Top positive review
Possibly a Good Free Will Primer
Reviewed in the United States on June 26, 2016
Prior to the age of 23 I had essentially no self-awareness to speak of. When I finally acquired self-awareness shortly after graduating from college, I was obsessed with the conviction that people’s lack of self-awareness was mankind’s greatest problem, and that people who have very limited capacity for introspection also have very limited capacity for free will. At about that same time, I discovered the works of Erich Fromm. Fromm’s prominent theme was developing a guide to productive self-awareness. One step in this direction is orientation towards being instead of having. Fromm writes: “The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.” Having just completed a study of the works of Ayn Rand, I was impressed at how superficially similar her ideas are to Fromm’s, in the sense of “man for himself” rather than for some abstract, authoritarian ideal, and yet they are actually opposite. Rand’s philosophy is mostly about having rather than being. Modern American society is mostly about having. Even our interpretation of altruism is about having rather than developing an orientation towards being.
Philosophers and theologians agree that “happiness” is the aim of human striving. However, the definition of “happiness” is not as clear as it might seem. So to understand the aim of life, the nature of man must first be understood. According to Fromm, needs are rooted in man’s nature and are conducive to his growth and self-fulfillment, which means that happiness is not purely subjective, but rather objective. Therefore, much striving for happiness is delusional. Fromm attempts to discoverer this objective happiness.
Fromm’s ideas are not going to be popular to anyone devoted to Rand-influenced capitalists. The reason rich men aren’t likely make it into heaven (in the purely metaphorical sense) isn’t that rich men are bad, but they are more likely to have a skewed orientation to life. Of course, anyone who disagrees with Fromm will simply object that Fromm’s “objective happiness” is no more than his “subjective happiness.” But don’t dismiss Fromm’s ideas without deep soul-searching.