The Freudian Fallacy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Freudian Fallacy, first published in the United Kingdom as Freud and Cocaine, is a 1983 book about Sigmund Freud by medical historian Elizabeth M. Thornton, in which Thornton argues that Freud became a cocaine addict and that his theories are the direct outcome of his use of cocaine. The book received a number of negative reviews, and some criticism from historians, but has been praised by authors critical of psychoanalysis.


Thornton, a medical historian, calls Freud "a false and faithless prophet" and his theories "baseless and abberational." She argues that Freud became a cocaine addict and that his theories were shaped by this addiction. She believes that Freud's ideas were the direct outcome of his use of cocaine, "a toxic drug with specific effects on the brain." She argues that the unconscious mind does not exist. She also deals with Freud's relationship to Jean-Martin Charcot and criticizes the concept of hysteria, arguing that many of the conditions Freud diagnosed as hysteria were actually organic illnesses that either Freud himself or 19th century medicine as a whole failed to recognize. In her view, agoraphobia is invariably caused by disorders of the inner ear which affect the sense of balance.

Scholarly reception

The Freudian Fallacy was criticized by historians Peter Gay, who described Thornton's book as "a model in the literature of denigration" in Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988), and Roy Porter, who called it "tendentious". However, it was praised by psychologist Hans Eysenck in Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985), as well as by other writers critical of psychoanalysis. Social and cultural theorist Todd Dufresne described it as a notable work on the history of psychoanalysis, and the single best work on Freud's cocaine period.

Author Richard Webster, writing in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995), called the book interesting, but concluded that Thornton's discussion of Charcot and hysteria is more significant than her argument that Freud's theories were shaped by his cocaine use. Webster observed that while not explicitly feminist, The Freudian Fallacy has sometimes been endorsed by feminists, and compared it to Jeffrey Masson's The Assault on Truth (1984), noting that both books are marked by hostility to Freud and psychoanalysis. He argued that Thornton takes her argument about the organic basis of hysteria too far, and that its excesses tend to discredit the more reasonable aspects of her book, but that some of her claims are both original and persuasive, and that her detailed review of the medical context within which Charcot and Freud worked contains many neglected insights. He criticized the press coverage that Thornton's book received in Britain, writing that Thornton's claims about Freud's addiction to cocaine "generated a small amount of sensational and shallow coverage in The Sunday Times Magazine." According to Webster, it was largely ignored in the British quality press, with the exception of hostile reviews in The Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books, the latter of which included a false accusation of anti-Semitism that was later withdrawn with an apology.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Freudian Fallacy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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