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Walsh, M.N. (1981). An Unnoticed Influence on the Evolution of Freud's Psychoanalytic Concepts. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 8:85-92.

(1981). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 8:85-92

An Unnoticed Influence on the Evolution of Freud's Psychoanalytic Concepts

Maurice N. Walsh


Pythagorean concepts bear a resemblance to certain tenets of Freud's ethos as well as to certain of his psychoanalytic formulations which, internal evidence suggests, were in part derived from them. While the factor of independent origin cannot be discounted, Freud's extensive erudition, his great interest in the early Greek thinkers and the internal evidence in his works makes it probable that he was acquainted with the Pythagorean concepts.

The relevant Pythagorean concepts are as follows: the sense of justice, from which are derived the concepts of the equality of mankind, the equality of women, the formation of a high personal and professional ethos, the concepts of a lack of control of the impulses as unjust to the self and to others; and the need to preserve harmony and thus mental and physical health through the exercise of moderation in all things, as well as through a knowledge of the self.

Theoretical formulations such as the doctrine of the Duality of Opposites, catharsis and recollection appear likely to have had some reflection in Freud's concepts of struggles between opposing forces in the personality—early stated (1896) as conflicts between instincts, and later (1923) as conflicts between instinctual

impulses and counter-cathectic processes of the ego—as well as his concepts of the role of catharsis and the recall of forgotten, repressed memories from the unconscious in the psychoanalytic technique.

The organization of Pythagorean communities bears some resemblance to that of psychoanalytic training groups. Attention is called in referring to the later disintegration of the Pythagorean ethos and of Pythagorean groups, to the factors of loss of honesty, of disinterested curiosity, and of the devaluation of truth for its own sake; and of members offering themselves as dealers in salvation. A similar alteration in ethos could have a similar effect on psychoanalysis. Strict standards are essential to prevent a deterioration of the psychoanalytic ethos, but it is evident that overly strict standards might be an obstacle to innovation and originality. Here the reasonableness exemplified by Freud and Abraham can safely serve as an example.

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