Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Sigmund Freud, born Sigismund Schlomo Freud

Austrian Psychologist, Neurologist, Originator of Psychoanalysis

"A return from the over-estimation of the property of consciousness is the indispensable preliminary to any genuine insight into the course of psychic events... The unconscious must be accepted as the general basis of the psychic life. The unconscious is the larger circle which includes the smaller circle of the conscious; everything conscious has a preliminary unconscious stage, whereas the unconscious can stop at this stage, and yet claim to be considered a full psychic function."

"A small minority are enabled... to find happiness along the path of love; but far-reaching mental transformations of the erotic function are necessary before this is possible. These people make themselves independent of their object’s acquiescence by transferring the main value from the fact of being loved to their own act of loving; they protect themselves against loss of it by attaching their love not to individual objects but to all men equally, and they avoid the uncertainties and disappointments of genital love by turning away from its sexual aim and modifying the instinct which they induce in themselves by this process - an unchangeable, undeviating, tender attitude - has little superficial likeness to the stormy vicissitudes of genital love, from which it is nevertheless derived."

"It seems not to be true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending. On the contrary, the destinies of man are incompatible with a universal principle of benevolence or with - what is to some degree contradictory - a universal principle of justice... Dark, unfeeling, and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of rewards and punishments, which according to religion, governs the world, seems to have no existence."

"Men do not always take their great thinkers seriously, even when they profess most to admire them."

"Mental activity, which works in its way from the memory-image to the production of identity of perception via the outer world, merely represents a roundabout way to wish-fulfillment made necessary by experience. Thinking is indeed nothing but a substitute for the hallucinatory wish; and if the dream is called a wish-fulfillment, this becomes something self-evident, since nothing but a wish can impel our psychic apparatus to activity."

"Our best hope for the future is that the intellect - the scientific spirit, reason - should in time establish a dictatorship over the human mind. The very nature of reason is a guarantee that it would not fail to concede to human emotions, and to all that is determined by them, the position to which they are entitled. But the common pressure exercised by such a domination of reason would prove to be the strongest unifying force among men, and would prepare the way for further unifications. Whatever, like the ban laid upon thought by religion, opposes such a development is a danger for the future of mankind."

"The dream, which fulfills its wishes by following the short regressive path, has thereby simply preserved for us a specimen of the primary method of operation of the psychic apparatus, which has been abandoned as inappropriate. What once prevailed in the waking state, when our psychic life was still young and inefficient, seems to have been banished into our nocturnal life; just as we still find in the nursery those discarded primitive weapons of adult humanity, the bow and arrow."

"The educability of a young person as a rule comes to an end when sexual desire breaks out in its final strength. Educators know this and act accordingly; but perhaps they will yet allow themselves to be influenced by the results of psycho-analysis so that they will transfer the main emphasis in education to the earliest years of childhood, from the suckling period onward. The little human being is frequently a finished product in his fourth or fifth year, and only gradually reveals in later years what lies buried in him."

"The only thing that brings a mother undiluted satisfaction is her relation to a son; it is quite the most complete relationship between human beings, and the one that is the most free from ambivalence. The mother can transfer to her son all the ambition which she has had to surpress in herself, and she can hope to get from him the satisfaction of all that has remained to her of her masculinity complex. Even a marriage is not firmly assured until the woman has succeeded in making her husband into her child and in acting the part of a mother towards him."

"The reason for so much bad science is not that talent is rare - not at all. What is rare is character."

"The simplest explanation is not always the right one, truth is very often not simple."

"The unconscious is the true psychic reality; in its inner nature it is just as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is just as imperfectly communicated to us by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the reports of our sense-organs."

"We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our love object or its love."

"What can be the aim of withholding from children, or let us say from young people, this information about the sexual life of human beings? Is it a fear of arousing interest in such matters prematurely, before it spontaneously stirs in them? Is it a hope of retarding by concealment of this kind the development of the sexual instinct in general, until such time as it can find its way into the only channels open to it in the civilized social order? Is it supposed that children would show no interest or understanding for the facts and riddles of sexual life if they were not prompted to do so by outside influence? Is it regarded as possible that the knowledge withheld from them will not reach them in other ways? Or is it genuinely and seriously intended that later on they should consider everything connected with sex as something despicable and abhorrent from which their parents and teachers wish to keep them apart as long as possible? I am really at a loss so say which of these can be the motive for the customary concealment from children of everything connected with sex. I only know that these arguments are one and all equally foolish, and that I find it difficult to pay them the compliment of serious refutation."

"What we give out as scientific truth is only the product of our own needs and desires, as they are formulated under varying external conditions; that is to say, it is illusion once more. Ultimately we find only what we need to find, and see only what we desire to see. We can do nothing else. And since the criterion of truth, correspondence with an external world, disappears, it is absolutely immaterial what views we accept. All of them are equally true and false. And no one has a right to accuse any one else of error."

"[Recipe for happiness] Work and love."

"A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world."

"A religion, even if it calls itself the religion of love, must be hard and unloving to those who do not belong to it. Fundamentally, indeed, every religion is in this same way a religion of love for all those whom it embraces; while cruelty and intolerance towards those who do not belong to it are natural to every religion."

"An unrestricted satisfaction of every need presents itself as the most enticing method of conducting one's life, but it means putting enjoyment before caution, and soon brings its own punishment."

"Analysis makes for unity, but not necessarily for goodness."

"Anxiety in children is originally nothing other that an expression of the fact they are feeling the loss of the person they love."

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."

"From error to error one discovers the entire truth."

"Happiness is the deferred fulfillment of a prehistoric wish. That is why wealth brings so little happiness; money is not an infantile wish."

"Hatred of Judaism is at bottom hatred of Christianity."

"If there are quarrels between the parents or if their marriage is unhappy, the ground will be prepared in their children for the severest predisposition to a disturbance of sexual development or to neurotic illness."

"If we may assume as an experience admitting of no exception that everything living dies from causes within itself, and returns to the inorganic, we can only say “the goal of all life is death,” and, casting back, “The inanimate was there before the animate.”"

"Innately, children seem to have little true realistic anxiety. They will run along the brink of water, climb on the window sill, play with sharp objects and with fire, in short, do everything that is bound to damage them and to worry those in charge of them, that is wholly the result of education; for they cannot be allowed to make the instructive experiences themselves."

"It has always seemed to me that ruthlessness and arrogant self-confidence constitute the indispensable condition for what, when it succeeds, strike us as greatness. And I also believe that one ought to differentiate between greatness of achievement and greatest of personality."

"It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness."

"It is easy enough to endow the Matterhorn with another and less exalted meaning. The scale of 1:50,000 may be roughly the proportion in which fate fulfills our wishes, and in which we ourselves carry out our good intentions."

"It may be difficult, too, for many of us, to abandon the belief that there is an instinct towards perfection at work in human beings, which has brought them to their present high level of intellectual achievement and ethical sublimation and which may be expected to watch over their development as supermen. I have no faith, however, in the existence of any such internal instinct and I cannot see how this benevolent illusion is to be preserved. The present development of human beings requires, as it seems to me, no different explanation from that of animals. What appears in a minority of human individuals as an untiring impulsion towards further perfection can easily be understood as a result of the instinctual repression upon which is based all that is most precious in human civilization."

"Just as a cautious businessman avoids tying up all his capital in one concern, so, perhaps, worldly wisdom will advise us not to look for the whole of our satisfaction from a single aspiration."

"Life as we find it is too hard for us; it entails too much pain, too many disappointments, impossible tasks. We cannot do without palliative remedies."

"Man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get in accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his contact in the world."

"Neurosis does not deny the existence of reality, it merely tries to ignore it: psychosis denies it and tries to substitute something else for it. A reaction which combines features of both these is the one we call normal or "healthy"; it denies reality as little as neurosis, but then, like psychosis, is concerned with effecting a change in it."

"Philosophy is not opposed to science; it behaves itself as if it were a science, and to a certain extent it makes use of the same methods; but it parts company with science, in that it clings to the illusion that it can produce a complete and coherent picture of the universe, though in fact that picture must needs fall to pieces with every new advance in our knowledge."

"Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. But it cannot achieve its end. Its doctrines carry with them the stamp of the times in which they originated, the ignorant childhood days of the human race. Its consolations deserve no trust. Experience teaches us that the world is not a nursery. The ethical commands, to which religion seeks to lend its weight, require some other foundations instead, for human society cannot do without them, and it is dangerous to link up obedience to them with religious belief. If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity."

"Taboos are very ancient prohibitions which at one time were forced upon a generation of primitive people by an earlier generation. These prohibitions concerned actions for which there existed a strong desire. The prohibitions maintain themselves from generation to generation, perhaps only as the results of a tradition set up by paternal and social authority."

"The credulity of love is the most fundamental source of authority."

"The dream is the guardian of the sleep, not its disturber."

"The dream is the royal road to the unconscious."

"The idea of life having a purpose stands and falls with the religious system."

"The only unnatural sexual behavior is none at all."

"There is a means of return from fantasy to reality, and that is art."

"This age of childhood, in which the sense of shame is unknown, seems a paradise when we look back upon it alter, and paradise itself is nothing but the mass-phantasy of the childhood of the individual. This is why in paradise men are naked and unashamed, until the moment arrives when shame and fear awaken; expulsion follows, and sexual life and cultural development begin."

"To be sure, if it is the purpose of educators to stifle the child’s power of independent thought as early as possible, in order to produce that ‘good behavior’ which is so highly prized, they cannot do better than deceive children in sexual matters and intimidate them by religious means. The stronger characters will, it is true, withstand these influences; they will become rebels against the authority of their parents and later against every other form of authority. When children do not receive the explanations for which they turn to their elders, they go on tormenting themselves in secret with the problem, and produce attempts at solution in which the truth they have guessed is mixed up in the most extraordinary way with grotesque inventions; or else they whisper confidences to each other which, because of the sense of guilt in the youthful inquirers, stamp everything sexual as horrible and disgusting."

"Wars can never cease so long as nations live under such widely differing conditions, so long as the value of individual life is in each nation so variously computed, and so long as the animosities which divide them represent such powerful instinctual forces in the mind."

"We are so made, that we can only derive intense enjoyment from a contrast, and only very little from a state of things."

"We know well enough how little light science has so far been able to throw on the problems that surround us. But however much ado the philosophers may make, they cannot alter the situation. Only patient, persevering research, in which everything is subordinated to the one requirement of certainty, can gradually bring about a change."