Freud
Skinner
Gilligan
Milgram
Ward et al.

Freud's Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis

Reading Questions

Background to the text

Freud's system of thought has infiltrated much of modern culture. We read Freud in this class as much because of his general currency in educated circles as because of his contributions to psychology. The text we are reading, Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, is a translation of the lectures he gave at Clark University in 1909. It is, if you will, Freud's popularization of his system up to that point. Much is left out, many parts of the later system are only anticipated, and some important portions of the later system are not even mentioned. But the basic ideas are all here.

Freud's system is only one way of understanding the origins of abnormal behavior. We will look at one other way, the biological, towards the end of the term. There are numerous other ways of explaining particular syndromes today, some with much more merit than Freud's. For instance, we can understand a great deal about why people get depressed when we understand how their attitudes about themselves drive their view of the world. Alternatively, an understanding of the social and environmental factors restricting people's choices can help make the depressed person's point of view seem more reasonable.

But Freud bases his approach neither on conscious cognitive processes nor on the situational pressures that impinge on the adult. Freud is concerned with unfulfilled and repressed motivation. The main problem with folks, says Freud, is that their desires as a young child were not appropriately repressed and rechanneled into the "normal" desires we expect from adults. Freud lays out a tricky path for the small child to follow to correctly repress and rechannel early desire, and it is no wonder that most folks don't get it right (or at least Freud thinks they don't).

Comments on the Syllabus

In these lectures Freud lays out his system like a master teacher. His early lectures provide the foundation for the later ones, and ideas in the early lectures are modified slightly from lecture to lecture until the entire system is built up. Thus early attention is most helpful in following his argument. As you read the lectures, make sure to relate the concept back to Anna O's case. You will find this helps you be more clear about what Freud is doing with each of the sometime obscure concepts he introduces here.


In lecture one, Freud introduces us to the idea of unconscious desires in the person of Anna O, a famous Freudian case. Anna O's case anticipates most of the rest of the book: her "forgettings" become repression, her attachment to her father becomes the nuclear complex, hypnosis anticipates free association and dream analysis, and her "chimney sweeping" becomes the cathartic release of emotion in the therapeutic process. From every lecture you can look back to Anna O and see the roots of the concepts.

I assign chapters 2 (correlation), 5 (nerve cells), and 6 (brain structure) together with Freuds introductory chapter. The two neuroscience chapter are partly assigned in homage to Freud's early work in neuroscience. But I have also assigned them because we will need to know this part to understand (later) how the brain might support "unconcious processing" in a way that is somewhat similar to Freud's ideas.

I assign the chaper on correlation so we can understand the basics of two by two tables and see how their logic helps us understand some of the inadequacies of Freud's reasoning from specific cases.


In the second lecture, Freud unpacks the concept of repression, and traces it from its original wish, through the repression of the wish, and finally to the wish's rediscovery and release though therapy. In lecture three, he provides us with some more detail on the tools he uses for digging out the meaning behind symptoms. This spadework treats all the surface behavior (and even the dreams) of the patient as manifestations of the latent and repressed wishes. Analysis of symptoms, free association, dream analysis, and the analysis of "slips of the tongue" all give clues for the careful detective of the psyche.

Concentrate here on Freud's techniques for uncovering repression and on the evidence he uses to say they work.


In the fourth lecture, Freud lets the cat out of the bag and makes it clear that all the repressed desires are eventually (if you look hard enough) connected with sexual desire. And not just any sexual desire, but the desire of the young (male) child for its mother. This lecture contains one of the first references to the Oedipus complex, before it was even given that name by Freud (here he calls it the nuclear complex).

In the final lecture, Freud addresses the process of therapy. How does psychoanalytic therapy help the patient discover and release the repressed desires? He shows that it is not merely cognitively "discovering" the repressed wish, but actually reliving the feelings, reexpressing the emotions, in the wish that make for successful therapy. He then provides us with several (mostly) safe and constructive ways to deal with the now open and conscious erotic wishes.

I assign chapter 34 (emotions) so we can see the modern models of emotion that scientists now use. I assign chapter 38 so we can see how phobias are treated today.


This day is set aside to consolidate our appreciation of Freud's contribution and our critique of Freud's approach. Chapter 23 (Unconcious processing) shows the legacy of Freud's work in the continued (but greatly modified) models of unconscious processing. Chapters 39 (schizophrenia) and 40 (mood disorders) show how we currently concieve of mental illness. Much of what we today call schizophrenia is thought about as a brain disorder. The causal direction of mood disorders is less clear (some would call depressiona brain disease, but we will learn why the case is not as clear).


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