Freud would not allow her to observe even the most basic Jewish ritual of lighting Sabbath candles.

In Freud's final years, he wrote Moses and Monotheism (1939), an exploration of issues that had long concerned him. Although he had often expressed pride in his Jewishness, he had always had difficulty defining what, in fact, connected him so strongly to the Jewish people, and what it meant to be a Jew. In Moses and Monotheism, he speculated on the nature and transmission of Jewish identity, and the origins of antisemitism. His account of the beginnings of the Jewish people breaks radically with tradition. In it, Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian who taught an ancient Egyptian monotheistic religion to a semitic tribe. In the desert, the tribe rebelled against Moses and murdered him.

Freud had introduced the theme of the murdered father-figure in Totem and Taboo, hypothesizing that it was at the heart of all religion. In his account in Moses and Monotheism, the suppressed memory of this murder became so powerful that it served as the source of a tenacious religion, in this case, Judaism. The adoption of monotheism, Freud claimed, made the Jews a highly ethical and intellectual people, qualities that he identified as integral to Jewishness. He also associated the murder of Christ with the murder of Moses, and developed a case for this parallel being at the heart of antisemitism. This strange book, with its many complex twists of plot, offended Jews and Christians alike. Anthropologists, historians, and biblical scholars rejected its premises. With the passage of time, however, it has been interpreted more positively, with greater emphasis on what it reveals about its author. Upon dissolving the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1938 and advising its members to flee the Nazi threat, Freud had invoked the memory of Rabbi *Johanan ben Zakkai, who was able to continue the Jewish tradition elsewhere after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Freud had tremendous respect for the power of knowledge, and although he was not interested in the continuation of ancient traditions, he may have hoped that publishing Moses and Monotheism from his new home in London, would ensure the survival of two crucial components of his life: psychoanalysis and the Jewish people.


E. Jones, Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols. (1953–57), includes bibliography; M. Robert, From Oedipus to Moses (1976); D. Klein, Jewish Origins of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1981); P. Gay, A Godless Jew (1987); idem, Freud: A Life for Our Time (1998); E. Rice, Freud and Moses: the Long Journey Home (1990); Y.H. Yerushalmi, Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (1991); M. Gresser, Dual Allegiance: Freud as a Modern Jew (1994)

[Janice Halpern,

Arnold Richards, and

Sheldon Goodman (2nd ed.)]

Freud, Sigmund

views updated May 17 2018

Sigmund Freud

BORN: 1856, Freiberg, Moravia (now Czech Republic)

DIED: 1939, London, England


GENRE: Nonfiction

The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)
On Narcissism (1914)
Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)
The Ego and the Id (1923)
Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)


The work of Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, marked the beginning of a modern, dynamic psychology by providing the first systematic explanation of the inner mental forces determining human behavior.

Early in his career Sigmund Freud distinguished himself as a histologist, neuropathologist, and clinical neurologist, and in his later life he was acclaimed as a talented writer and essayist. Freud is considered one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century for his development of the theories and methodologies of psychoanalysis. Central to his theory is the concept of the unconscious, which he described as a primitive region of the psyche containing emotions, memories, and drives that are hidden from and repressed by the conscious mind. Under his guidance, psychoanalysis became the dominant modern theory of human psychology and a major tool of research, as well as an important method of psychiatric treatment that currently has thousands of practitioners all over the world.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

His Mother's Favorite Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. Sigmund was the first child of his twice-widowed father's third marriage. His mother, Amalia Nathanson, was nineteen years old when she married Jacob Freud, aged thirty-nine. Sigmund's two stepbrothers from his father's first marriage were approximately the same age as his mother, and his older step-brother's son, Sigmund's nephew, was his earliest playmate. Thus, the boy grew up in an unusual family structure, his mother halfway in age between himself and his father. Though seven younger children were born, Sigmund always remained his mother's favorite. When he was four, the family moved to Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and one of the great cultural, scientific, and medical centers of Europe. Freud remained in Vienna until a year before his death.

Youth in Vienna Freud went to the local elementary school and attended the humanistic high school (or gymnasium) from 1866 to 1873. He studied Greek and Latin, mathematics, history, and the natural sciences, and was a superior student. He passed his final examination with flying colors, qualifying to enter the University of Vienna at the age of seventeen. His family had recognized his special scholarly gifts from the beginning, and although they had only four bedrooms for eight people, Sigmund had his own room throughout his school days. As was the custom at the time, he lived with his parents well into adulthood, moving out when he was twenty-seven.

Pre-Psychoanalytic Work Freud first considered studying law but then enrolled in medical school. He spent seven instead of the usual five years acquiring his doctorate, taking time to work in the zoological and anatomical laboratories of the famous Ernst Brucke. At nineteen he conducted his first independent research project while on a field trip, and at twenty he published his first scientific paper.

Freud received his doctor of medicine degree at the age of twenty-four and went on to spend three years as a resident physician in the famous Allgemeine Krankenhaus, a general hospital that was the medical center of Vienna. Psychiatry at that time was static and descriptive. A patient's signs and symptoms were carefully observed and recorded in the hope that doing so would lead to a correct diagnosis of an organic disease of the brain, which was assumed to be the basis of all psychopathology (mental disorder). The psychological meaning of behavior was not itself considered important; behavior was only a set of symptoms to be studied in order to understand the structures of the brain. Freud's later work revolutionized this attitude; yet, like all scientific revolutions, this one grew from a thorough understanding of and expertise in the traditional methods.

During the last part of his residency Freud received a grant to pursue his neurological studies abroad. He spent four months at the Salpêtrière clinic in Paris, studying under the neurologist Jean Martin Charcot. Here, Freud first became interested in hysteria and Charcot's demonstration of its psychological origins. Thus, Freud's development of a psychoanalytic approach to mental disorders was rooted in nineteenth-century neurology rather than in the psychiatry of the era.

Beginning of Psychoanalysis Freud returned to Vienna, established himself in the private practice of neurology, and married. He soon devoted his efforts to the treatment of hysterical patients with the help of hypnosis, a technique he had studied under Charcot. Joseph Breuer, an older colleague who had become Freud's friend and mentor, told Freud about a hysterical patient whom he had treated successfully by hypnotizing her and then tracing her symptoms back to traumatic events she had experienced at her father's deathbed. Breuer called his treatment “catharsis” and attributed its effectiveness to the release of “pent-up emotions.” Freud's experiments with Breuer's technique were successful, demonstrating that hysterical symptoms could consistently be traced to highly emotional experiences that had been “repressed,” or excluded from conscious memory. Together with Breuer he published Studies on Hysteria (1895), which included several theoretical chapters, a series of Freud's case studies, and Breuer's initial case study. At the age of thirty-nine Freud first used the term psychoanalysis, and his major lifework was well under way.

At about this time Freud began a unique undertaking, his own self-analysis, which he pursued primarily by analyzing his dreams. As he proceeded, his personality changed. He developed a greater inner security, and his at times impulsive emotional responses became less marked. A major scientific result was The Interpretation of Dreams (1901). In this book he argues that the dreams of every person, just like the symptoms of a hysterical or

an otherwise neurotic person, serve as a “royal road” to the understanding of unconscious mental processes, which have great importance in determining behavior. By the turn of the century Freud had increased his knowledge of the formation of neurotic symptoms to include conditions and reactions other than hysteria. He had also developed his therapeutic technique, dropping the use of hypnosis and shifting to the more effective and more widely applicable method of “free association.”

Development of Psychoanalysis Following his work on dreams, Freud wrote a series of papers in which he explored the influence of unconscious mental processes on virtually every aspect of human behavior—slips of the tongue and simple errors of memory (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1901), humor (Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905) and artistic creativity (Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, 1910)—as well as cultural institutions (Totem and Taboo, 1912). He recognized that predominant among the unconscious forces that lead to neuroses are the sexual desires of early childhood that have been excluded from conscious awareness, yet have preserved their dynamic force within the personality. He described his highly controversial views concerning infantile sexuality in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), a work that initially met vehement protest but was gradually accepted by practically all schools of psychology. During this period he also published a number of case histories and a series of articles dealing with psychoanalysis as therapy.

After 1902 Freud gathered a small group of interested people on Wednesday evenings for presentations of psychoanalytic papers and discussion. This was the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement. Swiss psychiatrists Eugen Bleuler and Carl Jung formed a study group in Zurich in 1907, and the first International Psychoanalytic Congress was held in Salzburg in 1908. In 1909 Freud was invited to give five lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He considered this invitation the first official recognition to be extended to his new science.

At the same time Freud made a major revision in his theory of childhood sexuality. He first thought that his neurotic patients had actually experienced sexual seductions in childhood, but he then realized that his patients were usually describing childhood fantasies, or wishes, rather than actual events. He retracted his earlier statement on infantile sexuality, but he rejected neither the data nor the theory—he simpy reformulated both. Later, as psychoanalysis became better established, several of Freud's closest colleagues broke with him and established groups of their own, some of which continue to this day. Among them, Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, and Wilhelm Reich are the best known.

Later Years In 1923 Freud developed a cancerous growth in his mouth that led to his death sixteen years and thirty-three operations later. Despite his ill health, these were years of great scientific productivity. He published findings on the importance of aggressive as well as sexual drives (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920); developed a new theoretical framework to organize his new data concerning the structure of the mind (The Ego and the Id, 1923); revised his theory of anxiety, which he now interpreted as a signal of danger emanating from unconscious fantasies rather than the result of repressed sexual feelings (Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, 1926); and discussed religion, civilization, and further questions of theory and technique.

In March 1938 Austria was occupied by German troops, and Freud and his family were put under house arrest. Through the combined efforts of Marie Bonaparte, Princess of Greece; British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones; andW. C. Bullitt, the American ambassador to France, the Freuds were permitted to leave Austria in June. Freud's keen mind and ironic sense of humor were evident when, forced to flee his home at the age of eighty-two, suffering from cancer, and in mortal danger, he was asked to sign a document attesting that he had been treated well by the Nazi authorities; as biographer Ernest Jones quoted, he added in his own handwriting, “I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone.” Freud spent his last year in London, undergoing surgery. He died on September 23, 1939. The influence of his discoveries on the science and culture of the twentieth century is incalculable.


Freud's famous contemporaries include:

Arthur Clive Heward Bell (1881–1964): English art critic and prominent proponent of formalism in aesthetics. Bell was a member of the Bloomsbury Group, an English collective responsible for influencing literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics.

Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940): British conservative best known for appeasing Adolf Hitler and the Nazis with his signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement.

E. M. Forster (1879–1970): English novelist, short-story writer, and essayist best known for his novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early twentieth-century British society.

Carl Jung (1875–1961): Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychoanalysis who is typically considered first a follower of Freud who then developed theoretical differences, split from Freud, and formed a new school of thought.

Works in Literary Context

Personal Life Influence Freud's personal life has long been a subject of interest to admirers and critics.

An intensely private man, Freud made several attempts to thwart future biographers by destroying personal papers. However, his scientific work, his friends, and his extensive correspondence allow historians to paint a vivid picture.

Freud was an imposing man, although physically small. He read extensively, loved to travel, and was an avid collector of archeological curiosities. As an adult, Freud did not practice Judaism as a religion. Despite this fact, his Jewish cultural background and tradition were important influences on his thinking. He considered himself Jewish and maintained contact with Jewish organizations; one of his last works was a study of Moses and the Jewish people. Devoted to his family, he always practiced in a consultation room attached to his home. He was intensely loyal to his friends and inspired loyalty in a circle of disciples that persists to this day.

Professional Influence His bold and original sexual theories influenced colleagues and have provoked ongoing controversy. Freud's insistence on the libido as the dominant human drive led to breaks with some of his illustrious followers, notably Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, who respectively emphasized a “will to power” and a mythic/spiritual questing as important sources of unconscious energy. But the Freud-led international psychoanalytic movement gained considerable influence in professional circles in the period before World War I, and Freudian theory had been popularized in Europe and the United States by the 1920s. Freud's Vorlesungen zur Einfuehrung in die Psychoanalyse (General Introduction to Psychoanalysis), published in 1916 and translated into English four years later, introduced his basic ideas about dreams, errors, sexual development, and neurosis to a general readership.

Works in Critical Context

While Freudian concepts and language now suffuse Western culture, psychoanalytic theory remains highly controversial more than half a century after Freud's death. He continues to be criticized for exaggerating unconscious sexual motivations, and many of his theories about female sexuality are now widely dismissed. More fundamentally, the very concept of an unconscious yet communicative mind has been challenged and psychoanalysis itself belittled as pseudoscience.

But Freud himself made only limited claims for the therapeutic value of psychoanalysis. Whether or not his theories hold up—and there is still much argument on both sides—his genius in introducing an entirely new way of thinking about human behavior is universally acknowledged.

While most of his works have earned recognition for making profound contributions to Western culture, one theory as well as one other work stand out: psychosexual theory and The Interpretation of Dreams.

Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory Three Contributions to the Sexual Theory (1905) secured Freud's international reputation and notoriety. In it, the Viennese psychiatrist outlines the childhood stages of sexual development, whose successful passage he thought vital to adult happiness and psychic equilibrium.

The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) In this book, which remains one of his most widely read works, the psychiatrist states that dreams often express unconscious desires (or deep-seated wishes) in symbolic form. While many readers found these ideas interesting, some critics were less impressed. An unnamed reviewer for The Nation states of the book, “The layman must certainly see in this conception much that will appear to him fantastic, if not absurd. The psychologist must see in it the building of a huge structure upon a very slim and unstable foundation.” Carl Jung, in a 1933 essay on the differences between him and Freud, describes the book as an instance of Freud putting “his peculiar mental disposition na¨ıvely on view,” and faults the author for not supporting his basic premise.


In The Ego and the Id, Freud introduced a conceptual framework for the basic structure of the psyche, a framework he extended in theory throughout his career. Here are a few works by writers who covered similar subjects:

13 Dreams Freud Never Had (2005), a nonfiction book by J. Allan Hobson, M.D. Neuroscientific study of the dreaming brain-mind, as reported by a Harvard psychiatrist and neuroscientist who uses his own dreams for the study.

Man and His Symbols (1964), a work of nonfiction by Carl G. Jung. Jung's most significant theories as collected and explained by contemporaries, experts, and scholars.

The Writings of Anna Freud (1974), a nonfiction collection by Anna Freud. Collected papers and lectures on child development and psychology by the daughter of Sigmund Freud.

Responses to Literature

  1. Consider Freud's biography in relation to The Interpretation of Dreams. What similarities exist between his life and his work?
  2. What questions would you ask Freud about dreams if he were alive today? What, if any, challenges to his ideas might you pose?



Gay, Peter. A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987.

Green, Geoffrey. Freud and Nabokov. Nebraska University Press, 1988.

Jones, Ernest. Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. New York:Basic Books, 1961.

Malcolm, Janet. In the Freud Archives. New York: Knopf, 1984.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. New York: Farrar, 1984

Paul, Robert A. Moses and Civilization: The Meaning behind Freud's Myth. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996.

Ricoeur, Paul. Freud and Philosophy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970.

“Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Laurie Di Mauro. Vol. 52. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994. p. 79–140.


Hazlitt, Henry. “The Neurosis of Civilization.” Nation (September 17, 1930).

Lippmann, Walter. “Freud and the Layman.” The New Republic (April 17, 1915).

Web sites

Discovery Education. The Interpretation of Dreams. Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

Rice, Julia. Sigmund Freud and His Interpretation of Dreams and The Sigmund Freud Webquest. Retrieved February 8, 2008, from Last updated on January 1, 2002.