Authors: Sigmund Freud

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Austrian psychoanalyst and neurologist

May 6, 1856

Freiberg, Moravia, Austrian Empire (now Příbor, Czech Republic)

September 23, 1939

London, England


Sigmund Freud (froyd) is undoubtedly one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century; the concept of the individual would be unthinkable without his psychological analyses of the self. Freud was the son of a wool merchant; the family moved to Vienna when he was four years old. He began studying medicine at the University of Vienna in 1873 but never intended to be a practicing physician, wanting instead to be a research scientist. He graduated in 1881 with a specialty in neurology, but because of Vienna’s anti-Semitism (which would have made a university career difficult), he established a medical practice for the treatment of patients with nervous disorders. Freud married Martha Bernays in 1886, and they had six children. When the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, Freud left Vienna and emigrated to London, where he died in 1939 at the age of eighty-three. {$I[AN]9810001197} {$I[A]Freud, Sigmund} {$I[geo]AUSTRIA;Freud, Sigmund} {$I[tim]1856;Freud, Sigmund}

Sigmund Freud

(Library of Congress)

From 1885 to 1886 Freud studied in Paris with the French doctor Jean Charcot, who was having some success using hypnosis as a method of treatment. The Viennese physician Joseph Breuer used a form of talk therapy to treat the disorder of hysteria, and Freud adapted these techniques to his practice. Through analyses of his patients’ speech in free association, Freud gradually came to recognize the existence of an unconscious mind that appeared to be the repository of psychic conflict. These conflicts—which he believed were rooted in sexual trauma—seemed to be expressed, in veiled fashion, through the structure of dreams. A combination of these methods led him to posit the functions of the unconscious self and to devise a method of treatment—called psychoanalysis—that sought to resolve the mental disorders that plagued his patients. The Interpretation of Dreams was his first major work, in which he described, through case studies and analyses of his own dreams, the dream processes of condensation and displacement through which the unconscious was expressed. The scientific analysis of dreams was one of Freud’s greatest contributions to the field of psychotherapy.

Freud then began a systematic study of the unconscious. In his work The Ego and the Id he posited a structural model of the self that consists of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the most basic and primitive (infantile) part of the personality and operates on the “pleasure principle” (Lustprinzip), the instinctual demand for immediate satisfaction of all desire. The ego emerges as the infant begins to come to terms with its environment. As the child becomes socialized through parents, teachers, and society at large, it develops a superego or conscience that operates on the “reality principle” (Vernunftprinzip), that is, that instinctual desires must often be postponed in the interests of more rational and social goals. This postponement involves a process of repression and sublimation in which the instinctive energy—the libido—of the psyche is channeled into other outlets. The issue of infant toilet training is one of the first instances, for example, of the individual’s confrontation with the reality principle.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, one of his last books, Freud discussed how his view of the psyche and its development influenced the course of civilization. There he argues that all society is based on the repression and sublimation of instinctive libidinal urges, and a degree of neurotic behavior is fundamental to the civilized individual. In some cases the sublimation or rechanneling of these desires produces personalities of great artistic or intellectual creativity; the important strides of human civilization in the arts and sciences are a result, in part at least, of the forces of sublimation and repression. In other cases, the action of repression distorts and perverts the personality and may produce individuals capable of great violence and destruction. In this book, as in his earlier Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud also discusses the existence of a death instinct as well as a pleasure instinct within the energy structure of the psyche. Pleasure or happiness is really the lack of tension or pain (unhappiness), and the ultimate absence of tension is the inanimate state of death. Thus the erotic is intimately linked to the thanatological. Suicidal and aggressive urges in the individual—or wars and genocide on the societal scale—are again closely related to the expression or repression of the individual’s erotic energy.

The Freudian view of the self is deterministic, in that unconscious psychic forces seem to control the manifestations of conscious behavior. The goal of Freudian psychoanalytic therapy is then to free the individual from such unconscious controls and to allow the “normal” development of the self. This development is achieved by analysis or the rational scrutiny of the unconscious. Although there are definite problems with aspects of Freud’s theories, his contribution to the understanding of the psyche is one of the great achievements of the twentieth century.

Author Works Nonfiction: Zur Auf/assung der Aphasien, 1891 (On Aphasia, 1953) Studien über Hysterie, 1895 (with Josef Breuer; Studies on Hysteria, 1970) “Zur Atiologie der Hysteric,” 1896 (“The Aetiology of Hysteria”) Inhaltsangaben der wissenschaftlichen Arbeiten des Privatdozenten Dr. Sigm. Freud (1877–1897), 1897 (Abstracts of the Scientific Writings of Dr. Sigm. Freud (1877–1897)) Die Traumdeutung, 1900 (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1913) Uber den Traum, 1901 (On Dreams, 1951; abridged version of Die Traumdeutung) Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens, 1904 (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1914) Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten, 1905 (Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, 1905) Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, 1905 (Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 1910) Der Wahn und die Traume in W. Jensens ‘Gradiva’, 1907 (Delusions and Dreams in Jensen’s ‘Gradiva’) Uber Psychoanalyse, 1910 (“Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis,” American Journal of Psychology, 1910) Eine Kindheitserinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci, 1910 (Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence, 1916) Totem und Tabu, 1913 (Totem and Taboo, 1918) Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse, 1916–17 (A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, 1920) Jenseits des Lustprinzips, 1920 (Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1922) Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse, 1921 (Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1922) Selbstdarstellung, 1925, 1934 (An Autobiographical Study, 1935; Autobiography, 1935) Das Ich und das Es, 1923 (The Ego and the Id, 1926) Hemmung, Symptom, und Angst, 1926 (Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, 1936) Die Frage der Laienanalyse, 1926 (The Question of Lay Analysis, 1947) Die Zukunft einer Illusion, 1927 (The Future of an Illusion, 1926) Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, 1930 (Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930) Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einfuhrung in die Psychoanalyse, 1933 (New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, 1966) Warum Krieg?, 1933 (Why War?, 1933) Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion, 1938 (Moses and Monotheism, 1939) Abriss der Psychoanalyse, 1940 (An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 1949). The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, 1953–74, 24 volumes (James Strachey, editor; with Anna Freud, Alix Strachey, and Alan Tyson) Aus den Anfangen der Psychoanalyse, 1950 (The Origins of Psychoanalysis, 1954) Träume im Folklore, 1957, with D. E. Oppenheim (Dreams in Folklore, 1958) Sigmund Freud/Oskar Pfister. Briefe 1909 bis 1939, 1963 (Psycho-Analysis and Faith. The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Oskar Pfister, 1963) Sigmund Freud/Karl Abraham. Briefe, 1965 (A Psycho-Analytic Dialogue. The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham, 1965) Sigmund Freud/Lou Andreas-Salomé. Briefwechsel, 1966 (Sigmund Freud and Lou Andrens-Salomé: Letters, 1972) Sigmund Freud/Arnold Zweig. Briefwechsel, 1968 (The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Arnold Zweig, 1970) Bibliography Brunner, José. Freud: The Politics of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. Examines the influence of political thought in the development of psychoanalysis. Clark, Ronald W. Freud: The Man and the Cause, a Biography. New York: Random House, 1980. A very readable biography, which is especially good in its treatment of Sigmund Freud’s private life. Fine, Reuben. The History of Psychoanalysis. New York: Continuum, 1990. Traces the development of psychoanalysis and Freud’s pivotal role in it. Frankland, Graham. Freud’s Literary Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A study that argues for the influence of literary themes on the development of Freud’s thinking. Fromm, Erich. Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. This is a critique of Freud by a dissenting psychoanalyst. Fromm believed that Freud exaggerated the role of sex in determining human behavior and that Freud’s concept of love was narrow and self-serving. Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. Gay is a historian of distinguished reputation. In this artfully written and exhaustively researched biography, he employs the psychohistorical technique to shed additional light on Freud’s personality, his relations with his associates, and his career as the creator and propagator of psychoanalysis. Grubrich-Simitis, Ilse. Back to Freud’s Texts: Making Silent Documents Speak. Translated by Philip Slotkin. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996. This important contribution to the study of Freud offers understanding of the man as a writer as well as insight into Freud’s creative process. The text details the history of Freud’s German-language publications and examines key works. Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books, 1981. A thorough biography. Jones’s deep knowledge of Freud and his circle remains unmatched, but his worshipful attitude toward his subject precludes objective criticism. Osborne, Richard. Freud for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers Publishing, 1993. Presents an introduction to Freud’s life and work in a cartoon format. Rosenzweig, Saul. Freud, Jung, and Hall the King Maker: The Historical Expedition to America. St. Louis: Rana House, 1993. Rosenzweig describes Freud’s only visit to the United States in 1909. The 1909 expedition was important because it introduced Americans to the theory and development of psychoanalysis and allowed Freud to interact with Carl Gustav Jung, and G. Stanley Hall, the organizer of the visit. Text includes completed correspondence between Freud and Hall.

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