Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.
Jung on Freud
“… Freud’s contribution to our knowledge of the psyche is without doubt of the greatest importance. It yields an insight into the dark recesses of the human mind and character which can be compared only to Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. In this respect Freud was one of the great cultural critics of the nineteenth century.”
“… I object to any kind of prejudice in the therapeutical approach. In Freud’s case I disagree with his materialism, his credulity (trauma theory), his fanciful assumptions (totem and taboo theory), and his asocial, merely biological point of view (theory of neurosis).”
“It has never been my purpose to criticize Freud, to whom I owe so much. I have been far more interested in the continuation of the road he tried to build, namely the further investigation of the unconscious so sadly neglected by his own school.”
“Freud’s psychology moves within the narrow confines of nineteenth-century scientific materialism…. Freud’s psychological method… is dangerous and destructive, or at best ineffective, when applied to the natural expressions of life and its needs. A certain rigid one-sidedness in the theory, backed by an often fanatical intolerance,… grew into an aesthetic defect, and finally, like every fanaticism, it evoked the suspicion of an inner uncertainty….”
“To Freud we owe thanks,… for having calling attention to the importance of dreams….”
“… The keynote of Freud’s thought is … a devastatingly pessimistic ‘nothing but.’ Nowhere does he break through to a vision of the helpful, healing powers which would let the unconscious be of some benefit to the patient….”
As the above quotes indicate, Jung had both praise and criticism of Sigmund Freud. In this essay we will examine both aspects of his opinion of the founder of psychoanalysis, giving special attention to the reasons for his split with Freud.
What Jung Appreciated About Freud
Jung was quite forthright in acknowledging that he owed “so much” to Freud. Beyond being “one of the great cultural critics of the nineteenth century,” Freud also “assisted at the birth of a great truth about man.” Specifically, Jung credits Freud with having “shown that the functional neuroses are causally based on unconscious contents whose nature, when understood, allows us to see how the disease came about.” In Jung’s opinion, “The value of this discovery is as great as the discovery of the specific cause of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases….”
Jung also credited Freud with putting “… medicine… now in a position to treat cases of neurosis individually and make the individual psyche an object of research.” Aware of the history of medicine, Jung knew that “Before Freud, this happened only as a rare curiosity.” Freud unveiled “… the real nature of this [the psyche’s] activity,…” and he worked “… out a practical method for exploring the unconscious….”
This method was working with dreams. For us today it is hard to believe that, before Freud, no one in the West held dreams in any regard. Jung notes that “At the turn of the century,… it was an act of the greatest scientific courage to make anything as unpopular as dreams an object of serious discussions….” but Freud was able to summon this courage, and, in doing so, he offered a valuable tool for other psychiatrists:
“What impressed us young psychiatrists most was neither the technique nor the theory, both of which seemed to us highly controversial, but the fact that anyone should have dared to investigate dreams at all…. The Interpretation of Dreams provided a key to the many locked doors in the psychology of neurotics as well as of normal people.”
Jung took up Freud’s belief in dreams as the via regia, or royal way, into the unconscious, and he recognized that he and Freud shared the same vocation:
“I… serve the cause of man’s knowledge of man—the cause which Freud also wished to serve and which, in spite of everything, he has served. Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.”
While Jung could recognize how much he was in Freud’s debt, he also recognized the errors in Freud’s brand of psychology. Even over the years that he was Freud’s “pupil” and collaborator, he “could not conceal [his] doubts as to the validity of his theories.”
Objections Jung Had to Freud’s System
In multiple passages in his Collected Works, Jung notes the problems he had with Freud’s system. These problems were due to differences in their methodology, as well as to “essential differences in our basic assumptions.” We’ll consider the methodological differences first.
“a method of psychological interpretation which regards the unconscious product not as a symbol but semiotically, as a sign or symptom of an underlying process…. The reductive method is oriented backwards, in contrast to the constructive method,…”
Jung recognized, from his own experience and from his work with his patients, that the reductive method saps the power of the symbol, and hinders the healing potential that symbols hold. The result? Jung recognized that Freud was not able to “get beyond his own psychology and relieve the patient of a suffering…”. Then, as now, a person working with Freud’s method can go on for years and years of analysis without ever attaining a cure. By focusing on the future and the purpose of the neurosis, Jung’s teleological approach made transformation and healing much more likely.
Another methodological difference was Freud’s stress on theory. From his earliest years working at the Burgholzi clinic through the rest of his life, Jung employed an empirical methodology: He relied on his personal experience, observation and analysis of these events and observations to determine truth. In this he was a true scientist. Quite different was Freud’s method: He relied on theory rather than empirical experience, and this theory “is at best a partial truth, and therefore in order to maintain itself and be effective it has the rigidity of a dogma and the fanaticism of an inquisitor….” The result? Freud’s patients often were laid on the proverbial Procrustean bed (or, in this context, we might say “couch”): forced to fit into Freud’s theories. By contrast, Jung regarded theory as the “very devil,” because it was impersonal, ignoring the unique individuality of the particular patient and his/her circumstances. Freud’s stress on theory was pernicious not just for the impersonality of it, but also because so much of his theory was wrong. How so? This brings us to the second type of difference between Jung and Freud: assumptions.
Due in part of Freud’s “inadequate training in philosophy and in the history of religion,… quite apart from the fact that he had no understanding of what religion was about,…” Freud assumed religion was an “illusion.” Jung understood that we would live in bondage to “the inexorable cycle of biological events” were it not for “that opposite urge of life, the spirit….” But, despite their discussions of this point, this was something that “… Freud would never learn, and what all those who share his outlook forbid themselves to learn. …” Jung saw as one task of modern people as “rediscovering the life of the spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves. It is the only way in which to break the spell that binds us to the cycle of biological events.” In its atheism Freud’s psychology is “… a devastatingly pessimistic ‘nothing but.’ Nowhere does he break through to a vision of the helpful, healing powers which would let the unconscious be of some benefit to the patient….”
Having turned “his back on philosophy,” and jettisoned religion and spirituality from his system, Freud was left with materialism: the assumption that matter is primary, which is what Jung meant by our winding up bound “to the cycle of biological events.” Refusing to recognize spirit, soul and things intangible, Freud saw human beings as “nothing but” bodies—bodies driven by sex.
This is another major difference between Jung and Freud. When the two men first met in 1909, Freud regarded “sexuality as the only psychic driving force,…” His definition of “libido” was purely sexual. Empirically, from his own experience dealing with patients, Jung came to define “libido” as psychic energy in general. He said
“I do not mean to deny the importance of sexuality in psychic life, though Freud stubbornly maintains that I do deny it. What I see is to set bounds to the rampant terminology of sex which vitiates all discussion of the human psyche, and to put sexuality itself in its proper place.”
To be sure, it is a powerful instinct, but only one of the five Jung identified, and certainly not the primary one: Jung knew the place of primacy among the instincts is held by hunger. Freud was profoundly threatened by Jung’s failure to adhere to his sexual theory, and this became one of the key reasons for their split.
Why the Split with Freud
There were multiple reasons for Jung’s break with Freud beyond their methodological and intellectual differences. Two people, after all, can disagree about many things without rupturing the relationship. Why did these two men go their separate ways?
Jung attributes their split primarily to Freud’s dogmatism:
“His [Freud’s] regrettable dogmatism was the main reason why I felt obliged to part company with him. My scientific conscience would not allow me to lend support to an almost fanatical dogma based on a one-sided interpretation of the fact.”
In other words, Jung had a higher loyalty to science—the open-minded pursuit of the truth—than he did to Freud’s hobby horse dogma of sexual libido. Jung felt that dogma has no place in science:
“… dogma and science are incommensurable quantities which damage one another by mutual contamination…. One of the elements necessary to science is extreme uncertainty. Whenever science inclines toward dogma and shows a tendency to be impatient and fanatical, it is concealing a doubt which in all probability is justified and explaining away an uncertainty which is only too well founded.”
In addition to Freud’s dogmatism there was the fact of his fanaticism: He could not brook any challenge to his theories, and the men whom he drew around him had to toe his line or he purged them. Jung experienced this in 1913, after he published his Symbols of Transformation, which was a clear statement of his rejection of the sexual libido theory. Thereafter Freud and his minions castigated, criticized and hounded Jung for years, calling him a mystic and belittling his efforts and discoveries.
But Jung had both strength of character and enormous independence of mind, so he was able to withstand the attacks and continue to pursue truth as his experiences led him. Freud did not appreciate independence of mind in his followers. Jung understood that, beneath Freud’s fanatical dogmatism lay doubt: “… fanaticism is always a compensation for hidden doubt.”
A final reason for the Freud-Jung split might be their type difference. One consequence of Jung’s exile from the Vienna group around Freud was his inquiry into the differences in the personalities of Freud, Adler and himself. The result was Jung’s concept of personality types, with two orientations (Extraversion and Introversion), four functions (Intuition, Sensation, Thinking and Feeling), and two additional factors (Judging and Perceiving). As an INTP (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving) type, Jung was quite different from Freud (an ESFJ—Extraverted Sensation Feeling Judging type). When Freud called on Jung to administer the International Association of Psychoanalysis, he was (unwittingly) asking Jung to work against type: Introverts don’t mesh well with such public, Extraverted types of activity, nor do Perceptives do well when forced to be organized and organize others. Jung found Freud’s demands onerous, and eventually he came to understand that what was expected of him was both unreasonable and inappropriate.
Jung could truly say that “The contrast between Freud and myself goes back to essential differences…” These were differences in methodology, in assumptions about reality, psychology and truth, and in typology. These myriad differences led to the failure of their relationship, but not to Jung’s regard for his former teacher. Years after they parted company Jung wrote:
“… Freud was a great destroyer, but the turn of the century offered so many opportunities for debunking that even Nietzsche was not enough. Freud completed the task, very thoroughly indeed. He aroused a wholesome mistrust in people and thereby sharpened their sense of real values. … Freud was no prophet, but he is a prophetic figure. Like Nietzsche, he overthrew the gigantic idols of our day….”
Jung had no use for idols, and he credits Freud with moving us further into modernity, even as he hoped—in the face of Freud’s and Adler’s schools “flatly asserting that I am in the wrong…”—that “history and all fair-minded persons will bear me out….”. In this Jung’s hope has been realized: Freud’s system has become more and more discredited as the decades have passed, while Jung’s insights and branch of psychology has come to be seen as more accurate and powerful in healing neuroses and enriching lives.
Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.
Hopcke, Robert (1989), A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Boston: Shambhala.
Jung, C.G. (1960), “The Psychogenesis of Mental Disease,” Collected Works, 3. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press
________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1966), “The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature,” CW 15. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Keirsey, David & Marilyn Bates (1984), Please Understand Me. Del Mar CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
 Collected Works 18 ¶1069. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.
 Ibid. ¶1074.
 Ibid. ¶1076.
 CW 15 ¶70.
 CW 3 ¶450.
 CW 15 ¶68.
 CW 18 ¶1076.
 Ibid. ¶1069.
 CW 4 ¶772.
 CW 17 ¶130.
 CW 15 ¶56.
 CW 17 ¶128.
 CW 15 ¶65.
 CW 4 ¶774.
 CW 17 ¶128.
 CW 4 ¶784.
 CW 6 ¶788.
 CW 4 ¶774.
 CW 7 ¶210.
 CW 4 ¶781.
 Jung worked at the Burghölzli clinic from 1900 to 1909; Bair (2003), 53 & 150.
 CW 15 ¶56.
 CW 17 p. 7.
 CW 15 ¶67.
 Ibid. Freud spelled out his view of religion in his book The Future of an Illusion. The “illusion” he referred to is religion.
 CW 4 ¶780.
 CW 15 ¶68.
 CW 4 ¶774.
 Ibid. ¶780.
 CW 15 ¶68; CW 4 ¶746.
 CW 4 ¶779.
 These are: hunger, sex, activity (the need to move), creativity and reflection (including the “religious impulse”); see CW 8 ¶s233-241.
 CW 17 ¶128.
 CW 4 ¶746.
 CW 17 ¶156.
 CW 5, pp. xxiii-xxvi and ¶s 9 and 193-194.
 CW 4 ¶772.
 CW 17 ¶156.
 Hopcke (1989), 49.
 For Jung’s delineation of his type system, see CW 6 ¶s 556-676.
 CW 6 ¶91.
 Keirsey & Bates (1984), 24-26.
 CW 4 ¶784.
 CW 15 ¶69.
 CW 4 ¶773.