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Schmidl, F. (1965). Freud and Dostoevsky. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 13:518-532.

(1965). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 13:518-532

Freud and Dostoevsky

Fritz Schmidl


While, in his essay on "Dostoevsky and Parricide" Freud extolled Dostoevsky, the author, saying that "his place is not far behind Shakespeare," he dealt in an extremely critical manner with Dostoevsky, the man. He even stated: "The future of human civilization

will have little to thank him for." Freud's tentative diagnosis of Dostoevsky's epilepsy as not organic but affective is open to doubt. An inquiry into the possible reasons for Freud's intolerance in dealing with Dostoevsky's character shows that there were three apparently insurmountable differences in the Weltanschauung of the two great men: (1) Freud the determinist could not accept Dostoevsky's indeterminism. (2) Dostoevsky's belief in religion as the basis of morality ran counter to Freud's deepest conviction. (3) The rationalist Freud could not stand Dostoevsky's religious mysticism. It seems like an irony of history that Freud was asked to write about Dostoevsky at about the time when he was working on The Future of an Illusion. While Freud's writings about religion during the first two decades of psychoanalysis were more or less objective psychological studies, he himself, in a letter to Pfister, called The Future of an Illusion a "declaration of war." It also seems that a change took place in Freud's attitude toward moral systems. In letters written in 1915 and in 1918 Freud identified himself with Th. Vischer's dictum: "What is moral is self-evident." In his letter to Theodor Reik of April 14, 1929, Freud stated a belief in "a scientifically objective social assessment of ethics." The changes of Freud's attitude toward religion and systems of morality are likely to have contributed to his condemnation of Dostoevsky, the man, in 1928.

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