ASSIGNMENT: Alfred Adler

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ASSIGNMENT: Alfred Adler

ASSIGNMENT: Alfred Adler


ASSIGNMENT: MAJOR CONCEPTS Alfred Adler, like other personality theorists whose primary train-

ing was in medicine and who practiced psychiatry, began his theo- rizing in the field of abnormal psychology. He formulated a theory of neurosis before broadening his theoretical scope to include the normal personality, which occurred during the 1920’s (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, 1956). Adler’s theory of personality is an extremely

Social Psychological Theories 119

economical one in the sense that a few basic concepts sustain the whole theoretical structure. For that reason, Adler’s viewpoint can be rather quickly sketched under a few general rubrics. These are (1) fictional finalism, (2) striving for superiority, (3) inferiority feel- ings and compensation, (4) social interest, (5) style of life, and (6) the creative self.

FICTIONAL FINALISM. Shortly after Adler dissociated himself from the circle that surrounded Freud, he fell under the philosophical in- fluence of Hans Vaihinger whose book The psychology of “as if (English translation, 1925) had been published in 1911. Vaihinger propounded the curious and intriguing notion that man lives by many purely fictional ideas which have no counterpart in reality. These fictions, for example, “all men are created equal,” “honesty is the best policy,” and “the end justifies the means,” enable man to deal more effectively with reality. They are auxiliary constructs or assumptions and not hypotheses which can be tested and confirmed. They can be dispensed with when their usefulness has disappeared.

Adler took over this philosophical doctrine of idealistic positivism and bent it to his own design. Freud, it will be recalled, laid great stress upon constitutional factors and experiences during early child- hood as determiners of personality. Adler discovered in Vaihinger the rebuttal to this rigid historical determinism; he found the idea that man is motivated more by his expectations of the future than he is by experiences of the past. These goals do not exist in the fu- ture as a part of some teleological design—neither Vaihinger nor Adler believed in predestination or fatality—rather they exist subjec- tively or mentally here and now as strivings or ideals which affect present behavior. If a person believes, for example, that there is a heaven for virtuous people and a hell for sinners this fiction, it may be presumed, will exercise considerable influence on his conduct. These fictional goals were, for Adler, the subjective causation of psy- chological events.

Like Jung, Adler identified Freud’s theory with the principle of causality and his own with the principle of finalism.

Individual Psychology insists absolutely on the indispensability of final- ism for the understanding of all psychological phenomena. Causes, pow- ers, instincts, impulses, and the like cannot serve as explanatory princi- ples. The final goal alone can explain man’s behavior. Experiences, traumata, sexual development mechanisms cannot yield an explanation, but the perspective in which these are regarded, the individual way of seeing them, which subordinates all life to the final goal, can do rt> (1930, p. 400).

120 Theories of Personality

This final goal may be a fiction, that is, an ideal which is impossible to realize but which is nonetheless a very real spur to man’s striving and the ultimate explanation of his conduct. Adler believed, how- ever, that the normal person could free himself from the influence of these fictions and face reality when necessity demanded, some- thing that the neurotic person is incapable of doing.

STRIVING FOR SUPERIORITY. What is the final goal toward which all men strive and which gives consistency and unity to personality? By 1908, Adler had reached the conclusion that aggression was more important than sexuality. A little later, the aggressive impulse was replaced by the “will to power.” Adler identified power with mas- culinity and weakness with femininity. It was at this stage of his thinking (circa 1910) that he set forth the idea of the “masculine protest,” a form of overcompensation that both men and women in- dulge in when they feel inadequate and inferior. Later, Adler aban- doned the “will to power” in favor of the “striving for superiority,” to which he remained committed thereafter. Thus, there were three stages in his thinking regarding the final goal of man: to be aggres- sive, to be powerful, and to be superior.

Adler makes it very clear that by superiority he does not mean social distinction, leadership, or a pre-eminent position in society. By superiority, Adler means something very analogous to Jung’s concept of the self or Goldstein’s principle of self-actualization. It is a striv- ing for perfect completion. It is “the great upward drive.”

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