Erich Fromm's convictions

  • Jul 26, 2021
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Erich Fromm's convictions - Being or Having

Man can only be himself when he is able to express your innate potentialities, but this hardly happens when his objective is to possess the greatest quantity of things, if he only insists on obtaining possessions he will end up becoming one more object. On the other hand, in order to "be" he must dedicate himself to an authentic activity that is none other than that which allows him to fully develop his capacities.

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  1. Orientation of being
  2. Having in modern society
  3. Functional property
  4. Difference between being and having
  5. Being and having and religious beliefs
  6. Anal character - Freud
  7. Book "From having to being"

Orientation of being.

Let us pay attention to the definition on which he called the orientation of being: “The way of being has as prerequisites independence, freedom and the presence of critical reason. Its fundamental characteristic is to be active, and not in the sense of an outside activity, of being busy, but of an activity interior, the productive use of our faculties, the talent, and the richness of the gifts that all beings have (although in varying degrees) humans. This means renewing, growing, flowing, loving, transcending the prison of the isolated ego, being actively interested, giving ”.

Fromm told us that only abandoning the way of having, where we cling to belongings and our ego, the way of being can emerge. To be it is necessary to avoid selfishness and self-centeredness, but for many this is difficult, giving up the orientation of having causes them anguish, without realizing that when they stop leaning on the properties they can begin to use their strength fully and walk on their own themselves. (1)

Bearing in modern society.

In the maelstrom of modern society, individuals tend to feeling more isolated and lonely, this forces them to seek palliatives that allow them to overcome that feeling of insecurity, one of the forms generally used is that of accumulate an increasing number of possessions, in such a way that these objects become an extension of their own being. When these acquisitions are lost, it is like the person misplacing part of his self and feeling like an incomplete individual.

Other factors that complement possessions are prestige and power, almost as essential as the first in their function of palliative. Even for those with little purchasing power the family can be a source of prestige, within it men can fantasize about the illusion of feeling powerful, other times national pride can play an important role when considering a person with prestige. (2)

By the way, man needs to possess certain things in order to exist, but he can live very well with having a purely functional one, this is how it was in the first 40,000 years of Homo Sapiens' existence. This is the difference that Fromm raised: “Functional property is a real and existential need of man; while institutional property satisfies a pathological need, conditioned by certain socioeconomic circumstances ”.

Man needs a home, food, tools, clothes, etc. These are essential questions for its biological existence, but there are other things that do more to its spiritual world that are also necessary for them, such as ornaments, decoration, objects artistic; These are usually proprietary but can also be considered functional.

As civilization developed, the functional property of things decreased, this is how they may have various suits, machines that avoid work, televisions, radios, books, tennis rackets, etc. All these possessions should not be different from those functional of primitive cultures and yet they are, the change occurs when they cease to be a means for life and become a means for passive consumption or an element of status. (3)

Erich Fromm's convictions - Being or Having - Having in modern society

Functional property.

Fromm considered that the traditional classification of property in public and private was insufficient and lent itself to misunderstandings. According to his criteria, pay more attention to whether the property was functional and therefore not exploitative or if on the contrary it constituted a source for the exploitation of human beings.

Property thus belonging to the state or even to factory workers could be lent to the emergence of a bureaucracy that seriously limits the possibilities of the rest of the workers. Purely functional property was not considered by Marx or other socialists as private property that should be socialized.

And going into the explanation of what he called functional property, he pointed out that it was clear that no one should possess more than what they can use rationally. This correlation between possession and use has several consequences that he detailed.

In principle, having only what can be used determines us to stay active. Greed can hardly arise when the amount of things I own is limited to the use I can make of them. It will also be strange for envy to appear because while I keep busy using what I have, it is difficult for me to dedicate myself to controlling what are the possessions of my fellow men. And lastly, I won't be afraid of losing what I have as the functional property can be quickly replaced. (4)

Fromm in no way supported the elimination of private property, but he did view with concern the nefarious role that could fulfill in those societies where material goods acquired greater importance than the welfare of beings humans.

While in our culture the supreme goal is to have, it even seems to suggest that the very essence of human beings is to have and that the individual who owns nothing is nobody. What Marx strove to show is that luxury is a flaw, something almost as negative as poverty itself, therefore the goal should be set to be much instead of facing that insatiable quest to have much. (5)

Difference between being and having.

The difference between being and having is that which corresponds to a society mainly interested in people and another that gives preeminence to things. The have orientation is characteristic of Western industrial society in which profit, fame and power have become the predominant problems of life.

Even language has become a sample of existing alienation where having is the central concern, that's why "we have a problem", "we have insomnia", "we have a happy marriage", everything can be turned into a possession. (6)

Fromm considered these two forms of existence, that of being and that of having, as positions before life and our fellow men. He also assigned both the category of forming two character structures whose predominance in one sense or another, they determined the thoughts, feelings, and actions of beings humans.

In this sense, he exemplified the way of approaching different aspects of life according to these two orientations that we have been analyzing. In the learning, the way of having is expressed in students attending their classes, taking notes and learning from those notes, even memory, with the central objective of passing the subject, so the content received is not enriched or expanded. In the way of being, the students do not attend classes with a blank mind, with a passive attitude, but have thought the problems and issues to be addressed, have addressed the issue and are interested in such a way that they respond in a way active. (7)

In their way of being, people engage in conversation maintaining a contagious vitality where participants help each other. another to transcend egocentricity, in this way the conversation ceases to be an exchange of merchandise, be it information, knowledge or status; to become a dialogue where it does not matter who is right. (8)

In the way of having knowledge is taken into possession, in the way of being, knowing serves as a means for the process of thinking productively. Knowing means realizing that much of what is believed to be true is an illusion produced by the influence of the social world, therefore knowledge begins with the destruction of false illusions. (9)

Erich Fromm's convictions - Being or Having - Difference between being and having

Being and having and religious beliefs.

In the way of having, Faith it consists of the possession of an answer for which there is no rational proof. Relieves the individual and avoid thinking for yourself and make decisions, that faith gives you certainty. In this way, faith becomes the support for those who want to feel safe, for those who want to get answers from life but who do not dare to seek it for themselves.

In the way to be, faith does not consist in believing in certain ideas but in an inner orientation, in an attitude. Faith in oneself, in others, in Humanity, in our capacity to be fully human, also implies certainty but based on the experience of each one, not on submission to an authority that imposes a certain belief. (10)

Next we will see the association that the German thinker makes between that existence based on being and some religious beliefs, which also exhaustively condemned the unbridled ambitions of men.

One of the main themes of the Old Testament is "leave what you have, free yourself from your chains and be yourself." Marx made famous something that was already in the Bible, "to each according to his needs", the right of all to the feeding was established without a doubt, the children of God do not have to do anything to be fed. A commandment condemns hoarding and greed, the people of Israel were ordered not to save anything for the next day. (11)

The shabbat It is one of the most important concepts in the Bible and Judaism, Fromm told us that it was not because of rest itself, but by rest in the sense of complete harmony between human beings and theirs with the nature. Nothing should be destroyed and nothing should be built, it is a day of truce in man's struggle with the world, on Shabbat you live as if you did not had nothing, without pursuing another goal than to be, that is, to express our essential powers: eat, study, pray, sing, do the love.

Shabbat is a day of joy where the individual is fully himself, the Talmud calls it the anticipation of the messianic time, a day where money, property and sorrows have no room. Modern Sunday is a day full of consumption and running away from oneself. Shabbat was the vision of a future period where property will play a secondary role, fear and war will not exist, instead expressing our essential powers will be the goal of life.

The New Testament it is even more radical in its protest against the existence of the having structure. The early Christians were poor, despised by society, they categorically condemned wealth and power, for which they were relentlessly persecuted, Christianity was a rebellion of slaves who believed in solidarity human.

In the gospels the clear message is evident that people must free themselves from greed and the desire to possess, which means neither more nor less than get rid of the structure of having and that all ethical norms are rooted in the structure of being, that is, in solidarity. The commandment to love our enemies underlines the interest in other human beings and calls for renouncing selfishness and the accumulation of wealth. (12)

Most of the thinkers of the early Church condemned luxury and greed, and were categorical in despising wealth. St. Thomas Aquinas who fought against the Christian communist sects was of the opinion that private property was only justified if it was for the welfare of all. The nature of the way of having is born with the emergence of private property, in this conception the only thing It is really important to acquire property and maintain the unlimited right to keep it forever. acquired. In this way Buddhism had no hesitation in calling it greed, the Christian and Jewish religions called it ambition. Greed and ambition transformed the world and all things into something dead, into something subject to the power of another. (13)

Anal character - Freud.

According to the discoveries made by Freud, human beings after going through a childhood stage merely receptive and passive, and before reaching adulthood they go through an anal phase, but there are people in what the anal character continues to predominate, are those whose energies follow focused on having, saving and accumulating material things. It is the character that predominates in the misers and that is also usually accompanied by traits such as order, punctuality and stubbornness. In developing the concept of the anal character Freud made a sharp critique of 19th century bourgeois society trying to show that the predominant traits in that character were coincident with those of nature itself human. (14)

If I am what I have, and if I can lose that, then it is worth asking, who am I? That is why we live in permanent fear: we fear thieves, revolutions, economic changes, disease, death, freedom, the unknown, etc. This situation causes a continuous state of worry, we become distrustful. In the way of being there is no room for fear of losing what one has, if I am what I am, no one can threaten my security or my identity. (15)

In the way of having, relationships between people are from competition, antagonism and fear. Greed is the natural product of this orientation, the greedy also is rarely satiated. This can also be applied to nations, as long as they are made up of a majority of the population whose main motivation is to possess, it is difficult to avoid wars and conquests.

Peace can only be achieved when the orientation of being predominates, the idea that peace can be preserved while encouraging profit is nothing more than an illusion. The same significance can be extended to the war between the classes, between exploiters and exploited, which has always existed in societies where greed reigns. (16)

Erich Fromm's convictions - Being or Having - Anal Character - Freud

Book "From having to being"

Most of what we say in this chapter was taken from the book "Have or be?" which was the last written by Fromm between 1974 and 1976, Rainer Funk points out that many critics have considered it naive and idealistic, Funk justifies it by the advanced age of him when writing it. Many also misinterpreted that Fromm preached a life bordering on asceticism, which he in no way did, the The orientation of being cannot be understood as an orientation not to have, and it must be interpreted as an implacable criticism of society. modern.

We do not agree with these questions, since we believe that in this work he was consistent with the ideals that he defended throughout his life and that many of these ideas would serve a society where profit and greed have become the standard that guides the lives of many people.

Funk explained that many chapters of this book were excluded by Fromm himself, after his death they were grouped together in a work that was titled "From having to being". One of those excluded chapters was called "Steps to Being", in Rainer Funk's opinion, Fromm did not want to publish them because they were misinterpret and it will be concluded that each one should seek their individual salvation, if you read this book you will see many points of contact with what today is called "self-help" in the sense that a series of suggestions are given to apply in life everyday. As Fromm understood man as a socialized being, he chose to remove those chapters and preferred to expose those that dealt with social aspects. (17)

Due to what has been said in the previous paragraph, we will only mention some very specific aspects of the book “From having to being” that seem important to us to complete the sample of the Frommian ideology.

Fromm considered that the most important preparation for the orientation of being consisted of everything that allows acquire the ability to think critically, for which it is necessary not to be influenced by the powerful media, as he brilliantly expressed it: “… as almost everything we read in the newspaper are false interpretations that are served to us with the appearance of realities, the best, without a doubt of any kind, is to begin by being radically skeptical, assuming that almost everything we are going to know will be a lie or falsehood. ”(18)

It would be difficult for any human being to understand himself if he were not constantly exposed to being brainwashed or deprived of critical thinking skills. They make us think and feel things that would in no way have an effect on us if it weren't for the perfected methods of submission to dominant ideas. Unless we can see what lies behind the deceptions, we will be unable to know ourselves.

The modern industrial society is guided by the principles of selfishness, the obsession with having and consuming, the convictions that summoned love and the defense of life have been forgotten far away. Unless you can analyze these unconscious aspects of the society you live in, it will be very difficult to know who one is, because it will not be possible to know which part is genuinely ours and which no. (19)

The instruction we receive rarely leads us to develop an active imagination, it usually consists of accept knowledge acquired by others and memorize certain information. The average man thinks very little for himself, he remembers those data that were exposed to him at school or in the media, not including his own observation.

Nor does the man nowadays meddle and think about philosophical, political or religious topics, he prefers to accept some of the stereotypes offered by the establishment intellectuals, on very few occasions opinions are the result of his own reasoning, he chooses the idea that best suits his character and class social. (20)

To overcome the selfishness product of the way of having it is essential change customs, starting by ceasing to be obsessed with social position, it is necessary to transform routine behavior in all aspects, take an interest in human beings, nature, art, and social and political events, that is, paying special attention to what happens in the outside world instead of being locked in us themselves. (21)

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.

If you want to read more articles similar to Erich Fromm's convictions - Being or Having, we recommend that you enter our category of Social psychology.


  1. To have or to be?, p. 92
  2. The fear of freedom, pp. 145 and 146
  3. From having to being, pags. 161 and 162
  4. Ob. Cit., Pp. 165 and 166
  5. To have or to be?, p. 33
  6. Ob. Cit., Pp. 36 and 38
  7. Ob. Cit., Pp. 44 and 45
  8. Ob. Cit., P. 49
  9. Ob. Cit., P. 53
  10. Ob. Cit., Pp. 55 and 56
  11. Ob. Cit., Pp. 60 and 61
  12. Ob. Cit., Pp. 62 to 65
  13. Ob. Cit., Pp. 82 and 83
  14. Ob. Cit., P. 88
  15. Ob. Cit., Pp. 109, 110 and 111
  16. Ob. Cit., Pp. 112, 113 and 114
  17. From having to being, pags. 11, 12, 13 and 191
  18. Ob. Cit., Pp. 72 and 73
  19. Ob. Cit., Pp. 121 and 122
  20. Ob. Cit., P. 144
  21. Ob. Cit., Pp. 184 and 185
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