Freud and the `selfish gene'

February 10, 1995

Christopher Badcock's portrayal of Freud as the precursor to Richard Dawkins (THES, February 3) is unconvincing. Dr Badcock claims "the essential identity" of Freud's ideas on inheritance with "the so-called selfish gene approach of modern Darwinism". However, it is difficult to reconcile this view with the fact that Freud was a convinced Lamarckian.

Three years after writing the passage to which Dr Badcock alludes in support of his contention, Freud affirmed: "Lamarck's theory of evolution coincides with the final outcome of psychoanalytic thinking." Moreover, in the words of the historian of science Frank Sulloway, Freud "steadfastly maintained his psycho-Lamarckian position to the end of his life".

Dr Badcock also draws far-reaching conclusions from the considerate tone of Freud's letters to Sandor Ferenczi, which frequently exhibit the more admirable side of his character. No one would deny that Freud displayed consideration towards his disciples - so long as they remained loyal (and this applies especially to the devoted Ferenczi). He reserved his invective for those of his followers who dared to take an independent line. His attitude towards "heretics" was such that Fritz Wittels, a member of his early circle, was moved to write in 1924: "He has become a despot who will not tolerate the slightest deviation from his doctrine." As Sulloway records, those who did deviate from the prescribed path were more likely to experience "vilifications" than the forbearance to which Dr Badcock alludes.

Allen Esterson

1A Cromwell Grove

Hammersmith

London W6

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