Roudinesco, Elizabeth. Freud: His Time and Ours

By Dougherty, Jude P. | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Roudinesco, Elizabeth. Freud: His Time and Ours


Dougherty, Jude P., The Review of Metaphysics


ROUDINESCO, Elizabeth. Freud: His Time and Ours. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016. ix + 580 pp. Cloth, $35.00--The book lives up to its subtitle. If the book has any failing, it is that Elizabeth Roudinesco overwhelms the reader with a detailed description of the extended family of her subject.

Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born May 6, 1856, in Galicia, which was then a province of the Hapsburg Empire. The son of Jacob and his much younger wife, Amalia, he was the first of eight children born of that union. Freud had two half-brothers from his father's first marriage, who were about the same age as his mother and remained in Jacob's newly formed household. Amalia was particularly fond of "my Golden Sigi," who was judged early on to be precocious.

Freud's education and professional development has to be viewed against the status accorded Jews in France and Germany in that time. French Jews did not achieve full citizenship until 1791, and then on the condition that they renounce any claim to a dual identity. The idea that one should define himself as a Jew was contrary to the spirit of French secularism. Under French laicite, Judaism came to be regarded as just another religion that could be practiced in private but without public recognition.

The situation in Germany was slightly different. Moses Mendelssohn, a self-educated German philosopher, respected by Jews and Christians alike, advised Jews emigrating front the east, particularly the Ashkenazi, to leave their self-initiated ghettoes, learn the German language, and adopt the culture of the nation in which they settled. Many did and within a generation achieved intellectual prowess.

Early in his career, Freud thought he wanted to pursue a degree in philosophy. He took courses offered by Franz Brentano, and Brentano even agreed to direct his dissertation in spite of their different outlooks. Brentano, after all, was a Catholic priest and Freud an unbelieving Jew. Unlike Husserl, who also studied under Brentano, Freud fell under the spell of Ludwig Feuerbach's materialistic critique of religion. Feuerbach thought that any talk of God or reference to the transcendent alienated man from the pursuit of earthly goods, and when manifested in religion was even an obstacle to material progress and human knowledge. In following the lead of Feuerbach, Freud embraced Kant's notion that man had first to free himself of all such alienation if he were to enter the world of reason and understanding.

At age seventeen, Freud gave up the pursuit of a degree in philosophy. Enrolled at the University of Vienna, he began studies in anatomy, biology, psychology, and medicine. In his own words, "I felt a strong attraction to philosophical speculation but ruthlessly checked it. …

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