Sigmund Freud (froyd) is undoubtedly one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century; the concept of the individual would be unthinkable without his psychological analyses of the self. Freud was the son of a wool merchant; the family moved to Vienna when he was four years old. He began studying medicine at the University of Vienna in 1873 but never intended to be a practicing physician, wanting instead to be a research scientist. He graduated in 1881 with a specialty in neurology, but because of Vienna’s anti-Semitism (which would have made a university career difficult), he established a medical practice for the treatment of patients with nervous disorders. Freud married Martha Bernays in 1886, and they had six children. When the Nazis came to power in the 1930’s Freud left Vienna and emigrated to London, where he died in 1939 at the age of eighty-three.
From 1885 to 1886 Freud studied in Paris with the French doctor Jean Charcot, who was having some success using hypnosis as a method of treatment. The Viennese physician Joseph Breuer used a form of talk therapy to treat the disorder of hysteria, and Freud adapted these techniques to his practice. Through analyses of his patients’ speech in free association, Freud gradually came to recognize the existence of an unconscious mind that appeared to be the repository of psychic conflict. These conflicts—which he believed were rooted in sexual trauma—seemed to be expressed, in veiled fashion, through the structure of dreams. A combination of these methods led him to posit the functions of the unconscious self and to devise a method of treatment—called psychoanalysis—that sought to resolve the mental disorders that plagued his patients. The Interpretation of Dreams was his first major work, in which he described, through case studies and analyses of his own dreams, the dream processes of condensation and displacement through which the unconscious was expressed. The scientific...
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