(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Alfred Adler 1870-1937

Austrian psychologist.

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.