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Guntrip, H. (1973). Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell. Contemp. Psychoanal., 9(2):263-281.

(1973). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 9(2):263-281

Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell

Harry Guntrip, Ph.D.

IF I WERE ASKED to quote one passage that more than any other expresses the fundamental truth and problem about human nature, I would quote, not any passage from Freud, but one from Bertrand Russell. I must defer for the moment the citing of this passage since, to feel its full force, we must pave the way for it. Yet, in spite of the profundity of that one passage, Russell's life work has contributed little of permanent value for man, in a practical sense, while Freud started what has become the profoundest research into human nature ever yet made. The intriguing problem is why did Russell's profound insight lie sterile and unused in all his later work, while Freud's less profound early observations and tentative theories developed into a systematic "penetration" (to use Russell's own word) into that very region of human experience that Russell might have explored.

Freud and Russell, two of the intellectual giants of the end of last century and the first half of this one, may seem, at first sight, to be an unlikely pair to choose for a comparative study. They reveal, however, not only striking differences but also unexpectedly intriguing parallels. There is a superficial overall parallel in that both of them began with an apparently total dedication to impersonal intellectual work, the one in physical science, the other in philosophy, but in due course both of them moved on to become steeped, in different ways, in most practical human problems. If Freud's early interest was not quite so abstractly intellectual as was Russell's in geometry, his interest in human nature was more intellectual than practical.

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