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Bacciagaluppi, M. (1996). Guilt According To Erich Fromm. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:455-462.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:455-462

Guilt According To Erich Fromm

Marco Bacciagaluppi, M.D.

In the early forties, Erich Fromm was central to the development of the interpersonal-cultural school of psychoanalysis. Later, he was less directly involved in shaping the further course of psychoanalysis. On the other hand, recent developments show a more than superficial—although little-noticed—affinity with some of Fromm's views. In this article I compare Fromm's views on the subject of guilt with some of the more recent theoretical and empirical contributions in this area. I suggest that many of these developments were anticipated by Fromm, but that his contributions have not received due recognition. On the other hand, some of his concepts need to be modified in the light of later research.

As in most of Fromm's work, his contribution in this area is mainly formulated in theoretical terms. An integration of Fromm's theoretical concepts with later developments could have clinical relevance by leading to an alternative framework within which to organize our clinical data regarding aggressiveness and guilt.

Guilt According to Fromm

In what I consider to be possibly his central work, Man for Himself (1947), Fromm drew a fundamental distinction between authoritarian and humanistic conscience. He later went back to this distinction in an extended version of a 1969 essay, which may be read in the German edition of Fromm's complete works (the only one existing to date) (Fromm, 1980-1981, vol. 8). The following passages are quoted from Man for Himself. All italics are Fromm's.

According to Fromm, “the authoritarian conscience is the voice of an internalized external authority” (p. 148), and corresponds to what Freud


1 This article is a revision of a paper presented to the “Erich Fromm International Symposium” in Florence (Italy), November 14-16, 1986. The Proceedings were published under the title Incontro con Erich Fromm by Edizioni Medicea, Firenze 1988.

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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 32, No. 3 (1996)

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