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Description: Even if you have not taken a psychology course that included a section on either personality or abnormal psychology you have certainly heard about Sigmund Freud. Either way you likely have also pondered or at least run across the question of how, today, we should think about Freud: as forefather or at least as an instigator of what would become modern Psychology or as a possible crazy old psychological relative of whom current psychologists would rather not speak. The debate about what Psychology can or should do about old “Papa Freud” is long and complicated. As you read through the “debate” linked below keep in mind that the two participants are coming from different perspectives. Susie Orbach comes from a clinical or therapeutic perspective where one must engage with clients one at a time and MUST, one way or another, link things back to their individual clients’ subjective perspective on their lives. As such the powerful interpretive narratives that Freud spun are examples of, if not currently viable or defensible, ways of making complex sense of the complexity of human experience. Frederick Crews, on the other hand is coming at Freud from a broader theoretic perspective and is asking is Freud’s views are helpful ways of explaining the general human condition. Crews is further saying that ANY attempt to theoretically address the human condition (that IS Psychology after all) MUST do so in ways that are empirically testable and based when and where possible on solid research data (which was NOT true of Freud’s work. I strongly suspect (actually I guarantee) that after reading the debate you will likely have many more questions than answers and that is just fine because just as Psychology is still trying to figure us humans out so to is it trying to figure out its progenitors like Sigmund Freud.

Source: How do we feel about Freud: Susie Orbach and Frederick Crews debate is legacy, The Observer, The Guardian.

Date: August 20, 2017

Photo Credit:  Everett Collection/ Rex Feature

Photos Credit: Mike Boyes

Links:  Article Link —

I do not have a lot more to add at this point. My own view is that Freud is an interesting historical figure within Psychology. I have a lot of trouble with how closely his ideas at the time were tied to assumptions and stereotypes (particularly about masculinity and femininity) of his time or era. On the other hand, the notion that Psychology needed (and still needs to) acknowledge the good the bad AND the ugly within humans and the human condition if we are to properly understand ourselves is, I think, an important one. In preparing for a recent trip to Paris I read a rather academic book about the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1860’s. I was particularly interested in the Chimera (people usually call them the gargoyles – but gargoyles are the animal or beast headed water downspouts) around the upper levels of the cathedral. The Chimera were not original to the cathedral but were designed by the architect (Eugène Viollet-le-Duc) in charge of the refurbishment and were to reflect the Gothic revival/facination that was underway in Paris at the time. I was most taken with a passage in the book I read that talked about how the chimera contemplating Paris were popular  as reflections of the animalistic or instinctual side of humans. The passage went on to say that whenever he had a chance when in Paris Freud liked to climb the spiral steps in the tower of Notre Dame and spend the afternoon gazing over Paris and contemplating the beastly and fantastic chimera. While there, I enjoyed a couple of hours contemplating Paris and the chimera as had Freud. We might have figured out the chimera’s symbolic importance without Freud but, regardless, he is certainly associated with the more well-rounded (for good or evil) view we now have of human beings and humanity. Oh and when you get to Paris be SURE and find the time to climb the stairs at Notre Dame and contemplate Paris and the Chimera as Freud did a century ago.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What were some of the positive things that Freud did for Psychology and for our understanding of human beings?
  2. What were some of the negative things that Freud did for Psychology and for our understanding of human beings?
  3. How should we think about Freud within Psychology today?

References (Read Further):

Crews, Frederick (2017) The Making of an Illusion, New York, NY: Metropolitan Books.

Noddings, Nel (1984) Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Britzman, D. (2015). Reading Freud Today For the Destiny Of A Psychology Of Education. Knowledge Cultures, 3(2). 

Camille, M. (2008). The gargoyles of Notre-Dame: Medievalism and the monsters of modernity. University of Chicago Press.

One Response to “Freud from the Perspective of Today: What can/should we make of him and his theory?”

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