Freud, Biologist of the Mind

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Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend
Freud, Biologist of the Mind (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Frank Sulloway
Country United States
Language English
Subject Sigmund Freud
Published 1979 (Burnett Books)
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 612
ISBN 978-0465025589

Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend is a 1979 work about Sigmund Freud by the psychologist Frank Sulloway.[1] The work, which was partly inspired by the historian Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), received praise, and has been credited with helping to establish the impact of biological thinking on Freud, and with being the key work that discredited psychoanalysis as science, but has also been criticized on various grounds.


Sulloway's work was partly inspired by medical historian Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970).[2]


Sulloway retraces Freud's intellectual development and places psychoanalysis in a historical context larger than that accepted by its proponents. Using sources such as Freud's personal library, Sulloway ties Freud's thinking to contemporary biological theories,[1] and shows that Freud took care to hide the fact that his psychology was derived from neurobiology.[3] Sulloway criticizes the "psychoanalytic legend": the idea that Freud was a lonely hero who, in a hostile intellectual climate, created ex nihilo an entirely new psychology through sheer personal brilliance and courage. Sulloway believes that such myths are sectarian propaganda and obscure Freud's real greatness. Sulloway explores in detail the influence of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, Iwan Bloch, H. H. Ploss, Friedrich S. Krauss, Albert Moll, and Wilhelm Fliess on Freud,[1][4] as well as the relation of Freud's theorizing to that of Charles Darwin.[5]

He demonstrates that Freud carefully read Untersuchungen über die Libido sexualis, Moll's 1897 study of the nature and development of the sex drive, several years before writing Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). Though mainly concerned with Freud, Sulloway supplies biographical details and a photograph of Moll.[1] Discussing the reception of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), which he notes has generally been considered Freud's single most important book,[6] Sulloway shows that the work received a respectful reception by reviewers and that Freud's complaints that it had been ignored were unjust.[7] Sulloway considers The Interpretation of Dreams to be the "greatest" of the early works which "place Freud among the most creative scientific minds of all time."[8]

Scholarly reception[edit]

Freud, Biologist of the Mind gained considerable attention and praise upon its publication. Erwin J. Haeberle, writing in the Journal of Sex Research, called the work a model of scholarship, and suggested that Sulloway's discussion of the influence of Moll and other sexologists on Freud gave his work special importance for sex researchers.[9] The philosopher Adolf Grünbaum, writing in The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984), credited Sulloway with showing that "Freud's successive modifications of many of his hypotheses throughout most of his life were hardly empirically unmotivated", thereby disproving Karl Popper's argument that psychoanalytic ideas cannot be falsified.[10]

The historian Peter Gay called Sulloway's book "overargued" and "irritatingly self-indulgent",[11] and found it to suffer from "overkill", writing in Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988) that while it presents itself as "a great unmasking document" it brings, "the essentially old news that Freud's theory had a biological background". Nevertheless, Gay found the chapters analyzing Freud's dependence on Fliess and "nineteenth-century psychophysics" to have value.[4] The psychologist Hans Eysenck praised Sulloway's work in Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985), crediting it with exposing many myths which have accumulated around Freud.[12] The historian Roy Porter described Sulloway's work as tendentious, but necessary as a supplement to Ernest Jones' "hagiographical" The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud.[13] The psychiatrist Allan Hobson praised Sulloway's book.[3]

The psychoanalyst Joel Kovel credited Sulloway with helping to establish the immense impact of biological thinking on Freud.[14] The critic Alexander Welsh called Freud, Biologist of the Mind the key work that discredited psychoanalysis as science.[2] He rejected the charge that Sulloway was motivated by the desire to damage Freud's reputation, suggesting that Sulloway would have been incapable of writing Freud, Biologist of the Mind had he not been sympathetic to Freud.[15] The critic Frederick Crews wrote that Sulloway "revolutionized our idea of Freud's scientific affinities and habits", helping to make possible subsequent works such as Grünbaum's The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984), and Malcolm Macmillan's Freud Evaluated (1991).[16] Crews has, however, also criticized Sulloway for being too sympathetic to Freud.[15] Historian of science Roger Smith wrote that Sulloway details the "lasting biological dimension of Freud's work".[17] The psychologist Louis Breger wrote that Sulloway followed Ellenberger by "exposing the myths that have surrounded Freud and the history of psychoanalysis", but that Sulloway's interpretation of Freud as a "crypto-biologist" has "very little to recommend it".[18]

The philosopher Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and the psychologist Sonu Shamdasani wrote that Sulloway demonstrated that Freud's "principal 'discoveries' were actually deeply rooted in the biological hypotheses and speculations of his Darwinian era."[19]

See also[edit]




  • Borch-Jacobsen, Mikkel; Shamdasani, Sonu (2012). The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-72978-9. 
  • Breger, Louis (2000). Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-31628-8. 
  • Crews, Frederick; Macmillan, Malcolm (1997). Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-63171-7. 
  • Eysenck, Hans (1986). Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-022562-5. 
  • Gay, Peter (1995). Freud: A Life for Our Time. London: Papermac. ISBN 0-333-48638-2. 
  • Gay, Peter (1985). The Bourgeois Experience, Victoria to Freud, Volume I: Education of the Senses. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503728-6. 
  • Grünbaum, Adolf (1984). The Foundations of Psychoanalysis. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05016-9. 
  • Hobson, J. Allan (1990). The Dreaming Brain. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-012498-5. 
  • Hopkins, James (1991). Neu, Jerome, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Freud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37779-X. 
  • Kovel, Joel (1991). History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-2916-5. 
  • Porter, Roy (1989). A Social History of Madness: Stories of the Insane. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-79571-6. 
  • Robertson, Ritchie; Freud, Sigmund (1999). The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-210049-1. 
  • Smith, Roger (1997). The Norton History of the Human Sciences. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31733-1. 
  • Welsh, Alexander (1994). Freud's Wishful Dream Book. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03718-3. 
  • Haeberle, Erwin J. (1982). Davis, Clive M., ed. "The Journal of Sex Research, February 1982, Vol 18, No. 1". Lake Mills, Iowa: The Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.