American Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm was a leading psychoanalyst of the 1900's. Many often misspell his name Eric From or Eric Fromm - which is understandable given the unusual spelling.
Introduction to Erich Fromm
Erich Fromm did not develop strict theories of developmental psychology. Rather, Fromm extrapolated upon the characteristics of the highest levels of personality development. He also analyzed the role the social environment plays on individual psychology and its development. In fact, Fromm emphasized the significance of society's norms, customs, and values very strongly. In books such as "Escape from Freedom" and "The Art of Love," Fromm directly confronts capitalism and argues that it is at direct odds with the development of the individual.
Fromm's influences can be seen throughout his work. Although he is known primarily as a critic of Freud, he acknowledges Freud's contribution to psychoanalysis and Freudian concepts can be seen again and again in Fromm's writing. This is obvious, given the title of his final work: "Greatness and Limitations of Freud's Thought." In fact, one of the many joys of reading Fromm is his ability to clearly communicate Freudian concepts without complex terminology or abstract metaphors, Because he remains grounded in a firm, tangible conceptual arena, Fromm is one of the best theorists to study for those who are new to psychoanalysis.
Fromm was also highly influenced by both Eastern metaphysics and traditional western philosophy. Fromm commonly refers to Veda and Vedic Science, Marx, Spinoza, Sullivan, and countless others. He also kept up to date in the tremendous progress within the research fields of psychology while he was alive.
Love as the Ultimate Aim of Personality Development
One of the most fundamental premises Fromm defended was the necessity of love in higher states of individual awareness. In fact, the relationship between love and the well being of one's psyche is best understood as co-requisite. For Fromm, love is not only the highest expression of individual capacity, but the fuel which makes personality development possible in the first place.
Not only must the child be nurtured by the love of the mother top develop normally, but a healthy adult must also participate in love in order to meet his/her psychological demands. This, of course, is no easy task, Fromm explained how love is one of the most poorly understood problems in all of human history (2). Not only do most people not understand their need for love, but they do not even think to approach love as a theoretical problem at all. Therefore, for Fromm, most people remain caught in cycles of unhappiness for their entire lives by participating in shallow games and meaningless relationships.
In contrast, a true subject will transcend the negative influences of society and develop a full capacity to love. Just like any other art, Fromm argues, love is a skill which requires focused attention, patience, practice, and dedication to master (1). This is in stark contrast to popular notions of love as something to fall into, or something that is only shared between individuals. Love, for Fromm, is expressed either towards all of humanity or toward nobody of all. Furthermore, this level of engagement is neither passive or accidental. Instead, it is deliberately developed, nurtured, and acted upon consciously.
The Fundamental Problem of Human Existence - Fromm from a Freudian and Lacanian Perspective
It is in his book "The Art of Loving," that Fromm defines love as the key goal of the psychological development. In fact, he entitles the first section of the second chapter "Love: The Answer to the Problem of Human Existence."
In this section, Fromm reiterates the Freudian concept of the division of the sexes, and the Lacanian concept of the eternally missing object cause of desire, objet petit a. But, what separates Fromm isn't the ideas - it's his clear method of communication. Fromm extrapolates the division of man as separate from his environment:
"Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself; he has awareness of himself, of his fellow man, of his past, and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form of other with men, and with the world outside."
"The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety. Being separate means being cut off, without any capacity to use my human powers.Hence, to be separate means to be helpless, unable to grasp the world - things and people - actively; it means that the world can invade me without the ability to react. Thus, separateness is the source of intense anxiety." (3)
Any reader who is familiar with the theories of Freud or Lacan will be (un)pleasantly (un)surprised to see the theories of object petit a, castration, and the void master signifier emerge in Fromm's thoughts. Indeed, countless psychoanalytic theories are condensed into the above passage. However, Fromm does not depend on abstract terminology or confusing concepts to get his point across. Rather, he explains the alienation of the subject in a very tangible way.
Fromm and Science, Fromm and Language
Fromm is careful to point out that the scientist - just like any other human being - is forever restrained by the social circumstances under which s/he works. Because all of our knowledge is dictated by the input we receive from our environment, Fromm argues that transcending cultural influences possible only in a very limited way. The bottom line is that truly original thought cannot be conceptualized due to the limits of the language one is given:
"[T]he creative thinker must think in the terms of the logic, the thought patterns, the expressible concepts of his culture. That means he has not the words to express the creative, the new, the liberating idea. He is forced to solve an insoluble problem: to express the new thought in concepts and words that do not yet exist in his language. (They may very well exist at a later time when his creative thoughts have been generally accepted." (5)
In his final work (4), Fromm explains science as an ever shifting, perpetual method of progress toward deeper understanding. It is important to note how Fromm rejects the idea of an absolute scientific truth in favor of a model of competing, ever-expanding explanations of reality.
1. Fromm, Erich. "The Art of Love" 1956, Mass Paperback 1963 Printing 8, Bantam Publishing pages 90-93
2. Fromm, Erich. "The Art of Love" 1956, Mass Paperback 1963 Printing 8, Bantam Publishing pages 3-5
3. Fromm, Erich. "The Art of Love" 1956, Mass Paperback 1963 Printing 8, Bantam Publishing pages 6-7
5. Fromm, Erich, "The Greatness and Limitations of Freud's Thought" 1980, First Mentor Printing 1981 page 3