Sigmund Freud

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Human Scientists

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud ( May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939; IPA pronunciation: [ˈziːkmʊnt ˈfrɔʏt]) was an Austrian neurologist and the founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology. Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind, especially involving the mechanism of repression; his redefinition of sexual desire as mobile and directed towards a wide variety of objects; and his therapeutic technique, especially his understanding of transference in the therapeutic relationship and the presumed value of dreams as sources of insight into unconscious desires.

The name Freud is generally pronounced [fɹɔɪd] in English and [frɔʏt] in German. He is commonly referred to as " the father of psychoanalysis" and his work has been tremendously influential in the popular imagination — popularizing such notions as the unconscious, defense mechanisms, Freudian slips and dream symbolism — while also making a long-lasting impact on fields as diverse as literature, film, Marxist and feminist theories, literary criticism, philosophy and psychology.


Sigmund Freud, 1907
Sigmund Freud, 1907

Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born into a Jewish family in Příbor (Freiberg in German), 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, from 1873 to 1881.

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 Additionally, portions of his personal correspondence and unpublished papers were closely guarded in the Sigmund Freud Archives at the Library of Congress and for many years were made available only to a few members of the inner circle of psychoanalysis. Most of these previously restricted documents have now been declassified and are available to researchers who visit the Library of Congress.

In 1886, Freud returned to Vienna and, after opening a private practice specializing in nervous and brain disorders, he married Martha Bernays. He experimented with hypnotism with his most hysteric and neurotic patients, but he eventually gave up the practice. (One theory is that he did so because he was not very good at it.) He switched to putting his patients 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, where he began to develop a loyal following.

Group photo 1909 in front of Clark University. Front row from left: Sigmund Freud, Granville Stanley Hall, Carl Jung. Back row from left: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi.
Group photo 1909 in front of Clark University. Front row from left: Sigmund Freud, Granville Stanley Hall, Carl Jung. Back row from left: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi.

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 Alfred Adler. While Freud wrote a stinging attack on both of them in a piece called "On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement," he ostracized the dissidents Otto Gross and Wilhelm Reich by complete silence.

In 1930, Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize by the city of Frankfurt, in recognition of his exceptional qualities as a writer in the German language. 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 SA.

Memorial plaque of Sigmund Freud at his birthplace in Příbor, Czech Republic.
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, Gestapo forced him to sign a statement that he had been treated respectfully. Freud wrote sarcastically, "I warmly recommend the Gestapo to everyone."

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 began smoking at age 24, and smoked cigars for most of his life. When his colleague Wilhelm Fliess, a nose and throat specialist, suggested that he quit in order to clear up some nasal catarrhs, Freud was unwilling to do so. (Gay, 1988, p.169) Even after having his jaw removed due to malignancy, he continued to smoke until his death on September 23, 1939. After contracting cancer of the mouth in 1923 at the age of 67, he underwent over 30 operations to treat the disease, and for several years wore a painful prosthesis to seal off his mouth from his nasal cavity. 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 for the purpose of helping him end his own life. Freud's death was by a physician-assisted morphine overdose.

Family / Descendants

Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter, Anna Freud, was also a distinguished psychoanalyst, 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, novelist Esther Freud (daughter of Lucian) 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 behaviour, as well as 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 and 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 Freud's 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, including Emma Eckstein, whose surgery proved disastrous.

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 overcome 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 few 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 because of this 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 acknowledgement 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 origin of Freud's early work with psychoanalysis can be linked to Joseph Breuer. Freud actually credits Breuer with the discovery of the psychoanalytical method. One case started this phenomenon that would shape the field of psychology for decades to come, the case of Anna O. In 1880 a young girl came to Breuer with symptoms of what was then called hysteria. Anna O. was a 21 year old highly intelligent young girl. She presented with symptoms such as paralysis of the limbs, split personality and amnesia; today these symptoms are known as conversion disorder. After many doctors had given up and accused Anna O. of faking her symptoms, Breuer decided to treat her sympathetically, which he did with all of his patients. He started to hear her mumble words during what he called states of absence. Eventually Breuer started to recognize some of the words and wrote them down. He then hypnotized her and repeated the words to her; Breuer found out that the words were associated with her father's illness and death. Anna O. coined the term 'talk therapy' to describe this process.

In the early 1890s Freud used a form of treatment based on the one that Breuer had described to him, modified by what he called his "pressure technique". The traditional story, based on Freud's later accounts of this period, is that as a result of his use of this procedure most of his patients in the mid-1890s reported early childhood sexual abuse. He believed these stories, but then came to realize that for the most part his patients were fantasizing the abuse scenes.

However in recent decades several researchers have returned to the original documents and found that the received story, based on Freud's late retrospective account of the episode, is false in many respects. In 1896 Freud posited that the symptoms of 'hysteria' and obsessional neurosis derived from *unconscious* memories of sexual abuse in infancy, and claimed that he had uncovered such incidents for every single one of his current patients (one third of whom were men). However a close reading of his papers and letters from this period indicates that these patients did not report early childhood sexual abuse as he later claimed: rather, he arrived at his findings by analytically inferring the supposed incidents, using a procedure that was heavily dependent on the symbolic interpretation of somatic symptoms.

The Unconscious

It has often been claimed that the most significant contribution Freud made to Western thought was his argument for the existence of an unconscious mind. During the 19th century, the dominant trend in Western thought was positivism, which subscribed to 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 as proposed by Freud was allegedly groundbreaking in that he proposed that awareness existed in layers and that there were thoughts occurring "below the surface." Nevertheless, as psychologist Jacques Van Rillaer, among others, pointed out, "contrary to what most people believe, the unconscious was not discovered by Freud. In 1890, when psychoanalysis was still unheard of, William James, in his monumental treatise on psychology, examined the way Schopenhauer, von Hartmann, Janet, Binet and others had used the term 'unconscious' and 'subconscious'". Moreover, the historian of psychology Mark Altschule writes: "It is difficult - or perhaps impossible - to find a nineteenth century psychologist or medical psychologist who did not recognize unconscious cerebration as not only real but of the highest importance."

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

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 develop, 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 emptying 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.) The repressive or dormant latency stage of psychosexual development preceded the sexually mature genital stage of psychosexual development.

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.

Freud originally posited childhood sexual abuse as a general explanation for the origin of neuroses, but he abandoned this so-called "seduction theory" as insufficiently explanatory, noting that he had found many cases in which apparent memories of childhood sexual abuse were based more on imagination than on real events. During the late 1890s Freud, who never abandoned his belief in the sexual etiology of neuroses, began to emphasize fantasies built around the Oedipus complex as the primary cause of hysteria and other neurotic symptoms. Despite this change in his explanatory model, Freud always recognized that some neurotics had been sexually abused by their fathers, and was quite explicit about discussing several patients that he knew to have been abused.(Gay, 1988, p.95)

Freud's way of interpretation has been called phallocentric by many contemporary thinkers. This is because, for Freud, the unconscious always desires the phallus (penis). Males are afraid of castration - losing their phallus or masculinity to another male. Females always desire to have a phallus - an unfulfillable desire. Thus boys resent their father (fear of castration) and girls desire theirs. For Freud, desire is always defined in the negative term of lack - you always desire what you don't have or what you are not, and it is very unlikely that you will fulfill this desire. Thus his psychoanalysis treatment is meant to teach the patient to cope with his unsatisfiable desires.

Ego, super-ego, and id

In his later work, Freud proposed that the psyche was divided into three parts: Ego, super-ego, and id. Freud discussed this structural model of the mind in the 1920 essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and fully elaborated it in The Ego and The Id (1923), where he developed it as an alternative to his previous topographic schema (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 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 when one is angry at 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 in a way 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 behaviour because one cannot accomplish another behaviour. 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 and 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 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 many biblical scholars and historians would not accept his account since it defied commonly accepted views on the history of Judaism and of dynastic Egypt. However, this book remains interesting as an interpretation of leadership based on charisma and 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 fantastic 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. Pessimistic about humanity's chances of liberty, Freud writes that "the leader of the crowd always incarnates 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's theories and research methods were controversial during his life and remain so today, but few dispute his far-reaching impact on psychologists and academics.

Most importantly, Freud popularized the "talking-cure"--the notion that a person could be treated simply by talking over his or her problems, which was almost unheard of in the 19th century. Even though many psychotherapists today partly or wholly reject the specifics of Freud's theories, this basic model of treatment stems largely from his work.

In addition, Freud's development of "unconscious" sources of behavior and his emphasis on motivational structures of the human mind have had a lasting impact on psychological theory and research. However, most of Freud's specific theories--like his stages of psychosexual development--and especially his methodology, have fallen out of favour in modern experimental psychology.

Some psychotherapists, however, still follow an approximately Freudian system of treatment. Many more have modified his approach, or joined one of the schools that branched from his original theories (see Neo-Freudian). Still others reject his theories entirely, although their practice may still reflect his influence.

Psychoanalysis today maintains the same ambivalent relationship with medicine and academia that Freud experienced during his life.


While Freud saw himself as a scientist, his theories have had a tremendous impact on the humanities--especially on the Frankfurt school and critical theory. In addition, many philosophers have discussed his theories and their implications, in the broader context of Western thought. Freud's model of the mind is often seen as a critical challenge to the enlightenment model of rational agency, which was a key element of much modern philosophy.

  • Rationality. While many enlightenment thinkers viewed rationality as both an unproblematic ideal and a defining feature of man, Freud's model of the mind drastically reduced the scope and power of reason. In Freud's view, reasoning occurs in the conscious mind--the ego--but this is only a small part of the whole. The mind also contains the hidden, irrational elements of id and superego, which lie outside of conscious control, drive behaviour, and motivate conscious activities. As a result, these structures call into question humans' ability to act purely on the basis of reason, since lurking motives are also always at play. Moreover, this model of the mind makes rationality itself suspect, since it may be motivated by hidden urges or societal forces (e.g. defense mechanisms, where reasoning becomes "rationalizing").
  • Transparency of Self. Another common assumption in pre-Freudian philosophy was that people have immediate and unproblematic access to themselves. Emblematic of this position is René Descartes's famous line, "Cogito ergo sum" i.e., I think therefore I am. However, for Freud, many central aspects of a person remain radically inaccessible to the conscious mind (without the aid of psychotherapy), which undermines the once unquestionable status of first-person knowledge.

Pop Culture

Freud has also had a remarkably powerful and lasting impact on popular culture. Many of his general psychological ideas have made their way into people's everyday thinking--for example, the idea that someone can be motivated by unconscious impulses, or the general idea that man contains a "beast" within, restrained only by the institutions of society. Some of his more specific ideas have also been popularized--"Freudian slips," "Oedipal complexes," and "anal" personality traits, for example, are frequently mentioned in non-technical discourse.

Since, the early 1900s, Freud's ideas have often been represented explicitly or implicitly in a wide variety of art, literature, and film. A small sampling of famous artistic figures famous for their Freudian overtones would include: Alfred Hitchcock, Thomas Mann, and many others.

Critical reactions

Although Freud's theories were quite influential, they have also come under widespread criticism during his lifetime and afterward. 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" . A. C. Grayling, 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." Peter D. Kramer, said "I'm afraid [Freud] doesn't hold up very well at all. It almost feels like a personal betrayal to say that. But every particular is wrong: the universality of the Oedipus complex, penis envy, infantile sexuality." A 2006 article in Newsweek magazine called him "history's most debunked doctor" .

Some critics, rather than attacking the body of Freud's work, have delved into individual topics. For instance, Juliet Mitchell, has suggested that Freud's basic claim — that many of our conscious thoughts and actions are driven by unconscious desires and fears — should be rejected because it implicitly challenges the possibility of making 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 behaviour.

Another frequently criticized aspect of Freud's theories is his model of psychosexual development. 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.

Freud has also come under fire from many feminist critics. 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 are a kind of mutilated male, who must learn to accept their "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. Some of Freud's most criticised statements appear in his 'Fragment of Analysis' on Ida Bauer such as "This was surely just the situation to call up distinct feelings of sexual excitement in a girl of fourteen" in reference to Dora being kissed by a 'young man of preposessing appearance' (S.E. 7. pp28) implying the passivity of female sexuality and his statement "I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom an occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or exclusively unpleasurable" (ibid)

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".

Dr. J. Von Schneidt speculated (with little evidence) that most of Freud's psychoanalytical theory was a byproduct of his cocaine use. Cocaine enhances dopaminergic neurotransmission increasing sexual interest and obsessive thinking. Chronic cocaine use can produce unusual thinking patterns due to the depletion of dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex.

Finally, Freud's theories are often criticized for not being real science. This objection was raised most famously by Karl Popper, who claimed that all proper scientific theories must be potentially falsifiable. Popper argued that no experiment or observation could ever falsify Freud's theories of psychology (e.g. someone who denies having an Oedipal complex is interpreted as repressing it), and thus they could not be considered scientific. However, Popper's criteria for scientific activity is no longer widely accepted in the philosophy of science.


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

Freud's couch used during psychoanalytic sessions
Freud's couch used during psychoanalytic sessions
  • 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 = Sergei Pankejeff (1887–1979)

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

  • Daniel Paul Schreber (1842–1911)
  • Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) (co-authored with and primarily written by William Bullitt)

Other patients:

  • H.D. (1886–1961)
  • Emma Eckstein
  • Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
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