Sigmund Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis recapitulate core tenets of his earlier work on psychoanalytic practice and theory, but in each case offers some new, updated material.
The first lecture, “Revision of the Theory of Dreams,” is concerned foremost with explaining why dream theory “occupies a special place” in psychoanalysis. Throughout the years, Freud has validated his work by returning to a patient's dream as evidence of the science's efficacy. The lecture explores how the theory has been developed since its inception, and explains the basic tenants behind it. Dream theory is based on the idea that every dream has both manifest and latent content - the former is how the dream appears, while the latter is the impulse that prompted the dream. Ultimately, Freud believes dreams always reflect a wish-fulfillment, and thereby evidence the existence of an unconscious full of repressed desires. With several instances of how an analyst applies the dream work, Freud stresses how powerful and important dream theory is.
The second lecture, “Dreams and Occultism,” investigates the possible relationship between dreams and mystical (or occult) phenomena, such as telepathy or the power to tell the future. Freud approaches this question scientifically, refusing to take commonplace judgments against occultism as established fact. Though he is skeptical of many claims of occult activity, he admits that science can not definitively disprove those claims. Eventually, he says that his clinical experience suggests that thought-transference is a real event, and that psychoanalysis has brought this possibility to light in a more plausible manner than mystical explanations do.
The third lecture, “The Dissection of the Psychic Personality,” is one of the collection's most complicated. It provides a basic breakdown of the psyche, according to Freud's theories. The psyche is broken into three key areas – the ego, the id, and the super-ego – each of which is distinct from the others and yet interacts constantly with them. The ego, or conscious mind, is the part of the psyche most conscious and close to external reality. The super-ego is a part of the ego that splits from it to observe the ego, functioning as a type of conscience as it judges the ego's activity. The id is the most unconscious, the site of repressed urges and instinctual demands. It is dark and chaotic, and totally removed from the ego. Thus, the ego serves as a protective layer for the id, which cannot face the world directly. However, this also means that the ego works against the id's desire for total and incessant satisfaction and pleasure. Both a healthy and a skewed psyche can be explained in terms of how well these various aspects of the psyche work together.
The next lecture, “Anxiety and Instinctual Life,” maps out the different kinds of anxiety that humans experience. Freud describes anxiety as an “affective state” linked to pleasure or displeasure, and distinguishes between “realistic anxiety,” which is caused by the perception of danger in the outside world, and “neurotic anxiety,” which has no immediately obvious cause. Freud first argues that neurotic anxiety is always a manifestation of sexual, "libidinal" life. When the libido is excited but not satisfied, this arousal transforms into an experience of neurotic anxiety. Further, this condition leads to repression, as the ego must manage these intense desires that are communicated by the id. After discussing the various ways in which the ego responds to these pressures, Freud examines the instincts. He revises an earlier claim that there are two classes of instincts - ego-preservation and species preservation - to suggest that our two competing instincts are the instinct to propagate life (which he calls Eros) and the instinct to destroy ourselves (which he calls the death-instinct).
In his lecture on “Femininity,” Freud argues that neither biology nor psychology can sufficiently define what is meant by the terms “femininity” and “masculinity.” Because psychoanalysis approaches this question uniquely, by investigating the process by which girls come to be women, he uses it to analyze the effects of childhood on a psyche. In his view, boys and girls are quite similar in the early stages of life, directing their affection towards the mother (the Oedipus complex), but begin to diverge in the phallic stage, when girls begin to experience their own version of what he calls the 'castration complex.' Simply put, girls suffer from a penis envy, and blame their mothers for the organ deficit. From this animosity, they turn their affections to the father. Boys, on the other hand, never entirely transcend the affection for the mother, but do suffer a castration complex when they fear their father will punish them for these illicit desires. Ultimately, Freud believes this process is far more complicated and difficult for girls than for boys, and this increased difficulty helps him to account for the complicated nature of female sexuality.
In “Explanations, Applications, and Orientations,” Freud first criticizes several of his former students for choosing to focus on only select aspects of psychoanalysis. He explicitly rejects Alfred Adler’s development of “Individual Psychology,” and makes an indirect allusion to his former pupil, Carl Jung, whom Freud claims broke with Freud’s approach by choosing to downplay the importance of a patient’s personal past. Freud accuses these students of abandoning the core principles of psychoanalysis, and suggests they did so because they did not wish to accept the hard truths that its investigations produced. He then turns to a discussion of education, claiming that psychoanalysis can help improve education both practically and in terms of a child's psyche. The lecture ends with a set of observations on the therapeutic benefits and limitations of psychoanalytic treatment.
Freud’s final lecture, “The Question of a Weltanschauung,” examines whether psychoanalysis can provide a "Weltanschauung," or meaning of life. While he recognizes the limitations of science to provide such an answer, he notes that religion - the field in which most go to find such an answer - is equally ineffective. He then provides his theory on the development of religion. He argues that religion was realized by humans essentially to supply themselves with a transcendent guarantee of their creation, protection, and code for living. Freud believes that humans created religion (and not the other way around) because these positive aspects are in fact an extension of what the father performs for a young child. In other words, men simply transferred this father figure to a greater power later in life. Next, Freud contrasts a religious Weltanschauung with a scientific Weltanschauung, arguing strongly in favor of the latter because it is guided by a rational spirit alongside which psychoanalysis can play a significant role. Towards the end of the lecture, Freud repudiates the Weltanschauung provided by the then-recent social movements inspired by Marxism. Ultimately, Freud suggests that human civilization must step away from the false comforts of religion, and provide a new, rational basis for the ethical and political control of instincts.