James’s Critiques of the Freudian Unconscious – 25 Years Earlier



In The Principles of Psychology , William James addressed ten justifications for the concept of the unconscious mind, each of which he refuted. Twenty – five years later in The Unconscious , Freud presented many of the same, original arguments to justify the unconscious, without any acknowledgement of James’s refutations . Some scholars in the last few decades have claimed that James was in fact a supporter of a Freudian unconscious, contrary to expectations . In this essay, I first summarize Freud’s justification for the unconscious to highlight the arguments he used in 1915, before then demonstrating how clearly James had undercut these same argument in the Principles , published in 1890. Interpreters of James’s thought should resist the claim that he would or did support Freud’s idea of the unconscious , even if he at times spoke generously about other scholars . We also have reason to wonder about Freud’s inattention to James’s remarkable early work in psychology, especially given James’s critiques of the concept of the unconscious.

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