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Man for Himself by Erich Fromm

Man for Himself (1947)

by Erich Fromm

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"Man for Himself" might be a good book, but it is also, in some ways, a limited and dated one. It seems written in the shadow of twentieth-century totalitarianisms, and Fromm's confidence in Freudian ideas about the structure of the subconscious and in psychology's ability to produce real, testable knowledge about the human personality may seem misplaced to modern readers. Also, while it certainly can't be said that Fromm is a communist, his criticisms of the capitalist system left me wondering exactly what sort of economic system might meet his approval. His introduction of the "marketing" orientation as a new twentieth century personality type seems like a product of its time.

Despite all this, "Man for Himself" seems like an honest, and occasionally successful, attempt to accommodate psychological insights into older, philosophically-oriented models of human personality. At the same time, Fromm's focus on "productivity" reminds readers that our psychological makeup isn't just a question of the contents of some unseen subconscious but something directly connected with our living conditions and our life choices. His summings up of historical perspectives on various ethical topics are effective, and his contention that self-creation is a constant, ongoing, lifelong process is inspiring. I suspect that readers with a background in philosophy will consider "Man for Himself" as little more than old Aristotle in new bottles, but I'd prefer to think that the way these questions are framed is important, and the author's examination of these questions in a relatively modern context is useful. Fromm is, I think, preaching to a sort of choir: readers who feel that their religious beliefs are an inextricable part of themselves are unlikely to get anything out of this one. But readers who want a fresh perspective on human psychological and ethical structures, or want an introduction to humanistic ethics, could probably do much worse. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Jul 10, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805014039, Paperback)

In Man for Himself, Erich Fromm examines the confusion of modern women and men who, because they lack faith in any principle by which life ought to be guided, become the helpless prey forces both within and without. From the broad, interdisciplinary perspective that marks Fromm’s distinguished oeuvre, he shows that psychology cannot divorce itself from the problems of philosophy and ethics, and that human nature cannot be understood without understanding the values and moral conflicts that confront us all. He shows that an ethical system can be based on human nature rather than on revelations or traditions. As Fromm asserts, “If man is to have confidence in values, he must know himself and the capacity of his nature for goodness and productiveness.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:16 -0400)

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