argument top image

What do we know about Sigmund Freud's theories? Show more Show less
Back to question

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), commonly referred to as "the father of psychoanalysis" was an Austrian neurologist and is generally recognized as one of the most influential and authoritative thinkers of the twentieth century. He remains a well-recognised figure and he and his ideas are still frequently referenced in pop culture. Freud has been influential in two related but distinct ways. He simultaneously developed a theory of the human mind and human behaviour, as well as clinical techniques for attempting to help neurotics. He popularised the ideas of the unconscious, defense mechanisms, Freudian slips and dream symbolism, while also making a long-lasting impact on fields as diverse as literature, film, Marxist and feminist theories, literary criticism, philosophy and psychology.

Everything we know is questionable Show more Show less

Freud carefully curated his own story, image and legacy and destroyed his personal papers at least twice, once in 1885 and again in 1907.
< (5 of 5)

Freud’s theories did not come from his work as a therapist

Freud's work as a therapist did not actually follow or support his own theories.
< (2 of 2)

The Argument

Freud consistently misrepresented the outcomes of the treatments he based his theories on. In the case of one of the only patients whose treatment notes Freud did not destroy, Ernst Lanzer—the Rat Man—it is clear that he misrepresented the facts as well. In a study of the forty-three treatments about which some information survives, it turned out that Freud had broken his own rules for how to conduct an analysis in all forty-three.[1] Views on dreams and oedipal came from him analysing his own dreams rather than any empirical evidence. "I think that most of us have only a vague - perhaps defensively vague - sense of what Freud is really saying, not least because in the field of popular culture his work has often been mediated to us in ways that water it down, make it palatable, reduce its insight (and) complexity."[2]

Counter arguments

The reason for Freud's success was that other theories were worse. Most importantly, psychoanalysis helped move the treatment of mental illness from the asylum and the hospital to the office.


[P1] Freud's therapeutic practice did not follow his own theories.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Freud's theories were still relevant to the advancement of psychology as a discipline.

Further Reading

Crew, F. (2017) Freud: The Making of an Illusion. New York: Metropolitan




Not sure yet? Read more ↑


This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 12:29 UTC

Explore related arguments