Erich Fromm

On this date in 1900, psychoanalyst and humanist philosopher Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Grandfathers on both sides of the family were rabbis. He earned his Ph.D in sociology in 1922 from the University of Heidelberg, and trained at the Psychological Institute in Berlin. By 1926, Fromm had rejected Orthodox Judaism. Fromm took the story of Adam and Eve and turned it into an allegory in praise of the quest for knowledge, the questioning of authority and the use of reason. He moved in 1930 to Geneva to escape Nazism, then emigrated to the United States in 1934. Fromm taught at Columbia University and became a citizen in 1940. His pinnacle work, Escape from Freedom, was published in 1941, followed by Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947). Fromm moved to Mexico in 1950 to become a professor at the National Autonomous University, where he taught until 1965. The Art of Loving (1956) became an international bestseller. That was followed by The Sane Society (1955), You Shall Be as Gods (1966), The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), and To Have or to Be (1976). Fromm began teaching in the United States again in the late 1950s, at Michigan State University and later New York University. He was a co-founder of several institutes, including the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology. As a critic of McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, he helped found the international peace group, SANE.

In The Sane Society, Fromm distinguishes "intelligence" ("thought in the service of biological survival") from "reason," which "aims at understanding." "In observing the quality of thinking in alienated man, it is striking to see how his intelligence has developed and how reason has deteriorated. . . . Even from the nineteenth century to our day, there seems to have occurred an observable increase in stupidity, if by this we mean the opposite to reason, rather than to intelligence." Those with "outstanding reason in our midst . . . think apart from the general herd thought, and they are looked upon with suspicion--even if they are needed for their extraordinary achievements in the natural sciences." Fromm called ethics "inseparable from reason." About conscience, Fromm wrote: "To the degree to which a person conforms he cannot hear the voice of his conscience, much less act upon it." Fromm eventually moved to Switzerland, where he died just before his 80th birthday. D. 1980.

Photo by Arturo Espinosa under CC 2.0

“If faith cannot be reconciled with rational thinking, it has to be eliminated as an anachronistic remnant of earlier stages of culture and replaced by science dealing with facts and theories which are intelligible and can be validated.”

—Erich Fromm, Man for Himself (1947)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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