Eugen Bleuler and the influence of the Enlightenment (2021)

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by Federico Soldani – 29th Dec 2021

“I didn’t know my grandfather, [Paul] Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939), personally. He died a number of years before I was born. Everything I know about him was told to me by my father, Manfred Bleuler, Eugen’s eldest son” [a psychiatrist himself, ed.] (emphasis and links added in subsequent quotes as well).

In an article entitled ‘Being a Member of the Bleuler Family’ (full text available on PubMed of the U.S. National Library of Medicine) published in the journals History of Psychiatry and Schizophrenia Bulletin in 2011, a granddaughter of Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler briefly reconstructed what she knew about her grandfather and his family and professional environment.

A similar article about Carl Gustav Jung by a grandson was previously discussed in PsyPolitics.

According to Wikipedia, accessed 29th December 2021, the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler studied medicine in Zürich. He trained for his psychiatric residency at Waldau Hospital under Gottileb Burckhardt, a Swiss psychiatrist, from 1881-1884. He left his job in 1884 and spent one year on medical study trips with Jean-Martin Charcot, a French neurologist in Paris, Bernhard von Gudden, a German psychiatrist in Munich, and to London. After these trips, he returned to Zürich to briefly work as assistant to Auguste Forel while completing his psychiatric residency at the Burghölzli, a university hospital” where he later became professor of psychiatry and director.

During his career “Bleuler coined several terms such as ‘schizophrenia‘, ‘schizoid‘, ‘autism‘, depth psychology and what Sigmund Freud called “Bleuler’s happily chosen term ‘ambivalence‘”.

Some of Eugen Bleuler’s students included psychiatrists such as “Abraham, Binswanger, Jung, Brill, Minkowski,” as a preface comment by Berrios in History of Psychiatry highlighted.

According to a 2008 brief piece in the American Journal of Psychiatry, “The term ‘schizophrenia’ was coined 100 years ago, on April 24, 1908, when Paul Eugen Bleuler gave a lecture at a meeting of the German Psychiatric Association in Berlin:

“For the sake of further discussion I wish to emphasize that in [Emil] Kraepelin’s dementia praecox it is neither a question of an essential dementia nor of a necessary precociousness.

For this reason, and because from the expression dementia praecox one cannot form further adjectives nor substantives, I am taking the liberty of employing the word schizophrenia for revising the Kraepelinian concept.

In my opinion the breaking up or splitting of psychic functioning is an excellent symptom of the whole group.”

Bleuler and colleagues in Zurich reportedly used the term since 1907. The concept and term were revised in the seminal ‘Dementia Praecox, oder Gruppe der Schizophrenien’ (‘Dementia Praecox, or Group of Schizophrenias’) in 1911.


As Eugen Bleuler’s granddaughter pointed out in her article, “At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the simple people living on the lakeshore too took an increasing interest in the developing sciences, and this was also the case for the Bleuler family. His parents lived most frugally so as to enable their children to have a good education. Furthermore, both families of Eugen Bleuler’s parents were actively involved in public life and regularly took on administrative positions in the Zollikon community.” “[After 1830] a liberal revival movement, under the influence of the French Revolution, began in Switzerland too.”

“It was […] to be able to better help his schizophrenic sister – that my grandfather’s wish to become a psychiatrist arose, indeed to be a psychiatrist who would look after his patients in a more personal way.”

“In his childhood, his whole existence revolved around the down-to-earth and yet intellectually stimulating life of his extended family, which had a great regard for science and was well stocked with good books.”

“He got married in 1901 to Hedwig Waser, whom he got to know as a fellow campaigner in the abstinence movement.” He had “an interest in people, psychology, social issues.”

Bleuler’s wife Hedwig was a Swiss suffragette and, according to Wikipedia “In 1901 she met Auguste Forel, a Swiss myrmecologist, neuroanatomist, psychiatrist and eugenicist, and at his suggestion, she founded the Swiss Federation of Abstinent Women. She chaired the Federation as president until October 1921.”

The psychiatrist Forel was a founder of the field of myrmecology – the scientific study of ants. According to Wikipedia, Forel published a major “treatise on the ants of Switzerland […] in 1874 and commended by Charles Darwin. He was appointed professor of psychiatry in 1879 at the University of Zurich Medical School. He not only ran the Burghölzli asylum there, but continued to publish papers on insanity, prison reform, and social morality. ”

A major work on myrmecology by the psychiatrist Forel was “The social world of ants : compared with that of man” (Translated by C. K. Ogden. London : Putnam’s Sons, 1928. In the photo below, the original French cover). The book was reviewed by Julian S. Huxley in the scientific journal Nature.

In more recent decades, it was Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson – who died only a few days ago (NYT obituary here) – to study the field of myrmecology “on which he was called the world’s leading expert” and to be one of the funders of the controversial field called sociobiology. In 2011 he published his only novel ‘Anthill’, a “political allegory” based on the world of ants.

‘Le monde social des fourmis du globe comparé à celui de l’homme’. Genève, Kundig, 5 volumes (1921-1923).

From 1978 until 2000 Forel’s image appeared on the 1000 Swiss franc banknote – Auguste Forel – Wikipedia

In 1913, they [the Bleulers, ed.] undertook their longest journey and only world tour, which lasted about two months. Bleuler had been invited to the opening of a clinic in Baltimore by Adolf Meyer, who was Swiss and also, at that time, a leading American psychiatrist.”

Meyer was a psychiatrist of primary importance in the history of the discipline and of related fields including psychiatric epidemiology and community psychiatry, in the United States of America. In 1913, Meyer was overseeing the founding and development of the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

According to Wikipedia, “Following his interest in hypnotism, especially in its “introspective” variant, Bleuler became interested in Sigmund Freud’s work. He favorably reviewed Josef Breuer and Freud’s ‘Studies on Hysteria.

Like Freud, Bleuler believed that complex mental processes could be unconscious. He encouraged his staff at the Burghölzli to study unconscious and psychotic mental phenomena. Influenced by Bleuler, Carl Jung and Franz Riklin used word association tests to integrate Freud’s theory of repression with empirical psychological findings. As a series of letters demonstrates, Bleuler performed a self-analysis with Freud, beginning in 1905. Bleuler laid the foundation for a less fatalistic view of course and outcome of psychotic disorders along with C.G. Jung, who further used Bleuler’s theory of ambivalence and association experiments to diagnose neurotic illnesses.

Bleurer found Freud’s movement to be overly dogmatic and resigned from the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1911, writing to Freud that “this ‘all or nothing’ is in my opinion necessary for religious communities and useful for political parties… but for science I consider it harmful”.

Bleuler remained interested in Freud’s work, citing him favorably, for example, in his often reprinted ‘Textbook of Psychiatry’ (1916). He also supported the nomination of Freud for the Nobel Prize in the late twenties.”


“He had clear and precise ideas about life and morality”, Bleuler’s granddaughter concluded in her article.

“He had little interest in the Church and religion. Both Eugen and Hedwig Bleuler didn’t usually go to Church, and there were no prayers said in the family. Both lived under the influence of the Enlightenment: one should live in this world, seek beauty and help others. Eugen Bleuler was critical of the time when theologians rather dogmatically imparted religious education, and children had to learn off the catechism by rote and without any understanding of it. He perceived the religiosity of many people as hypocrisy, although it never occurred to either of them to leave the Church: membership belonged to order of things and to tradition. Bleuler deemed it all the more his duty to do right and to fulfil his responsibilities toward his family, patients and country.”

“Of altogether nine grandchildren of Eugen Bleuler, only one became a psychiatrist. But, as a child growing up in the same, albeit smaller, director’s apartment, I felt at home in the Burghölzli.”


[In the photo at the top, Paul Eugen Bleuler, circa 1900 – Wikipedia.]

Cite this article as: Federico Soldani, "Eugen Bleuler and the influence of the Enlightenment (2021)," in PsyPolitics, December 29, 2021,

Last Updated on December 31, 2021 by Federico Soldani

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