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Paley, M.G. (1977). To Have or to Be?, by Erich Fromm New York: Harper & Row, 1976 215 pages $8.95.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 37(3):265-267.

(1977). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 37(3):265-267

To Have or to Be?, by Erich Fromm New York: Harper & Row, 1976 215 pages $8.95.

Review by:
Marlene Gershman Paley, Ph.D.

Erich Fromm, one of the early collaborators of Karen Horney, has written a book in which he eloquently incorporates the basic tenets of Eastern philosophy as they apply to our possession-oriented society. He begins with the observation that Western society is the greatest social experiment ever made to solve the question of whether pleasure can be a satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence. He notes that the experiment has already answered the question in the negative. For the first time in history the physical survival of the human race depends on a radical change of the human heart.

The main thrust of this book is the analysis of the two basic modes of existence: the mode of having and the mode of being. The former is represented by our acquisitive society where one's happiness lies in one's superiority over others, in one's power, and, in Fromm's opinion, in one's capacity to conquer, rob, and kill. In the being mode one's happiness lies in loving, giving, and sharing. Fromm beautifully demonstrates the difference between having and being in various poetic expressions. Tennyson embodied Western philosophy in his description of a flower that was so special he had to pluck it in order to have it. Basho's Eastern haiku allowed him to enjoy the flower in its natural habitat without destroying it to make it his own. Modern equations are reduced to the formula: I am = what I have and what I consume. In the area of learning the having mode is best portrayed by the memorization of facts in order to pass an examination; in the being mode content becomes a part of a person's own individual system of thought, enriching and widening it. Conversing in the being mode is spontaneous. Knowing means to see reality in its nakedness; to penetrate the surface and to strive critically and actively in order to approach truth even more closely.

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