Erich Fromm's 'The Art of Loving': An existential, psychodynamic, and theological critique

Smith, Kevin (2020) Erich Fromm's 'The Art of Loving': An existential, psychodynamic, and theological critique. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis responds to the account of the practice of love developed by Erich Fromm, arguing that Fromm’s work can be critiqued by an approach to love which pays deeper attention to our concrete situation. Based on Fromm’s own approach to our existential situation, I develop a critique consistently based on the psychodynamic processes of repression and transference, as well as the embodied, finite, intersubjective, and interpretative dimensions of life. This takes place through dialogue with aspects of Fromm’s own work, as well as a variety of perspectives from psychotherapy, theology, and philosophy. Following an introduction explaining my method and sources, and also containing a brief account of Fromm’s life and works, the first chapter frames Fromm’s account of love by summarising the structure of his early texts. Focusing particularly on his theory of the recovery of our lost natural harmony through the full development of our potentialities, this chapter prepares the ground for an extended consideration of Fromm’s The Art of Loving. In the second chapter, I discuss most of the main themes from The Art of Loving, focusing on love as a gift of self, an active power, an attitude towards the whole world, and as answer to the problem of human existence. The chapter also introduces the first of Fromm’s elements of love, namely care and responsibility, before arguing that his account of repression, alienation, transference, and narcissism, are important for this focus on love as a gift of self. The second chapter also begins the discussion of embodiment, primarily drawing on the work of Alexander Lowen to argue for a somatic or organic critique of Fromm’s theory. The third chapter focus on the other elements of love according to Fromm: the respect that enables pure sight, and the knowledge that penetrates to the core of the other. This chapter then responds to the work of Jean-Luc Marion, by arguing for a phenomenological reduction based on the potential for repression and transference to distort perception. This psychodynamic reduction is then situated in the context of the dynamic approach to psychology that permeates Fromm’s work, arguing for transference to be construed as a process of discovery and transformation. The fourth chapter explores Fromm’s account of the love of God, drawing on the work of Ana-Maria Rizzuto to argue that Fromm’s approach should be revised to account both for the concrete development of concepts of God, and the importance of unconscious concepts. The chapter continues by discussing the ramifications of Fromm’s view of an expanded or universal self (in other texts) for the theory of self in The Art of Loving, arguing that this latter self is alienated from its origin and source of activity, in dialogue with the tantric theology of Sally Kempton. Finally, the fifth chapter has an inverse emphasis, exploring how our repressive processes must be understood in the context of the presence and absence of love, rather than how love is inhibited by repression. This primarily takes place through dialogue with the intersubjective psychoanalysis of Robert Stolorow and George Atwood, and critiques Fromm’s work through the emphasis on the importance of relational context for our emotional and cognitive life. Fromm’s work, however, is also shown to have a deep sensitivity to the intersubjective development of our powers, balancing a more emphatic and consistent stress on independence with a lesser but still clear attention to interdependence. Finally, in my conclusion I explore the ramifications of Fromm’s seemingly contradictory claims that love is rooted both in the need of the giver and the need of the recipient, arguing for a phenomenological approach that accounts for the particularity and multiplicity of our experience of worlds. I ultimately insist that love is always conditional, although based on the limitations of our own finitude rather than any lack in others. Endorsing both the coherence and flexibility of Fromm’s approach, I nonetheless maintain that the power to love is irreducibly contextual and particular, and that a genuinely existential interpretation of the practice of love will therefore be based on plurality, wisdom, and freedom.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Erich Fromm, love, psychodynamics, existentialism, psychotherapy, phenomenology, God-image, Robert Stolorow, George Atwood, Ana-Maria Rizzuto, Alexander Lowen, Jean-Luc Marion, psychodynamic reduction, embodiment, concrete.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Pattison, Professor George and Miller, Doctor Gavin
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Mr Kevin Smith
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-80302
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2020 06:28
Last Modified: 04 Oct 2022 15:00

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