Nineteenth Century Philosophy

Sigmund Freud

What was Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of hysteria?

At first, Freud, along with his mentor Josef Breuer, advanced the hypothesis that people suffering from hysterics have buried memories of trauma. Treatment consisted in recovering those memories and a cathartic discharge of the affect or emotion associated with them at the outset. Freud thought that the source of the repression was sexual molestation by male relatives. He revised this “seduction theory” when he realized that if the sole cause of hysteria was repressed memories, there was no reason why it should not resolve itself by being discharged in hysterical symptoms. Taking a page from Franz Brentano, and perhaps Alexius Meinong (1853–1920), as well, he theorized that it could be fantasy revealing itself in the form of repressed desires that was the key. This led to Freud’s oedipal theory.


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