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Encyclopedia > Freud
Sigmund Freud
His famous couch
His famous couch

Sigmund Freud (May 6, 1856 - September 23, 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, a movement that popularized the theory that unconscious motives control much behavior. He became interested in hypnotism and how it could be used to help the mentally ill. He later abandoned hypnotism in favor of free association and dream analysis in developing what is now known as "the talking cure." These became the core elements of psychoanalysis. Freud was especially interested in what was then called hysteria, and is now called conversion syndrome.

Freud's theories, and his treatment of patients, were controversial in 19th century Vienna, and remain hotly debated today. Freud's ideas are often discussed and analyzed as works of literature, philosophy, and general culture in addition to continuing debate around them as scientific and medical treatises.


His life

He was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in Freiberg, Moravia, the Austrian Empire (now Pribor in the Czech Republic). In 1877, he abbreviated his name to Sigmund Freud.

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 only available to Ernest Jones, his official biographer, and a few other members of the inner circle of psychoanalysis. The work of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson shed some light on the nature of the suppressed material.

Following the Nazi German Anschluss Freud fled Austria with his family. On June 4th, 1938 they were allowed across the border into France and then they traveled from Paris to Hampstead, London, England. As he was leaving Germany, Freud was asked to sign a statement that he had been treated respectfully by the Nazis. Freud complied, but then added at the bottom the sarcastic note: "I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone."

Freud's 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 and writer Clement Freud, and the great-grandfather of journalist Emma Freud, and fashion designer Bella Freud.

Freud was a smoker of Churchill-style cigars for most of his life; even after having his jaw removed due to malignancy, he continued to smoke until his death in 1939. It is said that he would smoke an entire box of cigars daily.

Freud's innovations

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 unhappy (i.e. neurotic) people. Many people claim to have been influenced by one but not the other.

Perhaps the most significant contribution Freud has made to modern thought is his conception of the unconscious. During the 19th century the dominant trend in Western thought was positivism, the claim that people could accumulate real knowledge about themselves and their world, and exercise rational control over both. Freud, however, suggested that these claims were in fact delusions; that we are not entirely aware of what we even think, and often act for reasons that have nothing to do with our conscious thoughts. The concept of the unconscious was groundbreaking in that he proposed that awareness existed in layers and there were thoughts occurring "below the surface." Dreams, called the "royal road to the unconscious", provided the best examples of our unconscious life, and in The Interpretation of Dreams Freud both developed 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. (The term "subconscious" while popularly used, is not actually part of psychoanalytical terminology.) Although there are still many adherents to a purely positivist and rationalist view, most people, including many who reject other elements of Freud's work, accept the claim that part of the mind is unconscious, and that people often act for reasons of which they are not conscious. In a lecture at Clark University in 1910, he explains his new conception of the workings of the human mind and its rejection by fellow professionals and the public. "The arrogance of consciousness which for example rejects dreams so lightly, belongs quite generally, to the strongest protective apparatus which guards us against the breaking through of the unconscious complexes, and as a result it is hard to convince people of the reality of the unconscious, and to teach them anew what their conscious knowledge contradicts."

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.

Freud sought to explain how the unconscious operates by proposing that it has a particular structure. He proposed that the unconscious was divided into three parts: Id, Ego, and Superego. The Id (Latin, = "it" = es in the original German) represented primary process thinking — our most primitive need gratification type thoughts. The Superego (überich in German) represented our conscience and counteracted the Id with moral and ethical thoughts. Freud based the term Id on the work of Georg Groddeck. The Ego (ich) stands in between both to balance our primitive needs and our moral/ethical beliefs. A healthy ego provides the ability to adapt to reality and interact with the outside world in a way that accommodates both Id and Superego. The general claim that the mind is not a monolithic or homogeneous thing continues to have an enormous influence on people outside of psychology.

Freud was especially concerned with the dynamic relationship between these three parts of the mind. Freud argued that the dynamic is driven by innate drives. But he also argued that the dynamic changes in the context of changing social relationships. Some have criticized Freud for giving too much importance to one or the other of these factors; similarly, many of Freud's followers have focused on one or the other.

Freud developed the concept of overdetermination to account for the multiple determining causes in the interpretation of dreams rather than rely on a simple model of one-to-one correspondence between causes and effects.

Freud believed that humans were driven by two instinctive drives, libidinal energy/Eros and the death instinct/Thanatos. Freud's description of Eros/Libido included all creative, life-producing instincts. The Death Instinct represented an instinctive drive to return to a state of calm, or non-existence and was based on his studies of protozoa. (See: Beyond the Pleasure Principle).

Freud also believed that the libido developed in individuals by changing its object. 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 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 where they fixated on the parent of the opposite sex and thought the same-sexed parent a rival.Freud named his new theory the Oedipus Complex after the famous Greek tragedy 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(Sax263-283). 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 need gratification. (see Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.)

Freud hoped to prove that his model, based primarily on observations of middle-class Viennese, was universally valid. He thus turned to ancient mythology and contemporary ethnography for comparative material. Freud used the Greek tragedy by Sophocles Oedipus Rex to point out how much he believed that people (young boys in particular) 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 an tribal Oedipal conflict (see Totem and Taboo).

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, in order to allow the patient to develop a stronger ego. 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, called "transference," the patient can reenact and resolve repressed conflicts, especially childhood conflicts with (or about) parents.

Freud was an early user and proponent of cocaine (see Freud and Cocaine (http://www.historyhouse.com/in_history/cocaine/)), and also a developer of the nasal reflex neurosis theory and practice with Wilfed Fliess. Emma Eckstein underwent disastrous nasal surgery by Fliess.

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 when his speculations were confirmed by more modern research.

Freudian theory and practice have been challenged by the lack of empirical findings over the years. Some people continue to train in, and practice, traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, but a large number of psychiatrists today reject the large majority of Freud's work as unsupported by evidence and best used for inspiration or historical study. Note however, that apart from psychoanalysis, there exists no general framework for the understanding of the mind, and psychiatrists are left with no substitute when they reject it. Although Freud developed his method for the treatment of neuroses, some people today seek out psychoanalysis not as a cure for an illness, but as part of a process of self-discovery.

Freudian psychoanalysis

Freud trained as a medical doctor, and consistently claimed that his research methods and conclusions were scientific. Nevertheless, his research and practice were condemned by many of his peers. Moreover, both critics and followers of Freud have observed that his basic claim, that many of our conscious thoughts and actions are motivated by unconscious fears and desires, implicitly challenges universal and objective claims about the world.

Clinical psychologists, who seek to treat mental illness, relate to Freudian psychoanalysis in different ways. Some clinical psychologists have modified this approach and have developed a variety of "psychodynamic" models and therapies. Other clinical psychologists 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. Experimental psychologists—who normally belong to the behaviorism camp—generally reject Freud's methods and theories. Like Freud, Psychiatrists train as medical doctors, but—like most medical doctors in Freud's time—most reject his theory of the mind, and generally rely more on drugs than talk in their treatments. There are, however, Psychiatrists that are also trained in psychoanalysis and treat their patients using a mixture of both treatments.

Criticism of Freud

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, 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, 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."

Perhaps the most trenchant criticism of Freud's work is that it fails to have the necessary predictive and falsifiable elements required of any scientific theory. It can be argued that Freud's work is really just a narrative that can be woven around any situation that a patient might present with.

Other criticisms of Freud:

  • 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

Nevertheless, Freudianism continues to have many adherents, who believe that the Freudian school of psychoanalysis is still a valid field of study with great effectiveness in clinical applications, and Freudian psychoanalysis continues to be widely practiced.

Freud's patients

This is a partial list of patients whose case studies were published by Freud, with pseudonyms substituted for their names:

  • Anna O. = Bertha Pappenheim (1859 - 1936)
  • Cäcilie M. = Anna von Lieben
  • Dora = Ida Bauer (1882-1945)
  • Frau Emmy von N. = Fanny Moser
  • Fräulein Elizabeth von R.
  • Fräulein Katharina = Aurelia Kronich
  • Fräulein Lucy R.
  • Little Hans = Herbert Graf (1903-1973)
  • Rat Man = Ernst Lanzer (1878-1914)
  • Wolf Man = Sergius Pankejeff (1887-1979)

People on whom psychoanalytic observations were published but who were not patients:

Other patients:

Freud's "disciples"

Freud had many well-known colleagues who shared his interest in psychoanalytic theory, dubbed "the Neo-Freudians". Ultimately, many of those associated with him came to a parting of the ways over matters related to psychoanalytic dogma. Other psychologists were influenced by Freud's thought, though not all of them were professionally associated with him.

Further reading

  • The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones, Edited and Abridged in One Volume by Lionel Trilling and Steven Marcus, Basic Books, New York, 1961

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

  Results from FactBites:
Sigmund Freud [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy] (4636 words)
The scope of Freud's interests, and of his professional training, was very broad - he always considered himself first and foremost a scientist, endeavouring to extend the compass of human knowledge, and to this end (rather than to the practice of medicine) he enrolled at the medical school at the University of Vienna in 1873.
Freud was arguably the first thinker to apply deterministic principles systematically to the sphere of the mental, and to hold that the broad spectrum of human behaviour is explicable only in terms of the (usually hidden) mental processes or states which determine it.
Thornton, E.M. Freud and Cocaine: The Freudian Fallacy.
  More results at FactBites »



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