Vienna, University of

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After a series of lectures on Darwin by Carl Brühl (1820-1899), an eminent professor of zoology at the University of Vienna, Freud decided to study medicine rather than law and to become a researcher in order to "understand something about the enigmas of nature and perhaps even contribute to solving them." His decision was also inspired by "Nature," a text that has been attributed to Goethe. In the absence of faculties in the natural sciences, medicine substituted as basic training for biologists, zoologists, and physiologists. Freud, however, had no wish to become a physician. The freedom in organizing studies accorded by the edicts of 1872 suited his theoretical penchants.

Prepared by exercises with the microscope, he engaged for six semesters in intensive studies of zoology with Carl Claus (1835-1899), a Darwinian. Claus twice sent him on a university grant to the zoological station at Trieste, Italy, to study the sexual organs of the eel. Although Freud himself underestimated the value of this research, his description of the bisexual disposition of the fresh-water eel is considered a fundamental study in this domain. His studies of Aristotle with Franz von Brentano (1838-1917) caused him to nurture for some time the notion of doing a double doctorate in zoology and philosophy.

In the course of his seventh semester he moved away from Claus, an exceptional though not very directive master, and joined the laboratory of the physiologist Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke (1819-1892), who was assisted by Ernst Fleischl von Marxow (1846-1891) and Siegmund Exner (1846-1926). This was "the inexhaustible center that drove all Viennese medicine in the second half of the century," where Freud finally found "tranquility and total satisfaction," as well as individuals that he could "respect and take as models." Brücke was an outstanding figure whom Freud could identify with, like Jean Martin Charcot later.

Being more of a researcher than a student, Freud published five articles on neurophysiology before his doctorate. With "Über den Bau der Nervenfasern und Nervenzellen beim Flusskrebs" (On the structure of nerve fibers and cells in the crayfish) in 1882, he became a pioneer in neurological research. He nevertheless experienced failures in his work in the Institute for Experimental Pathology, headed by Salomon Stricker (1834-1898), and in the Chemistry Institute, run by Ernst Ludwig (1842-1915).

In 1879 and 1880 he translated works of John Stuart Mill, published in volume 12 of Mill's Gesammelte Werke (Complete works), in order to earn his living, since he found himself in a difficult financial situation in spite of grants from two Jewish organizations. At this time he did his military service while preparing for his doctorate. In the oral examinations for his doctorate he received grades of "excellent" for the first and third examinations and a grade of "good enough" in the second. He sat for a recapitulation exam in law for physicians and received his medical doctorate on March 31, 1881. Among his friends while he was a student were Carl Koller, Siegmund Lustgarten, and Eduard Silberstein.

Eva Laible

See also: Amentia; Brentano, Franz von; Breuer, Josef; Brücke, Ernst Wilhelm von; Darwin, Darwinism, and psychoanalysis; Goethe and psychoanalysis; Hard science and psychoanalysis; Institut Max-Kassowitz; Internal/external reality; Philosophy and psychoanalysis; Science and psychoanalysis; Silberstein, Eduard; Wagner-Jauregg, Julius (Julius Wagner Ritter von Jauregg).


Hemecker, Wilhelm. (1991). Vor Freud: philosophiegeschichtliche voraussetzungen der psychoanalyse. Munich, Germany: Philosophia.

Laible, Eva. (1993). Through privation to knowledge: unknown documents from Freud's university years. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 74, 4, 775-790.

Lesky, Erna. (1976). The Vienna medical school of the 19th century (L. Williams and I. S. Levij, Trans.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Original work published 1965)