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Sigmund Freud-loc

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud (May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. The theories distinctive of this school generally include the following hypotheses:

  • Human development is best understood in terms of changing objects of sexual desire.
  • The psychic apparatus habitually represses wishes, usually of a sexual or aggressive nature, whereby they become preserved in one or more unconscious systems of ideas.
  • Unconscious conflicts over repressed wishes have a tendency to manifest themselves in dreams, parapraxes ("Freudian slips"), and symptoms.
  • Unconscious conflicts are the source of neuroses.
  • Neuroses can be treated through bringing the unconscious wishes and repressed memories to consciousness in psychoanalytic treatment.

He is commonly referred to as "the father of psychoanalysis" and his work pioneered many of the themes that are currently taken for granted as fundamental components of contemporary psychological research.



Sigmund Freud, 1907

Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Freiberg (Příbor), Moravia, in the Austrian Empire (now belonging to the Czech Republic). In 1877, at the age of 21, he abbreviated his given name to "Sigmund." Although he was the first-born of three brothers and five sisters among his mother's children, Sigmund had older half-brothers from his father's previous marriage. His family had limited finances and lived in a crowded apartment, but his parents made every effort to foster his intellect (often favoring Sigmund over his siblings), which was apparent from an early age. Sigmund was ranked first in his class in six of eight years of schooling. He went on to attend the University of Vienna at 17, in 18731881.

Overall, little is known of Freud's early life, as he destroyed his personal papers at least twice, once in 1885 and again in 1907. Additionally, his later papers were closely guarded in the Sigmund Freud Archives and were only made available to his official biographer Ernest Jones and a few other members of the inner circle of psychoanalysis.

In 1886, Freud returned to Vienna and, after opening a private practice specializing in nervous and brain disorders, he married. He experimented with hypnotism with his most hysteric and neurotic patients, but he eventually gave up the practice. He found that he could get his patients to talk by putting them on a couch and encouraging them to say whatever came into their minds (a practice termed free association).

In his 40s, Freud "had numerous psychosomatic disorders as well as exaggerated fears of dying and other phobias" (Corey 2001, p. 67). During this time Freud was involved in the task of exploring his own dreams, memories, and the dynamics of his personality development. During this self-analysis, he came to realize the hostility he felt towards his father (Jacob Freud), and "he also recalled his childhood sexual feelings for his mother (Amalia Freud), who was attractive, warm, and protective" (Corey 2001, p. 67). Corey (2001) considers this time of emotional difficulty to be the most creative time in Freud's life.

After publishing successful books on the unconscious mind in 1900 and 1901, Freud was appointed to a professorship at the University of Vienna from where he began to develop a loyal following.

Freud had little tolerance for colleagues who diverged from his psychoanalytic doctrines. He attempted to expel those who disagreed with the movement or even refused to accept certain central aspects of his theory (Corey, 2001): the most notable examples are Carl Jung and Wilhelm Reich. Freud wrote a stinging attack on both Jung and Alfred Adler in a piece called "On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement".

In 1930, Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize by the city of Frankfurt, in recognition of his contributions to psychology. His mother died the same year at the age of ninety-five. In 1933, as Hitler and the Nazis seized power in Germany, Freud's books were burnt publicly by the S. A.

Sigmund Freud memorial plaque2

Memorial plaque of Sigmund Freud at his birthplace in Příbor, Czech Republic.

Following the Nazi German Anschluss, Freud fled Austria with his family with the financial help of his patient and friend Princess Marie Bonaparte. On June 4, 1938, they were allowed across the border into France and then they traveled from Paris to Hampstead, London, England, where they lived at 20 Maresfield Gardens (now the Freud Museum). As he was leaving Germany, Freud was required to sign a statement that he had been treated respectfully by the Nazis.

In England, in 1938, Freud's longing to be embraced by society as an important scientist was partly realized when two secretaries of the Royal Society brought the book of the Society for Freud to sign. Freud wrote to his friend Arnold Zweig: "They left a facsimile of the book with me and if you were here I could should show you the signatures from I. Newton to Charles Darwin. Good company!"

Freud smoked cigars for most of his life; even after having his jaw removed due to malignancy, he continued to smoke until his death on September 23, 1939. He smoked an entire box of cigars daily. After contracting cancer of the mouth in 1923 at the age of 67, he underwent over 30 operations to treat the disease. In the end, Freud could no longer tolerate the pain associated with his cancer. He requested that his personal physician visit him at his London home. Freud's death was by a physician-assisted morphine overdose.


Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter Anna Freud was also a distinguished psychologist, particularly in the fields of child and developmental psychology. Sigmund is the grandfather of painter Lucian Freud and comedian/politician/writer Clement Freud, and the great-grandfather of journalist Emma Freud, fashion designer Bella Freud, and media magnates Matthew Freud and Ria Willems.

Sigmund Freud was also both a blood uncle and an uncle-in-law to public relations and propaganda wizard Edward Bernays. Bernays's mother, Anna Freud Bernays, was sister to Sigmund. Bernays's father, Ely Bernays, was brother to Sigmund's wife, Martha Bernays Freud.


Freud has been influential in two related but distinct ways. He simultaneously developed a theory of the human mind and human behavior, and clinical techniques for attempting to help neurotics.

Early work[]

A lesser known interest of Freud's was neurology. He was an early researcher on the topic of cerebral palsy, then known as "cerebral paralysis". He published several medical papers on the topic. He also showed that the disease existed far before other researchers in his day began to notice and study it. He also suggested that William Little, the man who first identified cerebral palsy, was wrong about lack of oxygen during the birth process being a cause. Instead, he suggested that complications in birth were only a symptom of the problem. It was not until the 1980s that his speculations were confirmed by more modern research.

Freud was an early user and proponent of cocaine as a stimulant. He wrote several articles on the antidepressant qualities of the drug, and he was influenced by his friend and confidant, Wilhelm Fliess, who recommended cocaine for the treatment of the "nasal reflex neurosis." Fliess operated on Freud and a number of Freud's patients whom he believed to be suffering from the disorder. Emma Eckstein underwent disastrous nasal surgery by Fliess.

Freud felt that cocaine would work as a cure-all for many disorders, and wrote a well-received paper, "On Coca", explaining its virtues. He prescribed it to his friend Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow to help him beat a morphine addiction he had acquired while treating a disease of the nervous system. Freud also recommended it to many of his close family and friends. He narrowly missed out on obtaining scientific priority for discovering cocaine's anesthetic properties (of which Freud was aware but on which he had not written extensively), after Karl Koller, a colleague of Freud's in Vienna, presented a report to a medical society in 1884 outlining the ways in which cocaine could be used for delicate eye surgery. Freud was bruised by this, especially because this would turn out to be one of the only safe uses of cocaine, as reports of addiction and overdose began to filter in from many places in the world. Freud's medical reputation became somewhat tarnished for his early enthusiasm. Furthermore, Freud's friend Fleischl-Marxow developed an acute case of "cocaine psychosis" as a result of Freud's prescriptions and died a few years later. Freud felt great regret over these events, which later biographers have dubbed "The Cocaine Incident".

Freud hoped that his research would provide a solid scientific basis for his therapeutic technique. The goal of Freudian therapy, or psychoanalysis, was to bring to consciousness repressed thoughts and feelings. According to some of his successors, including his daughter Anna Freud, the goal of therapy is to allow the patient to develop a stronger ego; according to others, notably Jacques Lacan, the goal of therapy is to lead the analysand to a full acknowledgment of his or her inability to satisfy the most basic desires.

Classically, the bringing of unconscious thoughts and feelings to consciousness is brought about by encouraging the patient to talk in free association and to talk about dreams. Another important element of psychoanalysis is a relative lack of direct involvement on the part of the analyst, which is meant to encourage the patient to project thoughts and feelings onto the analyst. Through this process, transference, the patient can reenact and resolve repressed conflicts, especially childhood conflicts with (or about) parents.

The unconscious[]

Perhaps the most significant contribution Freud has made to modern thought is his conception of the dynamic unconscious. During the 19th century, the dominant trend in Western thought was positivism, the belief that people could ascertain real knowledge concerning themselves and their environment and judiciously exercise control over both. Freud, however, suggested that such declarations of free will are in fact delusions; that we are not entirely aware of what we think and often act for reasons that have little to do with our conscious thoughts. The concept of the unconscious was groundbreaking in that he proposed that awareness existed in layers and that there were thoughts occurring "below the surface." Dreams, which he called the "royal road to the unconscious", provided the best access to our unconscious life and the best illustration of its "logic", which was different from the logic of conscious thought. Freud developed his first topology of the psyche in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) in which he proposed the argument that the unconscious exists and described a method for gaining access to it. The Preconscious was described as a layer between conscious and unconscious thought—that which we could access with a little effort. Thus for Freud, the ideals of the Enlightenment, positivism and rationalism, could be achieved through understanding, transforming, and mastering the unconscious, rather than through denying or repressing it.

Crucial to the operation of the unconscious is "repression." According to Freud, people often experience thoughts and feelings that are so painful that people cannot bear them. Such thoughts and feelings—and associated memories—could not, Freud argued, be banished from the mind, but could be banished from consciousness. Thus they come to constitute the unconscious. Although Freud later attempted to find patterns of repression among his patients in order to derive a general model of the mind, he also observed that individual patients repress different things. Moreover, Freud observed that the process of repression is itself a non-conscious act (in other words, it did not occur through people willing away certain thoughts or feelings). Freud supposed that what people repressed was in part determined by their unconscious. In other words, the unconscious was for Freud both a cause and effect of repression.

Later, Freud distinguished between three concepts of the unconscious: the descriptive unconscious, the dynamic unconscious, and the system unconscious. The descriptive unconscious referred to all those features of mental life of which we are not subjectively aware. The dynamic unconscious, a more specific construct, referred to mental process and contents which are defensively removed from consciousness as a result of conflictual forces or "dynamics". The system unconscious denoted the idea that when mental processes are repressed, they become organized by principles different from those of the conscious mind, such as condensation and displacement.

Eventually, Freud abandoned the idea of the system unconscious, replacing it with the concept of the Ego, super-ego, and id (discussed below). Throughout his career, however, he retained the descriptive and dynamic conceptions of the unconscious.

Psychosexual development[]

Main article: Psychosexual development

Freud also believed that the libido developed in individuals by changing its object, a process designed by the concept of sublimation. He argued that humans are born "polymorphously perverse", meaning that any number of objects could be a source of pleasure. He further argued that, as humans developed, they become fixated on different and specific objects through their stages of development—first in the oral stage (exemplified by an infant's pleasure in nursing), then in the anal stage (exemplified by a toddler's pleasure in controlling his or her bowels), then in the phallic stage. Freud argued that children then passed through a stage in which they fixated on the mother as a sexual object, known as the Oedipus Complex but that the child eventually overcame and repressed this desire because of its taboo nature. (The lesser known Electra complex refers to such a fixation upon the father.)

Freud hoped to prove that his model was universally valid and thus turned to ancient mythology and contemporary ethnography for comparative material. Freud named his new theory the Oedipus complex after the famous Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. “I found in myself a constant love for my mother, and jealousy of my father. I now consider this to be a universal event in childhood,” Freud said. Freud sought to anchor this pattern of development in the dynamics of the mind. Each stage is a progression into adult sexual maturity, characterized by a strong ego and the ability to delay gratification (cf. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality). He used the Oedipus conflict to point out how much he believed that people desire incest and must repress that desire. The Oedipus conflict was described as a state of psychosexual development and awareness. He also turned to anthropological studies of totemism and argued that totemism reflected a ritualized enactment of a tribal Oedipal conflict.

No discussion of Sigmund Freud is complete without some mention of his highly influential and controversial views on the role and psychology of women. Freud was an early champion of both sexual freedom and education for women (Freud, "Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness"). Some feminists, however, have argued that at worst his views of women's sexual development set the progress of women in Western culture back decades, and that at best they lent themselves to the ideology of female inferiority. Believing as he did that women were a kind of mutilated male, who must learn to accept her deformity (the lack of a penis) and submit to some imagined biological imperative, he contributed to the vocabulary of misogyny. Terms such as "penis envy" and "castrating" (both used to describe women who attempted to excel in any field outside the home) contributed to discouraging women from obtaining education or entering any field dominated by men, until the 1970s.

On the other hand, feminist theorists such as Juliet Mitchell, Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Jane Gallop, and Jane Flax have argued that psychoanalytic theory is essentially related to the feminist project and must, like other theoretical traditions, be adapted by women to free it from vestiges of sexism. Freud's views are still being questioned by people concerned about women's equality. Another feminist who finds potential use of Freud's theories in the feminist movement is Shulamith Firestone. In "Freudianism: The Misguided Feminism", she discusses how Freudianism is essentially completely accurate, with the exception of one crucial detail: everywhere that Freud writes "penis", the word should be replaced with "power".

It is interesting to note that originally Freud believed childhood sexual abuse to be the cause of hysteria—but he then recanted this so-called "seduction theory" ("The Index of Sexual Abuse"), claiming that he had found many cases in which apparent memories of childhood sexual abuse were based more on imagination than on real events. Instead he began to emphasize the Oedipus Theory, which asserts that everyone unconsciously wishes to possess their parents.

Ego, super-ego, and id[]

Main article: Ego, super-ego, and id

In his later work, Freud proposed that the psyche was divided into three parts: Ego, super-ego, and id. This structural model of the mind was released by Freud in the 1920 essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and fully adopted in The Ego and The Id (1923) as an alternative to his topographical scheme (conscious, unconscious, preconscious).

Defense mechanisms[]

According to Freud, the defense mechanisms are the method by which the ego can solve the conflicts between the super-ego and the id. The use of the mechanisms required Eros (named after the Greek god of love; Cupid in Roman mythology), and they are helpful if moderately used. The use of defense mechanisms may attenuate the conflict between the id and super-ego, but their overuse or reuse rather than confrontation can lead to either anxiety or guilt which may result in psychological disorders such as depression. His daughter Anna Freud had done the most significant work on this field, yet she credited Sigmund with defense mechanisms, as he began the work. The defense mechanisms include: denial, reaction formation, displacement, repression/suppression (the proper term), projection, intellectualisation, rationalisation, compensation, sublimation and regressive emotionality.

  • Denial occurs when someone fends off awareness of an unpleasant truth or of a reality that is a threat to the ego. For example, a student may have received a bad grade on a report card but tells himself that grades don't matter. (Some early writers argued for a striking parallel between Freudian denial and Nietzsche's ideas of ressentiment and the revaluation of values that he attributed to "herd" or "slave" morality.)
  • Reaction formation takes place when a person takes the opposite approach consciously compared to what that person wants unconsciously. For example, someone may engage in violence against another race because, that person claims, the members of the race are inferior, when unconsciously it is that very person who feels inferior.
  • Displacement takes place when someone redirects emotion from a "dangerous" object to a "safe" one, such as punching a pillow to avoid hitting a friend.
  • Repression occurs when an experience is so painful (such as war trauma) that it is unconsciously forced from consciousness, while suppression is a conscious effort to do the same.
  • Psychological projection occurs when a person "projects" his or her own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, feelings—basically parts of oneself—onto someone or something else. An example of this would be to say that Alice doesn't like Bob, but rather than to admit she doesn't like Bob, she will project her sentiment onto Bob, saying that Bob doesn't like her.
  • Intellectualisation involves removing one's self, emotionally, from a stressful event. Intellectualisation is often accomplished through rationalisation rather than accepting reality, one may explain it away to remove one's self.
  • Rationalization involves constructing a logical justification for a decision that was originally arrived at through a different mental process. For example, Jim may have bought a tape player to listen to self-help tapes, but he tells his friends he bought it so that he can listen to classic rock mixes for fear of his actual reason being rejected.
  • Compensation occurs when someone takes up one behavior because one cannot accomplish another behavior. For example, the second born child may clown around to get attention since the older child is already an accomplished scholar.
  • Sublimation is the channeling of impulses to socially accepted behaviours. For instance, the use of a dark, gloomy poem to describe life by such poets as Emily Dickinson.

The life and death instincts[]

Freud believed that humans were driven by two conflicting central desires: the life drive (Eros) (incorporating the sex drive) and the death drive (Thanatos). Freud's description of Eros/Libido included all creative, life-producing drives. The Death Drive (or death instinct) represented an urge inherent in all living things to return to a state of calm, or, ultimately, of non-existence. The presence of the Death Drive was only recognized in his later years, and the contrast between the two represents a revolution in his manner of thinking.

Social psychology[]


Freud leaves Vienna for exile in London, 1938 (Memorial to the German Resistance, Berlin)

Freud gave explanations of the genesis of religion in his writings, included in a reflection on crowd psychology. In Totem and Taboo (1913), he proposed that humans originally banded together in “primal hordes”, consisting of a male, a number of females and the offspring of this polygamous arrangement. According to Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, a male child early in life has sexual desires for his mother – the Oedipus Complex – which he held to be universal. Ethnologists would later criticize this point, leading to ethno-psychoanalytic studies. According to Freud, the father is protective, so his sons love him, but they are also jealous of their father for his relationship with their mothers. Finding that individually they cannot defeat the father-leader, they band together, kill and eat him in a ritual meal, thereby ingesting the substance of the father’s hated power – but their subsequent guilt leads the sons to elevate their father's memory and to worship him. The super-ego then takes the place of the father as the source of internalized authority. A ban was then put upon incest and upon marriage within the clan, and symbolic animal sacrifice was substituted for the ritual killing of a human being.

In Moses and Monotheism (1939) Freud reconstructed biblical history in accord with his general theory, but biblical scholars and historians would not accept his account since it defied the viewpoint of the accepted criteria of historical evidence. However, his point was probably more in proposing a just-so story and an interpretation of leadership based on mass psychology, using the Prophetic figure of Moses. His ideas about religion were also developed in The Future of an Illusion (1927). When Freud spoke of religion as an illusion, he maintained that it is a fantasy structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity; and in his treatment of the unconscious he moved toward atheism. In this sense, Freud approached the Marxist theory of alienation. Freud isolated two main principles: Thanatos is the drive towards the disillusion of all life, whereas, Eros is to strive towards stopping that drive. When one goal is reached, the other becomes out of reach, and vice versa.

In Group Psychology and Ego Analysis (Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analysis, 1920), Freud explored crowd psychology, continuing Gustave Le Bon's early work. When the individual joins a crowd, he ceases repressing his instincts, and thus relapses into primitive culture, according to Freud's analysis. However, crowds must be distinguished into natural and organized crowds, following William McDougall' distinction. Thus, if intellectual skills (the capacity to doubt and to distance oneself) are systematically reduced when the individual joins a mass, he may eventually be "morally enlightened". Prefiguring Moses and Monotheism and The Future of an Illusion, he states that the love relationship between the leader and the masses, in the Church or in the Army, are only an "idealist transformation of the conditions existing in the primitive horde". Freud then compares leader's relationship with the crowd to a relation of hypnosis, a force to which he relates Mana. Pessimist about humanity's chances of liberty, Freud writes that "The leader of the crowd always incarnate the dreaded primitive father, the crowd always want to be dominated by an illimited power, it is grasping at the highest degree for authority or, to use Le Bon's expression, it is hungry for subservience".

According to Freud, self-identification to a common figure, the leader, explained the phenomenon of masses' obedience. Each individual connected themselves vertically to the same ideal figure (or idea), each one thus have the same self-ideal, and hence identify together (horizontal relation). Freud also quoted Wilfred Trotter's The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (1914). Along with Moses and Monotheism, Massenpsychologie... would be one of the articles most quoted by Wilhelm Reich and the Frankfurt School in its Freudo-Marxist synthesis.

Freud's legacy[]


Freud trained as a medical doctor, and believed his research methods and conclusions were scientific. However, his research and practice were controversial both among his peers and among later psychologists and academics. Despite this, nearly all modern psychotheraputic practice is strongly influenced by Freud's thinking.

Some critics, like Juliet Mitchell, have suggested that Freud's basic claim—that many of our conscious thoughts and actions are driven by unconscious fears and desires—should be rejected because it implicitly challenges universal and objective claims about the world. Some proponents of science conclude that this invalidates Freudian theory as a means of interpreting and explaining human behavior. Psychoanalysis today maintains the same ambivalent relationship with medicine and academia that Freud experienced during his life.

Current psychotherapists, who seek to treat mental illness, relate to Freudian psychoanalysis in different ways. Some psychotherapists have modified this approach and have developed a variety of "psychodynamic" models and therapies. Other therapists reject Freud's model of the mind, but have adapted elements of his therapeutic method, especially his reliance on patients' talking as a form of therapy. Few experimental psychologists use Freud's methods and theories. Psychiatrists train as medical doctors, but—like most medical doctors in Freud's time—most reject his theory of the mind.

Freud's psychological theories continue to be disputed today. Some leading academic and research psychiatrists regard him as a charlatan, but many other psychiatrists agree with the core of his work. Psychiatric disorders are often considered purely diseases of the brain, the etiology of which is principally genetic. This view emphasizes constitutional factors in mental illness. Freud believed that the vast majority of disorders result from a combination of constitutional and environmental factors, the relative importance of each varying from one person to another.

Freud recognized a political dimension to the psyche and to psychotherapy. He closed his 1929 book, Civilization and Its Discontents, with a reflection that not only individuals, but entire societies, may be proper subjects for psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.


Freud introduced three concepts that represent a break with prior Western philosophy, whatever the value of psychoanalysis as a form of psychotherapy.

  • He created a model of mental processes that breaks with the Cartesian cogito. For Freud, thought emerges from processes that are not accessible to the subject itself through direct introspection. In a more historicized sense, Karl Marx's analysis of ideology precedes Freud's, but Freud makes non-transparency of subjectivity more fundamental. Psychosexual history (in Freud's view) and membership in a social class (in Marx's view) lie at the core of the goals people have and the ideas they use to justify them.
  • Freud examined the "rationality" to be found even in material regarded as thoroughly inscrutable, irrational and meaningless, such as dreams, slips, neurotic symptoms, and the verbal productions of psychotics. Conversely, he discovered "irrationality" (i.e., purely arbitrary and idiosyncratic elements) even in material that is manifestly "rational" (i.e., work activities, political philosophy, conventional social behaviour).
  • Freud introduced a novel discursive technique in the talking cure. Psychoanalysis enables people to mitigate distress through the indirect revelation of unconscious content. The process of psychoanalysis reveals retrospectively how individuals unconsciously contribute to problems they encounter, according to specific logics of condensation and transference. This idea of the agency of language was later seized upon by Jacques Lacan, who championed a "return to Freud" in light of his development of mathemes and structuralist accounts of society and language (especially Claude Lévi-Strauss and Ferdinand de Saussure).

Critical reactions[]

Perhaps the most serious and consequential of all critique’s of Freud’s theory is not a critique of his theory at all but of our culture’s interpretation of it. In this view, Freud’s theory has been fundamentally misinterpreted because Freud has not been read in the context of his own theory. Thus, Freud says mankind’s conscious ideas are unconsciously determined by infantile memories that persons have earlier repressed, or censored. They come back but in disguised and altered form in our conscious thoughts. He claimed this was true in his own case, while basing his theory largely on his analysis of himself. If we consider Freud’s theory to be true in his own case, as Freud himself did, then that would mean that Freud regarded the ideas he presented in his theory as having been determined by his own censored infantile memories. We cannot suppose therefore that Freud based his “theory” on objective observations of clinical patients. Instead, we must accept his theory which says that it was based on memories he did not want to remember but could not forget. It was never in his own mind, therefore, really a scientific theory. That's no doubt why he wrote privately that he was not a scientist. That his theory was science was only his deliberately misleading pretense and our overly gullible misconception. He does say in addition, however, that we can validly reconstruct those memories by analyzing the ideas he associated together in his writings. To do this, however, one needs to analyze his theory the same way he advised us to analyze a person’s dreams, delusions, or symptoms. His basic rule is to ignore the manifest meaning altogether and focus instead on merely the elements that appear in the dream or, in this case, in his theory. Doing precisely this with Freud’s core theory of an Oedipus complex led indeed to the "reconstruction" of "infantile memories" (memories pertaining to an infant) which consisted of Freud's having "killed" a child he conceived in a "family romance" with his sister-in-law Minna Bernays, the new-born child being killed in October of 1896 (see "Freud’s Oedipus Complex: A Re-appraisal of its Meaning,” a doctoral dissertation by Michael O'Brien at Boston University, UMI Order No. 89—08560). Freud began to compose his book on dreams--his Interpretation of Dreams--immediately after this, in which he said infantile subject matter was concealed. He insisted there that, however nonsensical or absurd dreams dreams might appear to be, they really did have a hidden meaning which could be legitimately interpreted, using his new and novel methods of analysis. Once analyzed, his dreambook disclosed just what his theory said it would: e.g., infantile memories and one's impulse to kill, or "death instinct." Another study in 1994 updated this with a better appreciation of the religious dimension involved in his killing of this child (see "A Study of the Latent Meaning of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams" in Studies in Psychoanalytic Theory, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 11-49. A shorter article presents just the theory and rationale of this new and more contextually disciplined approach to understanding the "real" meaning of Freud’s theory (see “If Freud’s Theory Be True...” in Psychological Reports 1992, 70, pp. 611-620). The author in each case is M. O'Brien.

A paper by Lydiard H. Horton, read in 1915 at a joint meeting of the American Psychological Association and the New York Academy of Sciences (Scientific Method In The Interpretation Of Dreams), called Freud's dream theory "dangerously inaccurate" and noted that "rank confabulations...appear to hold water, psychoanalytically".

Anthony Grayling, Reader in Philosophy at the University of London, and a Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, writing in The Guardian in 2002 (Scientist or storyteller?) , said "Philosophies that capture the imagination never wholly fade....But as to Freud's claims upon truth, the judgment of time seems to be running against him."

Freud's model of psychosexual development has been criticized from different perspectives. Some have attacked Freud's claim that infants are sexual beings (and, implicitly, Freud's expanded notion of sexuality). Others have accepted Freud's expanded notion of sexuality, but have argued that this pattern of development is not universal, nor necessary for the development of a healthy adult. Instead, they have emphasized the social and environmental sources of patterns of development. Moreover, they call attention to social dynamics Freud de-emphasized or ignored (such as class relations). This branch of Freudian critique owes a great deal to the work of Herbert Marcuse.

Some criticize Freud's rejection of positivism.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The philosopher of science Karl Popper formulated a method to distinguish science from non-science. For Popper, all proper scientific theories are potentially falsifiable. If a theory could not possibly be falsified, then it cannot be considered scientific. Popper argued that Freud's theories of psychology can never be "verified"; no type of behavior could ever falsify them.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Regardless, Freudianism continues to have many adherents.

Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud's Theory on American Thought and Culture, by E. Fuller Torrey (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1992), xvi, 362 pages. ISBN 1929636008

Madness on the Couch: Blaming the Victim in the Heyday of Psychoanalysis by Edward Dolnick ISBN 0684824973

Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend by Frederick C. Crews ISBN 0765535394


File:Freud Sofa.JPG

Freud's couch used during psychoanalytic sessions

Freud used pseudonyms in his case histories. Many of the people identified only by pseudonyms were traced to their true identities by Peter Swales. Some patients known by pseudonyms were Anna O. (Bertha Pappenheim, 1859–1936); Cäcilie M. (Anna von Lieben); Dora (Ida Bauer, 1882–1945); Frau Emmy von N. (Fanny Moser); Fräulein Elisabeth von R. (Ilona Weiss);[1] Fräulein Katharina (Aurelia Kronich); Fräulein Lucy R.; Little Hans (Herbert Graf, 1903–1973); Rat Man (Ernst Lanzer, 1878–1914); and Wolf Man (Sergei Pankejeff, 1887–1979). Other famous patients included H.D. (1886–1961); Emma Eckstein (1865–1924); Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), with whom Freud had only a single, extended consultation; and Princess Marie Bonaparte.

People on whom psychoanalytic observations were published, but who were not patients, included Daniel Paul Schreber (1842–1911);Giordano Bruno, Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), on whom Freud co-authored an analysis with primary writer William Bullitt; Michelangelo, whom Freud analyzed in his essay, "The Moses of Michelangelo"; Leonardo da Vinci, analyzed in Freud's book, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood; Moses, in Freud's book, Moses and Monotheism; and Josef Popper-Lynkeus, in Freud's paper, "Josef Popper-Lynkeus and the Theory of Dreams."

See also[]




  1. Appignanesi & Forrester (1992). Freud's Women, p.108.
  • Corey, G. (2001). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning


Major works by Freud[]

  • Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten, 1905)
  • Introduction into Psychoanalyze (Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse, 1917)
  • An Outline of Psycho-Analysis (Abriß der Psychoanalyse, 1940)


Books about Freud and psychoanalysis[]

  • Philip Rieff, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)
  • Anthony Bateman and Jeremy Holmes, Introduction to Psychoanalysis: Contemporary Theory & Practice (London: Routledge, 1995)

Conceptual critiques[]

  • Adler, Mortimer J., What Man Has Made of Man: A Study of the Consequences of Platonism and Positivism in Psychology (New York: Longmans, Green, 1937). (A philosophical critique from an Aristotelian/Thomistic point of view.)
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (London and New York: Continuum, 2004). (This first volume of the famous two-part work (also subtitled Capitalism and Schizophrenia) polemicises Freud's argument that the Oedipal complex determines subjectivity. It is also, therefore, a staunch critique of the Lacanian 'return to Freud.)
  • Ellenberger, Henri F., The Discovery of the Unconscious: the History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (London: Penguin, 1970). (An extensive account and sensitive critique of Freudian metapsychology.)
  • Eysenck, H. J. and Wilson, G. D. The Experimental Study of Freudian Theories, Methuen, London (1973).
  • Eysenck, Hans, Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1986).
  • Hobson, J. Allan Hobson, Dreaming: An Introduction to the Science of Sleep (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). ISBN 0192804820. (Critique of Freud's dream theory in terms of current neuroscience)
  • Johnston, Thomas, Freud and Political Thought (New York: Citadel, 1965). (One of the more accessible accounts of the import of Freudianism for political theory.)
  • Marcuse, Herbert, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1974). (Mentioned above. For a good review, see Stirk, Peter M. R., ‘Eros and Civilization revisited’, History of the Human Sciences, 12 (1), 1999, pp. 73–90.)
  • Mitchell, Juliet. Psychoanalysis and Feminism: A Radical Reassessment of Freudian Psychoanalysis Originally published in 1974; Basic Books reissue (2000) ISBN 0465046088
  • Chasseguet-Smirgel, Janine & Grunberger, Béla. Freud or Reich? Psychoanalysis and Illusion. (London: Free Association Books, 1986)
  • Neu, Jerome (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Freud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). (A good conceptual overview.)
  • O’Brien, M. T. (1989). Freud’s Oedipus Complex: A Reappraisal of Its Meaning (Volumes I and II). Ed.D Dissertation, Boston University Graduate School of Education, 1989. Proquest Dissertations And Theses, 1989, Section 0017, Part 0622. 747 pages. Publication #: 8908560.
  • O’Brien, M. T. (1992). If Freud's Theory Be True.. Psychological Reports, 70, 611-20.
  • O'Brien, M. T. (1994). A Study of the Latent Meaning of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. Studies in Psychoanalytic Theory, 3(2), 11-49.
  • Ricoeur, Paul, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972).
  • —, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. Don Ihde (London: Continuum, 2004). (A critical examination of the import of Freud for philosophy.)
  • Torrey, E. Fuller (1992). Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud's Theory on American Thought and Culture. New York, NY : HarperCollins.
  • Voloshinov, Valentin. Freudianism: A Marxist critique, Academic Press (1976) ISBN 0127232508
  • Wollheim, Richard, Freud, 2nd edn. (London: Fontana, 1991). (A good starting point.)


The area of biography has been especially contentious in the historiography of psychoanalysis, for two primary reasons: first, the vast majority of historical material on Freud has been, since his death, made available only at the permission of his biological and intellectual heirs (his daughter, Anna Freud, was extremely protective of her father's reputation); second, much of the data and theory of Freudian psychoanalysis hinges upon the personal testimony of Freud himself, and so to challenge Freud's legitimacy or honesty has been seen by many as an attack on the roots of his enduring work.

The first biographies of Freud were written by Freud himself: his On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement (1914) and An Autobiographical Study (1924) provided much of the basis for discussions by later biographers, including "debunkers" (as they contain a number of prominent omissions and potential misrepresentations). A few of the major biographies on Freud to come out over the 20th century were:

  • Helen Walker Puner, Freud: His Life and His Mind (1947) — Puner was remarkably insightful on Freud, especially concerning Freud's unanalyzed relationship to his mother, Amalia.
  • Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols. (1953–1958) — the first "authorized" biography of Freud, made by one of his former students with the authorization and assistance of Anna Freud, with the hope of "dispelling the myths" from earlier biographies. There can be no doubt that Jones wrote more of a hagiography than a history of Freud. Although correct on the biographical facts of Freud's life, Jones diagnosed his own analyst, Ferenczi, as "psychotic." In the same breath, Jones also maligned Otto Rank, Ferenczi's close friend and Jones's most important rival for leadership of the movement in the 1920s. These two libels are expressions of a personal vendetta by Jones that seriously harm his reputation for honesty.
  • Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) — was the first book to, in a compelling way, attempt to situate Freud within the context of his time and intellectual thought, arguing that he was the intellectual heir of Franz Mesmer and that the genesis of his theory owed a large amount to the political context of turn of the 19th century Vienna.
  • Frank Sulloway, Freud: Biologist of the Mind (1979) — Sulloway, one of the first professional/academic historians to write a biography of Freud, positioned Freud within the larger context of the history of science, arguing specifically that Freud was, in fact, a biologist in disguise (a "crypto-biologist", in Sulloway's terms), and sought to actively hide this.
  • Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988) — Gay's work was published as a response to the anti-Freudian literature and the "Freud Wars" of the 1980s (see below).

The creation of Freud biographies has itself even been written about at some length—see, for example, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, "A History of Freud Biographies," in Discovering the History of Psychiatry, edited by Mark S. Micale and Roy Porter (Oxford University Press, 1994).

  • Helen Walker Puner, Freud: His Life and His Mind (1947)
  • Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols. (1953–1958)
  • Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970)
  • Frank Sulloway, Freud: Biologist of the Mind (1979)
  • Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory, Ballantine Books (November 2003), ISBN 0-345-45279-8
  • Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988)
  • Louis Breger, Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision (New York: Wiley, 2000), ISBN 978-0471078586

Biographical critiques[]

Freud himself, and psychoanalysis generally, have proved sufficiently unheimlich (disturbing)[1] to many readers that something of a cottage industry in exposés of Freud's alleged personal faults has grown up, mostly in the USA, and especially starting from the 1980s. For example:

  • Bakan, David. Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition, D. Van Nostrand Company, 1958; New York, Schocken Books, 1965; Dover Publications, 2004. ISBN 0486437671
  • Crews, F. C. Unauthorized Freud : doubters confront a legend, New York, Viking 1998. ISBN 0670872210
  • Dufresne, T. Killing Freud, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003.
  • Eysenck, H. J. The Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire, Scott-Townsend Publishers, Washington D. C., (1990)
  • Jurjevich, R. M. The Hoax of Freudism: A study of Brainwashing the American Professionals and Laymen Dorrance (1974) ISBN 0805918566
  • LaPiere, R. T. The Freudian Ethic: An Analysis of the Subversion of Western Character Greenwood Press (1974) ISBN 0837175437
  • MacDonald, Kevin B. The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements Authorhouse (2002) ISBN 0759672229
  • Macmillan, Malcolm. Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc MIT Press, 1996 ISBN 0262631717 [originally published by New Holland, 1991]
  • Scharnberg, Max. The non-authentic nature of Freud's observations, Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1993 ISBN 91-554-3122-4
  • Stannard, D. E. Shrinking History: On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory Oxford University Press, Oxford (1980) ISBN 0195030443
  • Thornton, E. M. Freud and Cocaine: The Freudian Fallacy, Blond & Briggs, London (1983) ISBN 0856341398
  • Webster, Richard. Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science, and Psychoanalysis BasicBooks, 1995. ISBN 0465095798

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