Assumptions of the unconscious

As early as the eighteenth century, German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz developed the notion that there were degrees of consciousness ranging from completely unconscious to fully conscious. A century later, German philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart refined Leibnitz's concept of the unconscious by stating that only conscious ideas are perceived in awareness. Gustav Theodore Fechner, who preceded Freud but had contact with him in the later part of the nineteenth century, also speculated about the unconscious. Fechner conceived the classic illustration of an iceberg to visualize the contrast between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Discussion of the unconscious was very much a part of the European intellectual community during the 1880s when Freud was beginning his clinical practice. But the unconscious was not only of interest to professionals. It had become a fashionable topic of conversation among the educated public. A book entitled Philosophy of the Unconscious became so popular that it appeared in nine editions. In the 1870s, at least a half dozen other books published in Germany included the word "unconscious" in their titles.

So, although Freud is often credited with "discovering" the unconscious, his genius was more accurately stated as having taken the preexisting notions of the unconscious that were popular in his day and fashioning them into a coherent and tangible system.

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