Sigmund Freud

How are psychology and philosophy related?

Up until the nineteenth century, no clear distinction was made between philosophy of mind and psychology. The science of psychology did not yet exist in its own right until the early twentieth century. Early historical figures in the science of psychology, such as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), are of interest to philosophers because their theories of the human mind changed ideas about human nature in ways that philosophers had to take into account.

Who was Sigmund Freud?

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the founder of psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice. He developed the idea that early childhood experience has a lifelong influence in shaping personality and character. The importance of childhood education was emphasized as early as Plato (c. 428-c. 348 b.c.e.), but Freud was the first to stress childhood emotional experience. Freud was also responsible for the popular acceptance of the idea that self-understanding does not occur immediately and automatically, but requires a special kind of reflection. The ancient Greeks are famous for the maxim, "Know Thyself," but Freud's distinct contribution was that there are different layers of the self to be known.

Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis and clinical practice (Art Archive).

Sigmund Freud was the father of psychoanalysis and clinical practice (Art Archive).

Freud's principle works are The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Also of particular interest in his application of his theories to healthy people in ordinary life is Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901).

What are some details of Sigmund Freud's life that led him to his work?

Freud was born in Freiberg, Germany, but raised in Vienna, Austria. He studied medicine at the University of Vienna, specializing in neurology. In 1886, Freud married Martha Bernays. They had six children, and the youngest, Anna, herself became a noted psychoanalyst. Freud's youngest son, Ernst, was the father of Lucien Freud, the celebrated twentieth century portrait painter. Biographers of Freud assess his family life as happy and stable, providing much needed support for the controversy that swirled around his startling and original psychological theories.

Freud's mentors J.M. Charcot and Josef Breuer investigated hysteria, and Freud became interested in the psychological aspects of this disorder because hysterical patients have physical symptoms without underlying disease. Freud and Charcot published their clinical findings of how talk can change patients' ideas, as a treatment for hysteria, in their Studies in Hysteria (1895). As Freud developed a sexual interpretation of the causes of hysteria, Breuer distanced himself from him.

What was Sigmund Freud's interpretation of hysteria?

At first, Freud, along with his mentor Josef Breuer, advanced the hypothesis that people suffering from hysterics have buried memories of trauma. Treatment consisted in recovering those memories and a cathartic discharge of the affect or emotion associated with them at the outset. Freud thought that the source of the repression was sexual molestation by male relatives. He revised this "seduction theory" when he realized that if the sole cause of hysteria was repressed memories, there was no reason why it should not resolve itself by being discharged in hysterical symptoms. Taking a page from Franz Brentano, and perhaps Alexius Meinong (1853-1920), as well, he theorized that it could be fantasy revealing itself in the form of repressed desires that was the key. This led to Freud's oedipal theory.

What was Sigmund Freud's oedipal theory?

The oedipal theory, or Freud's idea of the Oedipus complex, was based on Freud's instinct theory that there are enduring sexual desires in the human psyche, as well as opposition to their expression. Sexuality and its opposition take the form of libido versus ego, or self-preservation in early and middle life, and the form of Eros, or desiring life, versus Thanatos, or a wish to die, toward the end. (It's interesting that Freud thought the wish to die was a human expression of a longing in all life to return to an inorganic state.)

Freud named the child

Freud named the child's attraction for its mother after the fictional character Oedipus, who is the tragic figure from the Sophocles play who accidentally falls in love with his mother (Art Archive).

The Oedipus complex results from a situation in which the child desires the mother as a result of prolonged human dependency on one caregiver. Male children fear that their fathers will punish them through castration. Female children transfer their original oedipal yearnings for their mothers to their fathers in an "Electra complex," which is also accompanied by "penis envy." This all occurs unconsciously in terms of active and passive principles that later come to be expressed and identified as male and female, respectively.

Because the primary process of the psyche tends toward a cathartic discharge of repressed energy, the pleasure principle is Freud's main explanatory tool. He applied this principle to the way in which the emergence of unconscious material can account for humor and also everyday failures in function and memory. In psychoanalysis, both dreams and free association could be used to access unconscious conflicts and particularly oedipal fantasies.

Did Sigmund Freud analyze himself?

Yes, he did, and several examples show that he aimed for complete disclosure. On his own Oedipus complex, he wrote a friend:

I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood, even if not so early as in children who have been made hysterical.

He was also just as willing to analyze literary characters and authorship; thus, he famously wrote about Shakespeare's Hamlet:

Fleetingly the thought passed through my head that the same thing might be at the bottom of Hamlet as well. I am not thinking of Shakespeare's conscious intention, but believe, rather, that a real event stimulated the poet to his representation, in that his unconscious understood the unconscious of his hero.

Freud also collected his own memory lapses, slips of the tongue, and dreams for analysis. In the 1936 article "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis," he explained why he felt doubtful and uneasy when he visited the Acropolis in Greece in 1904:

It must be that a sense of guilt was attached to the satisfaction in having gone such a long way: there was something about it that was wrong, that from earliest times had been forbidden. It was something to do with a child's criticism of his father, with the undervaluation which took the place of the overvaluation of earlier childhood. It seems as though the essence of success was to have got further than one's father, and as though to excel one's father was still something forbidden.

Freud's father had been too poor to make such a trip, and not educated enough to have been interested in the Acropolis.

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