ES2302- Education: Social and Political Thought
Freud – introduction
'Psychoanalysis: the aim is modest ...
to turn neurotic misery into common unhappiness.'
Freud and his 'disciples' gave our culture an
extended vocabulary of terms which continue to
undermine naive assumptions about the integrity
of the rational self. Just as Marx gave theorists
of society the means to analyse the experiences
and features of industrialisation, Freud gave
theorists of human thought the means to analyse
the purity of willed action, and the apparent
certainties of life in families, in sexual
relationships, and in social life.
What follows is not intended as a
substitute for the webpage. The text-
commentary there is extensive as I have
assumed that few of you have read much
of Freud's work before now.
Freud summarised his ideas in a little
essay written shortly before his death
entitled 'Some Elementary Lessons in
The points emphasised there are
complemented here by extracts from An
Outline of Psychoanalysis - another late
Consciousness does not constitute the totality of psychic
life - the unconscious is part of this and is the greater
Psychologically, the child is father to the man.
The equation that perception equals reality does not hold;
our desires, fears, etc. distort our perception of the
Psychic conflict is inevitable in the lives of individuals,
groups, and societies.
The basis of all psychic conflict is instinctual life pitted
against the aspirations of consciousness, and conflict is
indissolubly linked to anxiety.
(The title of the series to which this was a contribution is
Die Medizen der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellungen –
contemporary medicine presented through self-portraits.
For our purposes, sections 1 and 2 provide some insight
into his personal circumstances, section 3 contains the
principal ideas you need to reflect upon, section 4
develops some of the methodological consequences of
these, particularly in relation to dreams, while 5 gives
further insight into the 'institutionalisation' of
psychoanalysis from Freud's point of view. Note that
section 6 provides a useful pre-reading for the second
All page references come from the Vintage
edition of The Standard Edition of the Complete
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XX,
(1925-1926) and all italics are those used in this
text - which one assumes were added by Freud
7) My parents were Jews, and I have remained a
9) These first impressions at the University
(being rejected as a Jew), however, had one
consequence which was afterwards to prove
important; for at an early age I was made familiar
with the fate of being in the Opposition and of
being put under the ban of the 'compact majority'
14) I wished to establish the thesis that in
hysteria paralyses and anaesthesias of the
various parts of the body are demarcated
according to the popular idea of their limits and
not according to anatomical facts.
17) [while visiting at Nancy in France] I
received the profoundest impression of the
possibility that there could be powerful mental
processes which nevertheless remained hidden
from the consciousness of men.
19) I must supplement what I have just said by
explaining that from the very first I made use of
hypnosis in another manner, apart from hypnotic
suggestion. I used it for questioning the patient
on the origin of his symptom, which in his waking
state he could often describe only very
imperfectly or not at all.
21) It (the theory) did not seek to establish the nature
of hysteria but merely to throw light upon the origin of
its symptoms. Thus it laid stress upon the importance
of distinguishing between mental acts which are
unconscious and those which are conscious (or rather
capable of being conscious); it introduced a dynamic
factor, by supposing that a symptom arises through the
damming-up of an affect, and an ‘economic’ factor, by
regarding that same symptom as the product of the
transformation of an amount of energy which would
otherwise have been employed in some other way.
Breuer spoke of our method as cathartic; its
therapeutic aim was explained as being to
provide that the quota of affect used for
maintaining the symptom, which had got on to
the wrong lines and had, as it were, become
strangulated there, should be directed on to the
normal path along which it could obtain
discharge (or abreaction).
29) Let us keep to a simple example, in which a
particular impulsion had arisen in the subject's
mind but was opposed by other powerful
impulsions. We should have expected the mental
conflict which now arose to take the following
course. The two dynamic quantities - for our
present purposes let us call them 'the instinct'
and 'the resistance' - would struggle with each
other for some time in the fullest light of
consciousness, until the instinct was repudiated
and the cathexis of energy withdrawn from its
This would have been the normal solution. In a
neurosis, however, the conflict found a different
outcome. The ego drew back, as it were, on its
first collision with the objectionable instinctual
impulse; it debarred the instinct from access to
consciousness and to direct motor discharge, but
at the same time the impulse retained its full
cathexis of energy. ...
It was obviously a primary mechanism of
defence, comparable to an attempt at flight, and
was only a forerunner of the later-developed
normal condemning judgement.
The first act of repression involved further
consequences. In the first place the ego was
obliged to protect itself against the constant
threat of a renewed advance on the part of the
repressed impulse by making a permanent
expenditure of energy, an anticathexis, and it
thus impoverished itself. On the other hand, the
repressed impulse, which was now unconscious,
was able to find means of discharge and of
substitutive satisfaction by circuitous routes and
thus to bring the whole purpose of repression to
In the case of conversion the circuitous
route led to somatic innervation; the
repressed impulse broke its way through at
some point or other and produced
symptoms. The symptoms were thus
results of a compromise, for although they
were substitutive satisfactions they were
nevertheless distorted and deflected from
their aim owing to the resistance of the
30) The theory of repression became the corner-
stone of our understanding of neuroses. A
different view had now to be taken of the task of
therapy. Its aim was no longer to 'abreact' an
affect which had got on to the wrong lines but to
uncover repressions and replace them by acts of
judgement which might result either in the
accepting or in the condemning of what had
formerly been repudiated. I showed my
recognition of the new situation by no longer
calling my method of investigation and treatment
catharsis but psycho-analysis.