Humanistic Ethics

  • Lawrence Wilde


Psychoanalysis, according to Fromm, can operate from two different conceptions of the aim of therapy, either that of “social adjustment” or “cure of the soul.”1 The first approach seeks primarily to address the symptoms of neurosis and to help the patient to act like the majority of people in his or her culture. For Fromm, as a radical critic of the prevailing culture, adjustment could only reduce the excessive suffering of the neurotic to the average levels inherent in conforming with an alienated reality. In contrast to this Fromm argues that it is necessary to operate from the standpoint of universal human norms, from which the therapist can help the patient to achieve optimal development of his or her potential and the realization of his or her authentic individuality.2 Fromm is convinced that to know what is good for a person it is necessary to study our human nature. This requires the humanist psychoanalyst to specify those universal norms, and Fromm does this in Man For Himself (1947), which as we noted in chapter one, carries the subtitle An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. Here he makes an important advance in his social theory by advocating a form of virtue or character ethics decades before it found a renewed interest in philosophical circles. In this book, his explication of the various character orientations gives new depth to his social psychology, and the original concept of the marketing character provides a means for understanding the process of affluent alienation, which is central to his later work. Above all, however, the affirmation of a humanistic ethics provides the normative foundation for all his later work.


Human Nature Religious Thought Human Essence Moral Precept Human Solidarity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978), chapter four.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See Daniel Statman (ed.), Ethics: A Critical Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997)Google Scholar
  3. Roger Crisp and Michael Slote (eds.), Virtue Ethics (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar
  4. Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); ia Philippa Foot, Natural Goodness (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (2nd edn.) (London: Duckworth, 1995), chapter 5.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom (New York: Henry Holt, 1994), p. 114.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Erich Fromm, Man For Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics (New York: Henry Holt, 1990), p. 7.Google Scholar
  8. 25.
    Fromm, The Heart of Man, pp. 143–146.Google Scholar
  9. 32.
    Lawrence Wilde (ed.), Introduction to Wilde, Marxism’s Ethical Thinkers (New York & Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 33.
    Lawrence Wilde, Ethical Marxism and Its Radical Critics (New York and Basingstoke: St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan, 1998), pp. 28–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 34.
    Erich Fromm, The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanised Technology (New York, Evanston, and London: Harper and Row, 1968), p. 58, and, for a fuller discussion, Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, chapter 4.Google Scholar
  12. 44.
    James Daly, Deals and Ideals: Two Concepts of Enlightenment (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2000), pp. 28–30.Google Scholar
  13. 46.
    Daniel Burston, The Legacy of Erich Fromm (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 49.
    Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, volume 29, p. 264.Google Scholar
  15. 58.
    Fromm, To Have or To Be? (New York: Continuum, 2002), p. 24.Google Scholar
  16. 61.
    Fromm, The Sane Society (New York: Henry Holt, 1990), pp. 12–21.Google Scholar
  17. 70.
    Erich Fromm, “Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism” in Fromm, D. T. Suzuki and R. de Martino, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (London: Souvenir Press, 1993, orig. 1960), pp. 113–141.Google Scholar
  18. 71.
    Erich Fromm, Man For Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (New York: Henry Holt, 1990), p. 198, cf. To Have or To Be?, pp. 49–51.Google Scholar
  19. 89.
    Erich Fromm, The Dogma of Christ (New York: Henry Holt, 1993), pp. 42–43.Google Scholar
  20. 93.
    Ibid., pp. 79–81; see Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).Google Scholar
  21. 94.
    See Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), and Gordon Leff, Heresy in the Later Middle Ages: The Relations of Heterodoxy to Dissent, (Manchester: Manchester University Press/Sandpiper Books, 1999).Google Scholar
  22. 101.
    See Lawrence Wilde, “The Ethical Marxism of Erich Fromm” in M. Cowling and P. Reynolds (eds.), Marx, The Millennium and Beyond (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000).Google Scholar
  23. 102.
    Fromm, On Being Human, p. 170. Fromm is quoting Bloch’s Atheism in Christianity (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972). Bloch’s work on religion offers many similarities to Fromm’s—see Vincent Geoghegan, Ernst Bloch (New York and London, 1996), chapter 3.Google Scholar
  24. 105.
    Philip Kain, Marx and Ethics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 30–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 115.
    Erich Fromm, The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (New York: Holt, Rienhart and Winston, 1970), pp. 33–35Google Scholar
  26. Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (London: Pimlico, 1997), Appendix, pp. 581–631.Google Scholar
  27. 121.
    Seyla Benhabib, Critique, Norm and Utopia: A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 132–133— see also p. 57 and 69.Google Scholar
  28. 122.
    Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 36.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lawrence Wilde 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence Wilde

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations