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Schopenhauer’s Influence on Freud Essay

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was born in Příbor, Czech Republic and died in London. Although he originally wanted to become a lawyer, he joined the medical faculty at the University of Vienna in 1873 to study under Darwinist Karl Claus, where his theories of psychoanalysis, a method where doctors unearth unconscious conflicts buried in the person based on dreams and fantasies, and the unconscious flourished. He developed many new scientific methods, but many of his concepts were not in fact original. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a German philosopher best known for his philosophy of the will and his political and social thought. Arthur Schopenhauer inspired Freud to develop his ideas of the human mind.

Freud’s concepts of the unconscious and the id represent a connection to Schopenhauer’s idea of the will. The id is the unorganized part of the “basic instincts of life and death.” It acts accordingly with the pleasure principle. It is the unconscious. It is non-moral (Costigan 232-233). Schopenhauer’s will is the human desire to survive. It wants and demands immediate gratification (Heller 90). If you saw a candy bar, the id would say: “Eat it now!” The will would control the human mind by directing actions of the person. Freud took the will beyond just controlling the human mind, and expanded on it to arrive at his ego and superego, which formed the basis of his work on the unconscious.

Freud wrote “On the one view, the individualism is the principal thing, sexuality is one of its activities and sexual satisfactions one of its needs; while on the other view, the individual is a temporary and transient appendage” (Young & Brook). Schopenhauer wrote “It is true that the will to live manifests itself primarily as an effort to maintain the individual; yet this is only a stage towards the effort to maintain the species” (Young & Brook). Schopenhauer’s idea of the will and its primary role in the individual is clearly represented in Freud’s thought, which shows how Schopenhauer influenced Freud’s concepts of the human mind. The mind could be considered a deep reservoir, where memories, fantasies, and wants were all stored. Repressing this reservoir of ideas could lead to madness, which Schopenhauer and Freud both theorized.

Schopenhauer’s concept of madness formed the basis of Freud’s theory of repression and neurosis. Schopenhauer also identified a process that is not only similar to Freud’s later concept of repression but is even expressed in similar language, and he attempted to trace the etiology of madness (Young & Brook). Schopenhauer thought that madness is caused by the repression of painful memories or traumata, while Freud said that “there was some force that prevented them from becoming conscious and compelled them to remain unconscious (Robert 218). The cause of neurosis was an incomplete repression of unacceptable sexual wished that left the person unprotected from unconscious guilt, consequently causing distress (Heller 175).

Freud and Schopenhauer both considered excessive repression “damaging to human personality” (Gupta). Both Freud and Schopenhauer thought that madness was caused by repression of certain thoughts, which shows how Schopenhauer influenced Freud’s theory of repression. Freud believed in the same motive for repression as Schopenhauer: “we have a perfect right to describe repression, which lies at the basis of every neurosis, as a reaction to a trauma—as an elementary traumatic neurosis” (Freud). Freud combined his understanding of neurosis with Schopenhauer’s concept to arrive at the theory that repression was where the ego and the superego suppressed the id.

According to Heller (PhD, Psychology) and Costigan (PhD, European History), most of Freud’s concepts came from his colleagues, rather than Schopenhauer. In 1882, Breuer introduced Freud to the case of Anna O. and the cathartic method, or the “talking cure” (Heller 39). The talking cure was a method where verbal theory ameliorated the patient’s hysterical problems. Psychoanalysis was a treatment where the patient verbalized fantasies, dreams, and free associations from where the analyst would induce the unconscious conflicts that were the root of the problems. Because the talking cure and psychoanalysis were both based off of verbal communication and the unconscious, and Freud first got the idea from Breuer, Heller deduces that psychoanalysis was an idea from Breuer, not Schopenhauer. Id was a term borrowed from Nietzsche on the suggestion of George Groddeck (Costigan 232).

Nietzsche often used the German pronoun das Es to denote the unconscious, instinctual forces of the human mind. George Groddeck was a pioneer of psychosomatic medicine. Freud’s main ideas concerned the id, the ego, and the superego, so evidence that the id was a term borrowed from Nietzsche shows how Freud did not in fact develop his ideas from Schopenhauer. Freud even declared about Fliess that “it was you who have taught me that there lies something true behind every popular fantasy (Robert 125). Wilhelm Fliess was a Berlin nose and throat specialist, who played a pivotal role in Freud’s life as his confidant during Freud’s self-analysis, which led to his psychoanalysis.

Freud’s psychoanalysis involved suppressed fantasies, and the fact that Fliess planted the idea that there lies something beyond that denies Schopenhauer’s influence on Freud. Looking at Freud’s colleagues however, we can see that they only contributed only small parts of psychoanalysis and the unconscious, while provided the basic concepts such as repression, the unconscious, and the will that later were elaborated into Freud’s neurosis, psychoanalysis, id, ego, and superego.

Many of Freud’s radical ideas have been contradicted, rejected, and ridiculed by fellow psychologists since the dawn of his discoveries, but his controversial ideas such as the id, superego, and ego are still studied and employed in modern psychology. His ideas have been expanded into theories of unconscious processes, the conflict and conflicting ideas of behavior, the affect of childhood experiences on adulthood, and psychological development. His influence can also be seen in cinema, theater, and surrealist art.

Works Cited
Brook, Andrew and Christopher Young. SCHOPENHAUER AND FREUD. Carlton College Archives. N.P., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012. Costigan, Giovanni. Sigmund Freud-A Short Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1965. Print. Heller, Sharon. Freud: A-Z. Hoboken: John and Sons, 2005. Print Robert, Marthe. The Psychoanalytic Revolution-Sigmund Freud’s Life and Achievement. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966. Print.


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