Erich Fromm's convictions

  • Jul 26, 2021
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Erich Fromm's convictions

In Erich Fromm's conception, it is of fundamental importance to inquire if there is a nature proper to human beings because it would determine their way of behaving and the nature of human beings. goals that he would establish in his life, the following definition leads us to think about the need to put a special emphasis that allows us to reach some conclusion about this idea: “Well-being is being in accordance with the nature of man”.(1)

To introduce ourselves in this topic we could begin with the following orientation: "The purpose of life that corresponds to the nature of man in his existential situation is that of being able to love, being able to use reason and being able to have the objectivity and humility of being in contact with an external and internal reality without disfigure it ”.(2)

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  1. The nature of the human being
  2. Passions of the human being
  3. Other theories of the nature of the human being
  4. Conclusions

The nature of the human being.

When we dealt with the issue of aggressiveness we saw the two positions, one that says that aggression is part of the human nature and the other that defended the idea that social conditions determine the behaviour. Fromm, by categorically rejecting the first of the tendencies, highlighted the high authoritarian component that this trend implied. position, because if man is only capable of generating evil, strict controls should be adopted to prevent the emergence of his attitudes destructive.

The other trend instead tended to believe in the goodness of man and that only social circumstances drive him to evil, Fromm questioned both positions, while he showed the former that there were times when there were societies far removed from these precepts of destruction, to the seconds he pointed out the repeated opportunities in history in which the worst of human beings emerged with its sequel of massacres and unlimited destruction.

In different periods of history, levels of cruelty were reached much higher than those that can be seen in any other species: “…human history is a document of unimaginable cruelty and the extraordinary destructiveness of man ”. (3)

Fromm's idea was that the aggressiveness of humans was in their brains but that it does not manifest itself until it is activated by circumstances linked to the preservation of one's life.

If the war were the product of the intrinsic aggressiveness of men, the rulers would have no need to carry out propaganda tending to show the aggression of a neighboring town and make us believe that our lives, our freedom, are in danger, properties, etc. This exaltation of warmongering lasts for a while, then a direct threat is made to those who resist fighting, as Fromm points out very well, all this would not be necessary. if the people were predisposed to war, on the contrary, the rulers should constantly appeal to pacifist campaigns to stop the warrior spirit of their peoples. Wars began to become generalized with the emergence of city-states, with their armies, kings, and the possibility of obtaining valuable booty through war.(4)

It is logical that people, like animals, react when they feel threatened, the difference is that human beings can be convinced by propaganda that his life or his freedom are at serious risk, Through these resources, aggressiveness that would otherwise remain dormant can be awakened. Installing fear in a society always turns out to be a very efficient resource to bring out the worst in each one, particularly so that a violence emerges in an unstoppable way that temporarily appeases the fear that we invades.

With the appearance of Freud, a theory based on psychoanalysis emerged that implies a profound change and advance scientist in trying to rationally understand human passions, particularly those that are rooted in irrational. There was an end in Freud which was that each individual can achieve his autonomy by conducting himself after unraveling his subconscious, that is, through the use of reason, man can free himself from the false illusions that prevent him from being free.(5)

Passions of the human being.

Men have two types of passions, some are biological and are common to all, they are those essential for survival, such as hunger, thirst, or sexual need. The other passions do not have a biological root and are not the same for everyone, they vary according to the culture of each society, among them we can name love, joy, hatred, jealousy, solidarity, competitiveness, etc. These passions are part of a person's character.(6)

What is irrational in man is not his instincts but his irrational passions. Animals are not envious will to exploit and dominate, at least mammals. In man they develop not because they are rooted in instincts but because of certain pathological conditions that produce these traits. The full development of man requires certain favorable conditions, if they are not fulfilled it will be truncated in his growth, if instead of Freedom receives coercion, if instead of respect it receives sadism, they will produce negative conditions which shape the passions irrational. (7)

Contrary to what is believed, man has been endowed with the deepest sense of justice and equality, which is manifested in the natural reaction of the majority when faced with an act unfair.

Fromm considered that an inessential component of human nature was the constant search for freedom, as he put it with all the letters: "Human existence and freedom are inseparable from the beginning".

When the human being began to think, his relationship with nature changed, he stopped having a passive attitude to develop a creative activity that began with the making of tools that gradually led him to dominate nature and to separate from her.

Fromm found an interesting and symbolic way to explain the freedom of men, according to their particular way of seeing things, human freedom began from the moment in which man disobeyed God, that is the moment in which he leaves the state of unconsciousness, where he did not differ from nature, to begin his existence as a being He acted against the authority of God by committing a sin but at the same time he performed his first act of freedom and coincidentally he also used for the first time the faculty of to reason.(8)

The defense of freedom in all its forms was one of Fromm's obsessions: “In truth, freedom is the necessary condition for both happiness and virtue; freedom, not in the sense of aptitude to make arbitrary choices nor to be free from necessity; but the freedom to realize what one is potentially, to fully fulfill the true nature of man in accordance with the laws of his existence ”.(9)

Man not only has to urgently satisfy the physiological requirements, there are also spiritual needs that must be met and that if they are not, they can have serious consequences on the individual. One of those needs is to grow and be able to release all the potentialities of the human being, these tendencies can be repressed, but sooner or later. early they will emerge, the growth orientation generates desires for freedom, justice and truth, which also correspond to nature's own impulses human.(10)

Fromm disagreed with Freud's conception in the sense that he considered the human being as a self-sufficient being who only needs to maintain relationships with others to satisfy his needs. instinctive needs, for Fromm man was essentially a social being, for that very reason, he considered that psychology should be fundamentally social, the needs of the individual who link it with his environment, such as love and hate, are fundamental psychological phenomena but in Freud's theory they represent secondary consequences of needs instinctive.(11)

The changes and revolutions that occur in history occur not only because new economic and social conditions conflict with old productive forces, but also because a clash occurs between the inhuman conditions that the masses must endure and the unalterable needs of individuals, which are conditioned by nature human.(12)

If there were no human nature and man was infinitely malleable, revolutions would not have happened and there would be no permanent changes, society could subdue individuals according to its will without producing some kind of endurance. The protest does not arise exclusively for material reasons, which are undoubtedly indispensable, There are also other human needs that are a powerful motivation to drive change and revolutions.(13)

Fromm adopted from Marx the idea of ​​the existence of a human nature in general and a specific expression of it in each culture. Marx distinguished two types of human urges and appetites: constant and fixed such as hunger and sexual desire, which They are an integral part of human nature and that can only be modified in their form and in the direction they take in each culture. There are also the relative appetites that are not part of human nature and that "owe their origin to certain social structures and to certain conditions of production and communication."(14)

Human nature is rooted in man's interest in expressing his faculties before the world, rather than his tendency to use the world as a means to satisfy his physiological needs. Marx said that as I have eyes I need to see, as I have ears I need to hear, as I have a brain I need to think and as I have a heart I need to feel. The impulses of man respond to the human need to interact with other people and with nature. (15)

Here perhaps we can understand a little better why the determination of the existence of a nature proper to beings is important in Frommian thought. human beings, the principle by which the power to act creates the need to use that power is derived from itself and that its non-use generates disorders and unhappiness. Man has the power to think and speak, if such capacities are blocked the person will suffer damage, man has the power to love if he does not make use of that capacity will suffer, even if you try to ignore his suffering with all kinds of rationalizations or by using escape routes to avoid the pain of the failure.(16)

Fromm wanted to make clear Marx's position that his enthusiasm for the possibilities of men to create a future is not was to be confused with a voluntarist position: “Although Marx emphasized the fact that man greatly modified himself and to nature during the historical process, he always emphasized that such changes were related to natural conditions existing. This is precisely what distinguishes his point of view from certain idealistic positions that assign unlimited power to the human will ”.(17)

Man is dependent he is subjected to death, old age, disease, even if he came to control nature and put it at his service, he would never cease to be a point in the Universe, but one thing is recognizing dependence and limitation, and quite another¸ is to surrender to those forces and worship them, understanding the limited of our power is an essential part of our wisdom and maturity.(18)

However, it should not fall into proposals that exclude the possibility that men modify reality, although the human being is the object of natural forces and social institutions that govern it is in no way a passive object managed by circumstances: “It has the will, capacity and freedom to transform and change the world, within certain limits ”Man cannot tolerate absolute passivity:“ He feels compelled to leave his mark on the world, to transform and change, and not only to be transformed and changed ”. (19)

In every situation that life presents, man is faced with a series of real possibilities that are determined because they are the result of the specific circumstances that surround him. You can choose between the alternatives to the extent that you are aware of them and the consequences of his decision. Freedom is acting with the knowledge that one has of the true possibilities and consequences, in contrast to the fictitious or unreal options that play a game. numbing paper and therefore prevent the full use of freedom of choice.(20)

Erich Fromm's convictions - Passions of the human being

Other theories of the nature of the human being.

Neither Freud nor Marx were determinists, both believed that it was possible to modify a course already drawn, both recognized the ability of man to know the forces that provoke individual and social events, allowing you to regain your Liberty.

Man is conditioned by laws of cause and effect but with knowledge and taking the correct action he can create and expand his sphere of freedom. For Freud the knowledge of the unconscious and for Marx that of socio-economic conditions and interests class, were the conditions for their liberation, for which the will and the struggle active.(21)

The possibility of freedom it is in knowing which are the real options between which we can choose and recognize those unreal alternatives that are mere illusions, many times before a choice we discard the real possibilities because they involve efforts or risks and we live under a false illusion that an unreal alternative will ever materialize, as soon as failure is on the horizon, we conclude by looking for a culprit outside of us.(22)

Freud's conception of human nature is defined as essentially competitive, in this regard it is not difference with those authors who believe that the characteristics of man in capitalism correspond to his inclinations natural.

Darwin defined the struggle for survival, David Ricardo transferred it to economics and Freud to sexual desires, the conclusion that Fromm reached was that: “Both the economic and the sexual man are useful creations whose So-called nature - isolated, asocial, insatiable and competitive - makes capitalism seem like the regime that corresponds perfectly to human nature and puts it out of the reach of humankind. review".(23)

In modern capitalist society it is assumed that there are certain behaviors that are rooted in the human nature and that is why they are immutable, at least that is what they try to make us believe, for example the desire to consume. In the same line of thought some argue that man is lazy and passive by nature, that He does not want to work, or make any effort if it is not for material gain, hunger or fear of punishment.

Fromm in no way agreed that there was a tendency to laziness, he told us that there was research that showed that if students seemed lazy was it because the learning material was difficult to read or because it failed to arouse interest, if pressure and boredom are eliminated, and material is presented in an interesting way, the student will be engaged and proactive. In the same way, a boring job will become interesting if workers realize that they are participating and are taken into account.(24)

In 1974 he wrote an article where he asked the question if man was lazy by nature, many times this is adopted as an axiom, just as it is said that he is bad by nature, both reasoning usually concludes by remarking that for this they need the church or some political power to extirpate evil. If the man is the worst then he needs bosses to get him on track. Fromm cunningly turned the concept upside down, if heads and institutions are to be imposed on man to dominate him the most effective ideological weapon They will use those powers will be to try to convince him that he cannot trust his own will and knowledge of him because he will be at the mercy of the demon he carries inside. Nietzsche understood this perfectly when he pointed out that if it is possible to fill man with sin and guilt he will become incapable of being free. (25)

He did not agree with the idea that people are not willing to make sacrifices, and quoted Churchill when he asked the British people for "blood, sweat and tears." The reaction of the English, Russians and Germans to the indiscriminate bombing during World War II showed that his spirit was not broken, on the contrary it strengthened his resistance.

Unfortunately it seems to be war and not peace that can stimulate the human will to make sacrifices, peace seems to encourage selfishness. But there are situations in peace in which the spirit of solidarity emerges, strikes are an example in which workers take risks to defend their dignity and that of their colleagues.(26)

The intensity of the desire to share, of giving, of sacrificing is not so surprising if the existence of the species is considered, the really strange thing is that This need has been repressed to such an extent that selfishness has become the rule in society and solidarity has become the rule. exception. (27)

Nor did Fromm agree on emphasizing that in human nature selfish and individualists were the predominant ones, as Freud and other thinkers argued: “… one of the characteristics of nature human is that man finds his happiness and the full realization of his faculties only in relationship and solidarity with his fellow men. However, loving your neighbor is not a phenomenon that transcends man, but is something inherent and that radiates from him ”.(28)

It is society that models man, but he is by no means a blank page where he can write any text, if you try to impose conditions that go against its nature in some way there will be a reaction. Fromm argues that man has an objective and that it is that nature that tells him what are the appropriate norms to face his life.

If adequate environmental conditions exist in society, he will be able to fully develop his potential and achieve his goal, otherwise he will be aimless.

Fromm spoke of activating stimuli He was referring to the presence of freedom, the absence of exploitation and the existence of man-centered modes of production, all of this indicated that the conditions were favorable to development, its absence implied serious difficulties for people to channel their concerns. It is not that two or three conditions are present, but rather a whole system of factors. The appropriate circumstances for total development are only possible in a social system in which different conditions are combined.

Marx's theory that ideas are determined by social and economic structure does not implies that ideas are unimportant, or that they are mere "reflections" of needs economic. The ideal of freedom is deeply rooted in human nature, which is why it constituted an ideal for the Hebrews in Egypt, the slaves in Rome, the workers in East Germany, etc. But it must be borne in mind that the principle of order and authority is also rooted in the existence of man.(30)

Obviously an essential consideration about human nature corresponds to the principle of equality by which all human beings are equal, that is the fundamental precept of humanism that Fromm defended so vehemently throughout his life with a coherent unobjectionable. In the manner of a secular prayer, In his humanist creed Fromm said: “I believe that equality is felt when, when discovering oneself completely, one recognizes the same as others and identifies with them. Every individual carries humanity within him. The ‘human condition’ is unique and equal in all men, despite the inevitable differences in intelligence, talent, stature, color, etc. ”.(31)


Let us conclude this chapter with a new quote that synthesizes many of the issues that we have been analyzing so far: “I believe that only exceptionally is a man born a saint or a criminal. Almost all of us have inclinations towards good and evil, although the weight of each of these tendencies varies according to the individuals. Hence our fate is largely determined by those influences that shape and shape specific trends. Family is the most important influence. But the family itself is above all a social agent, it is the transmission belt through which the values ​​and norms that society wishes to instill in its members run. Consequently, the most important factors for the evolution of the individual are the structure and values ​​of the society in which he was born ”.(32)

Freedom and equality arise as people's needs rather than ideologies, There are also powerful interests tending to prevent us from living according to those precepts that require that there be no guardianships of any kind. Thinking that spiritual issues matter almost as much as needs arising from the struggle for survival has led some critics of Fromm to To qualify him as "idealist", his struggle has in part consisted in showing us that concepts such as equality and freedom are as important and real as satisfying any need physiological.

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

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  1. Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, p. 95
  2. The pathology of normality, p. 35
  3. The love of life, pp. 75 and 76
  4. Ob. Cit., Pp. 86 and 87
  5. Ob. Cit., Pp. 123 and 124
  6. Ob. Cit., Pp. 224 and 225
  7. The art of listening, pp. 75 and 76
  8. The fear of freedom, pp. 54, 55 and 56
  9. Ethics and psychoanalysis, p. 266
  10. The fear of freedom, pp. 314 and 315
  11. Ob. Cit., Pp. 316 and 317
  12. On disobedience and other essays, p. 29
  13. The revolution of hope, p. 69
  14. Marx and his concept of man, p. 37
  15. The crisis of psychoanalysis, pp. 80 and 81
  16. Ethics and psychoanalysis, pp. 236 and 237
  17. The crisis of psychoanalysis, pp. 188 and 189
  18. Psychoanalysis and religion, p. 76
  19. The heart of man, p. 48
  20. On disobedience and other essays, pp. 42 and 43
  21. The heart of man, pp. 148 and 149
  22. Ob. Cit., Pp. 169
  23. Psychoanalysis in contemporary society, pp. 69 and 70
  24. To have or to be? 102 and 103
  25. Pathology of normality, p. 131
  26. To have or to be? 103 and 104
  27. Ob. Cit., Pp. 107 and 108
  28. Ethics and psychoanalysis, p. 26
  29. Anatomy of human destructiveness, pp. 263 and 264
  30. The chains of illusion, pp. 130 and 131
  31. Humanism as a real utopia, p. 134
  32. The chains of illusion, p. 257
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