Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis

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The Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis is based on a series of two-hour talks given by Sigmund Freud at the University of Vienna between 1915 and 1917 to initiate both doctors and laypeople to the fundamental principles of psychoanalysis. Delivered with the intention of publication at a later date, the published Introductory Lectures had enormous success, with fifty thousand copies sold in German during Freud's lifetime. Together with the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b), it wasand still isFreud's best-known work.

The approach Freud used is that of the public lecture. The Lectures are not treatises but simplified expositions of ideas and of the results of established research. He provides a number of examples and anecdotes, and devotes a large portion of the book to the psychopathology of everyday life and dreams, subjects of immediate relevance to his audience. Yet he also strives to delineate the special nature of psychoanalysis, particularly the aspects that people find difficult to acknowledge, and that are comparable in their insult to human megalomania as the revelations of Charles Darwin and Nicolas Copernicus.

The book is divided into three parts of unequal length. The first, which is short, is on parapraxis, the second and third, which are more fully developed, are on dreams and the general theory of neuroses. There is a gradual progression in the three sections, accompanied by a notable erasure of the distinction between the normal and the pathological. Freud insists on the versatility of his method, which he claims is easier to understand by the study of dreams rather than of symptoms.

Regarding slips, Freud proposes that their relevance lies in the meaning of the symptom and not the psychophysiological determination. Along with meaning, Freud introduces two of the prime movers of mental life, sexuality and aggressivity. The theory of mental conflict is outlined: parapraxes "arise from the concurrent action of two different intentions" (1916-17a, p. 44). Dreams had been previously discussed in an abridged presentation addressed to the general public and titled "On Dreams." (1901a) In this essay, which provides greater details on dreams than the Introductory Lectures, Freud makes an attempt to identify and discuss all possible objections to his theory, as he had done in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). In this regard he discusses the number of interpretations and the complexity of the interpretative process, which he justifies by comparing it to the tortuous efforts of customs agents in trying to find contraband material. He stresses that only practice and experience can determine the actual degree of comprehensibility of the dream and that the "lay public, including the scientific lay public, are well known to enjoy making a parade of scepticism when faced by the difficulties and uncertainties of a scientific achievement" (1916-17a, p. 232).

Part three is extremely condensed, given the scope of the subjects treated, which range from the unconscious to the development of the libido, the formation of various symptoms and how they are handled during psychoanalysis. Freud discusses the differences between his point of view on the libido and that of Carl Gustav Jung. Addressing the notion of the "ego libido," he tackles the question of treating "narcissistic neuroses," discusses nosographic considerations in the case of paraphrenia (combining paranoia and precocious dementia under the same term), and ends with the issue of transference. Transference is compared to the intermediate layer between the tree and the bark, a layer that serves as the starting point for the formation of new tissue and an increase in trunk diameter. As a result the patient's symptoms lose their primitive meaning and acquire a new meaning in relation to the transference. The work of healing is then defined as follows by Freud: "The decisive part of the work is achieved by creating in the patient's relation to the doctorin the 'transference'new editions of the old conflicts; in these the patient would like to behave in the same way as he did in the past, while we, by summoning up every available mental force [in the patient], compel him to come to a fresh decision" (1916-17a, p. 454).

In these lectures for the lay public, Freud addressed, as he had done previously in the case of dreams but on a much larger scale, the difficulties and paradoxes of university training in psychoanalysis. "As a result of receiving your instruction at second hand, as it were, you find yourselves under quite unusual conditions for forming a judgement" (1916-17a, p. 18). Consequently, the claim that there is no objective criterion by which to judge the truth of psychoanalysis appears to eliminate it from the domain of science, where Freud maintains it belongs. The weakness of the epistemological argument leads to the pragmatic argument that we can only learn psychoanalysis through self-experimentation. Here, Freud's talent as a dialectician is apparent, and in the remainder of the work, he gradually tries to convince his reader of his claims.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Dream; First World War: The effect on the development of psychoanalysis; Neurosis; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis ; Parapraxis; Psychoanalysis; Transference.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1916-1917a [1915-1917]), Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse, Leipzig-Vienna: Hugo Heller; GW, 11; Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16.


Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. Part 1, SE, 4: 1-338; Part 2, SE, 5: 339-625.

. (1901a). On dreams. SE, 5: 629-685.

. (1901b). The psychopathology of everyday life. SE,6.

Gay, Peter. (1988). Freud: A life for our time. London-Melbourne: Dent.

Strachey, James. (1943-1974). Introductory notes. In The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth.

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Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis

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