Alfred Adler 1870-1937
Adler is remembered both for his role in the early development of psychoanalysis and for his theories relating to "individual psychology," which stresses the essential unity and uniqueness of every individual and his or her "life-pattern." Many of the tenets of Adler's individual psychology, such as the importance of the "inferiority feeling" in character development, have become conventional psychological principles.
Adler was born in a suburb of Vienna, Austria, to a prosperous middle-class Jewish family. As a young child he suffered from rickets and pneumonia, which spurred both his interest in the medical profession and his psychological insights into "organ inferiority" and the "inferiority feeling." After graduating from the Medical School of the University of Vienna in 1895, Adler began his career as a private practitioner, developing from the start a conception of the relationship of medical to psychological dysfunction, and in turn of psychological to social problems. In 1902 Adler joined and became a prominent member of Sigmund Freud's Vienna circle of psychoanalysts. Adler, however, was never a patient or a disciple of Freud, and fundamentally disagreed with him about the centrality of sexual trauma in the development of mental illness. In 1911, Adler broke away from Freud and founded the "Society for Free Psychoanalysis." He also began advocating his own system of "individual psychology." Adler's Über den nervösen Charakter (The Neurotic Constitution) was rejected as a post-doctoral dissertation by the medical faculty at the University of Vienna, which left Adler to lecture on psychology at continuing-education institutions for adults. Such appointments, however, were consistent with Adler's lifelong concern over social issues, as was his founding in 1919 of a pioneering "child-guidance" clinic in Vienna. In 1926 Adler accepted a visiting professorship at Columbia University in New York, thereby beginning an international career as a popular teacher, lecturer, and writer. In 1935, due to the rise of nazism, Adler moved his family to the United States. He died in 1937, during the course of a European lecture tour.
Adler's first major work was Studie über die Minderwertigkeit von Organen (Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation), which stressed the role that real and perceived physical inferiority played in spurring the child, as a form of compensation, to self-assertion and a quest for superiority. Adler's subsequent The Neurotic Constitution defines neurosis as the unsatisfactory, anti-social, or delusional enactment of this psychic self-assertion. In 1912 Adler founded the Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie (Journal for Individual Psychology), which has continued publication under various forms. In Menschenkenntnis (Understanding Human Nature), which was written for a more popular audience, Adler focused on work, community, and sex as the primary components of human experience. Adler's concern with child-rearing and early education—the stages, according to Adlerian theory, in which individual psychology is molded—was reflected in publications such as The Education of Children. In later writings such as What Life Should Mean to You and Der Sinn des Lebens (Social Interest), Adler increasingly stressed the role that social and communal instincts play in tempering self-assertion and securing mental health.
Studie über die Minderwertigkeit von Organen [Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation] (nonfiction) 1907
Über den nervösen Charakter: Grundzuge einer vergleichenden Individual-Psychologie und Psychotherapie [The Neurotic Constitution: Outline of a Comparative Individualistic Psychology and Psychotherapy] (nonfiction) 1912
Die andere Seite: Eine massenpsychologische Studie über die Schuld des Volkes 1919
Praxis und Theorie der Individualpsychologie [The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology] (nonfiction) 1920
Menschenkenntnis [Understanding Human Nature] (nonfiction) 1927
Die Technik der Individualpsychologie: Volume 1, Die Kunst eine Krankengeschichte zu lesen; Volume 2, Die Seele schwererziehbaren Schulkinder [The Problem Child: The Life Style of the Difficult Child Analyzed in Specific Cases] (nonfiction) 1928-29
The Case of Miss R. (nonfiction) 1929
Individualpsychologie in der Schule: Vorlesungen fur Lehrer und Erzieher [Individual Psychology in the School: Lectures for Teachers and Educators] (nonfiction) 1929
Problems of Neurosis: A Book of Case-Histories (nonfiction) 1929
The Science of Living (nonfiction) 1929
The Education of Children (nonfiction)...
(The entire section is 222 words.)
SOURCE: "Psychology without Compromise," in The Dial, Vol. LXXVIII, March, 1925, pp. 236-39.
[In the following review, Kallen offers a skeptical summary of Adler's system of individual psychology.]
Nowadays, when people talk of the "new psychology," they mean prevailingly the ideas about the human mind deriving from the work of Freud and his associates. Although the custom is to lump this work in a single, solid, homogeneous mass, it is, in fact, still nebular, with three definite heads distinguishable in it. At the centre is the system of human nature constructed and stated, more or less architecturally, by Freud himself and accepted as the incontrovertible orthodoxy by the congregation of the faithful. To the right and to the left are the heterodoxies of Jung, the Swiss, and Adler, the Austrian. Both heterodoxies consist primarily in a rejection or deprecation of the cardinal orthodox dogma regarding the supreme role of sexuality in the life of man from birth to death. Jung absorbs this sexuality in a prior and wider stream of activity which turns his speculations regarding human nature into a metaphysical sentimentalism of the type of Eucken or Bergson. Adler subordinates this sexuality to a prior and wider "will-to-power" which allies his speculations concerning human nature with a metaphysical voluntarism of the type of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Vaihinger. Both philosophers of mind differ...
(The entire section is 1249 words.)
SOURCE: "The Psychology of Alfred Adler," in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. XXI, No. 4, January-March, 1927, pp. 358-71.
[In the following essay, Vaughan provides a survey of the tenets of Adler's psychological system.]
The heterodox nature of the Freudian psychology and the authoritative, dogmatic manner of its presentation, both favored the rise of spirited opposition in its train. Prominent among the secessionists are Jung and Adler. Jung has gained a wide audience for his theories through the attractive literary form in which they have been advanced. Adler has been less fortunate in a literary way, for his heavy, involved style has obscured a system of psychology which, on its merits, deserves a larger public than it has reached. Convinced of the value of Adler's contribution, I believe it worthwhile to survey the principal tenets of his system in such a lucid manner as to awaken the interest of the general psychologist. I have selected those aspects of his theory that bear particularly upon the understanding of normal personality.
THE INDIVIDUAL-PSYCHOLOGICAL METHOD
Adler approaches the problems of psychopathology through what he calls the "Individual-Psychological" method. The task of psychoanalysis is to look for the life purpose of the individual, since it is in the service of this ideal that the symptoms assume their meaning. The...
(The entire section is 5128 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Understanding Human Nature, in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, September, 1928, pp. 391-93.
[In the following review, Blumer provides an assessment of three Adlerian themes: the inferiority feeling, the life-pattern, and the nature of character.]
Of all psychiatrists Dr. Adler seems to be most akin to sociologists in spirit and perspective. In earlier works he has shown a keen appreciation of the rôle of social relations in personal development; in [Understanding Human Nature], which is constructed out of a series of popular lectures, we have the simplest and clearest picture of these views.
Amid a wealth of varied and valuable discussion his central theses are easily isolated. They are essentially three: the basic importance of the inferiority feeling, the presence in each of us of a life-pattern, and the appearance of character traits as expressions of the life-pattern. The conception of the inferiority relation scarcely needs any stating.
Every child acquires a feeling of inferiority because of "his inability to cope single-handed with the challenges of his existence." From this feeling of inferiority arises the life-pattern. The feeling of inferiority "determines the very goal of his existence and prepares the path along which this goal may be reached." 'I t is this goal which gives value to our sensations, which...
(The entire section is 798 words.)
SOURCE: A review of What Life Should Mean to You, in The Criterion, Vol. XI, No. XLV, July, 1932, pp. 733-35.
[In the following review, Watson contrasts Adler's stress on social cooperation to the sexual theories of Freud and the metaphysics of Jung.]
No statement on the meaning of life from Dr. Adler can avoid comparison with the statements of Freud and Jung, yet it seems strange that these writers should so consistently neglect each other's conclusions, and should follow exclusively, with what seems an almost compulsive energy, their own lines of thought. Dr. Jung has more than either of the others made allowance for his rivals, and, in relegating them to different types, has admitted their use and function. Dr. Adler in this last of his numerous publications [What Life Should Mean to You] seems completely satisfied with his own view, which has the undeniable advantage of standing firm and four-square on the ground of common sense. There is much kindly wisdom and a well-nigh convincing assurance in the way in which he answers his own categorical statement: What Life Should Mean to You. Co-operation is his panacea, and in every chapter he emphasizes the importance of co-operation in curing all human ills. Yet in judging of his book we cannot forget the emphasis with which Freud or Jung would stress other means to the satisfying of man's nature; each portrays a different aspect, each...
(The entire section is 915 words.)
SOURCE: "Alfred Adler and His Comparative Psychology of Individuals," in Inferiority Feelings in the Individual and the Group, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1951, pp. 73-93.
[In the following excerpt, which was originally published in Spanish in 1936, Brachfeld situates Adler's conception of human nature within the context of a social and philosophical debate over degeneracy.]
In Levin D. Schucking's work The Sociology of Literary Taste we possess an able, if incomplete, study of the changes of fashion in the domain of literature. But no one so far has attempted to give an account of the formation and development of taste in psychological matters. And yet psychology is a popular science nowadays, especially in America, and, by ricochet, throughout the world. The cult has had its repercussion on literary fashion. Hence the vogue for Kafka and Proust in the United States, with the result that these authors' works, somewhat neglected during the last twenty years, are now being displayed in all the European bookstalls. The psychology of Adler has undergone a similar revival, all the more salutary as it was still far from being appreciated at its true worth.
The conception of 'feelings of inferiority' is now inseparably connected with the name of Alfred Adler, and we shall have, therefore, to deal at some length with the body of his theories. His contribution to sociology will be the...
(The entire section is 7784 words.)
SOURCE: "Individual Psychologist," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 2960, November 21, 1958, pp. 665-66.
[In the following review, the critic provides an overview of Adler's life, career, and writings.]
Since Freud's death in 1939 psycho-analysis has certainly not remained stationary. Although the basic method has changed little, several of the major Freudian ideas have undergone considerable revision. In particular, serious attempts have been made to shake off the doctrine of instinct and to replace it by new conceptions of inter-personal relationship. There has also been a shift of interest from the unconscious mechanisms supposed to underlie neurosis to the defences evolved by the personality in counteracting them. In Freudian parlance, the focus of attention is no longer the id but the ego.
The changing outlook in psychoanalysis has led to a revival of interest in the work of one of its long-rejected pioneers—Alfred Adler. This is clearly appreciated by Dr. H. L. and Dr. R. R. Ansbacher, the editors of a carefully chosen and thoughtfully presented selection of Adler's works. As they rightly point out, the modern emphasis upon social rather than biological issues, upon character rather than instinct and upon self-expression rather than sex, has brought many neo-Freudians close to the Adlerian position. Although this suggestion will be indignantly repudiated by many who have...
(The entire section is 2678 words.)
SOURCE: "Memorial to Dr. Alfred Adler," in Alfred Adler: His Influence on Psychology Today, edited by Harold H. Mosak, Noyes Press, 1973, pp. 1-5.
[In the following essay, Beecher and Beecher outline the insights into human nature gained from their association with Adler.]
The tallest measure of a man is the effect that he has on the lives of others. And the deepest measure of his value lies in what they learn from him in terms of enduring wisdom—the kind that helps them when critical forks-in-the-road confront them. In the few years that we were fortunate enough to share with Alfred Adler before he died he revealed some monumental truths to us. He gave us a give of the comprehensive as well as the particular aspects of human behavior. The greatest honor we can pay him at this time is to share with others that which he helped us to see through his vision. It is our hope that it will not die with us and that it may be of some help to others.
We learned from him essentially:
- That the individual's approach to life is a result of early self-training due to his interpretation of his situation. He can change it in later years only if he realizes that his disturbing, conditioned responses are nothing more than inappropriate, inadequate holdovers from childhood. The-adult is expected to replace such behavior with more useful responses to be a help and not a burden. He...
(The entire section is 2078 words.)
SOURCE: "Alfred Adler: Social Interest as Religion," in Scientists of the Mind: Intellectual Founders of Modern Psychology, University of Illinois Press, 1986, pp. 226-54.
[In the following excerpt, Karier offers a study of Adler's life and intellectual legacy.]
In the early morning hours of a day in late May 1937, Alfred Adler lay prostrate on a cobblestone street in Aberdeen, Scotland, stricken by a fatal heart attack. When, very much moved by the news, Arnold Zweig reported Adler's death to Sigmund Freud, the latter is said to have replied: "I don't understand your sympathy for Adler. For a Jew boy out of a Viennese suburb a death in Aberdeen is an unheard-of career in itself and a proof of how far he had got on. The world really rewarded him richly for his service in having contradicted psychoanalysis." For twenty-six years, Freud had nurtured a bitter hatred for Alfred Adler, cringing with each report of his former pupil's success. Why this was so is a complicated issue, owing to the existential circumstances and the characters and personalities of the people involved.
Adler was noteworthy on Freud's long list of friends who became his enemies. He was the first to break ranks from the Wednesday Society (later the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society) and the first to create a counter-movement. From 1902, when the Wednesday Society was formed, until 1911, when the final break with Freud...
(The entire section is 10586 words.)
SOURCE:" 'Books Like Firecrackers' and Mass Politics" and "The Trap of Personality," in The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994, pp. 248-70, 325-30.
[In the following excerpt, Hoffman discusses a number of Adler's later publications in terms of their political context.]
The spring of 1930 saw the release of [Adler's] three new books, all aimed at a relatively popular audience. These were The Pattern of Life, Guiding the Child, and The Education of Children. Their nearly simultaneous publication in the United States clearly reflected Adler's own shift in professional emphasis from Europe to his present base of activity.
Based on his demonstration lectures at the New School two years before, The Pattern of Life presented twelve cases of schoolchildren with differing types of emotional difficulty, such as conduct disorders or extreme shyness. Many of the youngsters came from immigrant families (Italian, Jewish, or Slavic) populous in New York City during the 1920s and were of decidedly lower socioeconomic background. Yet, similar to Adler's other writings during this period, The Pattern of Life had little to say about cultural or economic factors that might be affecting such pupils. It was edited by the young psychiatrist Walter Beran Wolfe, who also provided a lucid overview of...
(The entire section is 3729 words.)
Bottome, Phyllis. Alfred Adler: A Biography. New York: Putnam, 1939, 324 p.
Popular biography written by a novelist who became a student and patient of Adler.
Dennis, Nigel. "Alfred Adler and the Style of Life." Encounter 35, No. 2 (August 1970): 5-11.
Includes personal reminiscences of Adler by the author and an evaluation of his psychological theories.
Hoffman, Edward. The Drive for Self. Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1994, 390 p.
A complete account of Adler's life, including his later career in the United States.
Orgler, Hertha. Alfred Adler: The Man and His Work. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1973, 270 p.
General study of Adler's life and career written by a prominent member of his Vienna circle.
Ansbacher, Heinz L., and Ansbacher, Rowena R., eds. Cooperation Between the Sexes, by Alfred Adler. Translated by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1978, 468 p.
Contains an essay by Heinz L. Ansbacher, a prominent Adler scholar and editor, on Adler's theories about human sexuality.
Bagby, English. Review of The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, by Alfred Adler....
(The entire section is 471 words.)