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Ritvo, L.B. (1965). Darwin as the Source of Freud's Neo-Lamarckianism. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 13:499-517.

(1965). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 13:499-517

Darwin as the Source of Freud's Neo-Lamarckianism

Lucille B. Ritvo


Historical study reveals that Darwin rather than Lamarck is the more likely source of Freud's neo-Lamarckianism. Freud's single scientific reference to Lamarck is in his paper "On Coca," in which he cites a 1783 paper by Lamarck on the same subject. Lamarck's evolutionary ideas, in contrast to the invertebrate classification for which he was justly famous, had been ignored or scorned in the

period of Freud's education, until Haeckel sought precursors for Darwin. Freud's interest in Lamarck appears about World War I when he proposed to Ferenczi a joint work on Lamarckianism and psychoanalysis. But nothing came of it.

Freud's interest in and knowledge of Darwin, on the other hand, extend from his high school days through his preanalytic work in biology to Moses and Monotheism. He owned Darwin's The Descent of Man, which he considered one of the "ten most significant books." He referred to it in his analytic writings and also to Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and to The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. He classed Darwin with Copernicus and referred to him as "the great Darwin." Freud also used "strict Darwinian lines of thought."

Nevertheless, from 1913 onward Freud's writings contain neo-Lamarckian statements about the inheritance of acquired characteristics, particularly in relation to the oedipus complex, which Freud maintained even against the protests of Jones and the regrets of Kris. This paper presented the thesis that Freud's use of and attitude toward the inheritance of acquired characteristics were influenced by his knowledge of Darwin's writings and the vicissitudes of Darwin's theory of evolution during Freud's lifetime. Darwin was more and more forced to acknowledge neo-Lamarckian mechanisms by the serious scientific problems with which biologists and physicists assailed his theory of evolution by natural selection. Mendel's work remained unknown until 1900; and in the decade that followed its rediscovery, Morgan himself was skeptical about natural selection until his own work on Drosophila revealed the discrete physical basis of heredity which he called the chromosome. The blending theory of inheritance of Darwin's day made evolution by natural selection impossible because the chance variations would necessarily be swamped under by the majority characteristics. Simultaneously, Lord Kelvin launched an attack which was unanswerable until the discovery of radioactivity and Rutherford's announcement in 1904 of a source of heat within the earth itself. The view of Helmholtz and Kelvin that the sun was an incandescent liquid mass dissipating its energy at a rapid pace had enabled Lord Kelvin to demonstrate mathematically, in terms of

heat loss, that the earth's crust could not have maintained its stability over the enormous time range required by Darwin's evolutionary theory.

Freud's interest in Lamarck appears in the decade after the answers were found to these two serious scientific objections to Darwin's theory. Darwin, except in the first edition of his On the Origin of Species, which was quickly sold out and which was not translated into German, included more and more Lamarckian statements in his subsequent writings and, therefore, in the works which Freud knew. By 1914 biologists might maintain the exclusivity of the mechanism of natural selection, but they could waiver when a new discovery such as hormones hinted at the possibility of a means for the inheritance of acquired characteristics. And in 1923 at least one geologist, C. C. Fagg, in his Presidential Address to the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society, maintained that the exclusive acceptance of natural selection was neo-Darwinism and a perversion of Darwin's thinking, of which he doubted Darwin would approve. Freud's interest in Lamarck appears when the attack is no longer against evolution itself but when the battle lines become drawn between evolution by natural selection and evolution by acquired characteristics, with the names of Darwin and Lamarck being assigned to each. It was only in the last decade of Freud's life that the accumulating data of genetics and ecology ended controversy among biologists. The Darwin Freud had known was not only what is today labeled Darwinian but was also what is now called Lamarckian or neo-Lamarckian. Therefore, for Freud there was no inconsistency in lauding the "great Darwin" and at the same time utilizing the inheritance of acquired characteristics where it suited him.

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