Erich Fromm: biography, family, main ideas and books of the philosopher

Erich Fromm: biography, family, main ideas and books of the philosopher
Erich Fromm: biography, family, main ideas and books of the philosopher

Erich Seligmann Fromm is a world famous American psychologist and humanistic philosopher of German origin. His theories, although rooted in Freud's psychoanalysis, focus on the individual as a social being who uses the powers of reason and love to go beyond instinctive behavior.

Fromm believed that people should be responsible for their own moral decisions, and not just for compliance with the norms imposed by authoritarian systems. In this aspect of his thinking, he was influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx, especially his early "humanist" thoughts, so his philosophical work belongs to the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School - a critical theory of industrial society. Fromm rejected violence, believing that through sympathy and compassion, people can rise above the instinctive behavior of the rest of nature. This spiritual aspect of his thinking may have come from his Jewish background and Talmudic education, although he did not believe in the traditional Jewish God.

HumanisticThe psychology of Erich Fromm had the greatest influence on his contemporaries, although he distanced himself from its founder, Carl Rogers. His book, The Art of Loving, remains a popular bestseller as people seek to understand the meaning of "true love," a concept so deep that even this work only scratches the surface.

Early Biography

Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900 in Frankfurt am Main, at that time part of the Prussian Empire. He was the only child in an Orthodox Jewish family. His two great-grandfathers and paternal grandfather were rabbis. His mother's brother was a respected Talmudist. At the age of 13, Fromm began the study of the Talmud, which lasted 14 years, during which he became acquainted with socialist, humanistic and Hasidic ideas. Although religious, his family, like many Jewish families in Frankfurt, was engaged in trade. According to Fromm, his childhood was spent in two different worlds - traditional Jewish and modern commercial. By age 26, he rejected religion because he felt it was too controversial. However, he retained his early memories of the Talmud's messages of compassion, redemption, and messianic hope.

Photo by Erich Fromm

Two events in the early biography of Erich Fromm seriously influenced the formation of his outlook on life. The first happened when he was 12 years old. It was the suicide of a young woman who was a family friend of Erich Fromm. There were many good things in her life, but she could not find happiness. The second event took place at the age14 years old - the First World War began. According to Fromm, many normally kind people have become vicious and bloodthirsty. The search for an understanding of the causes of suicide and militancy underlies many of the philosopher's reflections.

Teaching activities in Germany

In 1918, Fromm began his studies at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. The first 2 semesters were devoted to jurisprudence. During the summer term of 1919 he transferred to the University of Heidelberg to study sociology with Alfred Weber (Max Weber's brother), Karl Jaspers and Heinrich Rickert. Erich Fromm received a diploma in sociology in 1922 and in 1930 completed his studies in psychoanalysis at the Psychoanalytic Institute in Berlin. In the same year, he started his own clinical practice and began working at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research.

After the Nazis came to power in Germany, Fromm fled to Geneva and in 1934 to Columbia University in New York. In 1943 he helped found the New York branch of the Washington School of Psychiatry, and in 1945 the William Alenson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology.

Private life

Erich Fromm was married three times. His first wife was Frieda Reichmann, a psychoanalyst who gained a good reputation for her effective clinical work with schizophrenics. Although their marriage ended in divorce in 1933, Fromm acknowledged that she taught him a lot. They maintained friendly relations until the end of their lives. At the age of 43, Fromm married an emigrant from Jewish Germany, just like him.origin of Henny Gurland. Due to he alth problems in 1950, the couple moved to Mexico, but in 1952 his wife died. A year later, Fromm married Annis Freeman.

Erich Fromm and Annis Freeman

Life in America

After moving to Mexico City in 1950, Fromm became a professor at the National Academy of Mexico and created the psychoanalytic sector of the medical school. He taught there until his retirement in 1965. Fromm was also a professor of psychology at Michigan State University from 1957 to 1961 and an adjunct faculty member of psychology in the graduate school of arts and sciences at New York University.

Fromm changes his preferences again. A strong opponent of the Vietnam War, he supports pacifist movements in the US.

In 1965 he ended his teaching career, but for several more years he lectured at various universities, institutes and other institutions.

Recent years

In 1974 he moved to Mur alto, Switzerland, where he died at his home in 1980, just 5 days short of his 80th birthday. Until the very end of his biography, Erich Fromm led an active life. He had his own clinical practice and published books. Erich Fromm's most popular work, The Art of Loving (1956), became an international bestseller.

Philosopher Erich Fromm

Psychological theory

In his first semantic work "Escape from Freedom", first published in 1941, Fromm analyzes the existential state of man.As a source of aggressiveness, destructive instinct, neurosis, sadism and masochism, he does not consider sexual overtones, but presents them as attempts to overcome alienation and impotence. Fromm's notion of freedom, in contrast to Freud and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, had a more positive connotation. In his interpretation, it is not a liberation from the repressive nature of a technological society, as, for example, Herbert Marcuse believed, but an opportunity to develop the creative powers of man.

Erich Fromm's books are renowned both for his social and political commentary and for their philosophical and psychological underpinnings. His second semantic work, Man for Himself: A Study in the Psychology of Ethics, first published in 1947, was a continuation of Escape from Freedom. In it, he focused on the problem of neurosis, characterizing it as the moral problem of a repressive society, the inability to achieve maturity and integrity of the individual. According to Fromm, the ability of a person to freedom and love depends on socio-economic conditions, but is rarely found in societies where the desire for destruction prevails. Taken together, these works expounded a theory of human character that was a natural extension of his theory of human nature.

Erich Fromm's most popular book, The Art of Loving, was first published in 1956 and became an international bestseller. It repeats and supplements the theoretical principles of human nature published in the works "Escape from Freedom" and"Man for himself", which was also repeated in many other major works of the author.

The Art of Love by Erich Fromm

A central part of Fromm's worldview was his conception of the "I" as a social character. In his opinion, the basic human character stems from an existential disillusionment with the fact that he, being a part of nature, feels the need to rise above it through the ability to reason and love. The freedom to be unique is scary, which is why people tend to surrender to authoritarian systems. For example, in Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm writes that for some, religion is the answer, not an act of faith, but a way to avoid unbearable doubts. They make this decision not out of devotional service, but for security reasons. Fromm extols the virtues of people taking action on their own and using reason to establish their own moral values ​​rather than following authoritarian norms.

People have evolved into beings who are aware of themselves, their own mortality and powerlessness before the forces of nature and society, and are no longer one with the Universe, as it was in their instinctive, prehuman, animal existence. According to Fromm, awareness of a separate human existence is a source of guilt and shame, and the solution to this existential dichotomy is found in the development of unique human abilities to love and reflect.

One of Erich Fromm's popular quotes is his saying that the main taska person in life - to give birth to himself, to become what he really is. His personality is the most important product of his efforts.

Love Concept

Fromm separated his concept of love from popular concepts to such an extent that his reference to it became almost paradoxical. He saw love as an interpersonal, creative ability rather than an emotion, and he distinguished this creativity from what he saw as the various forms of narcissistic neuroses and sadomasochistic tendencies that are commonly cited as evidence of "true love." Indeed, Fromm views the experience of "falling in love" as evidence of an inability to comprehend the true nature of love, which, as he believed, always has elements of care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. He also argued that few people in modern society respect the autonomy of other people, much less objectively know their real needs and needs.

Erich Fromm in 1948

Talmud references

Fromm often illustrated his main ideas with examples from the Talmud, but his interpretation is far from traditional. He used the story of Adam and Eve as an allegorical explanation for human biological evolution and existential fear, arguing that when Adam and Eve ate from the "tree of knowledge", they realized that they were separated from nature, yet still part of it. Adding a Marxist approach to the story, he interpreted the disobedience of Adam and Eve as a justified rebellion against an authoritarian God. The fate of man, according to Fromm, cannot depend on any participationAlmighty or any other supernatural source, but only by his own efforts can he take responsibility for his life. In another example, he mentions the story of Jonah, who was unwilling to save the people of Nineveh from the consequences of their sin, as proof of the belief that most human relationships lack care and responsibility.

Humanist Creed

In addition to his book The Soul of Man: Its Capacities for Good and Evil, Fromm wrote part of his famous humanist credo. In his opinion, a person who chooses progress can find a new unity through the development of all his human forces, which is carried out in three directions. They can be presented separately or together as love for life, humanity and nature, as well as independence and freedom.

Erich Fromm

Political ideas

The culmination of Erich Fromm's social and political philosophy was his book The He althy Society, published in 1955. In it, he spoke in favor of humanistic democratic socialism. Building primarily on the early writings of Karl Marx, Fromm sought to re-emphasize the ideal of personal freedom, absent from Soviet Marxism and found more frequently in the writings of libertarian socialists and liberal theorists. His socialism rejects both Western capitalism and Soviet communism, which he saw as a dehumanizing, bureaucratic social structure that led to an almost universal modern phenomenon of alienation. He becameone of the founders of socialist humanism, promoting the early writings of Marx and his humanist messages to the US and Western European public. In the early 1960s, Fromm published two books on Marx's ideas ("Marx's Concept of Man" and "Beyond Enslaving Illusions: My Encounter with Marx and Freud"). Working to stimulate Western and Eastern cooperation between Marxist humanists, in 1965 he published a collection of papers en titled Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium.

A popular quote from Erich Fromm: "Just as mass production requires the standardization of goods, the social process requires the standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality."

Participation in politics

The biography of Erich Fromm is marked by his periodic active participation in US politics. He joined the US Socialist Party in the mid-1950s and did his best to help it represent a point of view that was different from the prevailing "McCarthyism" of the time, which was best expressed in his 1961 article "Can a Man Predominate? A Study of Fact and Fiction in Foreign Policy. However, Fromm, as a co-founder of SANE, saw his greatest political interest in the international peace movement, the fight against the nuclear arms race and the US involvement in the Vietnam War. After the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy did not receive the support of the Democratic Party in the nomination of candidates for the presidency of the United States in the 1968 elections, Fromm left the American politicalscene, although in 1974 he wrote an article titled "Remarks on the Policy of Détente" for a hearing held by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Social psychologist Erich Fromm


In the field of psychoanalysis, Fromm did not leave a noticeable mark. His desire to base Freud's theory on empirical evidence and methods was better served by other psychoanalysts such as Erik Erikson and Anna Freud. Fromm is sometimes cited as the founder of neo-Freudianism, but he had little influence on the followers of this movement. His ideas in psychotherapy were successful in the field of humanistic approaches, but he criticized Carl Rogers and others to the point that he isolated himself from them. Fromm's theories are not usually discussed in textbooks on personality psychology.

His influence on humanistic psychology was significant. His work has inspired many social analysts. An example is Christopher Lash's The Culture of Narcissism, which continues efforts to psychoanalyze culture and society in the neo-Freudian and Marxist traditions.

His social and political influence ended with his involvement in American politics in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Nevertheless, Erich Fromm's books are constantly being rediscovered by scholars who are individually influenced by them. In 1985, 15 of them founded the International Society named after him. The number of its members exceeded 650 people. The society promotes scientific work and research based on the work of Erich Fromm.

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