The Freudian Fallacy

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The Freudian Fallacy
Freud and Cocaine.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Elizabeth M. Thornton
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Sigmund Freud
Publisher Blond and Briggs
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 351 (1986 Paladin edition)
ISBN 978-0586085332

The Freudian Fallacy, first published in the United Kingdom as Freud and Cocaine, is a 1983 book about Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, by the medical historian Elizabeth M. Thornton, in which the author argues that Freud became a cocaine addict and that his theories resulted from his use of cocaine. The book received several negative reviews, and some criticism from historians, but has been praised by authors critical of Freud and psychoanalysis. The work has been compared to Jeffrey Masson's The Assault on Truth (1984).


Thornton, a medical historian,[1] calls Freud "a false and faithless prophet" and his theories "baseless and aberrational."[2] She argues that Freud became a cocaine addict and that his theories were shaped by this addiction.[3] She believes that Freud's ideas were the direct outcome of his use of cocaine,[4] "a toxic drug with specific effects on the brain."[2] She argues that the unconscious mind does not exist.[2] She also deals with Freud's relationship to Jean-Martin Charcot and criticizes the concept of hysteria, arguing that many of the conditions Freud diagnosed as hysteria were actually organic illnesses that either Freud himself or 19th century medicine as a whole failed to recognize. In her view, agoraphobia is invariably caused by disorders of the inner ear which affect the sense of balance.[3]


Mainstream media[edit]

The Freudian Fallacy received a mixed review from Wray Herbert in Psychology Today and a negative review from the psychoanalyst Jeffrey Satinover in Library Journal.[5][6] The book was also reviewed by Michael Neve in the London Review of Books and the psychoanalyst Anthony Storr in The Times Literary Supplement,[7][8] and was discussed by the psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey in National Review.[9]

Herbert wrote that Thornton "bitterly resented" Freud and his influence. Herbert believed that The Freudian Fallacy benefited from Thornton's knowledge of 19th-century medical literature and that the work "brings to life the research laboratories of Paris and Vienna during neurology's infancy", but argued that the book's value was undermined by Thornton's willingness to make "wild pronouncements without any supporting evidence".[5] Satinover wrote that the book suffered from "specious neurologic diagnoses and misinterpretations of psychoanalytic theory" and that Thornton failed to accomplish of her purpose of "debunking" Freud.[6] Torrey, writing in 1995, commented that Thornton's suggestion that Freud almost certainly continued to abuse cocaine until 1899 had been substantiated by the Freud scholar Peter Swales.[9]

Scientific and academic journals[edit]

The Freudian Fallacy was reviewed by the historian Paul Roazen in the American Journal of Psychiatry and A. J. Fogarty in the British Medical Journal.[10][11]

Evaluations in books[edit]

Thornton's book was criticized by the historian Peter Gay, who described it as "a model in the literature of denigration" in Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988),[2] and the historian Roy Porter, who called it "tendentious".[12] However, The Freudian Fallacy was praised by the psychologist Hans Eysenck in Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985), and has also received praise from other writers critical of psychoanalysis.[1][13][14] The social and cultural theorist Todd Dufresne described The Freudian Fallacy as a notable work on the history of psychoanalysis, and the single best work on Freud's cocaine period.[14] Richard Webster, writing in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995), called The Freudian Fallacy an interesting work. He considered some of Thornton's claims both original and persuasive, and suggested that her detailed review of the medical context within which Charcot and Freud worked contains many neglected insights. However, he found Thornton's discussion of Charcot and hysteria more significant than her argument that Freud's theories were shaped by his cocaine use. He argued that Thornton takes her argument about the organic basis of hysteria too far, and that such excesses tend to discredit the more reasonable aspects of her book. Webster observed that while not explicitly feminist, Thornton's book has sometimes been endorsed by feminists. He compared it to Jeffrey Masson's The Assault on Truth (1984), another book marked by hostility to Freud and psychoanalysis. According to Webster, The Freudian Fallacy received negative reviews in The Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books, the latter of which included a false accusation of anti-Semitism that was later withdrawn with an apology. He criticized the press coverage that Thornton's book received in Britain, calling The Sunday Times Magazine′s treatment of Thornton's claims about Freud's addiction to cocaine sensational and shallow.[13]



  1. ^ a b Eysenck 1986, p. 213.
  2. ^ a b c d Gay 1995, p. 749.
  3. ^ a b Webster 2005, pp. 22–23.
  4. ^ Robinson 1993, p. 7.
  5. ^ a b Herbert 1984, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b Satinover 1984, p. 1245.
  7. ^ Storr 1983, p. 1266.
  8. ^ Neve 1983, p. 19.
  9. ^ a b Torrey 1995, p. 44.
  10. ^ Roazen 1986, pp. 662–663.
  11. ^ Fogarty 1986, p. 1299.
  12. ^ Porter 1989, p. 251.
  13. ^ a b Webster 2005, pp. 22–23, 559.
  14. ^ a b Dufresne 2007, p. 163.


  • Fogarty, A. J. (1986). "So much for Oedipus". British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition). 293 (6557).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Herbert, Wray (1984). "The Freudian fallacy (Book Review)". Psychology Today. 18 (April 1984).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Neve, Michael (1983). "Hi!". London Review of Books. 5 (19).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Roazen, Paul (1986). "The Freudian fallacy (Book Review)". American Journal of Psychiatry. 143 (May 1986).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Satinover, Jeffrey (1984). "The Freudian Fallacy (Book)". Library Journal. 109 (11).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Storr, Anthony (1983). "Beware the primal horde". The Times Literary Supplement (4207).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Torrey, E. Fuller (1995). "History of an Illusion". National Review. 47 (25).  – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)