Skip to main content
Select Source:

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund

The development of Freud’s ideas

Major contributions and weaknesses

Historical background



Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia (now Czechoslovakia), and died September 23, 1939, in exile in London. When the boy was three, his father, a small wool merchant, was forced by economic reverses to move for a year to Leipzig and thence to Vienna, where Freud spent the rest of his life—1860 to 1938— except for his last year. His biographers agree that the unusual structure of the family into which he was born was partly responsible for his interest in intimate human relationships: Freud’s father had two sons by his first wife; when he remarried after her death, it was to a woman of their age. Sig mund, her first child, often played with his year-older nephew. A brother who was born when Sigmund was not yet a year old died after eight months; then came four sisters and another brother.

A dedicated student, Freud graduated summa cum laude from the Gymnasium at age 17 and entered the University of Vienna medical school. After three years Freud became deeply involved in research, which delayed his m.d. until 1881; re search was to remain his main interest. In 1882 he met and became engaged to Martha Bernays, and he began clinical training in order to be able to earn a living from the practice of medicine. He continued research and publishing, was made Dozent, and received a grant in 1885 to study for several months with Charcot in Paris. The next year he married and began practicing neurology; three sons and three daughters were born between 1887 and 1895.

Since existing therapies were not effective for his patients, most of whom were neurotic, he turned to hypnotic suggestion and in 1889 briefly visited Bernheim and Liébeault to perfect his technique. He learned a more helpful method, however, from a close friend, Josef Breuer, whose patient “Anna O.” (Bertha Pappenheim) had managed to overcome some hysterical symptoms by talking freely about the circumstances of their first occurrence. Freud’s successful experiences with and modifications of this “cathartic” treatment were reported in the book he wrote jointly with Breuer, Studies on Hysteria (1893–1895). For the next five years, he continued to develop this psychotherapeutic method into psychoanalysis, gradually withdrawing from neurology, although by then he had an international reputation in that field. [SeeHysteria; Psychosomatic illness.]

The way his own self-analysis contributed to the growth of his ideas during this period may be seen in the letters and drafts of papers sent to a Berlin colleague, Wilhelm Fliess, who became a close friend and confidant (see 1887-1902; 1895). The first major statement of his theories was The Inter pretation of Dreams (1900). In 1902 he was made professor extraordinarius at the University of Vienna, and about that time his publications and lectures began to attract a group of followers, which became in 1908 the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society.

The principal focus of Freud’s life thereafter was the growth of psychoanalysis—as a theory, a form of treatment, and a movement. The movement did not remain monolithic: dissident followers who withdrew and formed their own schools included Adler (in 1911), Stekel (in 1912), Jung (in 1913), and Rank (in 1926). As Freud’s ideas began to become more widely known, they attracted respect and scientific interest, but also met with a great deal of hostility as well as extreme rejection. A truly objective weighing of these two kinds of reactions at various periods of Freud’s career has yet to be done, but in any event Freud seems to have been more keenly aware of the negative than of the positive reception. An especially welcome early sign of recognition was the award of an honorary degree by Clark University in 1909, on which occasion he visited America with Jung, Ferenczi, and Jones and delivered a series of lectures.

In 1923 he had the first of many operations for cancer of the upper jaw, which finally proved fatal. During his last 16 years, Freud suffered almost constant pain and difficulty in speaking because of an awkward prosthesis, but he continued psycho analyzing and writing into his final year. Only after the Nazi Anschluss could he be persuaded to leave Vienna, though he often had declared his detestation for the city. Long before the end, he had achieved world-wide acclaim and recognition as one of the decisive shapers of the twentieth century.

The development of Freud’s ideas

Freud’s first scientific contribution was published in 1877; his last was written only a few months before his death. Only the most superficial sketch of the development of his thought in the six hundred-odd papers and books he produced over these 63 years can be given here. There were four major and overlapping phases of that development.

(1) His prepsychoanalytic work, which lasted about twenty years, may be subdivided into an initial ten years of primarily histological-anatomical research and a partly overlapping 14 years of clinical neurology, with increasing attention to psychopathology, beginning in 1886 when he returned from Paris.

(2) The first theory of neurosis dates from the decade of the 1890s, when Freud used hypnosis and Breuer’s cathartic method of psychotherapy, gradually developing the psychoanalytic methods of free association, dream interpretation, and the analysis of transference. The first dozen truly psy choanalytic papers appeared during this time, expounding the view that neurosis is a defense against intolerable memories of a traumatic experience— infantile seduction at the hands of a close relative. With the discovery of his own Oedipus complex, however, Freud came to see that such reports by his patients were fantasies, which led him to turn his interest away from traumatic events in external reality and toward subjective psychic reality. A notable but only recently discovered event in the development of Freud’s thought occurred in 1895 after the publication of the book he wrote with Breuer: he wrote but did not publish a “Psychology for Neurologists” (or “Project for a Scientific Psychology” see Freud 1895), presenting a comprehensive anatomical-physiological model of the nervous system and its functioning in normal behavior, thought, and dreams, as well as in hysteria. He sent it to Fliess in high excitement, then quickly became discouraged by the difficulties of creating a thoroughgoing mechanistic and reductionistic psychology, tinkered with the model for a couple of years in letters to Fliess, and finally gave it up.

The turn of the century marked many basic changes in Freud’s life and work: he severed his close and dependent friendships with colleagues (first Breuer, then Fliess) and his contacts with the Viennese medical society; his father died; his last child was born; he psychoanalyzed himself; he gave up neurological practice, research, and conceptual models; and he created his own new profession, research method, and theory, in terms of which he worked thereafter.

(3) Freud’s topographic model was the foundation of two decades of work, during which he published his major clinical discoveries, notably, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905); his papers on the technique used in psychoanalytic treatment; his five major case histories, the central works of metapsychology; and a series of important surveys and popularizations of his ideas, in addition to his principal applications of his theories to jokes, literature and art, biography, and anthropology. A complete or metapsychological explanation, Freud wrote in 1915, requires “describing a psychical process in its dynamic, topographical and economic aspects”—that is, in terms of a theoretical model in which the central concepts are psychological forces, structures, and quantities of energy (Rapaport & Gill 1959). Hence, we speak of three meta psychological points of view. The topographic model, which was first set forth in Chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams and was further elab orated in the metapsychological papers (1915), conceptualizes thought and behavior in terms of processes in three psychological systems: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious (none of which has an explicit locus in the brain).

(4) In the final period, extending between the two world wars, Freud made four main types of contributions: the final form of his theory of in stinctual drives (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920); a group of major modifications of both general and clinical theory—most notably, the structural model of the psychic apparatus (The Ego and the Id, 1923) and the theory of anxiety and defense (Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, 1926); appli cations of psychoanalysis to larger social problems; and a group of books reviewing and reformulating his theories.

To grasp the structure of Freud’s work, it is useful not only to adopt such a developmental approach but also to view his theories from the perspective of the following threefold classification:

First and best known is the clinical theory of psychoanalysis, with its psychopathology, its accounts of psychosexual development and character formation, and the like. The subject matter of this type of theorizing consists of major events (both real and fantasied) in the life histories of persons, events occurring over spans of time ranging from days to decades. This theory is the stock in trade of the clinician—not just the psychoanalyst, but the vast majority of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatric social workers. Loosely referred to as “psychodynamics,” it has even penetrated into general academic psychology via textbooks on personality.

Second, there is what Rapaport (1959) has called the general theory of psychoanalysis, also called metapsychology. Its subject matter—proc esses in a hypothetical psychic apparatus or, at times, in the brain—is more abstract and impersonal; and the periods of time involved are much shorter—from fractions of a second up to a few hours. The processes dealt with are mostly those occurring in dreams, thinking, affect, and defense; Freud’s reasoning in working out this theory is much closer, and he made more use of theoretical models of the psychic apparatus. The main works are the “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” Chap ter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams, and the meta-psychological papers.

Third is what might be called Freud’s phylogenetic theory. The subject matter is man as a species or in groups, and the periods of time involved range from generations to eons. Here are Freud’s grand speculations, largely evolutionary and teleological in character; they contain no explicit models of a psychic apparatus, employing instead many literary, metaphorical concepts. The principal works of this type are Totem and Taboo (1913), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), and Moses and Monotheism (1934–1938).

His clinical contributions are among the earliest of Freud’s papers that are still being read, and he continued to write in this vein all of his life. As far as the other two types of theory are concerned, however, they overlap fewer developmental periods: the major metapsychological works came early, the main phylogenetic ones late. As Freud’s concepts became more metaphorical and dealt with such remote issues as man’s ultimate origins and the meaning of life and death, he became less concerned with describing or systematically accounting for the course and fate of an impulse or thought.

The rest of this article will concentrate on hypotheses and observations about two groups of Freud’s ideas: what now appear to have been his major, lasting contributions, those that have been most influential on and most assimilated into the behavioral sciences (not to mention literature, art, and other aspects of contemporary Western culture); and his major errors, those concepts that have been most cogently criticized by psychoan alysts and other scientists. Finally, it will discuss historical antecedents of his ideas and influences upon them. The literature on these topics is al ready large and growing rapidly, so this survey must be highly selective.

Major contributions and weaknesses


Freud may be said to have made five major contributions.

(1) He based his work on the assumption of psychic determinism. the lawfulness of all psychological phenomena, even the most trivial, including dreams, fantasies, and slips of the tongue.

(2) The lastingly valued aspects of Freud’s complex doctrine of the unconscious include the general proposition that cognitive and other psychological events can go on outside of awareness; the influence of unconscious motivation on behavior; and the special qualitative characteristics of unconscious processes—the primary process and symbolism. The primary process is the kind of primitive functioning of the “psychic apparatus” that characterizes the unconscious id; indeed, it is the principal property by means of which the latter is denned. Processes characterized by magical rather than rational logic and by wishfulness—a seeking for immediate gratification of crude sexual or aggressive impulses—are called primary. Freud emphasized the concepts of displacement and condensation of psychic energy in his conceptualization of the primary process and noted that it often makes use of symbols, which differ from other types of displacement substitutes in having been shared by many persons for generations. These were the main theoretical resources Freud called upon to explain dreams, neurotic symptoms, psychotic thought and language, normal character traits, myths, creative thought, art, and humor.

(3) Of the many contributions Freud made to our understanding of sexuality, the following seem to enjoy the most acceptance: his stress on its great importance in human life generally; his broad defi nition, which includes oral, anal, and other bodily pleasures and links them to the phallic-genital; his conception of its plasticity—it can be delayed, transformed, or fixated, and interest can be shifted from one “component drive” or “partial instinct” to another; his discovery that it appears early in human life (infants and young children masturbate, have sexual curiosity, etc.) and follows a typical developmental sequence; his insistence that bisexuality and “polymorphous perversity” are uni versal endowments or potentialities; his explanation of sexual perversions as pathological developments, not (or not wholly) as constitutional givens and not as sins; and his elaborations of many aspects of the Oedipus complex—the fact of inevi table but tabooed incestuous attraction in families, the associated phenomena of anxiety about castration (or, more generally, mutilation), and of intra-familial jealousy, hatred, and envy, much of it unconscious.

(4) Three of Freud’s concepts—conflict, anxi ety, and defense—are so interrelated that we may look on them as constituting one major contribution. He saw the pervasive importance of conflict (not merely the traditional opposition of reason and passion, or ego versus id, but also ego versus superego and superego versus id) in both normal and abnormal behavior. One of his earliest insights was that defenses—structuralized means of controlling impulse and preventing the outbreak of anxiety, thus being in effect resolutions of conflict —are major factors in the formation of symptoms and character traits and are shaping influences on the organization of thought. He also described the specific mechanisms of defense, such as repression, projection, reaction formation, isolation, and mastery via the turning of passivity into activity. [SeeAnxiety; Conflict, article onPsychological Aspects; Defense Mechanisms.]

(5) A number of Freud’s lasting discoveries and insights make up the genetic point of view. He showed the necessity of knowing facts of development in order to understand personality; the importance of the events of early life for the main features of character, including the specific syndromes of the oral and anal character types as outgrowths of events at the corresponding psychosexual stages; the role of identification as a principle of learning and development; the importance of drive delay and control in development; and the nature of psychopathology as regression along a developmental path.

As Shakow and Rapaport (1964) have pointed out, in each instance it is the general conception and the observations that have been accepted, not the specific concepts and the explanatory theory in which they are embedded. But this is to be expected: theories necessarily age, and any theory in the behavioral sciences formed as long ago as Freud’s is bound to contain many anachronisms, obsolete assumptions, and unfortunate turns of thought.


Three weaknesses in Freud’s work seem to have had the most extensive negative effects upon theory, research, and practice (see Holt 1965a; 1966). However necessary they may have been to his positive contributions, they are logically separable from them.

(1) His basic operating model (at first, of the central nervous system; later, of the psychic apparatus) was a passive reflex apparatus with no energies of its own, operating only to rid itself of inputs from the body (instinctual drive) and from the environment (reality), these inputs being conceptualized as quantities of energy (subjectively experienced as tension), and the regulative rule formulated as the principle of constancy. Consequently, the fundamental principle of motivation and affect is tension reduction.

Even in Freud’s fourth period, when he said little directly about it, the passive reflex model seems to have operated as a silent pressure in the following directions:

(a) Freud tended to overemphasize quantitative as against qualitative aspects of behavior and thought, though only the latter were observable. The quantitative emphasis would have been more defensible if it had actually led to measurement, which is needed, but it did not. The result was a relative neglect of the phenomenology of affects in favor of a primary emphasis on pleasure and unpleasure, including anxiety (Kardiner et al. 1959), and a relative neglect of the phenomenology of the primary process, such as the various specific forms taken by condensation and displacement, in favor of an elaborate theory about unmeasurable energies of various qualitatively and directionally specific types.

(b) Similarly, Freud tended to reduce motivation to the somatically based; for example, he assumed that love and affection are derivative forms of a seeking after sensuous pleasure.

(c) There was a relative neglect of motives that do not easily fit the tension-reduction conception, such as curiosity and positive interest in stimuli and the seeking of challenges to master (White 1963).

(d) The passive reflex model suggests a simple theory of pleasure and unpleasure as perceived concomitants of rises and falls in energic tension. Yet from the beginning, Freud was aware of conflicting data, and he was never able either to abandon the original theory entirely or to account for the anomalous observations in a way that was consonant with the model.

(e)There were other shortcomings in the metapsychological economic point of view—the notion of a fixed and limited amount of energy which has to be withdrawn from one locus if used at another: for example, a scarcity economics of love, according to which the more one loves others the less self-esteem is possible—and in the quasi-vitalistic, unmeasurable, and overelaborated concept of psychic energy (Holt 1966).

(f) The model was hospitable to the death in stinct and nirvana principle as ultimate extensions of tension reduction. But outwardly directed ag gression was difficult to fit into the model and was relatively neglected for years.

(2) The second fundamental flaw was Freud’s originally physicalistic conception of reality: basically, as “masses in motion and nothing else” ([1895] 1954, p. 369); more generally, as a welter of dangerous energies in which may be found some tension-reducing objects. In this conception, reality lacks significant organization on a large scale, as in the social structures or value systems (especially the latent ones) postulated by modern sociology and anthropology. To be sure, Freud did not con sistently hold to such reductionism; he always dealt with meanings as such. Nevertheless, a physicalistic notion of reality lingered in his mind as an implicit conceptual ideal, with several consequences:

(a) Without a way to conceptualize an enduring structure of society and culture, Freud needed to assume individual genetic transmission of stable but latent cultural themes by way of a Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics and to assume also that much of what he observed was inherited and universal, not culturally specific (for example, the Oedipus complex, or the inferior status of women as determined by anatomical differences).

(b) Freud tended to neglect the problems of adaptation and the relations to reality studied more recently in ego psychology.

(c)There were problems in the theory of object relations: for example, the “primary hate of ob jects,” which the model requires, conflicts with the facts of infant observation; the theory also had difficulty in accounting for sustained interest and affection in a sexually consummated relationship, and psychoanalysts were led to a relative neglect of the natural history of subtleties in human relations.

(3) Freud’s third basic error was his unclear and ambivalent handling of the mind-body problem, alternating between psychophysical parallelism and interactionism. The consequences began to show up as soon as he gave up the neurological model of 1895: he carried over its basic assumptions (the passive reflex model and the implicitly physicalistic concept of reality) in his later, osten sibly psychological, theories. There were several consequences of Freud’s failure to take a consistent position on the mind-body problem.

(a) The status of the basic model remained undeveloped, unclear with regard to the existential status both of psychic energies and forces and of psychic structure.

(b)Since the basic model was not made fully explicit, there followed a relative neglect of structural considerations in favor of a “motivational reductionism” (Gill 1959), the explanation of the control and restraint of impulses (especially ag gressive ones) in terms of instinctual fusion and defusion instead of in structural terms, and the neglect of adaptive and health-maintaining capacities in favor of an emphasis on pathology.

(c) A further consequence was Freud’s tend ency to reify functions as structures and to per sonify theoretical entities of uncertain existential status.

(d) Psychoanalysis became isolated from progress in medical and physiological sciences because of the difficulty in assimilating their findings.

It should be emphasized that none of these shortcomings was as crippling as it might have been if the underlying assumptions had been applied rigidly and consistently. As a group, they did steer Freud’s thinking to a demonstrable extent, but thanks to the creative looseness of his cognitive style (Holt 1965b) he was able to observe much and to develop many specific theories that were logically incompatible with them.

Historical background

Before examining the antecedents of those ideas of Freud’s that have been outlined above, it will be helpful to sketch in some of the grand trends of intellectual history in the nineteenth century.

“Naturphilosophie” and its rejection

The way for the romantic revolt that broadly characterized all aspects of intellectual life in the early 1800s had been prepared by Naturphilosophie, a mystical and often rhapsodic view of Nature as perfused with spirit and with conflicting unconscious forces and as evolving according to an inner, purposive design. Not a tightly knit school, its constituent thinkers included (in chronological order) Kant, Lamarck, Goethe, Hegel, Schelling (perhaps the central figure), Oken, and Fechner. With the exception of Fechner, who lived from 1801 to 1887, they all lived athwart the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Naturphilosophie encouraged the recrudescence of vitalism in biology, championed by the great physiologist Johannes Miiller, and stimulated a humanistic school of romantic medicine (Galdston 1956). In psychiatry, the early part of the century was dominated by the reforms of Pinel, Esquirol, and their followers, who introduced an era of “moral treatment”: firm kindness in place of restraints, therapeutic optimism based on etiological theories of a more psychological than or ganic cast, and an attempt to involve inmates of asylums in constructive activities.

The tough-minded reaction to this tender-minded era was greatly aided by the strides being made in physics and chemistry. Three of Müller’s students, Brücke, du Bois-Reymond, and Helmholtz, met Carl Ludwig in 1847 and formed a club (which became the Berlin Physical Society) to “constitute physiology on a chemico-physical foundation, and give it equal scientific rank with Physics” (Ludwig, quoted by Cranefield 1957, p. 407). They did not succeed in their frankly reductionist aim but did attain their other objectives: to promote the use of scientific observation and experiment in physiology and to combat vitalism. Among themselves, they held to the following program:

No other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the organism. In those cases which cannot at the time be explained by these forces one has either to find the specific way or form of their action by means of the physical-mathematical method, or to assume new forces equal in dignity to the chemical-physical forces inherent in matter, reducible to the force of attraction and repulsion, (du Bois-Reymond, quoted by Bernfeld 1944, p. 348)

In Germany especially, this materialistic ferment of physicalistic physiology, mechanism, and reductionism became the mode, gradually putting romantic medicine and other aspects of Naturphilosophie to rout. Where earlier there had been Psychic, Psycho-somatic, and Somatic schools in German psychiatry (Earle 1854, see in Hunter & Macalpine 1963, pp. 1015-1018), the Somatic gradually won out; Meynert, for example, conceived mental disorders to be diseases of the forebrain. Despite its therapeutic successes, moral treatment was banished along with its psychogenic (often sexual) theories as “old wives’ psychiatry,” in favor of strictly organic-hereditarian views and very little by way of therapy (Bry & Rifkin 1962).

The University of Vienna medical school was an outpost of the new hyperscientific biology, with one of its promulgators, Briicke, holding a major chair and directing the physiological institute (Bernfeld 1944). Ironically, Freud tells us that his decision to enter medical school was determined by hearing the “Fragment on Nature” attributed to Goethe read aloud at a public lecture. This short prose poem is an epitome of Naturphilosophie, and it must have swayed Freud because of his long standing admiration for Goethe and perhaps because of a “longing for philosophical knowledge,” which had dominated his early years, as he said later in a letter to Fliess. Evolution had been a major tenet of Naturphilosophie; so it is not surprising that this 1780 dithyramb could be part of a lecture on comparative anatomy, the discipline that furnished much of the crucial evidence for Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859).

Energy and evolution

Perhaps the two most exciting concepts of the nineteenth century were energy and evolution; both of these strongly influenced Freud’s teachers at the medical school. Helmholtz had read to the 1847 group his fundamental paper on the conservation of energy—presented as a contribution to physiology. Thirty years later, Briicke’s lectures were full of the closely related (and still poorly differentiated) concepts of energy and force. To use these dynamic concepts was the very hallmark of the scientific approach; Brücke taught that the “real causes are symbolized in science by the word ‘force’” (Bernfeld 1944, p. 349). It seems obvious that the first of Freud’s three metapsychological points of view, the dynamic (explanation in terms of psychological forces), had its origins in this exciting attempt to raise the scientific level of physiology by the diligent application of mechanics and especially of dynamics, that branch of mechanics dealing with forces and the laws of motion. The heavily quantitative emphasis of the school of Helmholtz and its stress on energy are clearly the main determinants of metapsychology seen from the economic point of view (explanations in terms of quantities of energy). The fact that, among authors Freud respected most, such disparate figures as Fechner and Hughlings Jackson held to dynamic and economic viewpoints no doubt strengthened Freud’s unquestioning conviction that these viewpoints are absolutely neces sary elements of an explanatory theory.

Despite its physicalistic program, the actual work of Briicke’s institute was largely classical physiology and histology. Freud had had his Darwinian scientific baptism under Claus in a micro scopic search for the missing testes of the eel, and his several attempts at physiological and chemical experiments under other auspices were fruitless. He was happy, therefore, to stay at the microscope where Brücke assigned him neurohistological studies, inspired by and contributing to evolutionary theory. When he worked with Meynert, it was again in a structural discipline with a genetic method— the study of brain anatomy using a series of fetal brains to trace the medullar pathways by following their development. His subsequent clinical practice was in neurology, a discipline which, as Bernfeld (1951) has noted, was “merely a diagnostic application of anatomy.” Moreover, Freud’s first fullscale theoretical model, the “Project” of 1895, is foremost a theory about the structural organization of the brain, both gross and fine. His early training thus demonstrably convinced him that a scientific theory has to have a structural (or topographic) base.

Of Freud’s enduring contributions listed above, the two that are most plausibly traced to the intellectual climate of physicalistic physiology and to specific teachings of Brücke and Meynert are psy chic determinism and the genetic point of view. The evolutionary surge of Naturphilosophie, given a modern, scientific, and nonteleological form in Darwinism, inspired all the biological sciences of the late nineteenth century with a conviction that phenomena of life cannot be understood without the elucidation of how the organism develops—out of its own parental germ plasm and out of a phylogenetic series. This point of view pervaded all of Freud’s work in this first period; it would have been surprising if he had not carried it over and extended it when he turned to psychopathology, as Spencer was doing in academic sociology and psychology.

The assumption of exceptionless determinism was so fundamental a principle of mechanistic science as hardly to need discussion. Freud was exposed to it on all sides in the university and in much of his reading, then and later. Doubtless, this conviction that all phenomena are lawful and are thus legitimate subjects of scientific interest helped Freud to pay attention to the trivia of mental life and underlay his conviction that even if a patient relaxed the controls of conscious purpose in favor of free association, the material he produced would not be random but would betray an inner organi zation, a deeper and more meaningful set of psychological laws.

The unconscious

But the existence of psychological forces determining a meaningful inner organization required the assumption of a dynamic unconscious realm of the mind, besides conscious ness. Many writers have shown how much a part of the thought of the time one part of this assumption was: “the general conception of unconscious mental processes was conceivable … around 1700, topical around 1800, and fashionable around 1870-1880” (Whyte 1960, pp. 168-169). Among the scientists known to have been familiar to Freud during his formative years (before 1900)—Charcot, Bernheim, Breuer, Lipps, H. Jackson, Galton, Fechner, and Helmholtz—all had one or another con cept of the unconscious; other such concepts are to be found in writings known to have influenced Freud: those of the philosophers Plato, Kant, and Spinoza (Aron 1963-1964), the Bible, and the works of his favorite writers of fiction, Goethe, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Dostoevski. Moreover, the Herbartian psychology taught in all Austrian secondary schools when Freud was in the Gymnasium was presented “not as one of several schools of psychology but as a well-established semi-official psychology” (Andersson 1962); together with asso-ciationism, it was adopted by Meynert and trans lated into neurological terms. It was a theory of the dynamic interaction of ideas, some of which may repress others below the threshold of consciousness, whence they may be hindered from rising by the resistance of the more or less inte grated masses of ideas. This is, not surprisingly, precisely the terminology used by Breuer and Freud in 1893 ([1893-1895] 1955, chapter 1) in their first attempt at a psychological explanation of hysteria.

It is possible to find some predecessor who expressed one or another of most components of Freud’s conception of the unconscious (though it is not established that any of them were known to Freud before he formed his own hypotheses)—for example, symbolism in dreams (von Schubert, Schemer), the role of dream symbols in myths (Carus, von Schubert), dreams as wish fulfillments (Plato, Maass), and the unconscious as the source of powerful motives (Herder, Richter) and of artis tic creativity (Goethe, Schiller). Nevertheless, these were mostly isolated apercus; even von Hartmann, whose Philosophy of the Unconscious touches on all of them, was not able to integrate these fragmentary insights into a coherent theory, like the psycho analytic theory of the primary process. Further more, Freud differed from all his “anticipators” in that they remained outside the cave and made remarks—often profound ones—on what they glimpsed inside, but Freud went boldly in and devoted himself for decades to its painstaking (and painful) empirical exploration. Although the idea of unconscious processes had been around for centuries, Freud forced us to see the true power and pervasiveness of these processes in man’s thought, feeling, and behavior.


The enormous importance of sexuality as a basic human motive had long been explored by poets and dramatists, and there had been many times when it was freely discussed in science and medicine as well as in everyday conversation. The prevailing belief today is that the second half of the nineteenth century, when Freud grew to maturity, was an era of unusually strong shame about sexuality and of moralistic attempts to suppress even its scientific study in the name of Christian morality; this climate of opinion influenced Freud’s own personality and behavior, so characterized by propriety, self-control, and conventional monogamy. Yet our stereotype of Victorian prudery is probably oversimple; in any case, by the end of the nineteenth century the tide had begun to turn; Bry and Rifkin (1962) and Rieff (1959, chapter 10) have documented many social, literary, artistic, and scientific countermovements. In addition, it might be mentioned that sexology was already an established (if minor) science when Freud’s con tributions first appeared. Though Freud and Fliess felt like lonely pioneers, Magnus Hirschfeld and Krafft-Ebing had preceded both of them, and Havelock Ellis and G. Stanley Hall were their contemporaries. We know little about how a Zeitgeist of slowly liberalizing attitudes about sex may have been transmitted to Freud. We do know that there were contemporary moves to broaden the concept of sexuality and extend it backward in the life span, such as the observations of diffuse sexuality in children by Bell (1902), the relation of sucking and masturbation in the first year by Roehmer (1891), and the plasticity of the sexual drive in children (Barnes 1892).

Again, diligent historical scholarship can uncover predecessors for many, perhaps most, of Freud’s lastingly valid formulations about sex. For example, Shakow and Rapaport (1964) have pointed to James’s (1890) recognition of the potentiality for perversion in all of us; and many authors have discussed the similarities between Freud’s and Plato’s broad concept of eros. Freud himself ac knowledged that the idea of universal bisexuality had first been suggested to him by Fliess. In the era of moral treatment, various sexual etiologies had been suggested for a number of neurotic conditions, which made Freud’s first psychoanalytic papers seem more reactionary than radical to many of his organically minded psychiatric colleagues.

As with the difference between Freud and earlier writers on the unconscious, so here again it was he alone who really devoted himself to prolonged, focused empirical as well as theoretical work on sexuality. In addition, however, Freud differs from most of the others who have helped to liberalize sexual mores in his mode of presenting his conclusions: he always refused to pull his punches, to make any concessions to prudishness in hopes of gaining a more sympathetic hearing; but at the same time, he had not the slightest tendency to glorify or romanticize sexuality. He presented his facts and theories dryly and as directly as his own distaste allowed him. In the short run, he antagonized the bluestockings and undermined the fem inists, while disappointing the libertines and disillusioning the sexual Utopians. By overstating the centrality of sexuality and stretching the concept of libido, he laid himself open to misunderstanding as a pansexualist and attained the unwelcome no toriety of a succes de scandale. In the long run, however, the net effect was to force the world’s attention to the problems of sex, greatly advancing the contemporaneous anti-Victorian movements and, despite vicious opposition and vilification, probably getting his ideas a hearing and ultimate acceptance faster than he could have done in any other way.

Role of conflict

Views of man’s behavior as the outcome of interior conflicts have been propounded since ancient times. The pervasive human tendency to think in terms of dichotomies is speculatively traceable to anatomical bilateral symmetry and to the diurnal cycle of light and dark. In any case, a probable shaping influence on Freud’s conceptual orientations is the centrality of conflict between unconscious purposive forces in the world view of Naturphilosophie. More immediately, the Herbartian psychology of Lindner that Freud studied in the Gymnasium treats the life of the mind in terms of conflicting ideas, which could be smoothly absorbed into the paradigm of parallelo grams of forces in physicalistic physiology. Hughlings Jackson, whom Freud greatly admired, held to even more proto-Freudian views on the role of conflicting forces (Stengel 1954a; 1954b).

The substance of the conflicting forces in Freud’s final model is clearly related to traditions in Western thought going at least as far back as Empedocles, for whom love alternated with its antithesis, strife, and to religious sources: God versus Satan and the doctrine of conscience as the opponent of the base passions. In the era of moral treatment, there had been no dearth of psychiatrists who saw these inner battles as a cause of neurosis. Carter, writing in 1853, observed the conflict between sexual desire and moral scruple in chaste hysterics of both sexes and even blamed “the mod ern necessity of [a single woman’s] entire conceal ment” of her sexuality as the social cause of most hysteria (see Hunter & Macalpine 1963, pp. 1002-1003).

Defense and repression

Freud’s conception of defense, more particularly his ideas about defense against anxiety, seems to be a more original clinical innovation than most other parts of psychoanalytic theory. Perhaps its model was the medical conception of the body’s defenses against pathogenic invasion; and the proposition that ideas can be repressed was familiar in Herbartian psychology. Nietzsche described the general outlines of several specific defenses—according to Brandt (1955), repression, isolation, reaction formation, sublimation, and projection—but there is no evidence that Freud knew about it. These conceptions and the closely related signal theory of anxiety are as directly derived from clinical observation as any in psycho analysis and are among Freud’s most original contributions.


The Darwinian origins of the genetic viewpoint in psychoanalysis have been briefly mentioned. An important specific mediator of Darwinism was Hughlings Jackson, from whose view of the evolutionary organization of the brain Freud took the conception of a hierarchic organization of psychic structures (Rapaport 1959), and from whose correlated theory of neurological diseases as “reversals of evolution,” Freud derived the concept of regression as an explanation of psychopathogenesis (Stengel 1954a; 1954fa). The genetic discipline of embryology had been given an enormous impetus by Darwin; Freud’s use of fetal materials in his medullar researches must have caused him to study this discipline with particular care and to become familiar with the epigenetic principle that is implicit in his doctrine of psychosexual development. The phenomenon of identification and its role in interpersonal and social relations of all kinds, as well as its outstanding importance in development, appears to be largely the outgrowth of clinical observation; Rieff’s (1959) hint that it may owe something to the “sympathy” of earlier social theorists (for example, Adam Smith) re mains unexplored. By contrast, it is easy to find plenty of antecedent recognition of the importance of impulse control in the growth of character.

Passive reflex model

Freud put his personal stamp upon all the conceptions he drew—directly or indirectly—from his broad intellectual heritage. His reworking of the ideas of others often brought to the forefront their latent potentialities for advancing the understanding of the central problems—the innermost longings and agonies— of real persons. At times, however, the usefulness of Freud’s ideas was marred by his need to fit them into his set of basic working assumptions, the passive reflex model of the nervous system.

This model was synthesized by Freud from the physicalistic physiology of his teachers and was more clearly enunciated in the “Project” than in any of the works of Brücke, Meynert, Breuer, or Exner, in which its elements may be clearly discerned (Amacher 1965). Anticipations of the dynamic, economic, and topographic points of view are plainly to be seen in books that Freud cited, for example, those by Fechner (Ellenberger 1956) and Jackson (Stengel 1954a; Spehlmann 1953); the economic point of view is also traceable to Darwin (Andersson 1962). It seems safe to conclude, therefore, that this set of principles was concurrently developed by many leading scientists in Germany and Austria in their attempts to apply the physics of Helmholtz and his school to biology and to generalize the reflex arc as a model of all mental processes in order to close the doors to such romantic notions as spontaneity, free will, and vitalism. Although virtually all of the assumptions underlying the passive reflex model are demonstrably untrue, much of the same doctrine underlies the behavioristic schools of psychology and is only now being painfully modified.

When Freud put aside explicit neurological theorizing, he was unable to give up the passive reflex model and the closely related physicalistic concept of reality (Spehlmann 1953; Holt 1965a). Although he explicitly postponed any attempt to relate the terms of metapsychology to processes and loci in the body, he substituted psychological theories that carry the same burden of anachronistic assumptions.

Nevertheless, Freud did not make a clean break from neurology, which fact contributed to his unclear and inconsistent stand on the mind-body problem (Rubinstein 1965; Holt 1965a). Jones (1953-1957, vol. 1) and a number of other authors portray him as a consistent follower of Jackson in a psychophysical parallelism that makes mind an “independent concomitant” of brain. But neither Jackson himself, who at times postulated that physical energy is directly transformed into psychic energy (Spehlmann 1953), nor Freud’s teachers held to a consistent position (Amacher 1965); it was common to slip into interactionism, and Freud followed suit (Andersson 1962, p. 107). The concept of hysterical conversion is the most obvious instance of interactionism.

Speculative elements

The concept of Freud’s most frequently rejected, at least among psychoanalysts, is the death instinct; not surprisingly, many of them have attributed this concept to Freud’s own needs and conflicts. While the evidence is impressive that for many years Freud had an unusual and probably pathological preoccupation with death, there are plenty of less tendentious hypotheses about sources for this notion. Freud himself traced it to the ancient Greeks; it has been likened to the Christian concept of original sin; pessimistic, late romantic philosophers like Nietzsche contributed a strain of thought of which Freud could not have been unaware, however little he read them directly. More generally, the works in which he developed the theory of the repetition compulsion (clearly related as it is to the ancient conception of “the eternal return”) and the virtually mythic concepts of life- and death-instincts are part of his phylogenetic theory. It is tempting to interpret this last development in Freud’s thought as a kind of return of the repressed: that youthful speculative bent and yearning for broad philosophical knowledge which he repeatedly admitted fearing in himself and suppressed for many years (Holt 1963). His exposure to and enthusiasm for Natur-philosophie antedated his conversion to physicalistic physiology, which helped him put such unscientific ways of thought out of mind. Even the philosopher with whom he studied, Brentano, strongly opposed Naturphilosophie and advocated the scientific method as the only valid source of knowledge.

Yet the old mode of thought remained an undercurrent in his thinking, as it did in that of his friend Fliess (Galdston 1956). Finally, after Freud’s change of identity at the turn of the century, after his great discoveries, the establishment of the psychoanalytic movement, and his first international recognition, the old mode of thought may have seemed less threatening. In Totem and Taboo (1913), one of his favorites among his own books, he created what he himself called a “scientific myth” (the slaying of the Darwinian primal horde’s father). Shortly thereafter, he first read Lamarck, who was strongly identified with Naturphilosophie. It is Fechner the Naturphilosoph, not the psychophysicist, whom he cited in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), and the loose, analogical, teleological, and personifying mode of thought he employed there is in marked contrast to the cognitive style of his metapsychological works (Holt 1965b). Many properties of his concept of psychic energy can be traced to the vitalism that was a prominent feature of Naturphilosophie (Holt 1966). Some of the specific fallacies in his phylogenetic works can be traced to sources on the more mechanisticmaterialistic side: Haeckel’s “biogenetic law” that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny seemed to provide respectable scientific auspices for the extension of genetic speculations based on individuals to the development of all mankind; Spencer and various post-Darwinians were the source of his linearevolutionary conception of anthropology; and the inheritance of acquired characters had been a general assumption of the organic-hereditarian psychiatrists of Freud’s formative period (Andersson 1962), as well as having been given some currency by Darwin himself (Ritvo 1965). Nevertheless, the major flaws of both manner and matter in Freud’s speculative works show the unmistakable earmarks of Naturphilosophie.

Freud’s stature is too great for his errors to require any whitewashing; it is not an apology for him but a fact that the least tenable aspects of his theories are traceable to influences that shaped his basic outlook when he was still a student, while his enduring achievements seem to owe less to antecedent influences. It appears to be one of the marks of a genius that he finds more sources of ideas in his reading and observation and subjects them to a truer integration and transmutation than does the less gifted man. The great contributor to knowledge (who may or may not be a genius) does not only toss off brilliant sparks of ideas; he lights and tends an enduring fire. Freud had both of these innovative capacities and more; his ideas have the remarkable property of being self-transcending. He taught us how to know more than he could, how to find and use the best in what he left by testing it against reality.

Robert R. Holt

[For a listing of articles describing Freud’s influence upon psychology, psychiatry, and the other social sciences, see the detailed guide under the entryPsychoanalysis. Directly related to Freud’s work and influence are the biographies ofAbraham; Adler; Alexander; Charcot; Ellis; Fechner; Ferenczi; Helmholtz; Horney; Jones; Jung; Klein; Müller, Johannes; Rank; Rapaport; Reich; Roheim; Sullivan.]


(1887–1902) 1954 The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes: 1887–1902. New York: Basic Books.

(1893–1895) 1955 Breuer, Josef; and Freud, Sigmund Studies on Hysteria. Volume 2 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1895) 1954 Project for a Scientific Psychology. Pages 347-445 in Sigmund Freud, The Origins of Psycho analysis. New York: Basic Books.

(1900) 1953 The Interpretation of Dreams. Volumes 4-5 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychologi cal Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1905) 1953 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Volume 7, pages 123-245 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1913) 1959 Totem and Taboo. Volume 13, pages ix-162 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychologi cal Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1915) 1957 Papers on Metapsychology. Volume 14, pages 109-243 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1920) 1955 Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Volume 18, pages 7-66 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1921) 1955 Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Volume 18, pages 69-134 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1923) 1961 The Ego and the Id. Volume 19, pages 12-63 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psycho logical Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1926) 1959 Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. Volume 20, pages 77-178 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1927) 1961 The Future of an Illusion. Volume 21, pages 5-58 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1930) 1961 Civilization and Its Discontents. Volume 22, pages 64-148 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

(1934–1938) 1964 Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays. Volume 23 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.

Gesammelte Schriften. 12 vols. Leipzig, Vienna and Zurich: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1924–1934.

Gesammelte Werke. 18 vols. London: Imago, 1940–1952.

The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 24 vols. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan, 1953–1964.


Amacher, Peter 1965 Freud’s Neurological Education and Its Influence on Psychoanalytic Theory. Psycho logical Issues, Vol. 4, No. 4; Monograph No. 16. New York: International Universities Press.

Andersson, Ola 1962 Studies in the Prehistory of Psychoanalysis: The Etiology of Psychoneuroses and Some Related Themes in Sigmund Freud’s Scientific Writings and Letters, 1886–1896. Stockholm: Svenska Bokforlaget Norstedts.

Aron, William 1963-1964 Freud and Spinoza. Harofe haivri [1963] no. 2:260-242; [1964] no. 1:284-265; [1964] no. 2:260–242.

Barnes, E. 1892 Feelings and Ideas of Sex in Children. Pedagogical Seminary 2:199–203. → Now called the Journal of Genetic Psychology.

Bell, Sanford 1902 A Preliminary Study of the Emotion of Love Between the Sexes. American Journal of Psychology 13:325–354.

Bernfeld, Siegfried 1944 Freud’s Earliest Theories and the School of Helmholtz. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 13:341–362.

Bernfeld, Siegfried 1951 Sigmund Freud, M.D.: 1882–1885. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 32:204–217.

Brandt, Rudolf 1955 Freud and Nietzsche: A Com parison. Ottawa, University of, Revue 25:225–234.

Bry, Ilse; and Rifkin, Alfred H. 1962 Freud and the History of Ideas: Primary Sources, 1886–1910. Pages 6-36 in Academy of Psychoanalysis, Science and Psychoanalysis. Volume 5: Psychoanalytic Education. New York: Grune.

Cranefield, Paul F. 1957 The Organic Physics of 1847 and the Biophysics of Today. Journal of the His tory of Medicine 12:407–423.

Darwin, Charles (1859) 1964 On the Origin of Species. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Ellenberger, Henri F. 1956 Fechner and Freud. Menninger Clinic, Bulletin 20:201–214.

Galdston, Iago 1956 Freud and Romantic Medicine. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 30:489–507.

Gill, Merton M. 1959 The Present State of Psychoanalytic Theory. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 58:1–8.

Holt, Robert R. 1963 Two Influences on Freud’s Scientific Thought: A Fragment of Intellectual Biography. Pages 364-387 in Robert N. White (editor), The Study of Lives. New York: Atherton.

Holt, Robert R. 1965a A Review of Some of Freud’s Biological Assumptions and Their Influence on His Theories. Pages 93-124 in Norman S. Greenfield and William C. Lewis (editors), Psychoanalysis and Current Biological Thought. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Holt, Robert R. 1965b Freud’s Cognitive Style. American Imago 22:163–179.

Holt, Robert R. 1966 Beyond Vitalism and Mechanism: Freud’s Concept of Psychic Energy. Unpublished manuscript.

Hunter, Richard A.; and macalpine, Ida (editors) 1963 Three Hundred Years of Psychiatry, 1535-1860: A History Presented in Selected English Texts. Oxford Univ. Press. → See especially pages 1002-1003 and 1015–1018.

James, William (1890) 1962 The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York: Smith.

Jones, Ernest 1953-1957 The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. 3 vols. New York: Basic Books. → Vol ume 1: Formative Years and the Great Discoveries, 1953. Volume 2: Years of Maturity, 1955. Volume 3: Last Phase, 1957.

Kardiner, Abram; Karush, Aaron; and Ovesey, Lionel 1959 A Methodological Study of Freudian Theory. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 129:11-19, 133-143, 207-221, 341–356.

Parsons, Talcott (1952) 1953 The Superego and the Theory of Social Systems. Pages 13-29 in Talcott Parsons, Robert F. Bales, and Edward A. Shils. WorkingPapers in the Theory of Action. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Parsons, Talcott (1958) 1964 Social Structure and the Development of Personality: Freud’s Contribution to the Integration of Psychology and Sociology. Pages 78-111 in Talcott Parsons, Social Structure and Per sonality. New York: Free Press.

Rapaport, David 1959 The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory: A Systematizing Attempt. Pages 55-183 in S. Koch (editor), Psychology: A Study of a Science. Volume 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rapaport, David; and Gill, Merton 1959 The Points of View and Assumptions of Metapsychology. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 40:153–162.

Rieff, Philip 1959 Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. New York: Viking.

Ritvo, Lucille B. 1965 Darwin as the Source of Freud’s Neo-Lamarckianism. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 13:499–517.

Roehmer, A. 1891 Ueber psychopatische Minderwertigkeiten des Sauglingsalter. Medizinisches Korrespondenzblatt filr Wurtemberg 61:265-269, 273-279, 281-285, 289–292.

Rubinstein, B. B. 1965 Psychoanalytic Theory and the Mind-Body Problem. Pages 35-56 in Norman S. Greenfield and William C. Lewis (editors), Psycho analysis and Current Biological Thought. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Shakow, David; and rapaport, david 1964 The Influ ence of Freud on American Psychology. Psychological Issues, Vol. 4, No. 1. New York: International Universities Press.

Spehlmann, Rainer 1953 Sigmund Freuds neurologische Schriften: Fine Untersuchung zur Vorgeschichte der Psychoanalyse. Berlin: Springer.

Stengel, E. 1954a A Re-evaluation of Freud’s Book On Aphasia: Its Significance for Psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 35:85–89.

Stengel, E. 1954b The Origins and Status of Dynamic Psychiatry. British Journal of Medical Psychology 27: 193–200.

White, Robert W. 1963 Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory: A Proposal Regarding Independent Ego Energies. Psychological Issues, Vol. 3, No. 3. New York: International Universities Press.

Whyte, Lancelot L. 1960 The Unconscious Before Freud. New York: Basic Books.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund

(b. Freiberg, Moravia [now Příbor, Czechoslovakia], 6 May 1856; d. London, England, 23 September 1939)


Freud’s father, Jakob, was a wool merchant in Freiberg. His mother, Amalie Nathanson, was Jakob’s second wife and twenty years younger than he. Freud was the oldest child in the father’s second family. An older half brother, about the age of Freud’s mother and with a child of his own about Freud’s age, lived nearby. Freud was to write that the confusion all this caused him as an infant sharpened his intellect and his curiosity. He also wrote of himself: “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.”1 The wool trade in Freiberg, which had made Jakob mildly prosperous, collapsed, and the family moved to Vienna in 1860. For the rest of his long life Jakob was often unemployed, and the family was at times on the brink of poverty. In this respect, Jakob provided an unheroic ideal for his son. The family was Jewish and kept to Jewish society and customs, but they were not strongly religious. The father was something of a freethinker, and the son had lost any religious beliefs by his adolescence. Freud attended Sperl Gymnasium in Vienna from the age of nine to the age of seventeen, graduating with distinction in 1873. The curriculum emphasized modern and classical languages and included mathematics. Freud was studious and was encouraged in this by his parents, who made considerable financial sacrifice for his education. They anticipated a distinguished career for their son, which anticipation he shared. Freud’s unusual degree of ambition lasted well into his middle years.

In 1873 Freud entered the University of Vienna to study medicine. He chose medicine, not out of a desire to practice it, but with a vague intention of studying the human condition with scientific rigor. In choosing his career—and throughout his life—Freud placed a high ethical value on the physical sciences. He took Ernst von Brücke, professor of physiology at Vienna, as a model. Brücke was one of the founders of the Helmholtz school of German physiologists, who had accelerated the progress of that science with their own work and teaching. Freud spent three years more than was necessary in qualifying for his medical degree, which he finally received in 1881. This delay resulted from starting what he intended to be a career in biological research. He spent an increasing amount of time in Brücke’s Physiological Institute from 1876 through 1882. His first studies were on the connections of a large nerve cell (Reissner’s cell) that had been discovered in the spinal cord of a primitive genus of fish, and his observations made it possible to fit these cells into an evolutionary scheme. He also studied the structure of nerve fibers in living crayfish and devoted some time to the anatomy of the human brain. He had made a successful start on a research career when the poor economic prospects of his position forced him to change his plans. Brücke’s two assistant professors were only ten years older than Freud, so the chance for moving up to a position with an adequate salary seemed remote. Freud met his future wife in 1882 and had to face the fact that he could not continue at the institute and support a wife. He decided to obtain the clinical experience that would gain him respectable status as a practitioner. He joined the resident staff of the Vienna General Hospital in July 1882 and remained there until August 1885, working in the various clinical departments of the hospital for short periods of time. He stayed fourteen months in the department of nervous diseases because he wished to specialize in neuropathology.

Freud did not limit his activities to training in clinical medicine while at the Vienna General Hospital. He found time to continue his anatomical research on the human brain, tracing the course of nerve tracts in the medulla oblongata. He also began a series of studies in clinical neurology. This work was in the tradition of patient investigation that he had learned at Brücke’s institute, in contrast with his research on the therapeutic use of cocaine, which he began in 1884. He used the drug himself, finding it made him euphoric and able to work well. His letters to his fiancée show high hopes that the research would bring quick recognition and would enable him to afford marriage sooner. He published two articles on the use of cocaine as a stimulant, as an analgesic, and as an aid in withdrawal from morphine addiction. Within two years there were reports of cocaine addiction, and Freud’s reputation was clouded. Freud spent four months studying with J. M. Charcot, the foremost French neurologist, after leaving the Vienna General Hospital.

Freud set up practice as a neuropathologist on his return from Paris and was soon married. His bride was Martha Bernays, the daughter of an intellectually distinguished German Jewish family. It had taken four years from his decision to give up a research career for marriage to become a financial possibility. His prolonged engagement had been full of near breakups and reconciliations. Freud had been extremely jealous of anyone for whom Martha showed any affection, including her mother. Since Martha was in Hamburg for much of their engagement, they left a vivid record of this tempestuous period in their letters. Freud was thirty at his marriage (1886); Martha was twenty-five. In the first decade of their marriage the couple had three sons and three daughters. Freud’s professional offices were adjacent to the living quarters in their first and subsequent apartments. After he married, Freud’s practice, home, family, and extensive writing occupied most of his time. In the early years of his practice he went several times a week to Kassowitz’s Children’s Clinic, where he headed the department of neurology. Throughout his career he was on the faculty (without chaired appointments) of the University of Vienna, where he lectured, first on neuropathology and then on psychoanalysis.

Freud’s psychological life was not as smooth as the description of his everyday life might imply. Psychoanalysts have found a search for a father figure important in Freud’s psychological history, his own father not having provided an adequate model. At least it is clear that he sought authoritative approbation of his career. Yet he was not swayed from a self-determined course by the successive candidates for father figure, most prominently Brücke, Josef Breuer, and Wilhelm Fliess. Brücke remained a loyal friend after Freud gave up his research career, but Freud’s career was diverging too far from Brücke’s for Freud to seek sanction from him. Breuer was fourteen years older than Freud, had made signal contributions to neurophysiology in his younger years, and was a distinguished physician. They culminated a decade of collaboration with their joint publication of Studies in Hysteria (1895), which described the clinical experience that was one of Freud’s bases for psychoanalysis. Breuer was unwilling to join Freud in the radical innovations of psychoanalysis; he was dubious about the emphasis on sex that developed and, being established, did not share Freud’s driving ambition. The publication of their joint work came near the end of their collaboration. Freud harshly criticized Breuer’s personality in later years.

Fliess was a Berlin physician with whom Freud corresponded regularly from 1893 until 1900. During this period Freud was conducting his self-analysis and rapidly developing his psychoanalytic theories, the two being aspects of a single venture. His letters to Fliess rather fully disclose his thoughts during this crucial phase. Fliess also was developing radical theories on the periodicity of biological events (which have never appeared to have any validity). While there seems to have been little significant mutual influence, each provided the other an audience. Fliess took Breuer’s place as someone who apparently could understand and who approved of Freud’s ideas. Fliess broke with Freud in 1900 over a trivial matter. There is no equivalent of the Fliess correspondence, which exhibits Freud’s bitterness toward Breuer, after their professional estrangement. Perhaps Freud was then intellectually more self-confident. In any event, he was soon to become the intellectual father figure of the psychoanalytic movement. The meetings of his followers began at Freud’s house in 1902.

Freud was in robust health into his late sixties. He was bothered, but never disabled, by a number of afflictions, including some intestinal problems that he considered psychosomatic. World War I was difficult for the Viennese, with food and fuel in short supply. There was the stress of having two sons in combat. The shortage of cigars was also an affliction for Freud, who had been accustomed to smoking fifteen to twenty each day, preferably Schimmelpenninck cigars from Holland. It was a sign of Freud’s vigor that he came through all this without a decline in health. In 1923 cancer of the jaw, the disease that led to his death, was detected. From then on, he had repeated operations, metal appliances were put in his jaw to replace the bone removed, and he was frequently in pain. He preferred to remain mentally alert rather than take pain-killing drugs. After 1923 he wrote three books and many articles, and continued his practice and his extensive correspondence.

Freud remained in Vienna even though he was well aware of the impending danger from the Nazis. He was offered foreign asylum in 1936 and 1937 but, partly out of his identification with less fortunate Jews, remained until June 1938, three months after the Nazis gained control in Austria. He was allowed to go to England after Ernest Jones managed some complicated diplomatic maneuvering and the payment of a ransom, and he died in London in September 1939.

Freud made a solid contribution to conventional neuropathology. His first book was Aphasia, published in 1891. It was a masterly review and critique of the literature on the subject and presented a synthetic view of the condition. Freud refuted the view, prevalent among German-speaking neurologists, that the losses of function in aphasia were due to lesions in anatomically circumscribed centers corresponding to the various functions involved in language. He demonstrated that the anatomical postulates would not fit with specific case studies and that it was necessary to assume that the cerebral areas involved in language were less circumscribed. Freud also incorporated into his synthesis the view that function could be reduced in an area, not simply canceled, by the disease. Here he relied on John Hughlings Jackson, the English neurologist. Hughlings Jackson used the term “disinvolution” to describe the lesser vulnerability to pathological weakening of cortical complexes acquired earlier in the life of the individual. Freud’s book had little immediate impact, perhaps because it contained no new case material. Part of his motivation to write it must have been the desire to get at the neurological events underlying complex psychological processes. In this it foreshadowed his Psychology for Neurologists, which he wrote in 1895. Freud’s three works on cerebral paralysis in children, published in 1891, 1893, and 1897, were immediately recognized as definitive works on the subject and have remained so valued. In them he presented his own cases from the Kassowitz clinic, as well as a review of the literature. His studies brought order out of a confusing array of paralyses.

The development of Freud’s psychoanalytic thought can usefully be described as occurring in three phases. In the first phase he gradually developed his ideas during his experience in the therapy of hysteria. Breuer had some part—just how much is impossible to determine—in the formation of the ideas, and certainly held Freud back from making the large speculations that characterized the second phase. In the second phase, in the middle of the 1890’s, Freud developed his ideas more rapidly and with less reference to clinical experience than he had before and would later. He formed a comprehensive theory of the determinants of human thought and behavior, which became his metapsychology. This was in large part based on previous theories. During this phase Freud had only Fliess for his critical audience. In the third phase, which lasted from the late 1890’s until the end of his career, Freud elaborated greatly on the ideas developed during the first two phases. There was again much reference to his clinical experience, but it was often interpreted so that it fit his previous ideas.

The first phase of Freud’s intellectual development occurred during his first years of treating hysteria. Although at the Kassowitz clinic he saw patients assumed to have definite physical damage to the nervous system, most of the patients who came to his office he considered hysterics. Hysteria was considered to have both physical and psychological causes. Most theories emphasized hereditary weakness of the nervous system as the physical cause. It was commonly considered that a psychologically traumatic event, with this background of a weak nervous system, brought on the condition. Physicians usually tried physical therapeutic approaches. In the first years of his practice Freud used bed rest and low-voltage stimulation to paralyzed limbs of hysteric patients. He had begun his practice with some knowledge of psychological therapy for hysteria; Breuer had told him in 1882 about what was to become known as the “case of Anna O.” Breuer treated the patient, whom he considered a hysteric, from 1880 to 1882. Her symptoms included an intermittent paralysis of the limbs and severe speech and visual disturbances. Breuer found, rather by accident, that if the patient described in detail the manifestations of a symptom, it was relieved for a time. Breuer called this method “catharsis.”

Breuer also used hypnotic suggestion with Anna O. and with other patients. He told the hypnotized patient that such-and-such a symptom would disappear and found that the symptom disappeared, at least temporarily. Hypnotic suggestion had been used for years by Liébeault and Bernheim at Nancy, and a few other physicians in Vienna were using it. When Freud left the Vienna General Hospital in 1885, he received a traveling grant to study in Paris with Charcot, who was then making hysteria the focus of his attention. He maintained that the manifestations of hysteria were regular and that the common medical opinion (prevalent in Vienna) that they were feigned by hysterics was therefore erroneous. Freud never accepted Charcot’s elaborate systematization, but his reputation sanctioned Freud’s taking the condition seriously, as deserving of scientific study, and his considering its psychological as well as physical aspects. Freud’s growing doubt as to the efficacy of electric stimulation and other physical therapeutic techniques led him to employ Breuer’s method of hypnotic suggestion. He considered the method useful and became an advocate of it in Vienna.

In 1889 Freud was using Breuer’s carthartic method in conjunction with hypnosis. This gradually developed into the free association method. Instead of leading the patient to talk about the first occurrence of a symptom, he encouraged the patient to say whatever came into his mind, without exercising any conscious control over it. Freud believed that the patient exhibited parts of the network of associated ideas which had already been established during his life. The therapist could surmise those ideas which made up the neurosis from those which the patient disclosed in free association. Freud formed the essentials of his concepts of the unconscious, of repression, and of transference during the development of the free association method. Parts of the complex of associated ideas, unacceptable in the conscious thought of the patient, were repressed. They remained in the unconscious, influencing what came into consciousness, but never themselves came into consciousness. Freud made great progress in technique and concept with the case of Elizabeth von R., which he probably began in 1892. The patient could not accept her love for her brother-in-law, especially after the untimely death of her sister, repressed it, and developed hysteria. Using free association, Freud interpreted the unconscious ideas, related them to the patient, and gradually got her to accept the situation in her conscious thought. Freud found transference, the basically erotic feeling of the patient for the therapist, to be a regular development in an analysis and necessary for its success.

Freud wrote the crucial document of the second phase of the development of his psychoanalytic ideas in 1895. The “Project for a Scientific Psychology” was a comprehensive theory of the neurological events underlying human thought and behavior. The essentials of some of his central psychoanalytic concepts were in it, to be elaborated in his later writings. Freud did not publish it (it first appeared in 1954) but sent it to Fliess and discussed and revised it in their correspondence for several years. To attempt to explain human thought and behavior in terms of the structure and function of the nervous system was not unusual; an enthusiasm for physical science and a confidence in its methods for dealing with complex phenomena permeated German medicine. More specifically, two men with whom Freud was in close and frequent contact had made this attempt. Freud’s professor of psychiatry at Vienna was Theodor Meynert, and he continued to work with Meynert while at the Vienna General Hospital. Meynert and Sigmund Exner, one of Brucke’s two assistants at the Physiological Institute, both wrote large works correlating neurology with thought and behavior. These works resemble Freud’s “Project” in their basic theories.

In the view of Meynert, Exner, and Freud, all nervous system function consisted of reflexes of a certain type. There was an analogy—sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit—between the flow of an electric current through a network of wires and the passage of nerve impulses through nervous pathways. A quantitative phenomenon (called excitation, nerve energy, or quantity in the “Project”) flowed through the pathways with an unspecified force, tending to make it flow from the sensory periphery to the motor periphery of the system. The force was generated by the sense organs when they were stimulated, in proportion to the intensity and duration of the stimulation. The excitation was discharged at the motor periphery of the nervous system, primarily in triggering the contraction of muscles. Excitation was neither added nor lost during its passage through the system, so that the amount of motor activity was proportional to the amount of stimulation. There was ample evidence from neurological experiments that reflex contractions were, in general, proportional to the amount of stimulation. Since the middle of the eighteenth century, scientists had noted that the more painful the stimulation of a limb of an experimental animal, the greater the reflex flection of the limb. When Freud was at Brucke’s institute, electrical recordings from nerve tracts were interpreted as supporting this view. An increase in voltage was recorded from sensory nerve tracts when the intensity of the stimulus increased. That this increase resulted from bringing into function more channels, or nerve cells, was not recognized. Experimentally based observations of spinal reflexes and the anatomical evidence that the gray matter of the brain was histologically similar to the gray matter of the spinal cord had led to the doctrine that the entire system functioned reflexly. It was assumed that food-seeking in response to somatic stimuli was a reflex response, with the central transfer of excitation taking place through brain pathways. Consciousness occurred when the excitation, on its way from sense organs to motor organs, passed through the cerebral cortex. In spinal reflexes, excitation passed through innately determined pathways. The reflex ended in a motor act, which brought about the end of the stimulation of the sense organ. The painfully stimulated limb was flexed and withdrawn. In the cortex, pathways were put into function during the life of the individual; this was the neurological event resulting in learning. The coming into function of new pathways took place when the innately determined pathways did not serve to end the excitation from the sense organs.

Freud followed Meynert in taking a baby’s learning to nurse as a paradigm of the opening up of cortical pathways. Freud did so in the “Project” and in his two most important published works, The Interpretation of Dreams and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. When excitation entered the infant’s nervous system—the concomitant of hunger—it was first channeled through innately determined pathways. The baby kicked and screamed, which was to no avail in bringing about the ending of the influx of excitation from the somatic sense organs. Then the mother turned the baby’s mouth to her nipple, the baby sucked, and the inflow from the sense organs ceased. The next time the baby was hungry, the excitation passed through the cortical pathways that had been opened up, those which served the sight of the nipple and the turning of, the baby’s head to the nipple. The nervous system did not transfer excitation through innate pathways or those serving learning until the sense organs were stimulated. There was no nervous function without stimulation. Meynert put it thus: “The brain ... does not radiate its own heat; it obtains the energy underlying all cerebral phenomena from the world beyond it.”2 In the terminology of Freud’s metapsychology, this became the pleasure principle, the tendency of the psychic apparatus to function so as to discharge the excitation that impinged upon it.

The outline of the distinction between the ego and the id is in the “Project.” Freud defined the ego as that complex of cortical pathways that were put into function during the baby’s learning to turn to the nipple and in other learning experiences. This was a term common in psychology. When the ego was again subject to the inflow of excitation, the correlate of hunger, the baby carried out the same motor acts that had previously ended the inflow. This reusing of pathways, without alteration of the pattern of transmission of excitation and without any change in the resulting behavior, Freud called the primary process in the ego. When the baby was hungry at a later time, part of the current stimuli to the sense organs was not the same as it had been when the pathways serving the primary process were put into function. For example, if the mother presented her other breast to the baby, the stimulation of the eyes would be different. To cover this situation, Freud postulated an inhibiting ego that did not allow discharge over the primary process pathways, which would result in an exact repetition of the first turning to the breast, but compared current perceptions with those making up the pathways serving the primary process. By a complex process, which Freud did not succeed in reducing to plausible mechanical terms, the necessary change in the motor act was determined by the inhibiting ego. In Freud’s later formulation, the ego became roughly the equivalent of the inhibiting ego, while that part of the ego not under the control of the inhibiting ego became the id, the part of the psychic apparatus that mediated primary processes.

The whole construct depended to a large extent on certain ideas that were proper to psychology rather than neurology. Meynert and Freud accepted association psychology as an adequate statement of the determinants of human thought and behavior. For example, a law of association psychology—that simultaneous or temporally contiguous sense perceptions become associated, so that they tend to be recalled jointly—provided the background for their assumption that the sight of the nipple, the perception of hunger, etc. would have their nervous concomitants connected in the pathways of the primary process. There was of course no neurological evidence that the cortical pathways serving a visual perception and those serving the perception of a somatic state, when both had nervous excitation transmitted to them, would come into functional connection. The evidence was first behavioral, then incorporated into association psychology. German association psychology, which Freud had studied, also included the concept of affect as a quantitative entity attached to ideas. This agreed with the concept that the cortical pathway serving an idea has excitation passing through it. This association psychology was commonly described in mechanical terms and lent itself to theories of brain function.

Freud was led to his concept of the sexual origin of neuroses by this view of the function of the nervous system. In Studies in Hysteria, he and Breuer (Breuer is listed as the author of the theoretical section, but Freud took an equal—if not major—part in developing the ideas in it) wrote that the intense and longlasting nervous and mental activity manifested in hysteria resulted from excitation impinging from the sex organs. The primary causes of the increase of excitation were the need for oxygen, food, and water. However, their patients were not deprived of oxygen, food, or water, so that the sex organs were “undoubtedly the most powerful source of persisting increases of excitation (and consequently of neuroses).”3 Excitation was passing through the nervous pathways in quantity, the theory of nervous function required a sensory source for it, and the sex organs were the obvious choice. Certainly Freud’s and Breuer’s patients had disturbances in their sexual lives; it would be expected in lives so generally disordered. Yet the theory of nervous function led to selection of such disturbances as the essential etiology of neuroses.

Freud’s idea that dreams are wish-fulfillment processes was a special instance of his view that all mental processes were wish-fufillment processes, which in turn followed from the theory of nervous function. He stated in the “Project” that by “wish” he meant the cortical pathway which had previously been opened up to discharge excitation impinging from the sense organs. The hungry baby wished for the mother’s nipple because a cortical pathway representing the nipple had been part of the complex of channels put into function when the baby had first stopped the inflow of hunger excitation. In the simplest type of dream, a slightly hungry baby would dream of the nipple because there was a slight inflow of excitation from the sense organs serving hunger. If there was too much excitation flowing, the baby would wake up. Freud thought that excitation impingement of low quantity was a condition of sleep. He had not given much attention to the interpretation of dreams until after he had arrived at the theory of their wish-fulfillment nature. He made this momentous theoretical advance while he was writing the “Project” in the summer of 1895. The first dream he interpreted in detail was one he had during that summer and reported in the “Project.” Thereafter he interpreted many of his own dreams as part of his regular self-analysis, using the wish-fulfillment theory as the essential interpretive tool.

Freud’s observations and interpretations of his own mental states during the second phase of the development of his psychoanalytic thought were as important as all his case studies taken together. His wishfulfillment theory was formed after the dream (which has become known as that of “Irma’s injection”) he had while writing the “Project.” In July 1897, Freud began a regular analysis of himself, devoting some time to it each day, with the definite aim of unearthing the roots of his own character. In the fall of the same year, he reached his concept of infantile sexuality after interpreting his own dreams. The crucial phase of his self-analysis seems to have ended by 1900, but he continued it, on a regular basis, for the rest of his life.

Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality was a momentous step forward in the understanding of human psychology. The theory was shaped by the “Project” and by Freud’s powerfully working intuition. The influence of the “Project” can be traced, while only its results give evidence of his intuition. Freud’s interpretation of his dreams was the central part of his accelerated self-analysis in 1897. Using the wishfulfillment concept, he found evidence of intense mental activity, with an erotic content, in his own infancy. There is no detailed record of these dream interpretations, but the results of them are in his letters to Fliess. In October 1897, he wrote that when he was two, “Libido towards matrem was aroused; the occasion must have been the journey with her from Leipzig to Vienna, during which we spent the night together and I must have had the opportunity of seeing her nudam.” Libido was intended in the sense he used it later, where he described it as the sexual counterpart of hunger. In his next letter Freud described his love of his mother and jealousy of his father, stated that this was a general occurrence in early childhood, and related it to the Oedipus legend. The next letter after that described infants’ desire for “sexual experiences” they had already known.

Because he held the idea of the nervous reflex as a transfer of a quantity of excitation originating at the sensory periphery, Freud had to assume that the infant must have a source of considerable excitation in order to have aroused libido and “sexual experiences.” By the next month, November 1897, Freud had taken this step. He wrote to Fliess: “We must suppose that in infancy sexual release is not so much localized as it becomes later, so that zones which are later abandoned (and possibly the whole surface of the body) stimulate to some extent the production of something that is analogous to the later release of sexuality.”4 The occurrence of sexual dreams implied the existence of previous sexual experiences. The theory of nervous function implied that excitation from the sense organs had been discharged over pathways opened up during these experiences; this in turn necessitated sense-organ sources of this excitation. Freud did not need to suppose anything about sources of excitation to make the generalization that infants have mental activity that becomes related to adult sexuality. But to save his comprehensive theory he needed to postulate infantile erogenous zones. His developed theory of psychosexual development, in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, is a great elaboration of the ideas he presented to Fliess. His later ideas are elaborations of the 1897 concept that infantile sexual experiences are shaped by the character of inflows of excitation from the sense organs.

The third phase of the development of Freud’s ideas is marked by the elaboration, in terms of a wealth of clinical experience, of the ideas he pioneered in the first two phases. He also applied his psychoanalytic understanding to social theory. The pace of development was slower, but his publications from this period (after 1900) fill nineteen volumes in his collected works. The work published previously and judged psychoanalytic by the editors of the Standard Edition of his writings fill four volumes. His writings in neuropathology, if similarly collected, would fill an additional three or four volumes.

The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1901, has usually been considered Freud’s most important work. In the famous seventh chapter he published for the first time much of the general theory he had formulated in the “Project” in 1895. He remarked that the book had been essentially finished in 1895, but not “written down” until the summer of 18995. In the seventh chapter the brain becomes the “psychic apparatus,” and most other neurological terms are replaced by psychological and psychoanalytic terms (but not all terms are replaced; the basic mode of function is still called the reflex). The volume contains many detailed accounts of dreams and many interpretations, primarily of his own dreams following his formulation of the wish-fulfillment theory. In carrying out these interpretations, Freud refined his understanding of the mode of operation of the unconscious. He discussed displacement, the transfer of hate or love from one person to another, when the transfer makes the resulting conscious emotion acceptable to the ego. For example, sexual desire for the mother might be transferred to another woman. He pointed to the extensive appearance in conscious thought of symbols for repressed thought. The consciously desired woman might be wearing shoes such as the unconsciously desired mother had worn. Regression, the tendency to think in a manner that was appropriate in the earlier life of the individual, was the neurotic equivalent of earlier thought patterns in dream consciousness.

Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, the second in importance of his books, in 1905. This and The Interpretation of Dreams were the only two of his books that he continually revised for succeeding editions. The same concern with the quantity of excitation, its origin, and the time of its impingement that led Freud to postulate infantile sources of sexual excitation in 1897 shaped his elaboration of infantile psychosexual development in this book. The paradigm of the infant learning to suck was, with additions, used in describing the oral stage of development. The lips were an erogenous zone which originated excitation (now libido). The baby did not know (there were no innate processes) how to end this inflow of excitation any more than he knew how to end the inflow of excitation caused by hunger. The inflow of excitation from the lips was ended by the act of sucking. Freud had to make all the erogenous zones consistent with the obvious model of the genitals, which cease to originate excitation after “some kind of manipulation that is analogous to sucking”6. The child’s dependence on the mother for stopping the inflow of excitation, or pleasure, resulted in a psychological makeup marked by receptive dependency.

In the anal phase of infantile development the source of excitation was the anus, and the inflow of excitation was brought to an end by the passage of feces. The child might retain feces so that there would be greater mechanical effect on the anus when the feces was passed or might manipulate the anus. Toilet training interfered with the child’s management of excretion for his pleasure. The psychology of this phase is dominated by obstinacy and retentiveness, with toilet training imparting defensive prohibitions, such as disgust and cleanliness, against manipulating the anus. The phallic phase foreshadows adult sexuality, with the genitals the source of excitation and infantile masturbation the means of ending the inflow. The psychology of this phase is dominated by the Oedipus complex and its derivative competitiveness. Sexual maturity, or the genital phase, had of course the same source of excitation as the phallic phase, but with ego mastery of the drives that dominated the earlier phases.

Passage through the successive stages of psychosexual development influenced the behavior of the adult. In some individuals, the psychological patterns appropriate to infantile stages were dominant in their adult life. The traits associated with the successive phases were not as tidily stated as this summary implies. It was left to Karl Abraham, one of Freud’s most capable followers, to work out the character types associated with the dominance of thought patterns appropriate to each stage of psychosexual development.

The Interpretation of Dreams and Three Essays made evident a novel feature of Freud’s thought: his emphasis on the similarity between normal and abnormal thought and behavior. Dream consciousness was very much like neurotic thought processes. The difference between normal and neurotic sexual behavior could be only a matter of the relative strength of the processes established during the individual’s passage through oral, anal, and phallic phases. That normal and abnormal phenomena were so similar was by no means a new idea, but the theorists of the dominant association psychology, psychiatrists, and theorists in neurology such as Meynert had made only trivial use of the idea.

Freud’s last major contribution to psychoanalytic theory was The Ego and the Id, published in 1923, in which he elaborated on the concept of the superego. In the “Project” he had assumed that ego (then called inhibiting ego) processes were conscious and that those of the id (a term introduced later) were unconscious. The superego was a part of the ego that did not involve consciousness. In what Freud regarded as normal development, the infant first took his mother as the desired sexual object. Oedipal fear of the father (essentially fear of castration by the father) led the infant to give up this object. Fear preventing the mother from being the object of libido, she was replaced with the mental representation of the person himself. The discharge of excitation (now libido) could take place through acts that were in accord with parental commands and therefore did not produce fear. The superego, the result of parental criticism and prohibitions, was Freud’s version of conscience. Two years later Freud wrote in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety that guilt feelings are the result of thoughts or acts not in accord with the superego, the internal representation of the parents. In the new scheme the aim of therapy remained the same: bringing unconscious processes under the control of the conscious ego. But it was now necessary to analyze not only the relatively simple unconscious processes in the id but also the more complex processes in the superego. Freud’s beginning in ego analysis was advanced especially by his daughter Anna.

The focuses in Freud’s writings fit with his view on the use of psychoanalysis. He regarded psychoanalysis as important primarily as a research tool and a theory of the determinants of human thought and behavior based on his research. The therapeutic usefulness of the method and theory he considered quite secondary. He did not believe psychoanalytic therapy was efficacious except in cases of hysteria and obsessional neuroses provided that the patient was relatively young and intelligent. In keeping with this view, he wrote only four detailed case studies after Studies in Hysteria (1895). He used fragments of cases in the rest of his publications to advance and buttress his theoretical expositions. The elaboration of his ideas in the third phase required that the therapist interpret clinical data differently, but there is little discussion in Freud’s work on how to get at clinical data or how to impart interpretations to the patient so that the patient can bring the unconscious material under the control of his ego.

Totem and Taboo, published in 1913, was Freud’s first and most important volume on social theory. He took cues from Darwin’s theory that the first human society consisted of a horde of brothers led by a strong father and from Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough, which described a universal taboo against incest and against killing the totem animal. The sons, driven by their Oedipal urges, killed the father and became leaderless. Their need for a strong leader led them to deify the totem animal, thus establishing the forerunner of religious systems. Social development depended on overcoming, with institutions which forbade incest, the Oedipal desire for the mother. Freud emphasized the continuance of hostile impulses within developed societies in Civilization and Its Discontents (1927). Aggression against the father was repressed by the incorporated parental image, the superego. This repression was institutionalized in social justice. Discontent was an inevitable aspect of civilization because, even though Oedipal aggression had been repressed, the wish had not; and the wish had the same power to produce guilt that the act did.

The dispersion of Freud’s thought in Europe centered in the psychoanalytic movement. The weekly meetings that began at Freud’s house in 1902 developed into the International Psychoanalytic Association, established at Nuremberg in 1910. Swiss participants, including Carl Jung, and of course the Viennese, including Alfred Adler and Sándor Ferenczi, were dominant. At this meeting Ferenczi, with Freud’s encouragement, proposed an authoritarian structure, with an elite determining proper psychoanalytic doctrine. Freud’s attitude was expressed in a statement he made about succession: “When the empire I founded is orphaned, no one but Jung must inherit the whole thing.”7 This aspect of the organization led to the resignation of Eugen Bleuler, professor of psychiatry in Switzerland and the only European member of the association with solid academic credentials in psychiatry. This was the first instance of a failure by the psychoanalytic movement to keep open the lines of communication with European academic psychiatry, and of course it decreased the European influences of Freud’s ideas. Those who were not willing to subordinate their intellects to that of Freud left the association. Alfred Adler disagreed with Freud over the importance of the Oedipus complex and left in 1911. Jung departed in 1914 over differences on the importance of sexuality and also because of personal conflicts with Freud.

The response to the developing threat of Jung’s schism was the formation of the Committee, a permanent elite to guarantee the maintenance of what had already become an orthodoxy. The members of the committee agreed that if any of them wished to depart from any of “the fundamental tenets of psychoanalytical theory—for example, the conception of repression, of the unconscious, of infantile sexuality—he would promise not to do so publicly before first discussing his views with the rest.”8 The founder and for many years chairman of the committee was Ernest Jones; the other members were Abraham, Harms Sachs, Ferenczi, Otto Rank, and, later, Max Eitingon. Freud had passed from seeking to being an intellectual father figure: Breuer was fifteen years older than Freud, Fliess a year younger, and the members of the committee were between sixteen and twenty-nine years younger than Freud. All remained loyal except Rank, who broke with Freud in 1929 after several years of agonizing over the departure from his mentor. The committee had at least equal responsibility with Freud for the authoritarian nature of the movement. In the case of Rank, Freud first welcomed Rank’s radical departure from his theory of psychosexual development, in which Rank made the birth trauma crucial, but was influenced by the committee not to accept this novelty. Freud became convinced that Rank’s own neurotic psychology led to his revisionism, a reason too often used by Freud and his followers to explain objections to Freud’s ideas.

The cultish aspect of the European psychoanalytic movement was one of the reasons for the relatively small influence of Freud’s views there. (More important reasons will emerge in the discussion below of his far greater influence in America.) Most important was that their opportunity to influence was blocked when the Nazis came to power in the early 1930’s They regarded psychoanalysis as a Jewish doctrine, proscribed it, and forced many of its adherents, the majority of whom were Jewish, to flee. Often they went first to England, where psychoanalysis was more accepted than in any country except America. With appropriate employment limited in England, many came to America, where they greatly augmented the influence of Freud’s ideas.

The United States has given Freud his stature in the history of thought. Long before he was accorded any equivalent honor in Europe, he was invited to give a series of lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, to mark its twentieth anniversary. G. Stanley Hall, a prominent psychologist and president of Clark, extended the invitation. Freud was enthusiastically received by James Putnam, professor of neurology at Harvard, who was to become president of the new American Psychoanalytic Society in 1910. Reputable American journals were open to Freud and his followers, while in Europe they published mostly in journals that they themselves had established. American physicians were the central element in the transmission of Freud’s through. From its beginnings, they dominated the American Psychoanalytic Association. (This led to the break of this association with the International Psychoanalytic Association over the question of whether psychoanalysts should be physicians in addition to having analytic training under the supervision of the psychoanalytic organization. In 1938 the American association, opting for medical qualification, separated from the international association. Freud had repeatedly stated that medical training was not of value to psychoanalysts.) The physicians’ dominance of organized psychoanalysis, and the acceptance of parts of Freud’s thought by physicians outside organized psychoanalysis, led American laymen, with their general respect for physicians, to respect psychoanalysis. Only the influence on American medicine will be outlined here, the rationale being that while Freud’s thought affected all Americans who studied human thought and behavior, the influence on physicians was crucial for the general acceptance of Freud and the content of the influence tended to be the same for an anthropologist or a literary critic as it did for a physician.

By 1920 most American physicians interested in neurology and psychiatry had taken some account of Freud’s theories. They prided themselves on their eclecticism, and many of them had accepted part of his thought. An important reason for this was that they were familiar with psychological therapies for illnesses assumed to have important, if not exclusively, psychological causes. Adolf Meyer had emphasized the patient’s specific psychological history, as Freud did, and had used counseling as therapy. William A. White was ready to include a discussion of Freud’s thought in a textbook of psychiatry he published in 1909, because his own dynamic psychiatry had prepared him to accept much of Freud’s work as soon as he became familiar with it. Many American physicians had begun using psychotherapeutic techniques, two variants being called persuasion and reeducation, in the first decade of the twentieth century. These methods did not carry with them the theoretical luggage that Freud’s free association method did. The Americans did or did not use such methods according to each physician’s estimate of their efficacy; they approached psychoanalysis in the same pragmatic way. They thus reversed Freud’s position that psychoanalysis was valuable chiefly as a theory and a research method to advance the theory and only secondarily as a means of therapy. There was an open-mindedness among American physicians not evident in Europe. A. A. Brill, the most energetic advocate of Freud in the United States, had patients referred to him by physicians who were opposed to Freud’s thought. They apparently acted on the assumption that for these particular cases it might work, and they did not isolate Brill for his opinions. Psychoanalysts remained part of the medical establishment, albeit a small part.

Freud’s name became the one most often associated with psychotherapy in general, and the distinction between the Freudian approach and any psychotherapy was blurred for many physicians. Nevertheless, there were influences more specific than Freud’s furthering of psychotherapy in general. His thought brought about a greater emphasis on early childhood and on the sexual determinants of behavior. Psychotherapy used more exploratory techniques, in an attempt to reconstruct the etiology of a disease, and less exhortation to the patient to change himself. The few members of the American Psychoanalytic Association were of course more conversant with Freud’s thought, and most of them used free association in relatively pure form.

The culmination of Freud’s influence on American medicine came after World War II. Frorp 1920 until the late 1930’s the number of psychoanalysts in the United States did not greatly increase. The European refugees increased their numbers in the 1930’s but it was one small group joining another. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s there was a rapid increase in their number. Psychiatry shared in the great increase of federal funds available for medical research and education, and the disbursement of these funds was often controlled by people strongly inclined toward a Freudian approach. Federal funds after the war financed research and academic positions that were most often filled with psychoanalysts or with men who had indicated their acceptance of analysis by undergoing analysis themselves. Nearly all the chairmen of psychiatry departments since 1946 have been psychoanalyzed. Psychoanalysis became entrenched in the medical school curriculum, often being the core of the basic course in psychiatry. The general increase in prosperity in the United States was also essential to the increased number of psychoanalysts. Psychoanalysis required far more time from the physician than any other therapy, psychological or physical, and was therefore costly. Only an affluent people could afford psychoanalysis. The sponsorship of Freud’s thought by the medical establishment was an important part of the context in which one implication of his thought became influential—an implication he never intended. He had emphasized the similarity of normal and abnormal behavior. Especially in his writing on social theory, he had found aspects of mental illness manifest in society at large. An extension of this emphasis was a radical redefinition of mental illness. Mental illness had been that which was marked by bizarre symptoms. Freud’s patients, for example, had psychogenic paralyses. were unable to go out into the street, or repeatedly washed their hands. American psychoanalysts only rarely saw such cases. Their patients typically had an inability to form adequate personal relationships. Such inabilities were explicable in terms of Freud’s thought, but he never proposed devoting most of the resources of psychiatry to curing them. The other side of this coin was a neglect of the mentally ill who did have bizarre symptoms, mainly those in institutions in a period in which psychiatry had far more financial support than it had ever had before.

Psychoanalysis was no longer equated with Freud’s thought, but his influence remained. The libidinous inflow of excitation was no longer taken as the sole motive power for the symptoms of mental illness but was one among several drives given equal theoretical status. Yet much of Freud’s descriptions of infantile psychosexual development as the primary determinant of adult psychology was incorporated into more complex theories. Above all, his general view of the unconscious remained influential. Most psychoanalytic theories included the unconscious as the sum of processes that, while not observable consciously, determine conscious thought and are organized so as to satisfy needs, although the needs are not necessarily consciously recognized. While the psychoanalytic hegemony over American psychiatry and the medical hegemony over psychotherapy began to break up in the 1960’s, there was by 1970 no clear indication of how this would affect the influence of Freud’s thought.


1. Jones, I, 5

2. Amacher, p. 24

3.Studies in Hysteria, in Standard Edition, II, 199–200

4.The Origins of Psychoanalysis, pp. 215–232

5. Jones, I 351

6.Three Essays, in Standard Edition, VII, 184.

7. Ludwig Binswanger, Sigmund Freud: Reminiscences of a Friendship (New York, 1957), p. 31.

8. Jones II, 152.


I. Orinigal Works. The definitive ed. of Freud’s work is in English: Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, James Strchey ed 23 vols. (London, 1953–1966) vol. XXIV in preparation. This is a magnificently edited work, with many annotations giving both details and interpretations. It is a variorum edition and includes with each article or book a bibliography of earlier eds. in German and English Vol. XXIV will contain a full bibliography and an index to the entire work. Freud’s neurological writings (and an incomplete bibliography of his works) are listed in The Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts and Notes: 1887–1902, Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud, and Ernst Kris, eds. (New York, 1954). This includes an annotated English trans. of the “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (also in vol. I of the Standard Edition). An incomplete listing of the various eds. of Freud’s works and of secondary works on Freud is in Alexander Grinstein, ed., The Index of Pyschoanalystic Writing 9 vols, (New York 1956–1966). These vols. list works published through 1960: vols. in preparation will list works published through 1968.

II. Secondary Literature. The standard biography of Freud remains Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, 3 vols. (New York, 1953–1957). This must be used with caution regarding two of its aspects. Jones brought together a great deal of material, but he was not consistently accurate in his use of it and was too much the disciple of Freud to make very critical interpretations. For Freud’s life, a recent book by Paul Roazen is somewhat corrective to Jones and otherwise useful: Brother Animal (New York, 1969). It has valuable biographical information on Freud, references to material not available to Jones, and discussions of the tendentious editing for publication of Freud’s letters by his followers.

The Freud Archive in the Library of Congress apparently contains most of the unpublished material relevant to Freud. The largest part of it was not to be used for fifty years, but this restriction has not been applied consistently. Serious scholars should consult the library as to the possibility of using the archive. The present study is in part based on the author’s Freud’s Neurological Education and Its Influence on Psychoanalytic Theory, Psychological Issues Monograph no. 16 (New York, 1965). The discussion of Freud’s American influence relies heavily on John Chynoweth Burnham, Psychoanalysis and American Medicine, 1894–1918: Medicine, Science, and Culture, Psychological David Shako and David rapport. The Influence of Freud on American Psychology, Psychological Issues Monograph no. 13 (New York, 1964), are unusual in their careful analyses of Freud’s influences.

Peter Amacher

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund 1856-1939







The founder of the intellectual discipline and psychotherapeutic method known as psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud aimed to throw light upon the unusual, abnormal, or pathological manifestations of the mind by tracing them to the psychological forces that produced them (1936, p. 447). The odd manifestations he sought to illuminate ranged from the blatantly strange, such as neurotic symptoms, to deviations from strict rationality found in all people, such as those that occur in dreaming, mental lapses of waking life, such as slips of the tongue, or other special experiences, such as the feeling of uncanniness. His inquiries also included ordinary experiences that defied straightforward explanation, such as the capacity of jokes to evoke laughter, and cultural trends that Freud believed exhibited properties of mental life he had identified in individual psychology, such as humans susceptibility to religion.

The psychological forces to which Freud traced these phenomena led inevitably, in his view, to childhood. Childhood has the influence it does, Freud maintained, because it affords a unique mode of experience that, on account of its distinctness from later developments of the mind, both produces lasting impressions on people and renders these impressions inaccessible to later consciousness. The most dramatic and best-known consequence of this dynamic is the operation after infancy of unconscious mentation, or ideas and impulses of which people remain unaware that nonetheless influence their behavior. Since the publication in 1900 of The Interpretation of Dreams, Freuds first major treatise on psychoanalysis, Freuds ideas have indelibly altered both popular thought and a wide array of professional disciplines.


Freud was born in Frieberg, Moravia (now the Czech Republic) on May 6, 1856, and his family moved to Vienna three years later. During the 1890s, as a young doctor collaborating with Viennese physician Josef Breuer, he began treating nervous disorders through the use of a talking cure, as he and Breuer called it. The method initially consisted of patients under hypnosis recalling memories associated with their symptoms. This recall, accompanied by the affect connected with the memories, resulted in the elimination of symptoms. An early patient treated in this way, one Anna O., for example, who presented with paralyses and an inability to drink that lacked any organic base, regained her ability to drink when she recalled with disgust a scene from her childhood in which she had discovered her governesss dog drinking from a (human) cup.

On the basis of observations of this kindreported with Breuer in Studies on Hysteria (1895)Freud came to believe people are moved in part by mental forces unknown to them. The unconscious, as it came to be known, is composed mostly of thoughts and impressions people pushed from consciousness (or repressed) when they were very young. The thoughts and impressions linger in the mind and, unable to discharge, remain on alert for opportunities for expression. When they reach expression, they usually appear in disguise, so as not to elicit fresh repressions. The resulting manifestations include psychopathological symptoms, dreams, lapses of (conscious) speech or action (which Freud called parapraxes) such as slips of the tongue, and aspects of character, as well as a variety of ordinary individual and cultural experiences.


Freuds is a general psychological theory that attempts to explain why people think, feel, see, and do as they do. A systematic theory, it contains an integrated body of concepts and propositions from which other concepts and propositions follow. It builds from a small group of first principles, described by Freud as essential constituents of human thought and action that admit of no further reduction and yet account for all conceivable instances of human behavior. Based upon observation and reflection over the course of the forty-plus years spanned by his psychoanalytic writings, Freud eventually changed his ideas about these principles.

Initially, Freud believed all human behavior conforms to what he called the pleasure (or pleasure-unpleasure) principle. According to the pleasure principle, people always strive to avoid pain and, where possible, attain pleasure. Even behavior that appears inconsistent with this principle, such as the nightmare, must in some way conform to it. Freud theorized in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), for example, that nightmares serve to divert the dreamer from dangerous wishes whose fulfillment would produce frightening consequences. The fearsome content of the nightmare both embodies the dreamers perception of dangersuch that, on occasion, the dreamer might awaken and thereby terminate the dreamand serves to disguise the wish.

Freud originally conceived the state of pleasure as a reduction in excitation, or tension, on the model of the reflex. Our reflexes, such as the eye-blink or knee-jerk reflex, function to rid the body of stimuli. Thus, at bottom, according to this initial conception, the function of the nervous system is to keep the level of stimulation in the body as low as possible, and pleasure is the consequence of the reduction. As happened with the governing principle itself, Freud changed his view of the nature of pleasure over the course of his writings.

Freud believed that early in their development, in order to survive, humans would have to have formed a reality principle subordinate to the pleasure principle. Although the hallucinated satisfaction of ones needs, which would constitute the shortest path to their fulfillment, might produce pleasure in the short term, for example, it would lead to ultimate disappointment. Thus, Freud says in his Formulations Regarding Two Principles in Mental Functioning (1911), the mind had to decide to form a conception of circumstances in the real outer world, so as to be able to alter them and bring about real satisfaction.

Whereas the pleasure principle operates reflexively from birth, the reality principle develops over time in the individual, according to Freud, and likewise developed in the evolution of the species. The reality principle, in turn, would have prompted further developments of the mind, beyond reflexive, or direct wish-fulfilling, functioning. Attention would have given individuals the ability to search their environment for the results of their actions; memory would have given them a means of notating and storing the results; thought would have arisen as a kind of experimental action, allowing individuals to test the (real) consequences of their behavior.

Within the compass of the pleasure/reality principles, Freud distinguished instinct as the driving force of all action. Instinct, as he details in Instincts and Their Vicissitudes (1915), is a stimulus to the mind originating within the body that exerts a constant pressure, or impetus toward relief. Because instincts originate within the person and operate at a constant force, rather than originating externally and acting in a single impact, simple reflexive action, such as the withdrawal of the impacted portion of the body, has no effect against the impact. One needs instead to satisfy the instinct. When ones stomach grinds with hunger, for example, one cannot eliminate the pain by withdrawing ones stomach from any impinging force. One must eat or be fed. Because instincts require machinations more complicated than reflexive action to be discharged, Freud viewed them as important to the development of the nervous system beyond the primitive reflex.

Freud originally distinguished two classes of instincts, which he believed admit of no further reduction: the sexual instincts and the ego, or self-preservative, instincts. He defined sexual broadly, so that it includes, with respect to its physical quality, excitation to any portion of the body, including the skin, for example, as well as the oral, anal, and genital areas.

Psychologically, the sexual instincts subsume the entire field of erotic relations, including those relations inhibited in aim, such as friendships and parent-child relations, which entail positive and even excitatory feelings, but not, in the usual course of conscious life, an aim of genital satisfaction. In their most developed manifestation, the sexual instincts serve reproduction. The ego instincts, meanwhile, serve only the individual and have the individuals safety as their object. In claiming that all human behavior emanates from one or the other of these two classes of instincts, Freud meant that all human impulses and actions remain compatible with one or both fields, not that all human impulses and actions can be reduced to a sex or survival drive. Ones labors on a mathematics problem reduce to a sex or survival drive no more than a sheet of paper reduces to the tree from which the paper was milled. Rather, according to Freud, all of our aspirations and behavior must be traceable in some way to the reflexive bundle from which we arose. The reflexive bundle, in turn, seeks, at bottom, to eliminate the tensions created by its needs, and thus to gain pleasure.

Approximately twenty years after he articulated the pleasure principle, Freud identified an apparent exception to the principle and suggested that a still more basic force operates in the mind. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) he argued that, in contrast with numerous other negative experiences that only appear to contradict the pleasure principle, the traumatic, and more specifically war, neuroses genuinely do so. These neuroses manifest in, among other symptoms, recurrent dreams in which dreamers return to the scene of previous near-death experiences and then awake in a terrible fright. For instance, soldiers returning from war relive attacks in the trenches, and survivors of train wrecks return to the wreck. Each then awakens in terror that no amount of repetition of the dream lessens.

Although Freud could detect no long- or short-term gain in the pattern, he conceded it could embody an attempt at a purpose. Extrapolating from his observation that traumatic neuroses tend to afflict those victims of trauma who did not incur a major injury, Freud surmised that, whereas direct physical insult tends to divert masses of energy to the site of the insult, victims who have escaped injury are left with rampant masses of energy released by the shock of the event. Wholly breached, the psychical system attempts to master the onslaught in retrospect, by generating anxiety that, had it been present during the traumatic event, would have reduced the shock of the event. But after the fact, the attempt serves no purpose. The system neither heals nor learns.

Freud extrapolated from these observations to the existence of a tendency more primordial than the pleasure principle and inherent in all organic life: the compulsion to repeat. The tendency can be witnessed, he believed, in behavior as primitive as the thumb sucking of human babies or the return of schools of fish to the site of previous spawning. In the psyche compromised by the war neuroses, the tendency manifests in a mechanical and almost diabolical repetition of a behavior, in total disregard of its impact upon the person.

From his extrapolation to the repetition compulsion, Freud made the admittedly speculative and far-fetched leap to the idea that all living things seek to return not only to previous states, but ultimately to their original state. Given that all living matter began as inorganic substance, all living things seek to return to an inorganic state; they seek to die.

Freud thus arrived at a new category of instinct, the death instinct, or Thanatos, which he conceived as functioning in opposition to the life instincts, or Eros. After equivocating briefly on the point, Freud subsumed under the life instincts the two classes of instinct he had originally delineated, the sexual and ego (self-preservative) instincts. Whereas the life instincts, especially as represented by the sexual instincts, seek to unify living matter and create more of it, the death instinct aims to dissolve it.

As Freud originally conceived it, the death instinct denotes the tendency of every living thing to drift toward a state of minimal, and ideally no, excitation. The death instinct of this formulation thus verges on the pleasure principle, according to which pleasure arises with a reduction in stimulation. Freud soon modified his view of the nature of pleasure, however, in a way that lessened this overlap. Although he continued to believe the nervous system functions, at bottom, to rid the organism of tension, and pleasure arises by this means, he acknowledged peoples potential to derive pleasure from an increase in stimulation, as occurs in sexual foreplay, for example. Thenceforth, he distinguished between the Nirvāna principle, which expresses organisms tendency toward quiescence (and hence the death instinct), and the pleasure principle, which expresses the drive toward pleasure in all its forms, including excitatory ones, and which Freud attributed to the influence of the life instincts.

In the course of Freuds later works, the death instinct assumes an increasingly active aspect and becomes almost synonymous with aggression. As early as his discussion in The Ego and the Id, published three years after Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud reasoned that individual organisms live long enough to combine with one another, rather than die off, because the death instinct must be neutralized in some way by the life instincts. It is diverted outward over the musculature, he proposed, in the form of aggression, which is eventually directed against others. However, in the wanton destruction he observed in two world wars, Freud perceived an aggressiveness totally divorced from erotic aims, and hence a sign of the ascendance of something close to a culture of pure death instinct. He concluded the 1931 edition of Civilization and Its Discontents with the question of whether Eros would rise again and prevail over humanity.


Many of the remaining portions of Freuds theory follow from the foregoing primitives of mental life and particularly from the pleasure and reality principles, which Freud continued to believe dominate mental life even after he developed the scheme that incorporates the death instinct.

Meaning and Determinism One such result is the idea that all behavior, including the most apparently nonsensical, has a reason, or, as Freud says in his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1917) with respect to psychopathological symptoms in particular, symptoms have a sense. Anna O.s refusal to drink resulted from her (unconscious) disgust at her governesss dog, according to Breuer and Freud. Given that people who feel revolted by something normally find it difficult to eat or drink, Anna O.s behavior followed coherently from its source. Unlike healthy people who refuse food or drink because they feel revolted, however, Anna O. was unaware of both her disgust and its source. Therein lay her pathology. In conceiving dreams as wish fulfillments and parapraxes as products of concealed motives, Freud again followed the assumption that all behavior has a source and a sense. He believed it possible, moreover, for unconsciously motivated behavior, such as dreams, to have not just one source or one meaning, but to be overdetermined, having multiple sources and meanings. Thus, for instance, the leering monster in a nightmare might embody both a childs anger at a parent and the childs fear of recriminations from the parent.

Freud admitted that some apparently odd behavior arises without apparent motivation. However, he found the occurrence of such behavior improbable. Freud noted in Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1909) that although some aberrations, such as slips of the tongue, might occur when people operate under fatigue or other stresses, the mistakes cannot be caused by these limitations, because other similar mistakes occur when people are fully attentive (p. 29). Further, precisely because numerous associative pathways lie open and can cause a person accidentally to utter one word instead of another (in the case of slips of the tongue), one needs to explain why a given pathway is chosen on a given occasion.

Conscious and Unconscious The separation between conscious and unconscious mental processes arises, according to Freud, primarily through the operation of repression, a reflexive and hence infantile response driven by the pleasure principle, in which individuals withdraw consciousness from painful or frightening impulses in the manner in which one might withdraw ones hand from a hot stove. The pain can be caused either by the clash between impulse in itself and other motives the person may have, or by the individuals anticipation of the external consequences of acting upon the impulse. The repressed impulse, or idea, remains in unconscious memory, sustained by its struggle for expression and at the same time denied that end by the forces that originally led to its repression. In the final chapter of Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud postulates a second, smaller category of inherited unconscious ideas. This category includes the most primitive embodiments of the instincts and impulses that, based upon an analysis of modern emotion, he concluded must have been passed along by earlier generations. The latter impulses include guilt for the killing of the primal father and a portion of the hostility that led to the presumed deed.

Freud reserved the term unconscious for these two groups of ideas, repressed unconscious ideas created by individual experience and inherited unconscious ideas, both of which are unavailable to consciousness at the moment and inaccessible to consciousness in general (except with extraordinary effort of the sort embodied by psychoanalysis). As detailed in his 1915 essay The Unconscious, Freud distinguished as preconscious a separate category of ideas not apprehended by consciousness that, like ones knowledge of ones street address, one can access easily if prompted. Consciousness, within this scheme, is but a characteristic that can attach to mental processes. Freud likened it to a sensory organ that, in this case, illuminates ideation in progress. He attributed to language a primary role in allowing a mental process to become conscious.

Unconscious and conscious ideation exhibit different characteristics, Freud maintained, paralleling the divide between the pleasure principle, which dominates unconscious processes, and the reality principle, which operates only within conscious thought (for purposes of this discussion, preconscious thought is subsumed by conscious thought). Unconscious ideation observes primary process thought, wherein ideas are interconnected associatively one to the next, with no consideration for the whole. One idea may also replace another (displacement) and several ideas may converge in a single embodiment (condensation). These methods produce dreams, symptoms, and other phenomena, such as jokes, to which Freud ascribed an unconscious contribution. Only conscious ideation incorporates secondary-process thought, which consists of the higher cognitive processes, such as judgment, reasoning, planned action, and the ordering of events in time.

It follows from the properties of the two types of thought that the unconscious admits of blatant contradiction. No feature of unconscious mentation can detect or feel troubled by incoherence. It also knows no denial. Thus, in ones unconscious, one can both love and despise ones mother, or both want freedom from ones parents and want to be constrained and even punished by them. In waking life, normally, one would have difficulty tolerating these ambivalences and would probably repress one pole of the conflict.

Id, Ego, and Superego Freud eventually decided that the division of mental qualities into conscious, preconscious, and unconscious did not entirely capture the dynamics of the mind. In particular, unconsciousness appears to attach to mental formations other than those produced by repression that, nonetheless, arise on the basis of experience. In addition to finding their repressed memories elusive, patients undergoing psychoanalysis resist discovering the memories. Other forces in their mind must act to keep the repressed material from consciousness, Freud inferred, and these forces, too, lie outside awareness. Freud labeled these opposing forces as resistances.

He developed a new scheme, which he expounds in The Ego and the Id (1923), to capture this mental dynamic. He now designated as id the portion of the mind containing repressed and inherited unconscious impulses. He defined as ego peoples efforts to avert danger, whether from internal (i.e., repressed) or external sources, and to maintain their bearings in the environment. The ego includes the resistances and thus has both a conscious and an unconscious portion. Freud designated a third entity, the superego, which judges the ego. Although the superego resembles the ego in its judging role, it shares an unconscious and irrational element with the id, from which it derives.

According to Freud, the superego is the precipitate of the Oedipal complex. The Oedipal conflict, according to Freud, is a normal part of the development of every individual. All children desire more from their parents (or parent surrogates) early in life than the parents can giveat bottom, everyone wants total possession of them. Within this dynamic, children may form a preference for the parent of the opposite sex, although they yearn for both parents and experience the Oedipal conflict with respect to each. Thus, children harbor both love and hostility for each parent. Therefore, as Freud illustrates in Totem and Taboo (1913), ambivalence exists at the core of our emotional life. Eventually, childrens desires are frustrated and, in the interest of survival, subjected to repression, with the conflicts embodied by them left unresolved.

The end of the Oedipal period, at around five years of age, prompts individuation from the parents, and consequently their loss. The loss, in turn, prompts children to internalize the parents, which preserves their relationship with them. The internalization is accompanied by an exaggeration of the parents power, which results from childrens earlier repression of their own hostile feelings toward the parents. Emanating now from the internalized parents, the hostile feelings are turned back upon the subjectthe childon whom they discharge more safely than they would have done if the child had unleashed the feelings against the real parents. In exchange, the now browbeaten ego suffers. The entire dynamic, according to Freud, explains much of both psychopathology and the psychology of healthy people.

The Concept of a Person Freuds view of the person is represented by his three schemes for describing the mind. From the perspective of the motivating forces of our actionthe pleasure principle and its derivativespeople universally seek, on some level, to avoid pain. In the interest of long-term gain, they may modify their claim to comfort and pleasure in the short term, as Freud discusses in an exegesis on happiness in Civilization and Its Discontents. From the perspective of the division of the mind into conscious (including preconscious) and unconscious, people are ruled by forces both known and unknown to them, and they are thus capable of acts and thoughts both consistent and inconsistent with the traits and values they may (consciously) consider central to their identity. From the perspective of Freuds division of the mind into the dynamic entities of id, ego, and superego, both our behavior and our felt experience are colored by the deeply conflicting forces that confer our humanity upon us: our appetites and our drive for security and survival. In all three views, the person is a compilation of forces, defined by the interaction of dynamic parts. Freud did not distinguish more holistic entities such as the personality or the self.

The Concept of Illness The cause of (neurotic) illness, according to Freud, is unresolved and unconscious conflict, on account of which sufferers retreat into fantasy. Symptoms embody a fulfillment of the fantasies, distorted to escape recognition by the conscious mind. Healthy people struggle with the same conflicts as do neurotic people, and, like neurotic people, they form fantasies to improve upon a sometimes disappointing reality. However, whereas healthy people either find adaptive outlets for their fantasies or indulge them while otherwise going about their business, neurotics repressed impulses overwhelm their capacity for normal function.

Beginning with his earliest cases, Freud maintained that neurosis is caused specifically by the conflict between sexual and ego drives. Patients earliest sexual impulses lead to thoughts their self-protective inclinations regard as dangerous, and are thus subject to repression. Although Freud initially believed the forbidden thoughts traced back to actual experiences of seduction, he soon determined, as he noted in his 1909 Rat Man case history, that the impression or fantasy of such experiences can alone suffice to initiate pathogenic processes.

Therapy Psychoanalytic therapy presumes that, insofar as repressed complexes (conflicts) cause illness, the path to cure lies in the exposure of the repressed material to consciousness. Repressed complexes have the far-reaching effects they do because the cut-off ideas continue to strive for expression through an increasingly large web of associations. It follows, therefore, that one may recover the instigating ideas by undoing the web of associations. Thus, the free association of ideas forms the principal technique of therapy. Beginning with a symptom, dream, or passing thought, patients say whatever comes into their mind in connection with the symptom, and then whatever comes into their mind in connection with the new idea, and so on. Freud believed that all paths lead ultimately to the repressed complex or complexes, so that patients can start with any leading idea to begin to unravel the associative chain or chains.

As their associations veer progressively closer to the material under repression, patients find it increasingly difficult to pursue given lines of thought. Freud believed these experiences of resistance form an integral part of the therapeutic process. They provide a window on the forces that are keeping the repressed material hidden and, in becoming manifest, afford patients the means for defeating the forces and allowing the repressed ideas to reach consciousness, where they can be confronted. To defeat the resistances, patients need to express all associations that occur to them and combat the temptation to block them.

Because of the importance of uncovering and disarming the resistances to the achievement of a lasting cure, Freud abandoned the use of hypnosis in psychoanalysis. Although hypnosis might allow the freeing of repressed content in susceptible patients, in Freuds experience it led mostly to only short-term cures. Patients resistances, still present, rose again and repressed the forbidden thoughts anew. Hypnosis carries the additional disadvantage that not everyone is susceptible to it, whereas the conscious talking cure via free association is open, in principle, to all.

Development The development of the mind, in Freuds conception, follows three broad pathways. The first, within sexual (or as Freud called it, libidinal) development, consists of a progression from autoeroticism, wherein individuals achieve satisfaction diversely from the stimulation of parts of their body, to narcissism, during which individuals, now having gained a unifying seat of experience in the form of the ego, take themselves as the love object, and finally to the phase of (external) object love. Having initially distinguished only autoeroticism and object love as phases in this development, Freud interpolated the phase of narcissism when he found himself otherwise unable to account for the so-called narcissistic disorders of adulthood, such as schizophrenia, in which the ego seems to lose its boundaries. Another development in sexuality encompasses changes in the focus of sexual sensitivity in people from the oral to the anal and, finally, to the genital areas, respectively.

The second trend in development progresses from impulsive toward reflective thought. It is embodied by the development of secondary-process thought, wherein impulses can be inhibited and action tested and planned, and by the gradual replacement of repression by judgment as a means of dispatching painful impressions. It is expressed by the reality principle.

A third trend proceeds from more transparent to more complexly derived, and thus more obscure, behavior. Whereas the dreams of small children often express the unfulfilled (conscious) wishes of the previous day, for example, adults dreams contain bizarre and inscrutable (manifest) imagery that must be painstakingly unpacked to uncover the instigating (latent) dream thoughts. Whereas the motives of childrens sense of humor are clear, adults, who may laugh from similar motives, do not know what they are laughing at. Trends of these kinds arise, Freud believed, from both the separation of conscious and unconscious thought, which makes repression possible, and from the natural surmounting (as Freud describes it in his 1919 essay The Uncanny) of one developmental stage by another. Regarding the latter process, when one stage succeeds another in development, both the mode of experience embodied by the earlier stage and the experiences accrued in it remain in the psyche. They continue to exert an influence there, though reshaped by the superimposition of later stages.


After incorporating the three previously unlinked fields of dreams, neurotic symptoms, and parapraxes, Freuds theory came to encompass phenomena as diverse as art, creative writing, the appreciation of beauty, the comic, morality, religion, superstition, the fate of social movements such as communism, and peoples disparagement of the transience of things. In these and other manifestations of human nature, Freud not only perceived the operation of unconscious thought, the contribution for which he is most widely known, but also speculated provocatively about the nature of phenomena that otherwise elude explanation. His commentary exposes the elusiveness.

Freuds account of the comic in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), for instance, emphasizes the need for investigation to penetrate beyond the necessary and sufficient conditions of what makes something funny to the question of why laughing is what people do when an event meets these conditions. His brief remarks on beauty in Civilization and Its Discontents show the need for theory to reach beyond the delineation of the attributes of beautiful things to an account that explains the feeling that accompanies peoples perception of beauty. In his extensive, though scattered, treatment of morality, he labors to account for the compulsiveness of morality and the feelings that accompany moral sensibility, such as moral righteousness and moral indignation, as well as the scope and nature of moral rules.

In his short essay On Transience (1916), Freud both awakens the reader to the possibility that one could appreciate things more, rather than less, on account of their transience (for instance, they could better appreciate the beauty of spring because it will disappear), and provides an explanation of the common tendency instead toward the disparagement of transience. With respect to communism, which he considers in a longer discussion of the problem of aggression in society in Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud, who reserved judgment on the economic claims of the system, suggested its psychological premises are untenable. He believed that when human aggression is deprived of one of its essential tools, namely material property, it will find other outlets. In all of these and in other areas, Freud opened lines of inquiry that remain interesting and novel. Because of its vast reach and systematic base, Freuds theory has profoundly influenced disciplines throughout the social sciences and humanities, as well as the arts. It has shaped the way human nature is viewed by scholar, practitioner, and layperson.


Freuds theory has been challenged since its inception, initially for its stipulation of unconscious mentation altogether, and later for its claims regarding the nature and influence of unconscious thought. Many believe Freud overinterpreted behavior. Experimental psychologists such as J. Allan Hobson and Daniel Schacter, for instance, maintain that parapraxes and dreams, respectively, may arise from normal features of cognitive process and brain function, rather than from unconscious motives. Likewise, critics suggest neurotic symptoms may reflect relatively superficial adaptations to faulty wiring or chemical imbalance, rather than deep-seated conflict.

Adolf Grünbaum and other commentators have questioned Freuds characterization of psychoanalysis as a science on the grounds that the theory is not testable. For a theory to be testable, one needs to conceive limiting cases with respect to which the theory could be proved wrong, according to these authors. However, they continue, one cannot refute the claim that neurotic symptoms express repressed complexes or that dreams fulfill wishes (the dreams of traumatic neurosis, which Freud excepted, notwithstanding), because any given symptom might express a repressed complex and any given dream might fulfill a wish. One simply may not have uncovered the hidden material. It goes without saying that Freuds more speculative claims, such as his stipulation of a death instinct, are dismissed by critical and even supportive discourse altogether. Psychoanalysis, as a means of cure, has been variously assailed as ineffective, subject to suggestion by the analyst, and unnecessarily costly to patients. In its standard form it involves multiple sessions per week and a highly trained practitioner.

Theorists who followed Freud, including his own disciples, subsequently modified his theory and the practice of psychoanalysis. Some, such as Carl Jung, reconceived the nature of the unconscious, while others, such as Melanie Klein, replaced drives or instincts with interpersonal (object) relations as the pivot of the psyche. Others, such as Alfred Adler, placed relatively greater emphasis than Freud did on the ego, while lessening the emphasis on the sexual drives. In Freuds wake, many varieties of talking therapy were created, some ultimately with little connection to the tenets of psychoanalysis, save the notion that peoples ways of thinking about their lives, cultivated by their previous experience, may taint their happiness more than do the external events that befall them. Diverse therapies also share the belief that giving expression to ones concerns may both begin to lift the burden they impose and promote self-enlightenment.

Freud died on September 23, 1939, in England, where he lived for the last year of his life. The cause was mouth cancer, which had plagued him for many years. Since then, the controversies over the credibility of his theory and the promise of psychoanalytic treatment have continued. Regarding treatment, Freud established as an ideal the absence of suggestion, as Jonathan Lear notes. Conducted appropriately, psychoanalytic therapy has met with modest success. At the same time, no other type of therapy has proved universally effective. Regarding the credibility of the theory, Freud himself addressed many of the concerns raised by both his contemporary and subsequent critics. In numerous writings, for instance, he reviewed and rejected face-value accounts of the phenomena he addressed, and he made comparative assessments of the plausibility of competing psychoanalytic interpretations of behavior. In these exercises, he extrapolated to the predictions of competing claims and assessed their plausibility, given the data, as would befit any exercise in hypothesis-testing. He also stated, with respect to some claims, that he was following out the logic of an idea, rather than asserting testable claims. He claimed this, for instance, in the often-dismissed Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), regarding his ideas about the death instinct. Although it remains to be seen whether evidence and logic require hypotheses in the direction of Freuds tenets, it is difficult to identify alternative theories that address, let alone attempt to explain, the quintessentially human phenomena Freud took as his central object.

SEE ALSO Jung, Carl; Memory in Psychology; Oedipus Complex; Psychoanalytic Theory; Psychology



Freud, Sigmund. 1895. Studies on Hysteria. (With Josef Breuer.) Pelican Freud Library, Vol. 3. Trans. James and Alix Strachey. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1983.

Freud, Sigmund. 1900. The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Avon, 1965.

Freud, Sigmund. 1905. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1910. Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1911. Formulations Regarding Two Principles in Mental Functioning. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Rieff, 2128. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1913. Totem and Taboo. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1914. On Narcissism: An Introduction. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff, 5682. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1915a. Instincts and Their Vicissitudes. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff, 83103. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1915b. Repression. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff. 104115. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1915c. The Unconscious. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff, 116150. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1964.

Freud, Sigmund. 1917. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1919. The Uncanny. In Pelican Freud Library. Vol. 14, Art and Literature, ed. Albert Dickson. Trans. James Strachey, 335376. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1985.

Freud, Sigmund. 1920. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1923. The Ego and the Id. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton. 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1924. The Economic Problem of Masochism. In Freud: General Psychological Theory, ed. Philip Reiff, 190201. Translation supervised by Joan Riviere. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.

Freud, Sigmund. 1930. Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989.

Freud, Sigmund. 1936. A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis: An Open Letter to Romain Rolland on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. In Pelican Freud Library. Vol. 11, On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis, 443456. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1984.


Grünbaum, Adolf. 1984. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Berkeley: University of California

Press. Hobson, J. Allan. 1988. The Dreaming Brain. New York: Basic Books.

Laplanche, Jean, and J. B. Pontalis. 1967. The Language of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Norton, 1973.

Lear, Jonathan. 1999. Open-Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schacter, Daniel L. 2001. The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Susan Sugarman

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund Schlomo (1856-1939)


Sigmund Schlomo Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg (now Priborg), Moravia (now the Slovak Republic), and died on September 23, 1939, in London. He was the son of Amalia Nathanson and of Jakob Freud, a draper, who had two children (Emanuel and Philipp) from a previous marriage. Freud was the first child of a couple in which the husband was forty years old, twice as old as his young wife. Over the next ten years, five daughters and two more sons would be born.

He was circumcised a week after birth. When he was two years old, a younger brother, Julius, died at the age of seven months, the first of several traumas of his early childhood. Others included the arrest for theft of "Nanie" his nurse; the departure of his father for Austria after a series of bad business dealings; the emigration to Great Britain of his older half-brothers and their children, his first playmates; and, most crucially, his own exile at the age of three. He rejoined his father in Vienna in the company of his mother after a lengthy train trip that left a deep impression on him.

He remembered his constant poverty following his arrival in the Austrian capital in 1859 and during his childhood, but alluded only once to the family's shame after his uncle Josef was condemned to ten years of forced labor for trafficking in counterfeit currency in 1866. He was a brilliant student, however, and after completing his "matura" (equivalent of the first year of college), was able to choose between law and natural science. He enrolled in medical school and after briefly studying philosophy (Franz Brentano was one of his teachers), decided to major in zoology.

In the summer of 1875, after a brief stay in Great Britain with his half-brothers in Manchester, he was able to put together a better idea of his place in the family genealogy. The following year he obtained a research grant to work at the Experimental Zoology Station of the University of Vienna in Trieste, where his work helped demonstrate the existence of testicles in the male eel. His work was presented to the Academy of Sciences in March 1877 and published in April (1877b), signaling his entry, at the age of twenty-one, into the world of science. In the following years his research and personal interest led him to study the anatomy of the nervous system; he hoped that through his research he would be able to achieve what he had always dreamed offinancial security. But in spite of his success, his material life remained precarious.

In October 1876 he entered Professor Ernst Brücke's Physiologisches Institut, where he remained until 1882. He became friends with the two assistants, Ernst von Fleischl and Josef Breuer, and investigated the posterior nerve roots of the Petromyzon, or sea lamprey. Impressed by Ernst Brücke's personality, he became an adept of the positivist school of Emil Du Bois-Reymond, who claimed that biology could be explained by physico-chemical forces whose effects are strictly deterministic. In March 1881, Freud was made doctor of medicine, while continuing his research and writing on subjects as distant from human clinical practice as the nerve cells of crayfish.

But his future as a laboratory researcher was called into question when he met Martha Bernays, who became his wife four years later. He needed to provide an income for his future household, and followed the advice Brücke had given him in Juneto abandon pure research and go into medical practice. This prospect failed to excite Freud, as he wrote many years later, "After forty one years of medical activity, my self-knowledge tells me that I have never really been a doctor in the proper sense. I became a doctor through being compelled to deviate from my original purpose; and the triumph of my life lies in my having, after a long and roundabout journey, found my way back to my earliest path. I have no knowledge of having had any craving in my early childhood to help suffering humanity. My innate sadistic disposition was not a very strong one, so that I had no need to develop this one of its derivatives. Nor did I ever play the 'doctor game'; my infantile curiosity evidently chose other paths. In my youth I felt an overpowering need to understand something of the riddles of the world in which we live and perhaps even to contribute something to their solution" (1927a).

Freud worked in various departments of the Vienna General Hospital to complete his training. While continuing his research on cerebral anatomy and pathology, he became interested in psychiatry (while working with Professor Theodor Meynert) and the nascent field of neurology. This very likely contributed to Freud's failure to reap the rewards of his research on cocaine, which he had begun in 1884. More preoccupied with its euphoric effects and what he incorrectly believed to be its ability to serve as a substitute for the opiates, he missed the opportunity to discover its local ocular anesthetic properties. For several years he continued to ingest a certain amount of cocaine to overcome his timidity and increase his ability to work, which he discussed openly in his correspondence.

Appointed privatdocent in July 1885, he requested a grant to study neurology with Jean Martin Charcot in Paris. His internship at the Salpêtrière Hospital from October 13, 1885, to February 23, 1886 derailed his other projects, by exposing him to disturbances of mental origin. In terms of etiological research as well as his career as a specialist in neurology, the clinical lessons of the Parisian master, then at the height of his glory, demonstrated to Freud the importance of syndromes that had until then been characterized as "hysterical." Charcot's personality fascinated Freud and this first trip outside the Viennese family circle was to have a decisive effect on his future.

After returning to Vienna he set up a private practice on April 25, 1886, after a short stay in Berlin working with Professor Joseph Baginsky, where he familiarized himself with pediatrics. This enabled him, over a ten-year period, to maintain a steady practice in the department of neurology that the pediatrician Max Kassowitz (1842-1923) had opened at the Vienna Institute for Child Diseases. Once established he was finally able to get married, which he did on September 13, 1886. But his attempt to become Charcot's spokesman among Viennese neurologists and psychiatrists met with open rejection, especially from Theodor Meynert. Demanding, vulnerable, and passionate, for years he interpreted criticism or ignorance of his contributions as a form of systematic hostility that he often attributed to anti-Semitism, which was widespread in Vienna, especially in academic and medical circles.

His solitude was broken by a meeting that would later develop into a close friendship that lasted for nearly fifteen years. Wilhelm Fliess, an otorhinolaryngologist (ear-nose-and-throat specialist) in Berlin, gradually became a confidant who could share some of Freud's doubts and research activities, and a witness to the clinical experiments and theoretical hypotheses that littered the long road leading to the birth of psychoanalysis. An extensive correspondence and several meetings, referred to as "conferences," enabled them to exchange ideas about their research, which often fell upon deaf ears when Freud clearly overestimated his friend's comprehension. They also exchanged personal information. For Freud it was the anxiety about money and the birth of six children in succession, something Fliess's theories on menstruation and the hope that they brought of a possible method of contraception failed to resolve.

Their friendship gradually took the place of an earlier friendship with an older Viennese doctor, Josef Breuer. Breuer, who had helped Freud financially and professionally early in his career, had also related to him, in 1882, the story of his patient Anna O. and her treatment by the "cathartic method" that she and Breuer had invented. Having experimented with hypnosis for a period of time, Freud had determined that it was ineffective, especially after an 1889 visit to Nancy to see Hippolyte Bernheim, Charcot's rival. He then decided to make use of the "talking cure" Breuer had mentioned. This involved, in the attempt to overcome the patient's resistance, bringing back to consciousness an apparently forgotten memory, which had been repressed, of the first appearance of a symptom. This made hypnosis no longer necessary; gradually, the technique of incessant questioning it had given way to was in turn abandoned, in favor of the free association of ideas. Freud had developed the hypothesis of the unconscious, together with the idea that disturbances had their origin in the history of the subject's infantile sexuality.

These statements were shocking to many, especially because of Freud's public intransigence concerning them, and it was not without considerable reluctance, ultimately leading to the end of their friendship, that Josef Breuer agreed to cosign the Studies in Hysteria in 1895. Wilhelm Fliess remained his only confidant and the only one who listened to his theoretical suggestions and the results of his day-to-day clinical observations. Sexual etiology and childhood seduction by a parent were among the earliest etiological ideas, but the death of his father in October 1896 led Freud to question these ideas, and to practice the same methods on himself he had been using on his patients. His self-analysis continued throughout the summer and fall of 1897 and the discoveries followed: psychic reality, the Oedipus complex, and so on. Under various forms Freud would continue to question himself, as shown by his statement to James Jackson Putnam in 1911"A self-analysis must be continued indefinitely. I note, in my own case, that each new attempt has brought surprises" (November 5 letter)and the article dedicated to Romain Rolland, "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis." (1936a)

Prompted by the frequency with which his patients spontaneously reported their dreams to him, Freud began to investigate their unconscious meanings. The first dream to which he applied his new method of interpretation through the fragmentation and association of ideas was the "injection given to Irma," of July 23, 1895. His systematic investigation of this dream became the origin of The Interpretation of Dreams, published at the end of 1899, but dated 1900 (1900a). It is a fundamental work in what Freud had referred to for the first time in 1896 (in an article published in French in the Revue neurologique ) as "psychoanalysis."

The book was widely praised but sold poorly (421 copies in six years), although this did not impede his work. It was a period in which he described himself as a "conquistador," thereby summarizing the mixture of enthusiasm and obstinacy that characterized his personality. Anxious, suffering from hypochondriacal illnesses of the stomach and heart, preoccupied with the calculation of dates predicting his death, undecided about whether to continue or abandon smoking; there is nothing of the austere scholar depicted by his biographers. But he was primarily an indefatigable worker, who stayed up late at night to answer letters (a correspondence estimated at more than twenty thousand letters) and would fill large sheets of paper with his broad gothic handwriting.

As his friendship with Fliess waned, he prepared the Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901b) and took notes for the Dora case, which was not published until 1905. Some of those who attended his courses at the university went to see him, either to be treated, like Wilhelm Stekel, or to discuss innovative theories with him. They formed the "Wednesday Psychological Society," which met every week and, in 1908, became the first Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. The publication of Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905c) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d); followed by a collection of his earliest articles, Sammlung kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre aus den Jahren 1893-1906 (1906b); helped him break out of what he described as his "splendid isolation." Readers intrigued by the originality of his hypotheses came to visit him in Vienna: Max Eitingon in January 1907, Ludwig Binswanger and Carl Gustav Jung in February, Karl Abraham in December 1907, Sándor Ferenczi in February 1908. They were to form the core group of his future disciples.

In response to the growing number of followers and the high level of interest, the first International Psychoanalytical Congress was held in Salzburg on April 27, 1908. Freud spoke for nearly five hours on the Ratman (1909d), a case which, by systematizing nondirectivity, helped establish the parameters of the psychoanalytic "framework." Here the patient was stretched out on a couch with the psychoanalyst seated behind him, out of sight of the patient, sessions were held daily and lasted for about an hour, the patient was free to say whatever he wished. Freud laid down the groundwork for the theory of "transference" with the therapist and, in 1910, in response to Curl Gustav Jung's affair with his patient Sabina Spielrein, the theory of the "counter-transference." That same year, the risks of "wild" psychoanalysis led to the creation, at Ferenczi's initiative, of an international psychoanalytic association to monitor the development of "die Sache" (the cause) and distinguish the wheat from the chaff among its practitioners.

Although Freud maintained friendly relations with Sándor Ferenczinotwithstanding periods of tension and the short analysis his younger colleague began with him in 1914until Ferenczi's death in 1933, his relationships with his other students were often strained. Alfred Adler, who developed a theory based on aggression, the will to power, and organ inferiority, and rejected sexual etiology, distanced himself from Freud to found a new school in 1911. He was followed by Wilhelm Stekel in 1912. But the greatest disappointment came from Carl Gustav Jung, who in 1909 had been declared "successor and crown prince" by Freud, who had glimpsed the doors of academic psychiatry opening to him, along with the possibility that psychoanalysis would no longer be viewed as a "Jewish matter." Their personal relationship, as shown in their correspondence, and the intellectual exchange this involved, encouraged Freud to study psychosis, using the Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Schreber (1911c), and to speculate on anthropological issues, of which Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a) is the first expression.

However, Jung's personality was such that he could not remain for long in the position of the submissive son, and his religious training and interest in mysticism led to no more than a superficial acceptance of Freud's materialism and insistence on sexual etiology. This rejection of what was considered an outrageous and obscene "pansexualism" was fairly general, even though Freud gradually enlarged the concept of sexuality, which the majority of his critics reduced to adult forms of genital sexuality. The concepts of "infantile sexuality" and "polymorphous perversity" were even more unacceptable to those who believed they sullied what was believed to be an original infantile purity.

As is often the case in such situations, Jung's departure in 1914 served as a spur to Freud's creativity, who wrote "On Narcissism: An Introduction" (1914c) and developed his analysis of the primal scene in his essay on the Wolfman, which he also completed that year (1918b [1914]). He also provided the first historical overview of the origins of psychoanalysis in On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement (1914d), which was intended to sway those who were still undecided between him and Jung.

The First World War seemed to sound the death knell for the young science of psychoanalysis. Freud's sons were at the front and he initially supported a German victory. However, he soon revised his position, which he explained in "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" (1915b). Times were difficult and material scarcity became a growing problem as war progressed. However, it was also a period of considerable intellectual creativity, and Freud laid out the groundwork for the broad theoretical foundations of psychoanalysis, primarily the twelve essays on metapsychology, only five of which (and the newly discovered draft of the twelfth) were published. In spite of his pessimism there was renewed interest in psychoanalysis among the public and within the medical establishment when it proved useful in treating war neuroses. The end of hostilities brought about a minor institutional triumph for, following the Fifth International Psychoanalytical Congress in Budapest (September 28-29, 1918), Béla Kun's revolutionary government offered a university chair to Sándor Ferenczi. Another Hungarian, the rich brewer Anton von Freund, whom Freud analyzed, invested his fortune in "the cause," which led to the creation of the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, but he died of cancer in 1920.

Freud was sixty-five at this time, and around him he saw sickness and death. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g) reflected this, with its theory of the repetition compulsion and the duality between a life impulse, Eros, and a death impulse, Thanatos, whose theoretical necessity Freud maintained until his death, despite the opposition of many psychoanalysts to such "speculation." In real life his daughter Sophie (he called her "Sunday's child") died during the Spanish flu epidemic, on January 25, 1920. Three years later, in April 1923, he experienced the first signs of cancer of the jaw, which had a profound effect on the remaining sixteen years of his life; that same year, on June 19, his favorite grandson, Heinele, died.

He was now sixty-seven years old and, although he often complained of growing old, this was but one of the many hypochondriacal conditions he had always referred to in his letters. His fear of death is most evident in his superstitious fears and morbid calculations, borrowed from Wilhelm Fliess, but the fateful days passed without event. Freud also showed considerable interest in telepathy and clairvoyance, and conducted experiments in this field, often together with Sándor Ferenczi.

In spite of his shortness, he was still the "professor" and was authoritarian with his family, his students, and his patients. He showed himself to be the undisputed leader of the psychoanalytic movement, interest in which he stimulated through his many publications. He had overcome pain and disappointment, and watched as the "cause" to which he had devoted his life continued to grow. Interest spread to France, and its identification with a founding father, a Mosesfor Freud the creator of monotheismseemed increasingly justified. It is in this context that his decision to become his daughter Anna's analyst must be understood. This is not as unusual as it may seem, especially for the time, and Freud speaks of it in his letters. It was only after the Second World War that Anna Freud's accession to the status of guardian of Freudian orthodoxy cast into oblivion a form of training so inconsistent with the strict criteria that had been laid out. There was a risk the lapse would be viewed as something very nearly incestuous.

With the onset of his cancer, old age and death became a reality for Freud. It was at this time that he strengthened the death instinct and deepened the concept of identification discussed in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921c). He also revised the theoretical model that he had been developing for the past quarter-century with the "second topographical" structure introduced in The Ego and the Id (1923b). Some of his contemporaries, like Otto Rank, were reluctant to accept Freud's newest theories, which appeared to disturb the fantastic and somewhat unreal experience represented by the birth of psychoanalysis for those who had lived through it. Freud's life was now marked by painful and disfiguring operations that forced him to interrupt his activities while he recovered in the Weiner Cottage-Sanatorium or the Schloss Tegel clinic, which Ernest Simmel ran from 1927 to 1931 in Berlin. The uncomfortable prosthetic devices he was required to wear caused him to remain silent for long periods of time.

Change was in the works, however. There were disagreements within the secret committee, formed at the request of Ernest Jones in 1912 to provide support for Freud during Jung's defection, and it ceased to exist entirely in 1927. The quarrels weren't so much about who would inherit Freud's mantle, as they were about jealousies and rivalries, all of which helped feed Freud's increasingly pessimisticsome would say realisticvision of the human race. The first generation of psychoanalysts had evolved and began to develop their own theories. It often fell to Freud to resolve the resulting theoretical disputes and arbitrate personal conflicts.

Freud never claimed to be a great therapist and was often irritated by the "furor sanandi " shown by some of his followers, notably Sándor Ferenczi, as being contrary to a strictly psychoanalytic attitude. Although he had encouraged the use of "active technique" in 1918-1920, he hesitated to complete the project for a "psychoanalytic method" that his followers demanded of him and which he had begun to write down in 1908. During this last period of his life, he devoted himself almost exclusively to training analyses. Having been a patient of Freud was widely viewed as a kind of diploma, and there was an unending stream of candidates, especially from North and South America.

His theoretical interest turned increasingly to what he felt to be his most important contribution: the importance of psychoanalysis to culture. It was in keeping with this that he resumed his anthropological ideas about the primitive horde and the murder of the primitive father, which had been introduced in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a), extending their scope with the new theory of impulses, the importance of primal fantasies, and the concept of primary identification (in 1923b). In The Future of an Illusion (1927c), Freud analyzed religious sentiment; aside from being an affirmation of his scientific and materialist beliefs, the book also served as a warning against the religious leanings that jeopardized psychoanalysis. Civilization and its Discontents (1930a) resumed the discussion of human destiny, torn between its contradictory impulses and condemned to negotiate the avoidance of suffering for its survival. Freud's focus on culture in his writings became increasingly obvious; he described a "process of civilization" whose evolution paralleled the process of mental development in the individual. The last essay, "Weltanschauung," in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933a) resumed these themes, which had also been discussed in his letter to Albert Einstein, "Why War?" (1933b), but it was in Moses and Monotheism (1939a) that Freud outlined the last great fresco of man's relation to culture, which continued to preoccupy him.

Freud continued to refine psychoanalytic theory. The second topographical model and the theory of impulses, "our mythology," as he called it in 1933, as well as upheavals in the psychoanalytic movement, led to new considerations and refinements. Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926d) is a response to the reduction of the Oedipus theory to the "birth trauma" proposed by Otto Rank in 1924, the first manifestation of a defection that would continue until 1926. "The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex," (1924d) "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes," (1925j) and "Female Sexuality" (1931b) provide an outline of the libido that was supported by the work of the first female psychoanalysts. The emphasis on a phallic phase responded to the criticism of Ernest Jones on Freudian views about femininity, discussed in chapter 30 of the New Introductory Lectures (1930a). There, Freud insists on the primordial role played by the threat and fear of castration. The ego defenses raised to counter the threat led Freud to introduce elements for a new approach to perversion, which he did in "Negation" (1925h). "Fetishism," (1927e) and his final manuscript, "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defense." (1940e [1938]) Freud gave increasing consideration to the death impulse in his clinical work and eventually it became not speculative but a key element of his theory, in spite of the opposition of many of his students.

Some of his older students passed awayKarl Abraham in 1925 and Ferenczi, who had grown distant from him, in 1933. The most important person in Freud's circle was now Anna, his daughter. While she was undergoing analysis, Freud arranged her initial contacts with the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, to which she was elected a member in 1922. The worsening of his cancer and subsequent infirmity led to his becoming increasingly dependent on his "Antigone," who began to represent him at conferences and accepted the Goethe Prize in his stead, when it was awarded in 1930 by the city of Frankfurt to acknowledge the literary value of his writing. She took his place at the funeral of his mother, Amalia Freud-Nathanson, who died at the age of ninety-five in September 1930. It is easy to understand why Freud looked askance at Ernest Jones and English psychoanalysts when, in 1925, they welcomed Melanie Klein and her theories, which contradicted the views of Anna Freud on child psychoanalysis.

Moreover, the Old World was crumbling, incapable of stopping the rise of Adolf Hitler. Freud's books were burned publicly in May 1933, and Jewish psychoanalysts were forced to flee or condemned to death. Initially, Freud negotiated in the hope of preserving the "cause," but the Anschluss forced him to face the bleak reality. With the assistance of Princess Marie Bonaparte, who, after an analysis begun in 1925, had become an attentive and influential friend, and the U.S. Ambassador William C. Bullitt, with whom he had attempted to write a psychological study of President Woodrow Wilson (1966b), he was able to emigrate with his wife and daughter to Great Britain on June 6, 1938. His other children as well as his brother Alexander left Austria, but his four sisters remained in Vienna; they died in the Nazi concentration camps in 1942 and 1943.

The "peau de chagrin " (Balzac's novel was one of the last books he read) began to tighten around Freud, who had settled on the outskirts of London, where he continued to write and see patients. The onset of the Second World War on September 1, 1939, and his physical decline led him to ask Max Schur, his doctor, to keep the promise they had made when they first met: not to give him a sedative but to shorten his suffering when he felt the hour was near. He died on September 23, 1939, and three days later his ashes were placed in a Greek urn that, knowing his fondness for antiques, Marie Bonaparte had given him.

Freud's death did not go unnoticed in spite of the upheavals in Europe and elsewhere. Aside from the eulogies and numerous critical assessments, it marked the beginning of a considerable expansion of psychoanalysis that began in the United States, a country Freud claimed to have little liking for. It also resulted in an astonishing idolization of Freud in the years following the war. For a time, under the impetus of the lengthy biography written by Ernest Jones, Freud became a subject for hagiography; mention of his name took the place of original thinking and the "return to Freud" served as a theoretical pretext, for others as for Jacques Lacan in France. The home at Maresfield Gardens, where Martha Freud died in 1951, became, under the watchful eye of Anna Freud, the center of Freudianism and, after her death in 1982, was transformed into a museum, as was Freud's apartment at Berggasse 19 in Vienna. In New York, Kurt Eissler began gathering documents and eye-witness accounts of Freud for the Freud Archives. However, because of his demand for secrecy, this material was for years kept from researchers, arousing their anger, exciting their curiosity, and giving rise to a number of spiteful rumors.

By the 1960s Freud's books were often bestsellers. The body of Freud's writings increased with the publication of his correspondence to his students and friends. His letters to Wilhelm Fliess, purchased in 1937 by Marie Bonaparte and miraculously preserved throughout the Second World War, provided insights into the birth of psychoanalysis, a theme that was to serve as inspiration for filmmakers and dramatists (among others, John Huston's film, Freud, of 1962). Unfortunately, some passages were censured, which led to the growth of research on an unexpurgated history of Freud and psychoanalysis. Paul Roazen helped promote these efforts with his study on the relationship between Freud and Viktor Tausk (1969), which emphasized Freud's responsibility in the suicide of this brilliant student and triggered a backlash against "orthodox" Freudians by adversaries who, thirty years later, would be labeled "revisionists." Ardent supporters and angry critics confronted one another on a regular basis. Freud and his ideas were called into question by an increasingly large number of people, in a way compensating for the glorious early years psychoanalysis. The number of essays and criticisms multiplied with the discovery of historical documentssome authentic, some not. The anger and bitterness of his critics became increasingly obvious, betrayed by the excess of the accusations: there was an alleged attempt on Fliess's life, reports of lies about his patients or errors of diagnosis by a Freud who was hungry for glory, tales of a ménageà trois involving Minna Bernays, and rumors of an abortion. A band of "moralists" obsessed with the "truth" about Freud and Freudianism kept up the pressure, especially in the United States.

On a more serious note, after the leading biography by Fritz Wittels, which had irritated Freud in 1924, and the monument erected by Ernest Jones from 1953 to 1957, a number of books have been written to describe Freud's life and work, by serious scholars: Max Schur (1972), Ronald W. Clark (1980), Peter Gay (1988). Some of these presented original, and often questionable, interpretations of Freud's work, such as the biographies by Frank Sulloway (1979) and Marianne Krüll (1979). The gradual appearance of new documents and the opening of the secret archives opened the door to future research and new assessments of Freud's importance for the history and evolution of the civilization of his time and for human thought.

Alain de Mijolla

Works discussed: Autobiographical Study, An ; Civilization and its Discontents ; "Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest" "Contributions to the Psychology of Love"; "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming"; "Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva"; "Dostoyevsky and Parricide"; Ego and the Id, The ; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego ; "Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses"; Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety ; "Instincts and their Vicissitudes"; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious ; "Klinische Studie über die halbseitiger Cerebrallähmung der Kinder" [Clinical study of infantile cerebral diplegia]; Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood ; "Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy"; "Metapsychologic Supplement to the Theory of Dreams"; Moses and Monotheism ; Moses of Michelangelo, The"; "Mourning and Melancholia"; "Negation, The"; "Neurasthenia and Anxiety Neurosis"; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; "Note upon the 'Mystic Writing Pad', A"; "Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis" (Rat Man); "On Narcissism: An Introduction"; "On the History of the Psychoanalytic Movement"; "On the Sexual Theories of Children"; Phylogenetic Fantasy, A: Overview of the Transference Neuroses ; "On Transience"; "Project for a Scientific Psychology, A"; Question of Lay Analysis, The ; "Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psychoanalysis"; "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through"; "Repression"; "Seventeenth-century Demonological Neurosis, A"; "Sexual Enlightenment Of Children, The"; "Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes"; Studies on Hysteria ; "Theme of the Three Caskets, The"; "Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-eighth President of the United States. A Psychological Study"; Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality ; "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death"; "Totem and Taboo"; "Uncanny, The"; "Unconscious, The"; "Why War?"; "'Wild' Psycho-Analysis."


Mijolla, Alain de. (1982). Aux origines de la pratique psychanalytique. In R. Jaccard (Ed.), Histoire de la psychanalyse (v. I, pp. 11-43). Paris: Hachette.

. (1989). Images of Freud from his correspondence. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 5, 87-110.

. (1993). Freud, biography, his autobiography and his biographers. Psychoanalytic History, 1 (1), 4-27.

. (1996). Un adolescent bien tranquille. Sig(is)mund Freud, 1870-1876. Cahiers du Collège international de l'Adolescence, 1, 231-267.

Wittels, Fritz. (1924). Sigmund Freud, his personality, his teaching, his school (E. and C. Paul, Trans.). London: Allen & Unwin.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund Schlomo (1856-1939)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund Schlomo (1856-1939)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund Schlomo (1856-1939)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund


(b. Freiburg, Moravia, 6 May 1856; d. London, 23 September 1939)

psychoanalysis, psychiatry, psychotherapy. For the original article on Freud see DSB, vol. 6.

Over the nearly forty years since the original Freud article in the DSB, Sigmund Freud’s biography, his standing, and his influence on twentieth-century thought have been examined in many thousands of books and papers. This article will deal with the more salient developments under three different categories: personal and biobiblio-graphical; scientific, medical, and philosophical; and cultural, institutional, and ethical.

Personal and Biobibliographical . The materials available publicly for the study of Freud’s life and work have expanded enormously, principally through the publication of a major series of correspondences with Freud’s early followers (Wilhelm Fliess, Carl Gustav Jung, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, Eugen Bleuler, Ludwig Binswanger, and many others). The archival labors of Kurt Eissler (who founded Sigmund Freud Archives in the 1950s, recorded interviews with many who had known Freud, and amassed a very large number of documents pertaining to Freud) and of Gerhard Fichtner (who has produced reliable databases of Freud’s work and correspondences) have ensured that the wealth of materials relating to Freud rival those of any other major scientific figure (Falzeder 2007). However, some of this material, since deposited at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, was closed to scholars for many years; this policy, like so many other features of Freud’s life and work, became a matter of intense controversy, documented in Janet Malcolm’s fine journalistic account of the politics and personal antagonisms surrounding Freud scholarship (1984).

Freud’s life was celebrated in a quasi-Victorian fashion by the publication in the 1950s of Ernest Jones’s three-volume biography, subsequently criticized for its hagiographical tendencies but never surpassed as a systematically researched and organized source of biographical information. Three major biographies have since been published— by Freud’s doctor Max Schur (1972), Ronald Clark (1980), and Peter Gay (1988)—each with strengths not to be found in Jones, each able to make use of important new material available through archival research and the rapid growth in historical scholarship on Freud, Vienna, and the psychoanalytic movement. In addition, the wave of critical biographical studies of Freud that began in the 1970s sought in his private life (both personal and scientific) and the intimate politics of the psychoanalytic movement the hidden secret that would explain the origins of his thought, his life, his science, and his role in the development of the psychoanalytic profession.

Following on his study of the tense relationship between Freud and a talented Viennese follower, Victor Tausk (1969), Paul Roazen’s study of Freud and his Followers (1974) provided materials for an alternative account of the politics of the growth of psychoanalysis in Freud’s lifetime, centered on a portrait of Freud as an authoritarian, even despotic, and certainly often ruthless leader of his “horde” of followers. In parallel, the researches of Peter Swales on Freud’s life and relationship to his family and patients in the 1890s portrayed Freud’s self-presentation, so important to his account of the development of clinical discoveries, as at best only partial and at worst as fraudulent (Swales, 1983, 1986a, 1986b, 1988, 1989 [1982]).

Equally heterodox and equally headline-catching was the claim of Jeffrey Masson that Freud had, out of intellectual cowardice, reneged on his early etiological claim that the sexual abuse of children was the necessary condition for adult neurosis, and thereby broken faith with his patients: The central position of fantasy and infantile sexuality within psychoanalytic theory was thus, according to Masson, a result of this moral failing, transposed into an equivocal psychological doctrine (Masson, 1984). Importantly for the plausibility of Masson’s revisionist history among a wide audience was the coincidence of his claims with the gathering movement among feminists, clinicians, and social workers throughout the Western world in the early 1980s asserting that the sexual abuse of children, in particular female children, was endemic, consistently underreported, and a major psychopolitical scandal of the twentieth century (Hacking, 1991, 1995). This episode was symptomatic of the way in which revisionist biographical theses concerning Freud and his work could so easily take on larger cultural and medico-scientific resonance (Crews, 1995). Contemporary scientific and political

debates—what was the extent of sexual relations between children and adults? How reliable are procedures for reviving memories of early childhood?—became intimately entangled with biographical claims about Freud. The culmination of the critical and negative attention to Freud’s person was Frederick Crews’s scintillatingly vicious article attacking Freud’s scientific and moral character, “The Unknown Freud” (1993; see Crews, 1995).

Scientific, Medical, Philosophical . If Jones’s biography had set a standard for factual comprehensiveness and James Strachey’s 24-volume Standard Edition(1953– 1974) of Freud in English an unmatchable standard of editorial, philological, and accuracy of translation, furnishing the English language and a series of non-English editions with a literal model, two other works opened up new avenues for serious research on Freud’s ideas: firstly Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1967; English translation 1973), a philologically rigorous and philosophically astute conceptual analysis of the key terms in Freud’s scientific work; secondly, Henri Ellen-berger’s The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), which placed Freud’s conception alongside that of Jung, Alfred Adler, and Pierre Janet in a comprehensively researched broader context of a psychodynamic psychiatry that had its roots in the Mesmerism, hypnotism, and German Romantic psychiatry, not to speak of studies of the occult and spiritualism, of the long century preceding Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis. Both the quantity and meticulousness of Ellenberger’s scholarship set a standard that is still rarely met.

Yet both these works were fruits of conventional intellectual history or conceptual analysis. It was increasingly realized that there were many competing visions of Freud’s significance and that these also gave rise to different histories. Through situating Freud in the cultural context of fin-de-siècle Vienna, Carl Schorske gave him the status of an exemplary frustrated political intellectual turning inwards to a science of the interior (1980). Freud’s Jewishness fuelled a considerable number of important studies of the culture of Viennese Jewry (Beller, 1989), of anti-Semitism (Gilman, 1993), of the question of psychoanalysis as a Jewish science (Yerushalmi, 1991). The eruption of political movements in which sexuality and the new historical category of gender played an important part was linked to the social history of sexuality and sexology. The impact on the history of Freud’s theories of sexuality was greatest following Michel Foucault’s three volume study The History of Sexuality(1976), but Stephen Kern (1973) and K. Codell Carter (1980, 1983) and, without influence from Foucault, Gay’s studies of nineteenth-century bourgeois sexuality (1985) provided an entirely new context for Freud’s theories of sexuality. So, too, did Arnold I. Davidson (1988), who reconceived entirely the significance of Freud’s novel “scientific” conception of sexuality with its subversion of the difference between normal and pathological. But the strongest force affecting this aspect of Freud’s work was the rise of feminism and the scholarship that sometimes presented Freud as the principal enemy of the liberation of women’s inner lives from male domination, sometimes as an ally whose inquiry into those inner lives had revealed the complex forces ruling women for the first time (Appignanesi and Forrester, 1992).

Ellenberger’s monumental study was only part of a transformation of the historiography of psychiatry that had profound effects on the portrait of Freud. Foucault in particular demolished the historiography of psychiatry that had portrayed it as the march of enlightened, humanitarian progress culminating in the psychological theories of madness espoused by Freudians. Instead Foucault substituted a history of confinement, of the exclusion of madness and the installation of chains of discipline rather than steel, in which Freud represented the figure of the moral master, the epitome of magical therapeutic power framed by the new institutions, both built of brick and of newly invented therapeutic relationships. The way was prepared for the later historiography of psychiatry, best achieved by Edward Shorter’s A History of Psychiatry(1997), in which Freud represented an interlude between more truly scientific hereditary-genetic, biological-physical, and pharmacological theories of madness that achieved victory in the late twentieth century. Freud’s historical significance for psychiatry now became as inventor of a low-capital-intensive, quasi-scientific practice of talk therapy, easily marketable in middle-class, urban environments, preparatory for the more disguised high-capital-intensive, low-cost delivery of psychopharmacological drugs that would sit uneasily side by side with the still indispensable talk therapies. More specifically on Freud’s relationship with psychiatry, Albrecht Hirschmüller, in addition to providing the definitive study of the science, medical practice, and life of Freud’s mentor and collaborator, Josef Breuer (1989 [1978]), also documented and analyzed major new sources on Freud’s early psychiatric experience and thought (1991).

Applying the sophistication of the professional history of science, Frank J. Sulloway’s Freud: Biologist of the Mind (1979), a major study of the biological roots of Freud’s work, examined its sources within Darwinian and Lamarckian evolutionary biology, German developmental biology, and the specific influence of the exotic theories of Freud’s closest scientific colleague in the formative years, Fliess. Even Sulloway’s balanced scholarship became entangled with his less persuasive theses concerning the construction by Freud of “myths” about his own history combined with Sulloway’s internally contradictory thesis that “psychoanalysis” was “really” biology in disguise. The influence of Charles Darwin on Freud, of John Hughlings Jackson and aphasia studies, of Jean-Martin Charcot and the golden era of hysteria in the late nineteenth century, of Freud’s early work on cocaine and its persistent influence on his life and work, of the rise and fall of hypnotism as therapy and as model of human relationships were all comprehensively documented.

Within the philosophy of science, a major study (Grünbaum, 1984) challenged both the Popperian claim that psychoanalysis was not scientific because it was irrefutable, and the claim (as represented by Jürgen Habermas, 1971, and Paul Ricoeur, 1970) that psychoanalysis was not a straightforward natural science, on a par with botany or biochemistry, but a hermeneutic discipline, founded in philosophy and practices of the interpretation of language. Adolf Grünbaum insisted that psychoanalysis did conform to the hypothetico-deductive model of the natural sciences and had generated testable hypotheses, but its principal method of gathering data was irredeemably unreliable and, where trustworthy data had become available, its principal claims had not been confirmed. Some defenders of Freud pointed out that his claims were not scientific in a conventional sense, but rather plausible and effective extensions of everyday psychological explanations and redescriptions—a curious extension and reversal of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s critical claim that psychoanalysis offered only redescription and not conventional, experimentally founded explanations. Analytic philosophers returned to and reexamined Freud’s concepts of the unconscious and explanations of irrational action within the philosophy of mind, where resonances with other contemporary preoccupations—with Jean-Paul Sartre’s account of bad faith, with neuropsychological conceptions of the unconscious—were continually rediscovered.

The reevaluation of Freud as more of an interpreter of the significant world of language and symbol, hence a “social” scientist, maybe even an “artist,” gathered strength as his standing increased in the academic humanities and touched even the question of the appropriate way of translating his work (Bettelheim, 1982; Bourguignon et al, 1989; Ornston, 1992). The strongest, but by no means the only, thread of this reevaluation owed much to the impetus of Jacques Lacan’s “return to Freud” and to the acceptance of Freud in French intellectual life as an unmatched innovator in the “human sciences”; many of these reinterpretations, such as Jacques Derrida’s (1980), portrayed Freud as an unchallengeable explorer of a new philosophy of the human, of the “subject,” as much in the tradition of Michel de Montaigne, Immanuel Kant, and Martin Heidegger as of the empirical sciences (Forrester, 1980, 1990; Spence, 1982).

Cultural, Institutional, and Ethical . A major source of reevaluation of Freud as a scientific figure stems from a feedback loop generated by the influence of his own theories. Philip Rieff’s classic Freud: The Mind of the Moral-ist (1959) had portrayed Freud as a unique kind of scientist, whose work—whose message—was simultaneously a morality (in truth, an anti-morality) for the twentieth century, a medico-scientific antidote to the religion-infused ethical ideals of the European past. This new figure of “psychological man” was expressed in Freud’s theories and disseminated by the practice of therapy, but also in the autobiographical elements of Freud’s writings—and then in the contest over the facts of Freud’s life. Peter Gay’s supremely well-researched Freud (1988) had as its subtitle: A Life for Our Time. The Freud portrayed by Gay, with his stoicism, generosity, intellectual honesty and imaginativeness, also serves as an underpinning of the value and even the truth of psychoanalysis. With a similar evaluation of its crucial character, critics of psychoanalysis over of the last two decades have chosen Freud’s actual person as the primary target. In this way the battle over Freud’s biography is also a battle over the moral values embodied in Freud’s work.

Among the several fundamental additions to Freud’s biography in recent decades, there has been serious attention paid to the fact that he was a major intellectual entrepreneur, whose “movement,” institutional inventions and profession became enduring cultural and economic monuments. The Psychoanalytic Societies, based in major cities, bound together by the International Psychoanalytic Association from 1910 on, led by close disciples bonded to Freud through his extensive correspondence and then by the Secret Committee (Grosskurth, 1991), were independent of universities and medical schools— autonomous in a free market discovered (invented?) by Freud and the other founders of psychotherapy. The products of these institutions—as cultural figure, the “shrink” (Gabbard and Gabbard, 1987), the “therapist” (MacIntyre, 1981)—offered simultaneously a cure and a lifestyle, even a path through life; the market they created and served was analyzed by Ernest Gellner (1985) as a secular pseudoscientific religion, obliged to fulfill this function, and offering its clinical pastoral, because of the wholesale failure of religion in the West.

The upshot of these radical revisions is that for some, Freud is a discredited scientist and progenitor of a parasitic profession; for others, a hybrid figure, philosopher, writer of genius, exemplar of an ethic beyond the illusions of political or religious ideals and repressive moral codes. For some he is still a great pioneer scientist.


Appignanesi, Lisa, and John Forrester. Freud’s Women. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1992.

Beller, Steven. Vienna and the Jews, 1867–1938: A Cultural History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Bettelheim, Bruno. Freud and Man’s Soul. New York: Knopf, 1982.

Bourguignon, André; Pierre Cotet; Jean Laplanche; and François Robert. Traduire Freud. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989.

Byck, Robert, ed. Cocaine Papers. New York: Stonehill, 1974.

Carter, K. Codell. “Germ Theory, Hysteria, and Freud’s Early Work in Psychopathology.” Medical History 24 (1980): 259–274.

———. “Infantile Hysteria and Infantile Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century German-Language Medical Literature.” Medical History 27 (1983): 186–196.

Clark, Ronald. Freud, The Man and the Cause. New York: Random House, 1980.

Crews, Frederick. The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute. New York: New York Review of Books, 1995.

Davidson, Arnold I. “How to Do the History of Psychoanalysis: A Reading of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.” In The Trial(s) of Psychoanalysis, edited by Françoise Meltzer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Derrida, Jacques. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987 [1980].

Didi-Huberman, George. Invention de l’Hystérie: Charcot et l’iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière. Paris: Macula, 1982.

Ellenberger, Henri. The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Falzeder, Ernst. “Is There Still an Unknown Freud? A Note on the Publications of Freud’s Texts and on Unpublished Documents.” Psychoanalysis and History 9, no. 2 (2007): 201–232.

Forrester, John. Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis. London: Macmillan, 1980.

———. The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan, and Derrida. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Gabbard, Krin, and Glen O. Gabbard. Psychiatry and the Cinema. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Gay, Peter. The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, Vol. 1, Education of the Senses. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

———. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton, 1988.

Gellner, Ernest. The Psychoanalytic Movement: The Cunning of Unreason. London: Granada, 1985.

Gilman, Sander L. Freud, Race, and Gender. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Greenberg, Valerie D. Freud and His Aphasia Book: Language and the Sources of Psychoanalysis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Grünbaum, Adolf. The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Grosskurth, Phyllis. The Secret Ring: Freud’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1991.

Habermas, Jürgen. Knowledge and Human Interests, translated by Jeremy J. Shapiro. Boston: Beacon, 1971 [1968].

Hacking, Ian. “The Making and Molding of Child Abuse.” Critical Inquiry 17 (1991): 253–288.

———. Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Hirschmüller, Albrecht. The Life and Work of Josef Breuer: Physiology and Psychoanalysis. New York: New York University Press, 1989 [1978].

———. Freuds Begegnung mit der Psychiatrie. Von der Hirnmythologie zur Neurosenlehre. Tübingen: Edition Diskord, 1991.

Kern, Stephen. “Freud and the Discovery of Child Sexuality.” History of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psychohistory 1 (1973): 117–141.

Laplanche, Jean, and J.B. Pontalis. The Language of Psychoanalysis. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Hogarth Press, 1973 [1967].

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

Malcolm, Janet. In the Freud Archives. London: Jonathan Cape, 1984.

Masson, Jeffrey M. The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory. London: Faber & Faber, 1984.

Micale, Mark S. Approaching Hysteria: Disease and its Interpretations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Ornston, Darius Gray, Jr., ed. Translating Freud. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

Ricoeur, Paul. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation.

Translated by Denis Savage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970.

Rieff, Philip. Freud: The Mind of the Moralist. New York: Viking, 1959.

Roazen, Paul. Brother Animal: The Story of Freud and Tausk. New York: Knopf, 1969.

———. Freud and his Followers. New York: Knopf, 1974.

Ritvo, Lucille B. Darwin’s Influence on Freud: A Tale of Two Sciences. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Schorske, Carl. Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Schur, Max. Freud: Living and Dying. London: Hogarth Press, 1972.

Spence, Donald. Narrative Truth and Historical Truth. New York: Norton, 1982.

Swales, Peter. “Freud, Martha Bernays and the Language of Flowers, Masturbation, Cocaine, and the Inflation of Fantasy.” Privately printed, 1983.

———. “Freud, Breuer and the Blessed Virgin.” Privately printed, 1986a.

———. “Freud, His Teacher, and the Birth of Psychoanalysis.” In Freud: Appraisals and Reappraisals: Contributions to Freud Studies, Vol. 1, edited by Paul E. Stepansky, pp. 3–82. NJ: The Analytic Press, 1986b.

———. “Freud, Katharina, and the First ‘Wild Analysis’.’’ In Freud: Appraisals and Reappraisals: Contributions to Freud Studies, Vol. 3, edited by Paul E. Stepansky, pp. 79–164. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1988.

———. “Freud, Fliess and Fratricide: The Role of Fliess in Freud’s Conception of Paranoia.” In Sigmund Freud. Critical Assessments, Vol. 1: Freud and the Origins of Psychoanalysis, edited by Laurence Spurling, pp. 302–329. London and New York: Routledge, 1989 [1982].

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

John Forrester

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund (Siblings)


Sigmund Freud, born May 6, 1856, was Jakob Freud's third child. From a previous marriage, in 1832 to Sally Kanner, he had two sons, Emanuel and Philipp. After Sally died in 1852, a brief second marriage to a woman named Rebekka also ended with her death. Jakob's third marriage, to Amalie Nathanson on July 29, 1855, produced eight more children. In addition to Sigismund (Sigmund), the firstborn, were born Julius, Anna, Rosa, Marie, Adolfine, Pauline, and Alexander.

Freud, Emanuel

Born in 1833 in Tysmenitz in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Emanuel Freud worked in his father's textile business. In 1852, he married (Kokach), who was born in Milow in Russia in 1834 (perhaps 1836). In Freiberg he settled a few blocks from his father's home at 42, place du Marché. His children's nurse, Monika Zajicova, was said to also have been Sigismund's "Nannie."

Freud's oldest nephew, Johann, was born in Freiberg on August 13, 1855. I have also long known," wrote Freud to Fliess in 1897, "the companion of my mis-deeds between the ages of one and two years; it is my nephew, a year older than myself, who is now living in Manchester and who visited us in Vienna when I was fourteen years old. The two of us seem occasionally to have behaved cruelly to my niece, who was a year younger" (Freud, 1985c, p. 268) "Until the end of my third year we had been inseparable; we had loved each other and fought each other, and, as I have already hinted, this childish relation had determined all my later feelings in my intercourse with persons of my own age" (1900a, p. 424). Freud also wrote, "An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life; I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy have coincided in the same person; but not simultaneously, of course, as was the case in my early childhood" (1900a, p. 483). Johann's whereabouts cannot be traced after 1919, and what happened to him in later years is unknown.

On November 20, 1856, Pauline Freud, Sigmund's niece, was born in Freiberg; she would die a spinster in Manchester in 1944. The games she played with John and Sigmund in the meadow covered in yellow flowers, which Freud recalled in "Screen Memories" (1899a), are thought to have taken place during the summer of 1859. Freud's unconscious fantasy of Pauline's defloration by John and himself led some to believe that both boys sexually assaulted the little girl (Krüll, 1979). Towards 1875, it seems that Jakob Freud had the idea of sending Sigmund to England with his brothers and having him marry Pauline.

On February 22, 1859, Bertha Freud was born in Freiberg. She died accidentally from a fall on a staircase in 1944.

Toward 1859-1860, while Jakob and his family left Freiberg for Vienna, Emanuel emigrated with relatives and his brother Philipp to Manchester, England. Solomon Samuel (Sam) Freud, Emanuel's fourth son, was born there on June 28, 1860. His correspondence with Sigmund Freud was eventually published (Freud 1996 [1911-38]. He died in 1945.

On May 12, 1862, Matilda Freud was born in Manchester.

In 1900 Freud described Emanuel to Wilhelm Fliess (Freud 1985c, p. 417) on the occasion of his half-brother's trip to Vienna with his son Sam: "He brought with him a real air of refreshment because he is a marvelous man, vigorous and mentally indefatigable despite his sixty-eight or sixty-nine years, who has always meant a great deal to me."

Freud paid visits to Emanuel in August 1875 and to his sister Rosa in 1884-1885. He went to England for a second two-week visit to his brothers in September 1908.

Emmanuel died from a fall from a train traveling between Manchester and Southport on October 17, 1914, just six days before the anniversary of Jacob's deatha coincidence noted by Freud.

Marie, Emanuel's wife, died in Manchester in 1923.

Freud, Philipp

Philipp Freud was born in Tysmenitz around 1835. He would play an interesting role in his brother's life that Freud would only reconstruct in October 1897 during his self-analysis. It was Philipp who "locked up Nannie in prison" for stealing shortly before the family's departure from Freiberg. He was living across the street from Freud's parents and was the same age as Freud's mother, Amalie. Some authors have imagined from Freud's fantasy that Philipp and Amalie were together as a "couple" with the suggestion that he had an affaire with her (Krüll, 1979). He contributed in any event to the confusion of generations in Freud's mind that was only clarified in 1875 during his visit to England.

Philipp married at about forty years old, in Manchester on January 15, 1873, to Matilda Bloome (Bloomah), from Birmingham (1839-1925). They had two children. Pauline Mary (Poppy) was born on October 23, 1873, married Frederick Oswald Hartwig and died in Bucklow/Chester on June 23, 1951. Morris Herbert Walter was born on April 2, 1876, and died in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on November 28, 1938.

Philipp died in Manchester on August 29, 1911.

Freud (1989a, pp. 126-127) described this part of his family in an 1875 letter to Eduard Silberstein: "You will, no doubt, wish to know about my relatives in England and about my attitude toward them. I don't think I've ever told you much about them. There two brothers on my father's side, from my father's first marriage, twenty-two years older than I, the older, Emanuel, having married in early youth, the younger, Philipp, two and a half years ago. They used to live with us in Freiberg, where the elder brother's three oldest children were born! The unfavorable turn their business took there caused them to move to England, which they have not left since 1859. I can say that they now hold a generally respected position, not because of their wealth, for they are not rich, but because of their personal character. They are shopkeepers, i.e., merchants who have a shop, the elder selling cloth and the younger jewelry, in the sense that word seems to have in England. My two sisters-in-law are good and jolly women, one of them an English woman, which made my conversations with her extremely agreeable. Of those persons in our family whose uncle I may call myself, you are already acquainted with John, he is an Englishman in every respect, with a knowledge of languages and technical matters well beyond the usual business education. Unknown to you, and until recently, to me, are two charming nieces, Pauline, who is nineteen, and Bertha, who is seventeen, and a fifteen-year-old boy by the name of Samuelwhich I believe has been fashionable in England ever since Pickwickand who is generally considered to be a 'sharp and deep' young fellow" (pp. 126-7).

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, the first of Jacob and Amalie Freud's eight children.

Freud, Julius

Julius Freud was born in October 1857 in Freiberg, when Sigmund was eighteen months old. He died the next April, the same year that Amalie's brother, Julius's namesake, also died.

On October 3, 1897, Freud (1985e, p. 268) wrote to Wilhelm Fliess about one of the discoveries of his self-analysis: "that I greeted my one-year-younger brother (who died after a few months) with adverse wishes and genuine childhood jealousy; and that his death left the germ of [self-] reproaches in me."

Bernays-Freud, Anna

Anna Bernays-Freud was born on December 31, 1858, in Freiberg and died on March 11, 1955, in New York. Her relationship with her older brother was often difficult, but she was her father's favorite daughter. In her memoirs (Bernays-Freud, 1940), she recalled Sigmund's special privileges, the fact that he enjoyed his own room, and that it was forbidden to play the piano in order not to disturb him; he also censored what she read.

Anna married Martha's oldest brother, Eli Bernays (1860-1923) on October 14, 1883, with whom Freud, who didn't attend their wedding, felt for a time resentful regarding his sister's dowry.

Anna and Eli emigrated in the United States in 1892 with their two children, Lucy, born in 1886, and Judith born a year earlier. In 1973 the latter, Judith Bernays-Heller, published a brief memoir of her visits to grandparents Jacob and Amalie (Bernays-Heller, 1973). Anna and Eli had three more children: Edward Louis was born in 1891, and Hella and Martha in 1893 and 1894, respectively.

Eli, who enjoyed a brilliant career in business, was in charge of Freud's works in the United States and he had some disagreements with Ernest Jones concerning their English translations. After Eli's death, in 1925 Freud wrote to his son Edward in reply to the latter's proposition: "What deprives all autobiographies of value is their tissue of lies. Let's just say parenthetically that your publisher shows American naivete in imagining that a man, honest until now, could stoop to so low for five thousand dollars. The temptation would begin at one hundred times that sum, but even then I would renounce it after half an hour." On March 8, 1920, he wrote to Ernest Jones, describing Edward as "an honest boy when I knew him. I know not how far he has become Americanized" (Gay 1989, p. 568) and in September he announced, to Jones's chagrin, that his nephew would serve as literary executive for American rights to his works.

Graf-Freud, Regina Deborah (Rosa)

Regina Deborah Graf-Freud (Rosa) was born on March 21, 1860, and died in the Treblinka concentration camp in 1942. Considered his favorite sister, Freud in 1886 acknowledged that the beautiful Rosa, like himself, had "a nicely developed tendency toward neurasthenia" (Freud 1960, p. 210). On October 22, 1874, Freud wrote to Eduard Silberstein: "Rosa has entered a school of drawing and design newly established for the perfection of feminine handicrafts. I have taken charge of the rest of her education and am sacrificing one of my lectures to that end. The gods cannot possibly have rejoiced at this sacrifice as much as I did" (Freud 1989a, p. 67). She would return the favor in various ways, by taking care of his laundry, for example, during his stay in Paris, later by caring for his children during vacations.

Rosa's fate was particularly unfortunate. After a disappointing love affair, she married Heinrch Graf (b. 1852), a physician, on May 17, 1896, but he died in 1908 at the age of fifty-six. Her son, Hermann Adolf, was born on July 13, 1897 and died in action during World War I, in early 1917. Finally, her daughter, Cäcilie, born October 18, 1899, and nicknamed Mausi, whom Freud called "my favorite niece," a dear girl of 23, was unmarried and pregnant when she committed suicide with an overdose of the barbiturate veronal on August 18, 1922.

The last document from Rosa is a letter transmitted by the International Red Cross to Freud's address in London. Twenty five words only were authorized: "Geliebte Martha! Tief bewegt grüssen Dich Alle. Erbitten Deiner Alexanders Familie Befinden. Vier einsam. Traurig. Leidlich. Gesund. S. fruendschaftlich. Ganze Einrichtung bestens engleagert. Graf Rosa" ("Dear Martha! Greetings with heartfelt emotion. Wondering about the state of your Alexander's family. Four alone. Sad. Painful. Health. Yours warmly. Best furnishings in storage. Graf Rosa.")

Rosa was deported in Theresienstadt on August 28, 1942, at the same time as her three sisters, with whom she was living in a increasingly cramped apartment. According to a witness, during the Nuremberg trial, in October 1942 in the Treblinka concentration camp, the commandant of the camp to whom she introduced herself as Sigmund Freud's sister, examined her identification and "said that there was probably some mistake and showed her the railroad signs, telling her that there would be a train to take her back to Vienna in two hours. She could leave her belongings, go into the showers and, after bathing, her documents and her ticket to Vienna would be ready. Rose naturally went into the showers and never returned" (LeupoldLöwenthal, 1989).

Moritz-Freud Maria (Mitzi)

Maria Moritz-Freud (Mitzi) was born on March 22, 1861, and died in the Maly Trostinec, the extermination camp, in 1942. In 1885 she had to work as a governess, which led Freud, then in Paris, while observing nannies with young children, to write Martha: "I couldn't help thinking of poor Mitzi and grew very, very furious and full of revolutionary thoughts" (Freud 1960, p. 173).

In 1887 Mitzi married her Romanian cousin Moritz Freud(1857-1920). They had four children, Margarethe, born in 1887; Lilly Marlé-Freud, born in 1888, who became a well-known actress; Martha Gertrude, born in 1892, who illustrated children books under the name "Tom" and would commit suicide in 1930, a year after her husband the journalist Jakob Seidmann, killed himself; Theodor (Teddy) and born in 1904, whose twin was stillborn and who died from drowning in 1923 in Berlin. Martha's daughter, Angela Seidmann, was in the care of Freud and Anna for a while before emigrating to Haïfa.

Mitzi, reunited with her sisters in Vienna after her husband's death, shared their fate in the Holocaust. She was deported to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, on June 29, 1942, then to Maly Trostinec where she disappeared (Leupold-Löwenthal, 1989).

Freud, Esther Adolfine (Dolfi)

Esther Adolfine (Dolfi) was born on July 23, 1862, and died in 1943 in the concentration camp at Treblinka. She was unmarried and cared for her father Jakob when he fell ill, then of her mother, becoming impetuous Amalie's constant companion, which her nephew Martin considered could not have been a welcome fate. "She was not clever or in any way remarkable, and it might be true to say that constant attendance on Amalie had suppressed her personality into a condition of dependence from which she never recovered" (M. Freud, 1958, p. 16).

Dolfi was deported with Mitzi and Paula to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt on August 28, 1942, where she died from "internal hemorrhages" on February 5, 1943, according to information gathered by Harry Freud after the war, perhaps due to malnutrition. (Leupold-Löwenthal, 1989).

Winternitz-Freud, Pauline Regine (Pauli)

Pauline Regine Winternitz-Freud (Pauli) was born on May 3, 1864, and died in the Holocaust in 1942. She was married to Valentin Winternitz and emigrated to the United States, where their daughter, Rose Beatrice (Rosi), was born on March 18, 1896. After her husband's death in 1900, on Freud's advice, she returned to Berlin, where she lived with her husband's family before joining relatives in Vienna. Deported from that city in June 1942, she was taken first to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, then to the extermination camp or Maly Trostinec (Leupold-Löwenthal, 1989).

In 1913, Rosi, just seventeen years old, developed psychological problems that suggested psychosis. Ten years later and pregnant, she married Ernst Waldinger, a young poet, but the couple was not happy and, in 1931, she had a relapse. Rosi successfully emigrated to the United States and in 1946 entered analysis with Paul Federn in New York, probably with the financial assistance of Anna Freud.

Freud, Alexander Gotthold Efraim

Alexander Gotthold Efraim Freud was born on April 15 (or April 19), 1866, in Vienna, and died in 1943 in Canada. The youngest of the family, his name was chosen by Freud himself at a family meeting.

For a number of years Alexander was closest to his older brother, sharing with him, until Freud married, Easter and summer vacations, mainly in Italy after a first visit there in 1895. He took part in the 1897 trip during which Freud contemplated Luca Signorelli's frescoes, and in the visit to Rome at the end of August 1901. "It was a high point of my life" as wrote Freud to Wilhelm Fliess. He was also with his brother on the Acropolis, during the sudden "disturbance of memory" in Athens in September 1904.

Merry and whimsical and a music-lover, Alexander "was an excellent story-teller who could imitate the various accents of the characters in his stories, as his nephew would write (M. Freud, 1958, p. 17). He did not pursue an education but, intelligent and hardworking, became a specialist in transportation and worked at the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. On August 20, 1899, Freud wrote to Fliess: "Alexander was here for four days; he will lecture on tariff rates at the Export Academy and will be given the title and rank of professor extraordinarius after one yearmuch earlier in fact than I" (Freud, 1985c). With his expertise, he was responsible for organizing Freud's voyage to America in 1909.

Also in 1909, Alexander married Sophie Sabine Schreiber in a synagogue, in a double ceremony with his niece Mathilde. His wife gave birth on December 21, 1909, to Harry, their only child. With an excellent livelihood, he shared with Freud the support of their mother and Dolfi. He was, according to his brother, much more upset than he by Amalie's death in 1930. In 1936 he commissioned Wilhelm Victor Krauss to paint Freud's portrait.

In March 1938, shortly after the Alexander emigrated to Switzerland. Sigmund, at the time still in Vienna wrote Ernest Jones (April 28, 1938) that his brother caused him considerable worry; he had reacted badly to the loss of his business and was in poor health. By shared decision, the brothers left a large sum (160,000 Austrian Schillings) to their four sisters that would have been sufficient for a comfortable living in Vienna; they saw no serious danger to their remaining in Vienna. Freud soon realized his mistake and at his request Marie Bonaparte attempted to secure their passage from Austria, but without success.

Alexander gave up his Anglophobia and pro-German sentiments that dated to the First World War to emigrate to London in September 1938, where he also joined his son Harry. It was this latest who wrote to his aunts a letter they never receive and in which he described Sigmund's last days.

Alexander and his wife would emigrate to Canada, where he died in 1943.

See also: Freud, Jacob Kolloman (or Kelemen or Kallamon); Freud-Nathanson, Amalie Malka.


Bernays-Freud, Anna. (November 1940). My brother Sigmund Freud. American Mercury 51 (203), 335-342.

Bernays-Heller, Judith. (1973). Freud's mother and father. In Freud as we knew him. (H.M. Ruitenbeck, Ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Freud, Martin. (1958). Sigmund Freud: Man and father. New York: Vanguard Press.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The Interpretation of Dreams. SE 4-5.

. (1960). Letters. New York: Basic Books.

. (1989). Letters of Sigmund Freud and Eduard Silberstein: 1871-1881. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Krüll, Marianne. (1979). Freud und sein Vater. Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse und Freuds ungelöste Vaterbindung. Beck.

. (1986). Freud and His Father. (Arnold J. Pomerans, Trans.). New York: W.W. Norton. (Original work published 1979).

Leupold-Löwenthal. (1989). Die Vertreibung der Familie Freud 1938. Psyche-Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse und ihre Anwendungen, 43 (10), 908-928.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund (Siblings)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund (Siblings)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund (Siblings)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

The work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the Viennese founder of psychoanalysis, marked the beginning of a modern, dynamic psychology by providing the first systematic explanation of the inner mental forces determining human behavior.

Early in his career Sigmund Freud distinguished himself as a histologist, neuropathologist, and clinical neurologist, and in his later life he was acclaimed as a talented writer and essayist. However, his fame is based on his work in expanding man's knowledge of himself through clinical researches and corresponding development of theories to explain the new data. He laid the foundations for modern understanding of unconscious mental processes (processes excluded from awareness), neurosis (a type of mental disorder), the sexual life of infants, and the interpretation of dreams. Under his guidance, psychoanalysis became the dominant modern theory of human psychology and a major tool of research, as well as an important method of psychiatric treatment which currently has thousands of practitioners all over the world. The application of psychoanalytic thinking to the studies of history, anthropology, religion, art, sociology, and education has greatly changed these fields.

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia (now Czechoslovakia). Sigmund was the first child of his twice-widowed father's third marriage. His mother, Amalia Nathanson, was 19 years old when she married Jacob Freud, aged 39. Sigmund's two stepbrothers from his father's first marriage were approximately the same age as his mother, and his older stepbrother's son, Sigmund's nephew, was his earliest playmate. Thus the boy grew up in an unusual family structure, his mother halfway in age between himself and his father. Though seven younger children were born, Sigmund always remained his mother's favorite. When he was 4, the family moved to Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and one of the great cultural, scientific, and medical centers of Europe. Freud lived in Vienna until a year before his death.

Youth in Vienna

Because the Freuds were Jewish, Sigmund's early experience was that of an outsider in an overwhelmingly Catholic community. However, Emperor Francis Joseph had emancipated the Jews of Austria, giving them equal rights and permitting them to settle anywhere in the monarchy. Many Jewish families came to Vienna, where the standard of living was higher and educational and professional opportunities better than in the provinces. The Jewish people have always had a strong interest in cultural and intellectual pursuits; this, along with Austria's remaining barriers to social acceptance and progress in academic careers, was influential in Freud's early vocational interests. Had it been easier for him to gain academic success, it might have been more difficult for the young scientist to develop and, later, to defend his unpopular theories.

Although as he grew older Freud never practiced Judaism as a religion, his Jewish cultural background and tradition were important influences on his thinking. He considered himself Jewish and maintained contact with Jewish organizations; one of his last works was a study of Moses and the Jewish people. However, at times Freud was unhappy that the psychoanalytic movement was so closely tied to Jewish intellectualism. Freud went to the local elementary school and attended the humanistic high school (or gymnasium) from 1866 to 1873. He studied Greek and Latin, mathematics, history, and the natural sciences, and was a superior student. He passed his final examination with flying colors, qualifying to enter the University of Vienna at the age of 17. His family had recognized his special scholarly gifts from the beginning, and although they had only four bedrooms for eight people, Sigmund had his own room throughout his school days. He lived with his parents until he was 27, as was the custom at that time.

Prepsychoanalytic Work

Freud first considered studying law but then enrolled in medical school. Vienna had become the world capital of medicine, and the young student was initially attracted to the laboratory and the scientific side of medicine rather than clinical practice. He spent 7 instead of the usual 5 years acquiring his doctorate, taking time to work in the zoological and anatomical laboratories of the famous Ernst Brucke. At 19 he conducted his first independent research project while on a field trip, and at 20 he published his first scientific paper.

Freud received his doctor of medicine degree at the age of 24. An episode at about this time reveals that he was not simply the "good boy" his academic career might suggest: he spent his twenty-fourth birthday in prison, having gone AWOL from his military training. For the next few years he pursued his laboratory work, but several factors shifted his interest from microscopic studies to living patients. Opportunities for advancement in academic medicine were rare at best, and his Jewish background was a decided disadvantage. More important, he fell in love and wanted to marry, but the stipends available to a young scientist could not support a wife and family. He had met Martha Bernays, the daughter of a well-known Hamburg family, when he was 26; they were engaged 2 months later. They were separated during most of the 4 years which preceded their marriage, and Freud's over 900 letters to his fiancée provide a good deal of information about his life and personality. They were married in 1887. Of their six children, a daughter, Anna, became one of her father's most famous followers.

Freud spent 3 years as a resident physician in the famous Allgemeine Krankenhaus, a general hospital that was the medical center of Vienna. He rotated through a number of clinical services and spent 5 months in the psychiatry department headed by Theodor Meynert. Psychiatry at this time was static and descriptive. A patient's signs and symptoms were carefully observed and recorded in the hope that they would lead to a correct diagnosis of the organic disease of the brain, which was assumed to be the basis of all psychopathology (mental disorder). The psychological meaning of behavior was not itself considered important; behavior was only a set of symptoms to be studied in order to understand the structures of the brain. Freud's later work revolutionized this attitude; yet like all scientific revolutions, this one grew from a thorough understanding and acknowledged expertise in the traditional methods. He later published widely respected papers on neurology and brain functioning, including works on cerebral palsy in children and aphasia (disturbances in understanding and using words).

Another of Freud's early medical interests brought him to the brink of international acclaim. During his residency he became interested in the effect of an alkaloid extract on the nervous system. He experimented on himself and others and found that small doses of the drug, cocaine, were effective against fatigue. He published a paper describing his findings and also participated in the discovery of cocaine's effect as a local anesthetic. However, he took a trip to visit his fiancée before he could publish the later findings, and during his absence a colleague reported the use of cocaine as an anesthetic for surgery on the eye. Freud's earlier findings were overshadowed, and later fell into disrepute when the addictive properties of cocaine became known.

During the last part of his residency Freud received a grant to pursue his neurological studies abroad. He spent 4 months at the Salpêtrière clinic in Paris, studying under the neurologist Jean Martin Charcot. Here Freud first became interested in hysteria and Charcot's demonstration of its psychological origins. Thus, in fact, Freud's development of a psychoanalytic approach to mental disorders was rooted in 19th-century neurology rather than in the psychiatry of the era.

Beginning of Psychoanalysis

Freud returned to Vienna, established himself in the private practice of neurology, and married. He soon devoted his efforts to the treatment of hysterical patients with the help of hypnosis, a technique he had studied under Charcot. Joseph Breuer, an older colleague who had become Freud's friend and mentor, told Freud about a hysterical patient whom he had treated successfully by hypnotizing her and then tracing her symptoms back to traumatic (emotionally stressful) events she had experienced at her father's deathbed. Breuer called his treatment "catharsis" and attributed its effectiveness to the release of "pent-up emotions." Freud's experiments with Breuer's technique were successful, demonstrating that hysterical symptoms could consistently be traced to highly emotional experiences which had been "repressed," that is, excluded from conscious memory. Together with Breuer he published Studies on Hysteria (1895), which included several theoretical chapters, a series of Freud's cases, and Breuer's initial case. At the age of 39 Freud first used the term "psychoanalysis," and his major lifework was well under way.

At about this time Freud began a unique undertaking, his own self-analysis, which he pursued primarily by analyzing his dreams. As he proceeded, his personality changed. He developed a greater inner security while his at times impulsive emotional responses decreased. A major scientific result was The Interpretation of Dreams (1901). In this book he demonstrated that the dreams of every man, just like the symptoms of a hysterical or an otherwise neurotic person, serve as a "royal road" to the understanding of unconscious mental processes, which have great importance in determining behavior. By the turn of the century Freud had increased his knowledge of the formation of neurotic symptoms to include conditions and reactions other than hysteria. He had also developed his therapeutic technique, dropping the use of hypnosis and shifting to the more effective and more widely applicable method of "free association."

Development of Psychoanalysis

Following his work on dreams Freud wrote a series of papers in which he explored the influence of unconscious mental processes on virtually every aspect of human behavior: slips of the tongue and simple errors of memory (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1901); humor (Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905); artistic creativity (Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, 1910); and cultural institutions (Totem and Taboo, 1912). He recognized that predominant among the unconscious forces which lead to neuroses are the sexual desires of early childhood that have been excluded from conscious awareness, yet have preserved their dynamic force within the personality. He described his highly controversial views concerning infantile sexuality in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), a work which initially met violent protest but was gradually accepted by practically all schools of psychology. During this period he also published a number of case histories and a series of articles dealing with psychoanalysis as a therapy.

After 1902 Freud gathered a small group of interested people on Wednesday evenings for presentation of psychoanalytic papers and discussion. This was the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement. Swiss psychiatrists Eugen Bleuler and Carl Jung formed a study group in Zurich in 1907, and the first International Psychoanalytic Congress was held in Salzburg in 1908. In 1909 Freud was invited to give five lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He considered this invitation the first official recognition to be extended to his new science.

The new science was not without its difficulties. Earlier, Freud and Breuer had differed concerning their findings with regard to the role of sexual wishes in neurosis. Breuer left psychoanalysis, and the two men parted scientific company, not without some personal animosity. Ironically, Breuer saved his reputation at the time, only to be remembered by later generations because of his brief collaboration with Freud. During his self-analysis Freud developed a strong personal attachment to a philosophically inclined German otolaryngological physician, Wilhelm Fliess. From their letters one observes a gradual cooling of the friendship as Freud's self-analysis progressed.

At the same time Freud faced a major scientific reversal. He first thought that his neurotic patients had actually experienced sexual seductions in childhood, but he then realized that his patients were usually describing childhood fantasies (wishes) rather than actual events. He retracted his earlier statement on infantile sexuality, yet demonstrated his scientific genius when he rejected neither the data nor the theory but reformulated both. He now saw that the universal sexual fantasies of children were scientifically far more important than an occasional actual seduction by an adult.

Later, as psychoanalysis became better established, several of Freud's closest colleagues broke with him and established splinter groups of their own, some of which continue to this day. Of such workers in the field, Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, and Wilhelm Reich are the best known.

Later Years

In 1923 Freud developed a cancerous growth in his mouth that led to his death 16 years and 33 operations later. In spite of this, these were years of great scientific productivity. He published findings on the importance of aggressive as well as sexual drives (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920); developed a new theoretical framework in order to organize his new data concerning the structure of the mind (The Ego and the Id, 1923); revised his theory of anxiety to show it as the signal of danger emanating from unconscious fantasies, rather than the result of repressed sexual feelings (Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, 1926); and discussed religion, civilized society, and further questions of theory and technique.

In March 1938 Austria was occupied by German troops, and that month Freud and his family were put under house arrest. Through the combined efforts of Marie Bonaparte, Princess of Greece, British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, and W. C. Bullitt, the American ambassador to France (who obtained assistance from President Franklin D. Roosevelt), the Freuds were permitted to leave Austria in June. Freud's keen mind and ironic sense of humor were evident when, forced to flee his home at the age of 82, suffering from cancer, and in mortal danger, he was asked to sign a document attesting that he had been treated well by the Nazi authorities; he added in his own handwriting, "I can most warmly recommend the Gestapo to anyone." Freud spent his last year in London, undergoing surgery. He died on Sept. 23, 1939. The influence of his discoveries on the science and culture of the 20th century is incalculable.

Personal Life

Freud's personal life has been a subject of interest to admirers and critics. When it seemed necessary to advance his science, he exposed himself mercilessly, and, particularly in the early years, his own mental functioning was the major subject matter of psychoanalysis. Still, he was an intensely private man, and he made several attempts to thwart future biographers by destroying personal papers. However, his scientific work, his friends, and his extensive correspondence allow historians to paint a vivid picture.

Freud was an imposing man, although physically small. He read extensively, loved to travel, and was an avid collector of archeological curiosities. Though interested in painting, the musical charms of Vienna had little attraction for him. He collected mushrooms and was an expert on them. Devoted to his family, he always practiced in a consultation room attached to his home. He valued a small circle of close friends and enjoyed a weekly game of cards with them. He was intensely loyal to his friends and inspired loyalty in a circle of disciples that persists to this day.

Further Reading

The best English translation of Freud's works is The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud edited by James Strachey (24 vols., 1953-1964). Many of Freud's works have been published separately in other English-language editions. His brief An Autobiographical Study (1925), volume 20 of the standard edition, concentrates on his scientific work and almost ignores his personal life. More of his life is revealed, in a fragmented and incomplete way, in his The Interpretation of Dreams, volumes 4 and 5 of the standard edition. Freud's personality emerges most clearly from his letters, available in Letters of Sigmund Freud, selected and edited by Ernst L. Freud and translated by Tania and James Stern (1960). For an introduction to Freud's thought and style in his own words, the reader should begin with Freud's Clark University lectures, the General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (trans. 1920), or Problems of Lay-analysis (1927).

The definitive biography of Freud is Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (3 vols., 1953-1957), also available in a one-volume edition edited and abridged by Lionel Trilling and Steven Marcus (1961). A balanced, somewhat negative discussion, which views Freud in relation to his predecessors and contemporaries, is Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry (1970). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sigmund Freud." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Sigmund Freud." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 12, 2017).

"Sigmund Freud." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)

Freud, Sigmund (18561939)

A century before Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, formulated his psychoanalytic developmental theory, the English poet William Wordsworth wrote about nature and nurture, "The Child is father of the Man." It is commonsense knowledge that from birth on the child undergoes physical maturation (e.g., sexual maturation) and the development of body, mind, and character (e.g., psychological growth, social interaction, and adaptation). Freud's developmental

psychology grew out of his method of psychoanalytic investigation of adult emotional disorders and his readings in the medical sexology that preceded him.

The Early Process of Discovery

Freud first discovered that adult neurotic disorders, specifically hysteria, were caused by psychic shock, or trauma, which he saw as a three-part process: one, a traumatizing event, an actual assault or injury, happened, which, two, the victim experienced and perceived as traumatic or stressful, and to which, three, the person reacted to with psychological defense, such as dynamic (active) forgetting or repression. The repressed memory and the accompanying emotions would then result in the various manifest symptoms of an emotional disorder. The traumas were of both a nonsexual and sexual kind and the emotional component was the paramount factor. As he delved into the history of sexual traumas, Freud became "drawn further and further back into the past; one hoped at last to be able to stop at puberty but the tracks led still further back into childhood and into its earlier years" (Freud 1953 [1914], p. 17). As far as childhood goes, Freud's predominant interest was in sexual traumas and emotions; he postulated the sexual emotions as the primary ones. His next step was the discovery of the

posthumous operation of a sexual trauma in childhood. If the sexual experience occurs during the period of sexual immaturity and the memory of it is aroused during or after maturity, then the memory will have a far stronger excitatory effect than the experience did at the time it happened; and this is because in the meantime puberty has immensely increased the capacity of the sexual apparatus for reaction. The traumas of childhood operate in a deferred fashion as though they were fresh experiences; but they do so unconsciously. (Freud 1962 [1896], pp. 166167; italics in original)

Freud's term for deferred action was Nachträglichkeit, literally, afterwardness. As the traumas were a result of sexual acts of seduction or overwhelming by family members, servants, or others, they came to be known as the seduction theory, though nowhere did Freud himself employ the term.

At a certain point Freud wavered regarding the validity of this theory when he realized that some "hysterical subjects [traced] back their symptoms to traumas that were fictitious; [but] the new fact [that emerged was] precisely that they create such scenes in phantasy, and this psychical reality requires to be taken into account alongside practical reality . From behind the phantasies, the whole range of achild's sexual life came to light" (Freud 1957 [1914], pp. 1718). He discovered infantile sexuality. Eventually Freud reaffirmed the importance of seduction (trauma) and widened the theoretical scope by underscoring the complementarity of reality and fantasy.

In addition to external trauma, Freud also recognized the importance of internal trauma, the stimulation from within, by such forces as hunger, sexual drives, and other drives or needs. It should be noted, however, that Freud did not generally view the parents as traumatizers, in sharp contrast to his prominent student Sandor Ferenczi, with whom Freud fought tooth and nail. In contrast to Freud, Ferenczi insisted that parents can actually abuse their children, and this insight has been borne out by recent discoveries about child abuse.

Freud's canonical text on infantile sexuality is the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where he formulated the developmental stages of childhood psychosexuality: At each stage, he wrote, humans engage in a fusion of bodily and mental pleasure-seeking and displeasure-avoidant behavior, and he named these stages the oral, anal, and phallic (or genital) phases, or stages, of early childhood; these are followed by the changes of puberty and adulthood. The sensuous bodily experiences were correlated with interactions, conflicts, and fantasies related to parents and other significant persons in the child's environment.

The Oedipus Complex

Freud also advanced the psychoanalytic theory of the Oedipus complex, that is, the oedipal or phallic phase. He saw the oedipal phase as a developmental milestone, a time to face the traumas pertaining to the triangular situation between the child and the parents, when he or she is drawn to each of the parents as objects of desire, fantasy, and identification, while at the same time facing the threat of castration (or for girls, genital mutilation), and rivalry and competition in the wake of the birth of siblings. A good resolution of this constellation is a universal developmental task and is achieved by means of a consolidated sense of conscience (superego) and self-identity. These formulations would later be confirmed by anthropological and social sciences.

It needs to be emphasized that although the original, literal, nonmythological, name was the incest complex, Freud was not concerned with cases of actual incest but with incestuous fantasies. Again, more recent histories of child abuse have included the trauma of actual incest as well, including the problems of true versus false memories of past traumas.

This oedipal milestone led to a further differentiation between oedipal and preoedipal organization, in which the infant and young child of either gender relates primarily to the mother; however, here it was found that aggression, both in the parent and child, was a much more important issue than sexual attraction or fantasies. Another developmental line ran from autoerotism (deriving pleasure and satisfaction from one's own body), to narcissism (self-love), and to the full mature love of others. Freud did not define a developmental line for aggression or a drive for power.

Integrated developmental psychology eventually led to a genetic psychological explanation of a wide spectrum of adult behavior: the psychology of love relations, mental disorders (neurosis and psychosis), criminal behavior, character formation, and the behavior of groups and masses.

Freudianism after Freud

When women joined the psychoanalytic movement, a fuller picture of developmental theory emerged, with an emphasis on the nonsexual aspects of development. Freud's followers elaborated seminal ideas that Freud had already discussed. Anna Freud elaborated the role of the defense mechanisms (dynamisms). Melanie Klein, Anna Freud's great rival, emphasized the defenses called the paranoid and the depressive position in the first month of life. John Bowlby stressed attachment and loss. Erik Erikson elaborated what he called the epigenetic stages in the development of identity.

While Freud focused on the organismic, or monadic (self-contained), aspects of development, later investigators were more receptive to the dyadic, or interpersonal, conception of development in health and disease first introduced by the great American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan. This approach was importantly confirmed by family studies. The interpersonal-dyadic approach is the way of the future. The guiding principle should thus be not an exclusionary either/ or but an inclusionary, this-as-well-as-that approach, integrating Freud's important monadic observations and insights with the interpersonal psychological reality as observed in everyday life and depicted in imaginative literature, film, and television. In literature, a well-known example of applying the Oedipus complex is the interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In religion, psychoanalytic ideas can be applied to the biblical sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Freud's theories of childhood were subjected to both criticism and elaboration. Critics claimed that Freud's childhood theories were too exclusively fixated on sexuality and were merely far-fetched extrapolations from observations of analyzed adult neurotics, thus lacking the empirical warrant of direct infant and child observation. This gap was first closed by the work of early women psychoanalytic pioneers who practiced child analysis, Hermine von Hug-Hellmeth and Sabina Spielrein. Further evolution of adult and child analysis significantly extended ideas that were only insufficiently developed in Freud, such as nonerotic attachment love, dependence (Freud's anaclitic type), and the role of aggression and envy. Here belongs the work of Melanie Klein and John Bowlby. These elaborations did not, however, amount to a refutation but rather to a more balanced view of issues in development. Further important work in the field came from infant and child research and focused on the role of interpersonal factors in development, such as the work of Margaret Mahler on separation-individuation or of Daniel Stern and Berry Brazelton on early good and failed communications between mother and child, among others.

See also: Age and Development; Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child Psychology.


Fenichel, O. 1945. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neuroses. New York: Norton.

Ferenczi, Sandor. 1955. "Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child." In Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psychoanalysis, by Sandor Ferenczi. New York: Basic Books.

Freud, Sigmund. 1953 [1905]. "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality." In Standard Edition, vol. 7. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Freud, Sigmund. 1957 [1914]. "On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement." In Standard Edition, vol. 14. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Freud, Sigmund. 1962 [1896]. "Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defense." In Standard Edition, vol. 3. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Lothane, Zvi. 1987. "Love, Seduction, and Trauma." Psychoanalytic Review 74: 83105.

Lothane, Zvi. 1997. "Freud and the Interpersonal." International Forum of Psychoanalysis 6: 175184.

Lothane, Zvi. 2001. "Freud's Alleged Repudiation of the Seduction Theory Revisited: Facts and Fallacies." Psychoanalytic Review 88: 673723.

Zvi Lothane

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939)." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund

Sigmund Freud, well known as the founder of psychoanalysis, was born in 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia. He moved with his family to Vienna, Austria, at the age of four. Freud received a thorough scientific training in his early years and went on to a distinguished career in scientific research, establishing himself as a leading neuropathologist. He made important contributions to the study of the neuron (nerve cell) and wrote influential treatises on aphasia and cerebral palsy. In his later career, Freud labored to establish psychoanalysis as a form of natural science. As a late representative of Enlightenment thinking, Freud joined the issue of the relation between science and religion most directly in his long drawn out debate with Oskar Pfister (18731956), a Swiss Lutheran pastor and his devoted friend of many years.

Debate with Pfister

The debate came to a head in Freud's writing of The Future of an Illusion (1927). Pfister took up the challenge and responded in a lengthy article, "The Illusion of the Future" (1928). The inter-change was, in fact, the high point of a dialogue contained in letters exchanged over more than thirty years. The two men differed radically in their assessment of and attitudes toward religious experience and belief. Freud viewed religious beliefs as forms of illusion (if not delusion) and religious experience and practice as universal forms of obsessional neurosis. Freud continually presented himself to Pfister as an unbeliever, a "godless Jew" (1928, p. 170).

The analytic insistence on the resolution of transference, rather than the dependence (as he saw it) of religion on transference in the sense of emptional attachment and dependence, was central in Freud's assessment of religion. In 1928, Freud wrote to Pfister:

The rift, not in analytic, but in scientific thinking which one comes on when the subject of God and Christ is touched on I accept as one of the logically untenable but psychologically only too intelligible irrationalities of life. . . . In contrast to utterances as psychologically profound as "Thy sins are forgiven thee; arise and walk," . . . if the sick man had asked: "How knowest thou that my sins are forgiven?" the answer could only have been: "I, the Son of God, forgive thee." In other words, a call for unlimited transference. And now, just suppose I said to a patient: "I, Professor Sigmund Freud, forgive thee thy sins." What a fool I should make of myself. To the former case, the principle applies that analysis is not satisfied with success produced by suggestion, but investigates the origin of and justification for the transference. (Meng and Freud, pp. 125126)

Yet, Freud clearly envied the power of religion: "As for the possibility of sublimation to religion, therapeutically I can only envy you. But the beauty of religion certainly does not belong to psychoanalysis. It is natural that at this point in therapy our ways should part, and so it can remain" (Meng and Freud, p. 63).

Freud's argument in The Future of an Illusion was fairly straightforward. In opposition to nature, civilization exacts a heavy price in the form of instinctual renunciation. In addition to prohibitions and privations, imposed externally or internally by the superego, culture proposes certain ideals as its highest achievements. The satisfaction associated with such ideals is basically narcissistic. In this unending struggle between civilization and the forces of nature, religion serves to defend civilization against nature. Thus, "Man's self-regard, seriously menaced, calls for consolation; life and the universe must be robbed of their terrors; moreover his curiosity, moved, it is true, by the strongest practical interest, demands an answer" (1927, p. 16). In their hopelessness, mankind turn the forces of nature into gods with whom they can associate on relatively human terms. But this transformation follows the prototype of the original infantile state of helplessness in relation to one's parents. The gods thus are transformed fathers, who could be both feared and looked to as sources of protection against unknown dangers.

Religious ideas, therefore, are in essence illusions. They are enunciated as dogmatic teachings rather than as the product of experience or of argument and proof. As Freud proclaimed: "They are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. The secret of their strength lies in the strength of those wishes. As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protectionfor protection through lovewhich was provided by the father; and the recognition that this helplessness lasts throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one" (1927, p. 30). Religion, like obsessional neurosis in childhood, becomes a universal obsessional neurosis of humanity, arising out of the Oedipus complex, specifically out of the relationship to the father.

Science and religion

Freud's polemic against religion was cast in the form of a radical opposition between natural science and religion. Religion had failed in making the majority of people happy or, for that matter, in bringing them to a more moral condition of life. Rather it achieved little more than keeping them submissive to religious beliefs and practices. Freud attributed the decline of religion to the rise of natural science. He observed:

We have heard the admission that religion no longer has the same influence on people that it used to. . . . And this is not because its promises have grown less, but because people find them less credible. Let us admit that the reasonthough perhaps not the only reasonfor this change is the increase of the scientific spirit in the higher strata of human society. Criticism has whittled away the evidential value of religious documents, natural science has shown up the errors in them, and comparative research has been struck by the fatal resemblance between the religious ideas which we revere and the mental products of primitive peoples and times. (1927, p. 38)

Anticipating the grim vision later enunciated in Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Freud painted a dire picture of the weakening of the influence of religion on the mass of people. He argued that incestuous and murderous passions would surge to the surface without the suppressive force of religious convictions"If the sole reason why you must not kill your neighbor is because God has forbidden it and will severely punish you for it in this or the next lifethen, when you learn that there is no God and that you need not fear His punishment, you will certainly kill your neighbor without hesitation, and you can only be prevented from doing so by mundane force" (1927, p. 39).

Freud's answer, of course, is to replace religion with science. Since religion has proven so deceitful, misguided, untrustworthy, and oppressive, humankind is obviously better off without it. Moreover, people can do without illusions, and the sooner they abandon their dependence on such infantile illusions, the better off they will be. Moreover, those who abandon such illusions are not without resources or assistance. Their scientific knowledge, which is increasing every day, gives them power to deal with and control their environment, to face the demands of harsh reality more effectively. And, Freud says, "as for the great necessities of Fate, against which there is no help, they will learn to endure them with resignation." (1927, p. 50)

Freud's reply to this imagined argument seems to lack conviction. Certainly, he says, no one has to tell him about the difficulty of avoiding illusions, and perhaps his own hopes, rooted in scientific methodology, are illusory too. But at least his illusions are not, like religious ones, incapable of correction. To that extent, they are not delusions, as religious convictions would be. Finally, he holds out some optimism that people can overcome and free themselves from their neurotic entanglements in virtue of better scientific knowledge, specifically psychoanalysis.

Freud stakes his modest claim for the superiority of the human intellect to religious beliefs:

We may insist as often as we like that man's intellect is powerless in comparison with his instinctual life, and we may be right in this. Nevertheless, there is something peculiar about this weakness. The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Finally, after a countless succession of rebuffs, it succeeds. . . . It will presumably set itself the same aims as those whose realization you expect from your God (of course within human limitsso far as external reality, "Ananke," allows it), namely the love of man and the decrease of suffering. (1927, p. 53)

In "The Illusion of the Future," Pfister summarized the Freudian viewpoint in one trenchant sentence: "The God, Logos, hurls the God of religion from the throne and reigns in the realm of necessity, about whose meaning we, in the meantime, do not know the least." (p. 172)

See also Psychology; Psychology of Religion


freud, sigmund. the future of an illusion (1927). in standard edition of the complete psychological works of sigmund freud, trans. and ed. james strachey, vol. 21. london: hogarth press, 1961.

freud, sigmund. "a religious experience" (1928). in standard edition of the complete psychological works of sigmund freud, trans. and ed. james strachey, vol. 21. london: hogarth press, 1961.

freud, sigmund. civilization and its discontents (1930). in standard edition of the complete psychological works of sigmund freud, trans. and ed. james strachey, vol. 21. london: hogarth press, 1961.

gay, peter. freud: a life for our time. new york: norton, 1988.

irwin, j. e. g. "pfister and freud: the rediscovery of a dialogue." journal of religion and health 12 (1973): 315327.

meissner, w.w. psychoanalysis and religious experience. new haven, conn.: yale university press, 1984.

meng, heinrich, and freud, ernst l., eds. psychoanalysis and faith: the letters of sigmund freud and oskar pfister, trans. eric mosbacher. new york: basic books, 1963.

pfister, oskar. "die illusion einer zukunft" ("the illusion of the future"). imago 14 (1928): 149184; available in english in international journal of psychoanalysis 74 (1993): 557579.

william. w. meissner, s.j.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Sigmund Freud

Born: May 6, 1856
Freiberg, Moravia (now Czech Republic)
Died: September 23, 1939
London, England

Austrian psychologist, author, and psychoanalyst

The work of Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, marked the beginning of a modern, dynamic psychology by providing the first well-organized explanation of the inner mental forces determining human behavior.

Freud's early life

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia (now Czech Republic). Sigmund was the first child of his twice-widowed father's third marriage. His mother, Amalia Nathanson, was nineteen years old when she married Jacob Freud, aged thirty-nine. Sigmund's two stepbrothers from his father's first marriage were approximately the same age as his mother, and his older stepbrother's son, Sigmund's nephew, was his earliest playmate. Thus, the boy grew up in an unusual family structure, his mother halfway in age between himself and his father. Though seven younger children were born, Sigmund always remained his mother's favorite. When he was four, the family moved to Vienna (now the capital of Austria), the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (the complete rule of Central Europe by Hungary and Austria from 1867 to 1918). Freud would live in Vienna until the year before his death.

Youth in Vienna

Because the Freuds were Jewish, Sigmund's early experience was that of an outsider in an overwhelmingly Catholic community. However, Emperor Francis Joseph (18301916) had liberated the Jews of Austria, giving them equal rights and permitting them to settle anywhere in the empire. Many Jewish families came to Vienna, as did the Freuds in 1860, where the standard of living was higher and educational and professional opportunities were better than in the provinces. They lived in an area that had a high concentration of Jewish people, called the Leopoldstadt slum. The housing was cramped and they had to move often, sometimes living with his father's family. By his tenth year, Sigmund's family had grown and he had five sisters and one brother.

Freud went to the local elementary school, then attended the Sperl Gymnasium (a secondary school in Europe that students attend to prepare for college) in Leopoldstadt, from 1866 to 1873. He studied Greek and Latin, mathematics, history, and the natural sciences, and was a superior student. He passed his final examination with flying colors, qualifying to enter the University of Vienna at the age of seventeen. His family had recognized his special scholarly gifts from the beginning, and although they had only four bedrooms for eight people, Sigmund had his own room throughout his school days. He lived with his parents until he was twenty-seven, as was the custom at that time.

Pre-psychoanalytic work

Freud enrolled in medical school in 1873. Vienna had become the world capital of medicine, and the young student was initially attracted to the laboratory and the scientific side of medicine rather than clinical practice. He spent seven instead of the usual five years acquiring his doctorate.

Freud received his doctor of medicine degree at the age of twenty-four. He fell in love and wanted to marry, but the salaries available to a young scientist could not support a wife and family. He had met Martha Bernays, the daughter of a well-known Hamburg family, when he was twenty-six; they were engaged two months later. They were separated during most of the four years which preceded their marriage, and married in 1887. Of their six children, a daughter, Anna, would become one of her father's most famous followers.

Freud spent three years as a resident physician in the famous Allgemeine Krankenhaus, a general hospital and the medical center of Vienna. He spent five months in the psychiatry (the area of medicine involving emotional and mental health) department headed by Theodor Meynert. Psychiatry at this time was rigid and descriptive. The psychological meaning of behavior was not itself considered important; behavior was only a set of symptoms to be studied in order to understand the structures of the brain. Freud's later work changed this attitude.

Freud, during the last part of his residency, received some money to pursue his neurological (having to do with the nervous system) studies abroad. He spent four months at the Salpêtrière clinic in Paris, France, studying under the neurologist (a person who studies the nervous system and treats people with neurological problems) Jean Martin Charcot (18251893). Here, Freud first became interested in hysteria (an illness in which a person complains of physical symptoms without a medical cause) and Charcot's demonstration of its psychological origins.

Beginning of psychoanalysis

Freud returned to Vienna, established himself in the private practice of neurology, and married. He soon devoted his efforts to the treatment of hysterical patients with the help of hypnosis (the act of bringing about a change in a person's attention which results in a change in their bodily experiences), a technique he had studied under Charcot. Joseph Breuer (18571939), an older colleague (a partner or an associate in the same area of interest), told Freud about a hysterical patient whom he had treated successfully by hypnotizing her and then tracing her symptoms back to traumatic (emotionally stressful) events she had experienced at her father's deathbed. Breuer called his treatment "catharsis" and traced its effectiveness to the release of "pent-up emotions." Freud's experiments with Breuer's technique were successful. Together with Breuer he published Studies on Hysteria (1895). At the age of thirty-nine Freud first used the term "psychoanalysis," (a way to treat certain mental illnesses by exposing and discussing a patient's unconscious thoughts and feelings) and his major lifework was well under way.

At about this time Freud began a unique project, his own self-analysis (the act of studying or examining oneself), which he pursued primarily by analyzing his dreams. A major scientific result was The Interpretation of Dreams (1901). By the turn of the century Freud had developed his therapeutic (having to do with treating a mental or physical disability) technique, dropping the use of hypnosis and shifting to the more effective and more widely applicable method of "free association."

Development of psychoanalysis

Following Freud's work on dreams, he wrote a series of papers in which he explored the influence of unconscious thought processes on various aspects of human behavior. He recognized that the most powerful among the unconscious forces, which lead to neuroses (mental disorders), are the sexual desires of early childhood that have been shut out from conscious awareness, yet have preserved their powerful force within the personality. He described his highly debatable views concerning the early experiences of sexuality in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), a work that first met violent protest, but was gradually accepted by practically all schools of psychology (the area of science involving the study of the mind).

After 1902 Freud gathered a small group of interested colleagues on Wednesday evenings for presentation of psychoanalytic papers and discussion. This was the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement. Swiss psychiatrists Eugen Bleuler and Carl Jung (18751961) formed a study group in Zurich in 1907, and the first International Psychoanalytic Congress was held in Salzburg in 1908.

Later years

In 1923 Freud developed a cancerous (having to do with cancer cells that attack the healthy tissues of the body) growth in his mouth, which eventually led to his death sixteen years and thirty-three operations later. In spite of this, these were years of great scientific productivity. He published findings on the importance of aggressive as well as sexual drives (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920); developed a new theoretical framework in order to organize his new data concerning the structure of the mind (The Ego and the Id, 1923); and revised his theory of anxiety to show it as the signal of danger coming from unconscious fantasies, rather than the result of repressed sexual feelings (Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, 1926).

In March 1938 Austria was occupied by German troops, and that month Freud and his family were put under house arrest. Through the combined efforts of many influential friends who were well connected politically, the Freuds were permitted to leave Austria in June. Freud spent his last year in London, England, undergoing surgery. He died on September 23, 1939. The influence of his discoveries on the science and culture of the twentieth century is limitless.

Personal life

Freud was an intensely private man. He read extensively, loved to travel, and was an avid collector of archeological oddities. Devoted to his family, he always practiced in a consultation room attached to his home. He valued a small circle of close friends to whom he was intensely loyal, and inspired loyalty in a circle of disciples that persists to this day.

For More Information

Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton, 1988.

Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. 3 vols. New York: Basic Books, 19531957.

Wollheim, Richard. Sigmund Freud. New York: Viking, 1971.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Sigmund Freud

Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia. When he was three years old, his family moved to Vienna, the city where he was to live until the last year of his life. At the age of 17, Freud entered the University of Vienna's medical school, where he pursued a variety of research interests. Although primarily interested in physiological research, Freud was forced to enter into clinical practice due to the difficulty of obtaining a university appointmentaggravated, in his case, by anti-Semitic attitudes and policies. After additional independent research and clinical work at the General Hospital of Vienna, Freud entered private practice, specializing in the treatment of patients with neurological and hysterical disorders.

During this period, Freud learned about his colleague Josef Breuer 's "cathartic" treatment of hysterical symptoms, which disappeared when a patient recalled traumatic experiences while under hypnosis and was

able to express original emotions that had been repressed and forgotten. Pursuing this idea further, Freud spent several months in France studying Jean-Martin Charcot 's method of treating hysteria by hypnosis. Upon his return to Vienna, Freud began the task of finding a similar method of treatment that did not require hypnosis, whose limitations he found unsatisfactory. In addition to learning by observing the symptoms and experiences of his patients, Freud also engaged in a rigorous self-analysis based on his own dreams . In 1895, he and Breuer published Studies on Hysteria, a landmark text in the history of psychoanalysis , and in 1900 Freud's own ground-breaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams, appeared.

By this time, Freud had worked out the essential components of his system of psychoanalysis, including the use of free association and catharsis as a method of exploring the unconscious , identifying repressed memories and the reasons for their repression, and enabling patients to know themselves more fully. The patient, relaxed on a couch in his office, was directed to engage in a free association of ideas that could yield useful insights, and was asked to reveal frankly whatever came to mind. Through both his work with patients and his own self-analysis, Freud came to believe that mental disorders which have no apparent physiological cause are symbolic reactions to psychological shocks, usually of a sexual nature, and that the memories associated with these shocks, although they have been repressed into the unconscious, indirectly affect the content not only of dreams but of conscious activity.

Freud published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1904 and three more works the following year, including Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, which set forth his ideas about the development of the human sex instinct , or libido, including his theory of childhood-sexuality and the Oedipus complex . While recognition from the scientific community and the general public was slow in coming, by the early 1900s Freud had attracted a circle of followers, including Carl Jung , Alfred Adler , and Otto Rank (1884-1939), who held weekly discussion meetings at his home and later became known as the Vienna Psychological Society. Although Jung and Adler were eventually to break with Freud, forming their own theories and schools of analysis, their early support helped establish psychoanalysis as a movement of international importance. In 1909, Freud was invited to speak at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, by its president, the distinguished psychologist G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924), and was awarded an honorary doctorate. After World War I, Freud gained increasing fame as psychoanalysis became fashionable in intellectual circles and was popularized by the media.

Freud contended that the human personality is governed by forces called "instincts" or "drives." Later, he came to believe in the existence of a death instinct, or death wish (Thanatos), directed either outward as aggression or inward as self-destructive behavior (noted mainly as repetition compulsions). He constructed a comprehensive theory on the structure of the psyche , which he viewed as divided into three parts. The id , corresponding to the unconscious, is concerned with the satisfaction of primitive desires and with self-preservation. It operates according to the pleasure principle and outside the realm of social rules or moral dictates. The ego , associated with reason, controls the forces of the id to bring it into line with the reality principle and make socialization possible, and channels the forces of the id into acceptable activities. The critical, moral superego or consciencedeveloped in early childhood, monitors and censors the ego, turning external values into internalized, self-imposed rules with which to inhibit the id. Freud viewed individual behavior as the result of the interaction among these three components of the psyche.

At the core of Freud's psychological structure is the repression of unfulfilled instinctual demands. An unconscious process, repression is accomplished through a series of defense mechanisms . Those most commonly named by Freud include denial (failure to perceive the source of anxiety); rationalization (justification of an action by an acceptable motive); displacement (directing repressed feelings toward an acceptable substitute); projection (attributing one's own unacceptable impulse to others); and sublimation (transforming an unacceptable instinctual demand into a socially acceptable activity).

Freud continued modifying his theories in the 1920s and changed a number of his fundamental views, including his theories of motivation and anxiety. In 1923, he developed cancer of the jaw (he had been a heavy cigar smoker throughout his life) and underwent numerous operations for this disease over the next 16 years. Life in Vienna became increasingly precarious for Freud with the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, and he emigrated to London in 1938, only to die of his illness the following year. Many of the concepts and theories Freud introducedsuch as the role of the unconscious, the effect of childhood experiences on adult behavior, and the operation of defense mechanismscontinue to be a source of both controversy and inspiration. His books include Totem and Taboo (1913), General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1916), The Ego and the Id (1923), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930).

See also Consciousness; Memory; Psychosexual stages

Further Reading

Fromm, Erich. Sigmund Freud's Mission. New York: Grove Press, 1959.

Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton, 1988.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund

In 1856 Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was born above a blacksmith shop in the Moravian town of Freiberg, his father an unsuccessful wool merchant. The family moved to Leipzig, then to Vienna, but continued to experience economic hardship. His motheryoung, beautiful, and dynamicwas the center of his emotional life while his father was described as distant and ineffectual. Freud came of age during a renewal of anti-Jewish sentiment in Vienna after a more liberal policy had encouraged the belief that people would be judged on their merits rather than their religion.

Freud earned his medical degree at the University of Vienna and became an adept neuroscientist whose research advanced knowledge of the nervous system and uncovered the anesthetic properties of cocaine. Nevertheless, his discoveries failed to win a secure position. Unable to support a wife, he corresponded daily with his beloved Martha Bernay while studying in Paris with a superstar physician and researcher, Jean Martin Charcot, who opened Freud's eyes to the importance of psychological factors (especially displaced sexuality) in producing physical symptoms. History has not been kind to Charcot's assertions, but he opened up a new world of possibilities to young Freud.

Setting himself up in clinical practice in order to support a family, Freud married Bernay and together they eventually had six children, including daughter Anna who became a distinguished psychoanalyst and child advocate in her own right. Freud's clinical practice started in a discouraging way. Patients were few and difficult to treat successfully. He used the methods then in vogue and also tried, but abandoned, hypnosis. Freud had expected much of himself, longing to be part of the new wave of scientists who were transforming medicine and societyand here he was, barely able to pay the bills. The death of his father was a further blow. The way out of these difficulties proved to be the way into the secrets of his own mind. Freud became both the first psychoanalyst and the first analysand (one undergoing psychoanalysis).

New Theory of the Human Mind

In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) he reported (in a selective form) his self-analysis but also set forth an audacious new theory of the human mind. He elaborated, applied, and at times revised this theory over the years. Freud offered a complex vision of the human condition. He contended that adult personality is the outcome of experiences and conflicts beginning in early childhood. Neuroses result from difficulties in coping with fears, desires, and conflicts during the process of psychosexual development. Freud further held that conscious thought is a surface activity beneath which the unconscious operates according to its own rules. Much of the individual's emotional energy is tied up in an attempt to prevent threatening memories and conflicts from breaking through into consciousness. Furthermore, he believed that society itself has its own neurotic processes that often take the form of rituals and taboos. Mature persons are the ones who have become liberated from the hold of the past and accepted and integrated their basic impulses into a larger and more functional self.

Freud's new way of thinking about human thought and relationships led troubled people to seek his therapy and aspiring disciples to want to study with him. He was financially secure and in the midst of the international intellectual ferment for the remainder of his long life, but he was troubled throughout that life by a series of harrowing events: Friends died, some by their own hand; the brutality of two wars intensified his concern about the future of civilization; physical pain tormented him for years; and the Nazis systematically destroyed his books and the works of other Jewish authors, leading to his reluctant departure from Vienna.

Freud on Death

At first Freud was dismissive of death concerns (thanatophobia). He believed that people who express fears of dying and death areway deep downactually afraid of something else, such as castration or abandonment. Humans could not really fear death because they had never had this experience and because finality and death are not computed by the unconscious. This view remained influential for many years after Freud himself started to take death more seriously.

It was grief that came foremost to Freud's notice. Not only had many died during World War I, but also many of Freud's family members and friends were suffering from depression, agitation, physical ailments, and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Later he realized that many people lived in grief for deaths not related to the war and that these losses might account for their various emotional and physical problems. Freud's grief-work theory suggested the importance of expressing grief and detaching emotionally from the deceased in order to recover full function.

His most sweepingand controversialsuggestion took the form of death instinct theory, which postulated that all living creatures engage in an ongoing scrimmage between competing impulses for activity and survival on the one hand, and withdrawal and death on the other. This theory was associated with Freud's ever-intensifying fears that human destructive impulses would eventually destroy civilization if not all life on Earth unless they were rechanneled by improved child-rearing, psychoanalysis, and more effective societal patterns. To the last he hoped that acts of love could counteract the destructive impulses. It was not long after his death in London on September 23, 1939, that Anna Freud organized an effective mission to save the children of that city from Nazi rockets and bombs.

See also: Anxiety and Fear; Death Instinct; Grief: Theories; Psychology


Anzieu, Didier. Freud's Self-Analysis. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1986.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: Norton, 1960.

Freud, Sigmund. "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death." In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. IV. London: Hogarth Press, 1953.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Random House, 1938.

Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton, 1988.

Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963.

Schur, Max. Freud: Living and Dying. New York: International Universities Press, 1972.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Sigmund Freud (froid), 1856–1939, Austrian psychiatrist, founder of psychoanalysis. Born in Moravia, he lived most of his life in Vienna, receiving his medical degree from the Univ. of Vienna in 1881.

His medical career began with an apprenticeship (1885–86) under J. M. Charcot in Paris, and soon after his return to Vienna he began his famous collaboration with Josef Breuer on the use of hypnosis in the treatment of hysteria. Their paper, On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena (1893, tr. 1909), more fully developed in Studien über Hysterie (1895), marked the beginnings of psychoanalysis in the discovery that the symptoms of hysterical patients—directly traceable to psychic trauma in earlier life—represent undischarged emotional energy (conversion; see hysteria). The therapy, called the cathartic method, consisted of having the patient recall and reproduce the forgotten scenes while under hypnosis. The work was poorly received by the medical profession, and the two men soon separated over Freud's growing conviction that the undefined energy causing conversion was sexual in nature.

Freud then rejected hypnosis and devised a technique called free association (see association), which would allow emotionally charged material that the individual had repressed in the unconscious to emerge to conscious recognition. Further works, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900, tr. 1913), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904, tr. 1914), and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905, tr. 1910), increased the bitter antagonism toward Freud, and he worked alone until 1906, when he was joined by the Swiss psychiatrists Eugen Bleuler and C. G. Jung, the Austrian Alfred Adler, and others.

In 1908, Bleuler, Freud, and Jung founded the journal Jahrbuch für psychoanalytische und psychopathologische Forschungen, and in 1909 the movement first received public recognition when Freud and Jung were invited to give a series of lectures at Clark Univ. in Worcester, Mass. In 1910 the International Psychoanalytical Association was formed with Jung as president, but the harmony of the movement was short-lived: between 1911 and 1913 both Jung and Adler resigned, forming their own schools in protest against Freud's emphasis on infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex. Although these men, and others who broke away later, objected to Freudian theories, the basic structure of psychoanalysis as the study of unconscious mental processes is still Freudian. Disagreement lies largely in the degree of emphasis placed on concepts largely originated by Freud.

He considered his last contribution to psychoanalytic theory to be The Ego and the Id (1923, tr. 1927), after which he reverted to earlier cultural preoccupations. Totem and Taboo (1913, tr. 1918), an investigation of the origins of religion and morality, and Moses and Monotheism (1939, tr. 1939) are the result of his application of psychoanalytic theory to cultural problems. Other works include A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1910, tr. 1920) and New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis (1933). With the National Socialist occupation of Austria, Freud fled (1938) to England, where he died the following year. His daughter, Anna Freud, was a major proponent of psychoanalysis, developing in particular the Freudian concept of the defense mechanism.

Freudian theory has had wide impact, influencing fields as diverse as anthropology, education, art, and literary criticism. At the same time, his work has been criticized by many for containing flawed or misrepresented research and for being pseudoscientfic in nature. It has also been criticized by feminists as being marred by a male bias.


See his Basic Writings (tr. and ed. by A. A. Brill, 1938, repr., 1977); The Freud-Jung Letters (ed. by W. McGuire, 1974, repr. 1988); biographies by E. Jones (3 vol., 1953–57, abr. ed. 1974) and P. Gay (1988, repr. 2006) and of his early life by A. Phillips (2014); studies by F. Cioffi (1973 and 1998), P. Roazen (1975), Frank J. Sulloway (1979), H. Lewis (2 vol., 1981–83), S. Schneiderman (1987), O. Olson and S. Koppe (1988), I. Gubrich-Simitis (1993, tr. 1997), L. Breger (2000), A. I. Tauber (2010), H. Markel (2011), and M. Borch-Jacobsen and S. Shamdasani (2012).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939) Famous as the founder of the psychoanalytic movement, Freud developed the basic ideas which still underlie psychoanalysis, in all its variants. His influence on modern psychology has also been immense but often indirect. He has been regarded with at least suspicion, often hostility, by mainstream psychology, which has been dominated by behaviourist and, more recently, cognitive approaches.

Born in Vienna, Freud took up a medical career and worked as a neurologist, becoming increasingly interested in psychology, hypnosis, and the ‘talking cure’. It was not until The Interpretation of Dreams (1899–1900) that he made the leap into what is now the centre of psychoanalytic theory. For the rest of his life he wrote prolifically and devoted much time and energy to organizing the psychoanalytic movement, which experienced several famous schisms, in particular those associated with the ideas of Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav Jung. He died in exile in London, having left Austria in 1938, five years after his books had been burned in Berlin.

A more detailed account of psychoanalytic theory can be found elsewhere in this dictionary. The present entry will concentrate on Freud's contribution to sociological thinking. Four different approaches to society can be found in his work.

The first, and least acceptable to modern sociology, suggests that human society and the human individual develop through the same evolutionary stages. This type of analysis usually focuses on the evolution of religion as the manifestation of the social super-ego (see Totem and Taboo, 1913
; Moses and Monotheism, 1939
; and The Future of an Illusion, 1927

The second theory which is sometimes incorporated into sociology sees society in terms of the repression and sublimation of the instincts; that is, the potentially destructive sexual and aggressive instincts are sublimated into socially useful activities, such as friendship in the former case, and the struggle against external enemies in the latter. Freud saw this as an ambivalent relation. Sublimation involves sacrificing the immediate gratification of our desires, and therefore creates a degree of misery: the greater the level of civilization, the greater the misery (see especially Civilization and its Discontents, 1930
). This thesis was taken up by Talcott Parsons as part of his theory of socialization (see his Essays in Sociological Theory, 1949
) and from a radical point of view by Herbert Marcuse (in Eros and Civilization, 1955

Thirdly, Freud's theory of the development of sexuality from polymorphous perversity through the oedipal stage to relative heterosexuality has been developed into a theory of the origins of civilization (which is also how Freud thought of it), and employed by some modern feminists in explaining the existence of patriarchy. Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1975) is typical.

Finally, in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), Freud offers a way of conceptualizing social relations in terms of identifications, introjections, and projections. This too has been used by modern feminists writing about gender. An example is Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering (1978). See also AGGRESSION; KLEIN, MELANIE; NARCISSISM.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." A Dictionary of Sociology. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund (1856-1939)

Freud, Sigmund (1856-1939)

Founder of psychoanalysis. Freud conducted some experiments in parapsychology but was unsympathetic to public discussion of the occult, which he believed to be enveloped in dangerous superstition. Freud was born at Freiburg, Moravia, on May 6, 1856. He graduated from Vienna University, Austria, and became a demonstrator at the physiological institute and an assistant physician at Vienna General Hospital. In 1885 he worked under the neurologist J. M. Charcot in Paris and, after returning to Vienna, started to treat patients by hypnosis. In 1902, while a professor of neurology at Vienna University, he also treated patients in his private clinic.

In 1904 he abandoned hypnosis and developed his own theories of psychoanalysis using techniques of free association in the treatment of neurosis. He later attached great significance to the role of dreams and the importance of the sexual drive, both in individuals and in the development of civilization. His sexual theories were supported and developed in new directions by his pupil Wilhelm Reich.

It was Freud's emphasis on sex and mistrust of mystical and occult areas that caused the defection of another pupil, C. G. Jung, who later established his own system of psychotherapy with elaborate theories of the significance of mythology and symbolism in human affairs. Jung himself had personal occult experiences.

By 1921 Freud had reached a reluctant private conclusion that there might be something to telepathy; he experimented with the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi but did not wish his interest to be made public. His papers on the paranormal were later gathered and published by George Devereaux. He died in London, September 23, 1939.

Freud once wrote to Hereward Carrington, "If I had my life to live over again, I should devote myself to psychical research rather than to psychoanalysis."


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Devereaux, George, ed. Psychoanalysis and the Occult. New York: International Universities Press, 1953.

Fodor, Nandor. Freud, Jung, and Occultism. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1971.

Freud, Sigmund. Studies in Parapsychology. Edited by Philip Rieff. New York: Collier Books, 1963.

Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund (1856-1939)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund (1856-1939)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund (1856-1939)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1938). A major founding figure of psychoanalysis, with strong views on the mainly negative role of religion in human life and society. He had a nomothetic ambition to become the first to uncover laws as invariant as those of Newton, but in his case governing, not cosmic, but psychological behaviour.

Religion, for Freud, emerges as a collective expression of neurosis, and as an attempt on the part of individuals to escape from the realities of a hostile and indifferent universe. Since individuals recapitulate the history of the human race, the phylogenetic and ontogenetic explanations are variations on the same theme, as can be seen in one of his major analyses of religion, Totem und Tabu: Über einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker (1913; Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Drives of Savages and Neurotics, 1917): religious solidarity and restraints begin in a primeval rebellion of the sons against the father. In Der Mann Moses … (1939; Moses and Monotheism, 1939), he drew on abandoned speculations of biblical historians to produce a theory of Mosaic religion. In Die Zukunft einer Illusion (1927; The Future of an Illusion, 1928), he made his most explicit attack on the error of humanity in relying on the collective neurosis of religion. Religion rests on an attitude of als-ob, ‘as-if’, in which people seek comfort in a universe which is indifferent to them. They seek it, therefore, in the only place it can be found, in the illusory world of make-believe, in a heaven and God which they project. In a long correspondence with Oskar Pfister (S. Freud/O. Pfister: Briefe 1909–1939, 1963), Freud constantly reviewed his estimate of religion, expressing occasional doubt about detail but not about the fundamentally illusory and neurotic nature of religion. This itself was deeply embedded in his own lifelong fear of death. His account of religion is generally contradicted by evidence, but his outlook and terminology have remained pervasive.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from

Freud, Sigmund

Freud, Sigmund (1856–1939) Austrian physician and founder of psychoanalysis. With Josef Breuer he developed new methods of treating mental disorders by free association and the interpretation of dreams. These methods derived from his theories of the id, ego and superego, and emphasized the unconscious and subconscious as agents of human behaviour. He developed theories of neuroses involving childhood relationships to one's parents and stressed the importance of sexuality in behaviour. He believed that each personality had a tripartite structure: the id, the unconscious emotions, desires and fears which may surface in dreams or madness; the ego, the conscious rationalizing section of the mind; and the superego, which may be compared to the conscience. As he saw it, a very young baby is largely id, full of unchecked desires; the ego develops from the id, enabling the child to negotiate realistically with the world; and the superego evolves as the child internalizes the moral values of society. The ego comes to mediate the selfish needs of the id and the idealistic demands of the superego. The adoption of a satisfactory superego is dependent on the resolution of the Oedipus complex. His works include The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904), and The Ego and the Id (1923).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Freud, Sigmund." World Encyclopedia. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Freud, Sigmund." World Encyclopedia. . (December 12, 2017).

"Freud, Sigmund." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 12, 2017 from