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Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

A Look at the Life and Work of Psychologist Erich Fromm

By

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

Liss Goldring / Erich Fromm Estate

"Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality." - Erich Fromm, Man for Himself, 1947

Best Known For:

  • His concept of freedom as a fundamental part of human nature
  • The social unconscious
  • Humanism
  • Social analysis
  • Personality orientations
  • Theory of human needs

Birth and Death:

  • Erich Fromm was born on March 23, 1900 in Frankfurt, Germany.
  • He died on March 18, 1980 in Switzerland.

Early Life:

Erich Fromm was an only child born to Orthodox Jewish parents in Frankfurt, Germany. He would later describe his own childhood as "highly neurotic." At the age of 14, Fromm was very influenced by the start of World War I and developed a strong interest in the behavior of groups. He began looking for answers to his questions in the writings of thinkers including Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.

He went on to study sociology at the University of Heidelberg, earning his doctorate in 1922 under the supervision of Alfred Weber. In 1924, he began studying psychoanalysis at the University of Frankfurt before moving to the Berlin Institute of Psychoanalysis. In 1926, he married Freida Reichmann, a women ten years his senior who had once been Fromm's own psychoanalyst. The marriage dissolved after four years.

Career:

Throughout his life, Fromm maintained a busy career that included numerous teaching positions in addition to publishing a number of books and running his own clinical practice. Fromm helped found the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute, where he lectured from 1929 to 1932. After the Nazi's rose to power, the Institute was moved to Geneva, Switzerland and later to the United States at Columbia University.

After moving to the United States, Fromm taught at a number of schools including the New School for Social Research, Columbia and Yale. His criticisms of Sigmund Freud's theories began to put him at odds with other psychoanalysts, and in 1944 the New York Psychoanalytic Institute suspended him from supervising students for this reason.

 

Fromm remarried in 1944, became a U.S. citizen and moved to Mexico in hopes of alleviating his second wife's illness. He began teaching at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1949 and continued to work there until he retired in 1965. After his wife's death in 1952, Fromm founded the Mexican Institute of Psychoanalysis and continued to serve as its director until 1976. He remarried in 1953 and continued to teach in Mexico while also teaching at other schools including Michigan State University and New York State University for part of each year.

Fromm moved from Mexico City to Muralto, Switzerland in 1974 and remained there until his death in 1980.

 

Contributions to Psychology:

Today, Erich Fromm is widely regarded as one of the most important psychoanalysts of the 20th century. While Freud had an early influence on him, Fromm later became part of a group known as the neo-Freudians which included Karen Horney and Carl Jung. Fromm was critical of many of Freud's ideas including the Oedipus complex, the life and death instincts and the libido theory. Fromm believed that society and culture also played a significant role in individual human development.

 

Fromm also had a major influence on humanistic psychology. Life, Fromm believed, was a contradiction, since humans are both part of nature and separate from it. From this conflict arises basic existential needs including relatedness, creativity, rootedness, identity and a frame of orientation.

Of his own work, Fromm would later explain, "I wanted to understand the laws that govern the life of the individual man, and the laws of society-that is, of men in their social existence. I tried to see the lasting truth in Freud's concepts as against those assumptions which were in need of revision. I tried to do the same with Marx's theory, and finally I tried to arrive at a synthesis which followed from the understanding and the criticism of both thinkers."

Selected Publications

  • Escape from Freedom, 1941
  • Man for himself, 1947
  • Psychoanalysis and Religion, 1950
  • The Sane Society, 1955
  • The Art of Loving, 1956
  • The Heart of Man, 1964
  • The Nature of Man, 1968
  • The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, 1979
  • The Art of Being, 1993
  • On Being Human, 1997

References

Fromm, E. (1947) Man For Himself. An inquiry into the psychology of ethics. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Premier.

Fromm, E. (1962). Beyond the chains of illusion: my encounter with Marx and Freud. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Funk, R. (1999) Erich Fromm’s Life and Work, erichfromm.org, http://www.erichfromm.de/english/life/life_bio2.html

Smith, M. K. (2002) ‘Erich Fromm: alienation, being and education’ the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/fromm.htm

 

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