Fromm s most basic assumption is that individual personality can be understood only in the light of human history. "The discussion of the human situation must precede that of personality, [and] psychology must be based on an anthropologic-pliilosophical concept of human existence" (Fromm, 1947, p. 45).
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Fromm (1947) believed that humans, unlike other animals, have been "torn away" from then prehistoric union with nature. They have no powerful instincts to adapt to a changing world; instead they have acquired the facility to reason—a condition Fromm called the human dilemma. People experience this basic dilemma because they have become separate from nature and yet have the capacity to be aware of themselves as isolated beings. The human ability to reason, therefore, is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it permits people to survive, but on the other, it forces them to attempt to solve basic insoluble dichotomies. Fromm referred to these as "existential dichotomies" because they are rooted in people s very existence. Humans cannot do away with these existential dichotomies; they can only react to these dichotomies relative to then culture and their individual personalities.
The first and most fundamental dichotomy is that between life and death. Self-awareness and reason tell us that we will die, but we try to negate this dichotomy by postulating life after death, an attempt that does not alter the fact that our lives end with death.
A second existential dichotomy is that humans are capable of conceptualizing the goal of complete self-realization, but we also are aware that life is too short to reach that goal. "Only if the life span of the individual were identical with that of mankind could he participate in the human development which occurs hi the historical process" (Fromm, 1947, p. 42). Some people try to solve this dichotomy by assuming that their own historical period is the crowning achievement of humanity, while others postulate a continuation of development after death.
The third existential dichotomy is that people are ultimately alone, yet we cannot tolerate isolation. They are aware of themselves as separate individuals, and at the same time, they believe that their happiness depends on uniting with then fellow human beings. Although people cannot completely solve the problem of aloneness versus union, they must make an attempt or run the risk of insanity.
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