link: undeveloped or 'irrational' conscience                 





Theme: The development of rational conscience is the source of empowerment required for adaptation to changing conditions i.e. 'adaptability'. Human adaptability is compromised with a sense of powerlessness which is the source of negative emotions leading to 'sham dominance' and the 'will to power'. These are characteristics of thwarted psychological development i.e. neurotic development or 'neurosis'.  Neurosis is a function of thwarted development of rational conscience and the construction of 'irrational conscience'. Irrational conscience is the source of human wickedness or 'evil'. The so-called 'problem of evil' ...where does evil come from and why does it persist?...can only be understood in terms of human psychology.

 "If life's tendency to grow, to be lived, is thwarted, the energy thus blocked undergoes a process of change and is transformed into life-destructive energy. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. Those individual and social conditions which make for the blocking of life-furthering energy produce destructiveness which in turn is the source from which the various manifestations of evil spring." (Fromm Man For Himself 216)


 what is evil?...   evil is not the corruption of human nature...   evil as human wickedness..traditional psychology provides evidence... 

 irrational conscience as source of human wickedness or 'evil'...

neurosis...    neurosis determined by social conditions...   authoritarian conscience...                                      

implications for education.....

What is evil?

"One of the most basic problems of theological and philosophical thought: is man basically evil and corrupt, or is he basically good and perfectable?" (Fromm The Heart of Man p.19)

What evil is not... evil is not the same as the basic corruption of the human personality i.e. 'human nature'...  See biblical story of Adam and Eve: "The Old Testament does not take the position of man's fundamental corruption. Adam and Eve's 'disobedience' to God are not called sin; nowhere is a hint that this disobedience has corrupted man. On the contrary, the disobedience is the condition for man's self-awareness, for his capacity to choose, and thus in the last analysis this first act of disobedience was man's first step toward freedom. It seems that their disobedience was even within God's plan; for according to prophetic thought, man is able to make his own history because he was expelled from paradise. He is able to develop his own human powers and to attain new harmony with man and nature as a fully developed individual instead of the former relationship with God in which he was not an individual. The Messianic concept of the prophets certainly implies that man is not fundamentally corrupt and that he can be saved without any special act of God's grace...the Old Testament view is that man has both capacities - that of good and that of evil - and he must choose between good and evil, blessing and curse, life and death. Even God does not interfere in his choice; he helps by sending messengers - the prophets, to teach the norms which lead to the realization of goodness, to identify evil, and to warn and to protest. But this being done, man is left alone with his two 'strivings' that for good and that for evil - and the decision is his alone. The Christian development was different. In the course of the development of the Christian Church, Adam's disobedience was conceived as sinful. In fact a sin so severe, that it corrupted his nature and with it that of all his descendents, and thus man by his own effort could never rid himself of this corruption. Only God's own act of grace, the appearance of Christ, who, died for man, could extinguish man's corruption and offer salvation for those who accepted Christ." (Erich Fromm The Heart of Man p. 20)

Evil is 'human wickedness' Evil is real but it has no independent existence of its own.  . 'Evil' is identified with human behaviour which is morally wrong or 'wicked' ...socially non-adaptive behaviour such as greed, malice, sadism, cruelty, violence, destructiveness, war and so on. Evil is the same as the pain and destruction which which results from human wickedneess.

 Problem of evil: Where does evil come from and why does it persist?  The problem of human wickedness or 'evil' derives from sense of disempowerment... inability to accept responsibilities of freedom... The sense of powerlessness is the source of negative emotions... The inability to control (in the sense of 'balance' or 'master') negative emotions results in unbalanced behaviour which is unadaptive, destructive or 'evil'.  As a question of human wickedness the 'problem of evil'  can only be understood in terms of human psychology.

 Traditional psychology provides abundant evidence that human acts of wickedness are symptoms of emotional disturbance and suffering resulting from the frustration of the natural development of the human conscience. Traditional psychology emphasizes the pathologies, neuroses and psychoses.

Human behaviour becomes evil only if the proper conditions for growth and development are lacking... evil human behavior results from the crippling effect of insecurity and low self-esteem...evil results from the failure to realize life...failure to achieve self-realization...   Evil is derived from the social disorder of disordered societies. Evil results from the human failure to realise human potentiality.

"The overemphasis of traditional psychology on the pathologies, neuroses, psychoses etc. has provided abundant evidence that men's bad and evil behavior results from frustration in his efforts toward self-actualization." Erich Fromm Values, Psychology, and Human Existence in Maslow A.H. (ed) New Knowledge in Human Values. New York: Harper, 1959) Evil is the result of denial or frustration of human needs, capacities and yearnings ...failure to realise human potential... failure to adapt to the complexities of a changing social reality  ... failure of complete human development i.e. 'neurosis'. 

 "The actualization of a potentiality depends on the presence of certain conditions... the concept of potentiality has no meaning except in connection with the specific conditions required for actualization. If the proper conditions are present, the 'primary' potentiality is actualized ('good') and if the present conditions are in contrast to those required by the primary potentiality, then the 'secondary' potentiality is realized. The primary potentiality is manifested under normal conditions. The 'secondary' potentiality is manifested under abnormal, pathogenic conditions... man is not necessarily evil but becomes evil only if the proper conditions for his growth and development are lacking. The human organism has a 'natural personality' which is not 'evil'...feelings of 'natural dominance' or 'self-esteem' lead to beneficial and creative behavior. Feelings of 'compensatory dominance' become 'overcompensatory'. The feelings of sham dominance lead to domineering attitudes which result in wicked human behavior...manifestations of 'evil'..."  (Fromm) 

The source of evil as 'human wickedness' is irrational conscience  Wicked acts are willful acts of the irrational conscience.... a characteristic of frustrated growth... immature neurotic growth or 'neurosis'.  

 For the neurotic individual one of the most difficult problems is deciding the extent of their responsibilities. Immaturity of conscience ca n result in behaviour for which the individual finds it too painful to decide on the extent of their responsibility and so will avoid it altogether. And they will perceive freedom  as painful since that implies responsibility as well. The inability to accept both freedom and responsibility leads to the incapacity for creative and adaptive decision-making and to the decline in self-reliance and a predominance of  negative  emotions such as fear and hatred. As a result the individual resorts to methods of power politics and control – methods which violate the rights of others. The controlling behaviour of the immature conscience results in the  destructiveness of human wickedness or ‘evil’.

  Failure of moral development... thwarted growth and development: psychological ill health resulting from neurotic growth or 'neurosis'.  

theme: If children's instinctive strivings for growth are thwarted, this creates a basic anxiety which can be damaging to normal growth because it inhibits development and this can lead to psychological ill health... neurotic growth or 'neurosis'. Neurosis can be prevented with education which allows for growth to spiritual maturity i.e. holistic education.   

 Obstruction to normal psychological development leads to the inhibition of spiritual or moral development. The result is abnormal or 'neurotic' development i.e. 'neurosis'. Neurosis is a function of distorted perception which leads to incorrect evaluation of social conditions and subsequent destructive or 'inadaptive' behaviour i.e. 'evil'.

 "The neurotic process is a special form of human development, and because of  waste of constructive energies which it involves - is a particularly unfortunate one. Under favorable conditions, man's energies are put into the realization of his own potentialities."(Horney, Karen, M.D. Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. 1956. p.13)

Neurosis results from thwarted psychological development  Pathological behaviours are variations of normal human behaviours. And investigation into abnormal developmental processes produces insights into normal human development. All behavioural reactions, whether normal or abnormal, are expressions of the individual's attempt to deal with demands of a changing social environment. They all represent psychological  solutions to problems of social adaptation and preservation of personal integrity. Reactions to social change are based on intrinsic human needs or 'operative values'. Operative values are the biologically based instinctive values which are inherent in the organism's instinctive striving towards spiritual maturity... 'self-actualisation'... and depends on fulfillment of value-needs - moral or 'ethical' values i.e. metavalues or 'metaneeds'. Metaneeds are spiritual needs which make up the inner core of human nature. In the presence of spiritual values, the individual invests their constructive energies in the realization of their human potential i.e. self-realisation or 'self-actualisation'. Growth depends on one's assuming of responsibility for oneself... truthfulness to oneself.

They must be met for the individual to avoid the psychopathology of dehumanisation which results from thwarted psychic development i.e. neurotic development or 'neurosis'.

Motivation by the metaneeds i.e. 'metamotivation'. Metamotivation is motivation for spiritual growth and moral consciousness.   

"Under inner stress, a person may become alienated from his real self. He will then shift the major part of his energies to the task of molding himself, by a rigid system of inner dicates into a being of absolute perfection. He idealizes the image he has of himself. This neurotic development illustrates the strong human striving for 'perfection'. (Horney, Karen, M.D. Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization)

 What is neurosis? The conflicts of neurosis are the manifestation of a basic anxiety which originates in childhood. Anxiety feelings arise in children whose parents fail to give them genuine warmth and affection - usually because of their own neuroses. Basic anxiety develops when fear is instilled through intimidation of brutality and isolation of overprotective 'love'. It is unconditional spiritual love that is essential for healthy psychological growth and development. Children who are deprived of unconditional love do not experience the sense of security which is crucial to their self-esteem. When self-esteem is undermined, so is self-reliance.

Neurosis is a deficiency disease.....Spiritual deprivation thwarts the free use of energies and warps the expansiveness of personality. In a state of inner stress, the individual becomes alienated from their real self, shifting their energies in an effort to mold their character into an ideal self image which they create for themselves. (This is evidence for the strong human striving for 'perfection'.) In the neurotic process, the environment is perceived as a menace to individuality, development, instinctive striving for growth, freedom and happiness. With fear grounded in reality, the basic anxiety develops. The individual attempts to avoid problems and the emotional suffering which they entail. The avoidance of the suffering which comes from dealing with the problem means avoidance of the opportunity for growth which comes from dealing with the problem.

 "Neurosis - manifest 'basic anxiety' - derives from environmental factors which obstruct a child's normal psychic growth and development". (Horney, Karen, M.D. Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization, 366)

Neurosis results from deprivation of spiritual values necessary for development of human conscience Neurosis represents incomplete development of moral consciousness or 'conscience'.  The conscience is the source of guiding values for solving life's problems i.e. 'natural ethics'.  Natural ethics constitute human morality. Neurosis involves a waste of constructive energies hampering normal growth and producing a deformed conscience. Deformed conscience is the product of deprivation of spiritual values necessary for spiritual growth. Value-starvation is a product of unfavorable social conditions. If growth stops the spirit shrivels. The individual remains a child in adult life and doesn't separate from the power that parents had over them. Metamotivation for growth is inhibited through internal repression, denial and negative reaction responses. As a result of the obstruction to their security and growth, the indivdual lacks the freedom from obligation to accept the beliefs of others too be independent of dogma i.e. 'freedom'. Inner freedom involves the development of personality integration, critical consciousness and development of conscience.

     In failing to develop their potentialities, the neurotic individual fails to achieve maturity and personality integration and consequently critical consciousness and complete cognition of a developed conscience... They suffer from a 'perception problem'.

 Neurotic development involves incomplete psychological development, incomplete integration of the personality, incomplete development of critical consciousness and incomplete cognition of the deformed conscience. They acquire a value system which is so distorted and unbalanced that it contradicts their own interests and the interests of others. Their distorted thought and behaviour patterns can inflict grave harm on themselves and on others. The neurotic reaction tends towards destruction of others in an attempt to safeguard personal integrity. (Freud's 'death instinct' or 'death drive' and Weber's 'downward union').

 Incomplete psychological development means incomplete development of the human conscience.  "The problem of psychic health and neurosis is inseparably linked up with that of ethics. It may be said that every neurosis represents a moral problem. The failure to achieve maturity and integration of the whole personality is a moral failure." (Erich Fromm. Man For Himself 224

    Moral attitudes (responsibility)  foster growth. Responsibility for growth is a function of responsibility for human needs or 'values' which derive from the instrinsic striving for self-realization. The most urgent or 'prepotent' need is the need for safety and security. Security needs are prepotent to growth needs. A child will give up growth to retain security. Fear and anxiety inhibit curiosity and growth.

Freedom from anxiety and fear is the pre-requisite to curiosity and exploration for growth through knowledge. Denial or frustration of human needs leads to neurotic growth, incomplete psychological development, incomplete personality integration, incomplete development of the conscience and incomplete cognition. Failure to achieve maturity and integration of the whole personality, self-actualization, realization of human potential or 'humanness' is a moral failure which produces neurotic conflicts.

Conflicts of neurosis are based on... determined by social conditions... conflicting forces in the environment  The problem of neurosis is ultimately determined by social conditions. What constitutes 'normality' in moral behaviour is a question of the social environment within which the individual functions i.e. within the cultural context. Behaviour which is regarded as 'normal' in one culture may not be considered normal in another. Acquaintance with different cultures which in many ways is different from one's own teaches that many so-called 'neurotic' conflicts are ultimately determined by social and cultural conditions. In many cases the neuroses of the individual living in modern industrial societies can be attributed to conflicting forces inherent in the culture.

Neurosis is a tragedy because its inherent mental conflicts are based on the conflicting motivating forces and cultural attitudes of the social environment within which the individual is functioning - immoral attitudes (irresponsibiltiy) which obstruct growth.

"In an environment in which the basic anxiety develops, the child's free use of energies is thwarted, his self-esteem and self-relaince are undermined, fear is instilled by intimidation and isolation, his expansiveness is warped through brutality or overprotective 'love'." (Horney, Karen, M.D. Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. 1956. p.?) The fear is grounded in reality - see New Ways in Psychoanalysis)

Avoiding problems is avoiding reality, avoiding growth and building fantasies. The neurosis becomes the problem.

 "There is no such thing as a universal normal psychology; behavior regarded as neurotic in one culture may be quite normal elsewhere, and vice versa. What constitutes normality or abnormality can only be decided when we consider the culture within which the individual is functioning. The mental conflicts of the neurotic are not fundamental conflicts of human nature arising from biological foundations (Freud's belief). They are based on the motivating forces and conflicts of the society and the culture within which the individual is functioning. Energized by childhood anxieties resulting from obstruction to inner freedom, security and healthy psychological growth, the neuroses of modern industrial man are therefore based on conflicts inherent in our own culture." (Horney, K. The Neurotic Personality of Our Time p.141)

     Neurosis is a product of failure of moral development and is manifest in the immorality of human wickedness or 'evil

Anxiety feelings arise in children whose parents fail to give them genuine warmth and affection (usually because of their own neuroses). These children do not experience the 'blissful certainty of being wanted'.

 "To the extent that the individual is denying to awareness (repressing) large areas of his experience, then his creative formings may be pathological, or socially evil or both. To the degree that the individual is open to all aspects of his experience, and has available to his awareness all the varied sensings and perceivings which are going on within his organism, then the novel products of his interaction with his environment will tend to be constructive both for himself and others.... Repressing an impulse means removing it from awareness but it does not mean removing it from existence. Freud has shown that the repressed impulse continues to operate and to exercise a profound influence upon the person although the person is not aware of it. The effect of the repressed impulse on the person is not even necessarily smaller than if it were conscious; the main difference is that it is not acted upon overtly but in disguise, so that the person acting is spared the knowledge of what he is doing." (Rogers, C. On Becoming a Person. Cambridge, MA:: Riverside Press 1961. 352)

It is the socially unadaptive behaviour which constitutes wickedness of human behaviour or 'evil'.


Irrational conscience as 'authoritarian conscience' derived from fear of authority                                              

 The authoritarian conscience represents the irrational internalisation of authority and the authoritarian ethics of 'moralism'. It does not represent the individual's intrinsically rational conscience which is the source of natural human values and reflective ethical judgement or 'natural ethics'. The irrationality of authoritarian conscience is inadequate for effective adaptation to changes in the social environment i.e 'adaptability'.

"The authoritarian conscience is the voice of an internalized authority such as the parental authority, or state authority. The authoritarian 'conscience' is a fear for the authority rather than a representation of the individual's real conscience, the source of natural value judgements." (Erich Fromm. Man For Himself. 143)

Derivation of authoritarian conscience The authoritarian conscience is derived from the instinctive human need to admire, to have an ideal, to strive for some kind of perfection. Authoritarian conscience is the voice of unreflective ethical judgement resulting from the irrational projection of perfection onto an external authority which is then internalised. The internalised authority is the authoritarian conscience.

For the individual with authoritarian conscience, the "interaction of internalisation (of external authority) and projection results in an unshakable conviction in the ideal character of the authority, a conviction which is immune to all contradictory empirical evidence." (Fromm Man For Himself 146) .

Authoritarian conscience is equivalent to the 'superego' in Freud's  psychology.  "Freud had a pessimistic outlook on human nature....He had no clear vision of constructive forces in man...he denied their authenticity." (Karen Horney M.D. Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization p.377)

Construction of authoritarian conscience In the absence of the right conditions for psychological growth, development is thwarted leading to neurotic development and construction of irrational conscience i.e. 'neurosis'. The neurotic development of authoritarian conscience is characteristic of the immature adult fixated on the 'premoral level' of ethical judgement in child development (classification of Kohlberg).

In the first of the six moral stages or 'sociocognitive stages', moral value is defined in terms of obedience to authority and the avoidance of punishment (age 3). In the absence of the right conditions for continued moral development (security of unconditional love) and under conditions of intense emotional pressure (abuse, punishment, neglect etc.) the construction of conscience is determined by the friendly or unfriendly reactions of significant adults on whom the child depends for faith in their potential for growth. The fear of disapproval and the need for approval becomes the most powerful and almost exclusive source of motivation for ethical judgement and behaviour. The individual learns to differentiate between 'right' and 'wrong', 'good' and 'bad' even before learning to understand the difference by way of a process of reasoning or 'rationality'. Discouragement of rationality leads to mistrust in their own persistence for spiritual growth. The inherent potentialites are stifled and they fail to develop into manifest characteristics. The individual develops to adulthood with the deficiencies of 'immaturity'.

 Construction of the authoritarian conscience involves the interaction of two processes: first, the perfection of character is projected onto an external authority - parental, religious or state authority; second, the projected image of perfection or 'ideal' is internalised in the individual's consciousness. Internalisation of the projected image leads to the individual's unshakable conviction in the external authority as the personification of the perfect character. The conviction is so strong that it is immune to all empirical evidence which might prove to contradict it. The individual loses the capacity for rationality and reason and this leads to rigid thinking. The power of fear for the authority replaces the power of ethical reasoning and as a result the conscience which is constructed becomes increasingly authoritarian and irrational.

The authoritarian conscience is characteristic of adult immaturity. The immature adult continues to evaluate the environment in terms of threat to their security and self-esteem. Their sense of identity remains dependent on the approval of others.

 The irrational authoritarian conscience forms the basis for authoritarian codes of ethics i.e. irrational morality or 'moralism'. Moralism is a system of authoritarian ethics based on the irrational projection of the human need for perfection onto an external authority and the internalisation of the idealised authority. The authoritarian ethics of moralism does not represent the natural and rational ethics of the intrinsically rational human conscience.

 Implications for education

 Evil is a product of education which inhibits spiritual growth to maturity of conscience. 

Needs based education is education of the whole person or 'holistic education'.     

The basic right of the human being is the right to be human...  to be responsible to themselves to develop their humanness. People who respect their own humanity can respect the humanity of others.

 Development of rational conscience depends on a learning environment which favours its construction through concentration on creative productiveness or 'work'. Work has psychological value in the construction of conscience if it is functional in personal growth and development while involving the development of human potentiality for creative intelligence. The aim of education is to provide the right conditions for growth and development of rational conscience, to provide for 'human needs' which include spiritual needs or 'metaneeds'.

The mind's perception of itself determines the individual's thinking and perception of reality... necessary for creative or 'adaptive' behaviour i.e. 'human adaptability'. Importance of education for 'self-knowledge'... 'holistic education'...

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