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Friedman, L. (1977). Conflict and Synthesis in Freud's Theory of the Mind. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 4:155-170.

(1977). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 4:155-170

Conflict and Synthesis in Freud's Theory of the Mind

Lawrence Friedman

Freud was a theoretician. He did not leave us merely a collection of observations, or a poetic image, or some ways to understand sick people. He left us a theory of the mind. Of course his ideas can be viewed as reflexions of the paradigms and prejudices of his times, or as perceptions of clinical problems confronting him. But to understand his work as a theory of the mind, we must identify the theoretical tasks that he accepted, as manifested in the way the theory grew. Only when we have understood the theoretical requirements that the system responds to, can we compare Freud's terms with those of other theoreticians (such as psychologists of meaning and intention) because only then is there a common language in which to compare them, namely the language of problems.

I hope to show that one such important problem that Freud grappled with was how to treat the mind as an entity without ignoring its internal diversity and conflict. One can view his theory as a series of efforts to come to grips first with conflict and then with unity, and after establishing unity, to place conflict in it again, and subsequently to re-establish a unity. It is a dialectical process in that the final outcome gets its meaning from, and does not replace, the dialectical switch-back that constituted its growth, so that the final terms cannot be completely understood by themselves.


'Studies on Hysteria' (Breuer & Freud, 1893–5) is so rich in hypotheses that it is hard to name a psychoanalytic concept not foreshadowed in it.

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