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In the second part ("Psychopathology") of Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950c [1895]) Freud introduced proton-pseudos in relation to hysteria. The term relates to Aristotle and the theory of the syllogism, which describes the link between false premises and false conclusions: if the premises are false, if there is an original error, then the conclusion must necessarily be false in spite of the soundness of the intermediary reasoning. The proton-pseudos refers to those false premises, the original error.

As an example, Freud described the case of Emma, who at the age of thirteen fled the laughter of the sales staff in a shop, consciously believing that they were laughing at her clothes. However, Emma's reaction in the shop was triggered by a repressed first event from years before, a grocer who had sexually touched her when she was eight.

This example described Freud's whole theory of the two stages of traumatism. He emphasized the intermediary period between the two successive events and that of the psychic maturation at puberty, which enabled a reconsideration and reinterpretation of the first event, which, when it occurred, could only be recorded psychically without any real integration or metabolization.

Freud described what he called the "determinant conditions for the first hysterical lie" (πρωτονπσενδος), stressing the role of puberty and its delayed onset in the human species, a two-stage evolution that he believed explained why "every adolescent must carry the germ of hysteria within him" (1950c, p. 356). This breakdown of trauma theory into two stages echoes the biological view of pubertal evolution, although Freud gradually came to admit in his later work that the time span separating the two stages of the traumatism could in fact be shorter than he had initially believed; the second stage could be prepubertal in certain cases.

Freud discussed Emma's story before the discovery of infantile sexuality, and it is important to put his views into perspective with his letters to Wilhelm Fliess dated May 20, 1896, and December 6, 1896, and Manuscript M, in which he reflected on the different levels at which mnemic traces are recorded and on the "process of stratification" underlying this recording. In France this line of thought resulted in Jean Laplanche's work much later on the mechanisms of "psychic translation and the theory of so-called "general seduction."

Bernard Golse

See also: Eckstein, Emma; Katharina, case of; Lie; Memory; Primary identification; "Project for a Scientific Psychology, A."


Freud, Sigmund. (1950a [1897-1902]). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-208.

. (1950c [1895]). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.

Freud, Sigmund, and Fliess, Wilhelm. (1985c [1887-1904]). The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904 (Jeffrey M. Masson Ed. and Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press.

Laplanche, Jean. (1989). New foundations for psychoanalysis (David Macey, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell. (Original work published in 1987)