Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939
Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, the Copernicus of the Mind, and father of Anna Freud, was born at Freiburg, Moravia, of Jewish parents. Inspired by Goethe's essay on nature, Freud studied medicine at Vienna but original work in physiology delayed his graduation until 1881. He then specialized in neurology and, stimulated by the discoveries of the Viennese physician Josef Breuer, that hysteria can be cured by making a patient recall painful memories under hypnosis, studied under Jean Martin Charcot in Paris (1885) and changed over from neurology to psychopathology. Upon his return to Vienna he published two studies on aphasia and cerebral paralysis, before risking, with Breuer, the joint publication of Studien �ber Hysterie (1895).
Finding hypnosis inadequate, Freud gradually substituted the method of free association, allowing his patients to ramble on with his or her thoughts when in a state of relaxed consciousness and, interpreting the data, an abundance of childhood and dream recollections. He became convinced of the fact of infantile sexuality. This became the basis of his theory and cost him his friendship with Breuer (1897), lost him many patients and isolated him from the conservative medical profession. He worked on alone, publishing in 1900 his greatest work, The Interpretation of Dreams, an exhaustive study of dream material, including his own, which showed that dreams, like neuroses, are disguised manifestations of repressed wishes of a sexual origin.
Repression was explained by Freud by reference to a vast reservoir of unconscious, irrational mental activity, the id, comprising the crude appetites and impulses, loves and hates, particularly those connected with what he called the Oedipus complex, the infant craving for exclusive possession of the parent of the opposite sex. These impulses, at variance with civilized behavior, are repressed by the ego, a part of the id which at any early stage has become differentiated from it. At a later stage, the super-ego or conscience, develops out of the ego, and determines what is acceptable to the ego and what must be repressed. Psychoanalysis seeks to uncover these repressions for what they are and replace them by acts of judgment.
In 1902, Freud was appointed to an extra-ordinary professorship at Vienna and began to gather disciples who formed the Psychological Wednesday Society. Out of this group grew the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (108) and in 1910, with Carl Jung as first president, the International Psychoanalytical Association.
Two further works, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) met with heated opposition and it was not before 1930, when Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize, that his work no longer aroused opposition. Adler and Jung diverged from Freudian theory by removing the central focus on sexuality. Adler went on to develop his own brand of ego psychology, while Jung stressed the collective unconsciousness. Meanwhile, Ernest Jones formed a committee of collaborators (1912) that pledged to uphold basic Freudian theory.
In 1933, Hitler banned psychoanalysis and after Austrian had been defeated by the Germans, Freud and his family were allowed to emigrate but only after Freud signed a document to the effect that no pressure had been placed upon him by the Nazis. He settled at Hampstead, outside London, and died there 23 September 1939, from cancer of the jaw.
Freud's work had a profound impact on man's attitude towards and comprehension of his mental processes, constituting, after Copernicus and Darwin, a third blow to man's self-esteem. On his 80 birthday, Thomas Mann delivered an address in his honor and he was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Society.
Other important writings include: Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910), Totem and Taboo (1913), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1919-20), Ego and Id (1923), The Future of an Illusion (1927) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930).
The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, in 24 volumes, has been published by W. W. Norton & Company. An excellent introduction to the writings of Sigmund Freud can be found in The Freud Reader, Peter Gay, ed., (New York: Norton, 1989).
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copyright � 2000 Steven Kreis