Moses and Monotheism

By Sigmund Freud


Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Freiburg, Moravia - which at that time was a part of Austria-Hungary. He came from a middle-class Jewish family and was the eldest child of his father's second wife, with already two much older brothers, from his father's first wife; indeed one already had a son. When Freud was just three years old, his father decided to leave Freiburg for Vienna, due to commercial difficulties. Despite this though, Freud had a good education, winning a place at the 'Gymnasium' at the early age of nine. In 1873 he enrolled himself as a medical student at the university of Vienna (moved by curiosity rather than a vocational drive). He focused on areas ranging from biology to physiology and anatomy, and working under Brucke he acquired his attitude to physical science, and established a neurobiological grounding. However in 1881, financial difficulties forced him to take his medical degree and work in the Vienna General Hospital. In 1882 he became engaged to Martha Bernays, of Hamburg, and in their four years of engagement, he set to establish a reputation for himself in the medical world, specifically in neuroanatomy and neuropathology.

In 1885, Freud travelled to Paris and spent a few months under Charcot at the Sapêtrière (the most famous Paris Hospital for nervous diseases). This brought a revolutionary change in his life. Charcot's interests in hysteria and hypnotism, regarded as barely respectable in Vienna, began to absorb Freud too. However Freud took them beyond tools of neuropathology, into tools of the investigation of the mind.

In 1886 Freud returned to Vienna and set up a private practice as a consultant in nervous diseases, followed by his long-delayed marriage. Whilst not abandoning his neuropathological work, he became increasingly absorbed by the treatment of neuroses. Turning from electro therapy to hypnosis in 1888, after learning it from Liébeault and Bernheim. However this too was unsatisfactory, and he persuaded a Dr Josef Breuer to instruct him in a new procedure. This was based on the assumption that hysteria was the product of a psychical trauma that had been forgotten by the patient, and the treatment consisted of inducing her into a hypnotic state to recall the forgotten trauma to the accompaniment of appropriate emotions. Gradually Freud abandoned the use of suggestion in hypnosis, replacing it by 'free association' to give the whole system of ideas, which he called 'psychoanalysis'.

From this time (1895) Freud corresponded regularly with Wilhelm Fliess, a brilliant Berlin physician, noting development of psychoanalysis, producing Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895) and in 1900 The Interpretation of Dreams. Other works produced at this time include: The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905).

In 1909 Freud, together with Jung, were invited to give lectures in the US, and analyses of 'Little Hans' led to confirmation of theories concerning infantile sexuality and the Oedipus and castration complexes.

In 1921 Freud began his work on personality in more earnest, producing Group Psychology (1921) and in 1923, The Ego and the Id. He followed these in 1926 with Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, before moving to discussions of religion and art in terms of his theories, publishing Civilisation and its Discontents in 1930 and Moses and Monotheism in 1934-8.

In June 1938 Hitler invaded Austria and Freud moved to London with his family, where a year later on 23rd September he died.