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George Neeson July 24th, 2004 09:40 PM

Comments on Adlerian teleology
It would be interesting to discuss "determinism" from an Adlerian perspective. We usually refer to "soft determinism" as opposed to a more absolute form. To what degree is a person "morally accountable" when the "fictional goal of perceived superiority" is concealed from them and from the surrounding community of mankind? We make "moral judgements" (value judgements) all the time. We discuss behaviours as useful and useless indicating that we recognize behaviours that contribute to social interest as "good" and those that draw away from social interest as "bad". But if a person has an organ inferiority of the mind and a very impoverished childhood, what we do in this regard could be seen to be harsh, from a position of personal superiority, and we end up with a quite antithetical construction of the patient's difficulty proclaiming ourselves by implication, to be "above the patient". I have a lady I work with at the moment who is well trained in Cognitive-Behavioural psychology (Masters level) who leveled this complaint at me and I did not really know how to respond. Any comments on a logistical and philosophical problem would be appreciated. The lady currently is a parole officer in the provincial prison system and the answer bears heavily on how she would need to report a "parole violation" to the courts and the parole officer.

James Wolf August 29th, 2004 06:59 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
It seems to me the therapist must work to be clear in his/her own mind where he/she is coming from re: his own lifestyle and attitudes. The attitude of the therapist should be away from striving for power over the client or for personal superiority. The therapist should be letting go of that and hopefully have re-directed his striving for the community feeling - social interest (This is where study-analysis is so important). I think every school of thought makes value judgements whether they recognize them as such or not. I think every time any therapist is thinking about what is healthy or not healthy on the part of the client that is a value judgement. Adlerians are perhaps more clear about stating their values (social interest). It's not about "Good or Bad" moralistically, it's about useful and not so useful, better or worse functioning, helping vs. hurting others. We all need to make judgements in the sense of making evaluations, but being judgemental is different - being judgemental is about one-up-man-ship, personal superiority, setting oneself up as a god (in the extreme case). Your parole officer woman would seem to me to stay clear on the power she needs to excerise in the professional role she is in which is as a servant of the community's interests (which would include helping the parolee where appropriate), vs. feeling like she is hurting or victimizing the parolee for what the parolee has brought on to himself for breaking important rules. People learn - hopefully - from consequences and re-deciding their life directions. ( I hope I have understood the situation).

James Wolf September 5th, 2004 12:46 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
I re-reading your post, I realized I hadn't responded to the "moral accountability" question. I wonder that since the fictional goal is created by the child under his/her particular circumstances, that moral accountability and justice must be tempered by compassion and recognition we are all imperfect creatures. But since as an adult, if I cling to my goal, I am responsible for that whether I am conscious of it or not. I'm reminded of the "twinky defense" of Dan White - let off the hook for murder for diminished capacity. Or if I was abused as a child and commit a violent crime as an adult partly as a result of that abuse, should my parents go to jail as well? If I'm not held morally accountable for my behavior, what are the consequences to the community which we are all a part of?? Can moral accountability be seem as separate from the community interest?

George Neeson September 5th, 2004 02:57 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
Yes James, I was addressing the "moral accountability" issue. I believe that some form of morality may be intrinsic in the fabric of the space-time of General Relativity. My son is a physicist and quantuum mechanics is his special interest. We have had many fruitful discussions in this area and it would neither be rational nor irrational to posit some sort of mind, or consciousness, or first cause, that has left a finger print in the fabric. This is not a "religious notion", but a philosophic observation that seems to fall out of:
1) The notion of the singularity.
2) The universal nature of moral principals (I did study Social Anthropology under Dr. Edmund Carpenter at Toronto for two wonderful years) and yes these are as Adler points out repeatedly, in the direction of "Gemeinschaftsgefuhl". (Sorry I don't know how to post that darn umlaut.) It may be that the great principles of morality are not deductable by logic alone, but may be "relevatory" or "transcendent".
I really appreciate having a reply at last. There is much to consider here. We as Adlerians, no not accept an anything goes, what ever feels good to you is OK position. We are adamant that only what is in the direction of social interest is good. That is perhaps our greatest strength and most appealing virtue. This also leads to a complete philosophy for our personal existance, or as Richard Kopp once said to me and I hope he will not mind being quoted, "Adlerian is something you are, not something you do."

James Wolf September 5th, 2004 08:00 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
I do not know quantum mechanics, never quite understood the theory of realtivity, etc. but I think I get a bit of what you are saying, George. I remember reading that Adler surveyed philosophy and the world's religions - part of his late night reading - and came up with the common denominators they shared - the Golden Rule, being one, love thy neighbor perhaps being another. All this partly led to the concept of gemeinschaftsgefuhl. The experience of deep connectedness, the feeling of community, has always seemed to me to be, at it's core, of a spiritual nature, more than just simply biological-psychological. I like Alexander Muller's thoughts on all this ("You Shall Be a Blessing").
I'm not familiar with the "notion of singularity" What is that?? "The universal nature of moral principles" sounds interesting as well.

George Neeson September 5th, 2004 09:49 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
Oh yes, Mueller is wonderful reading ... a man of deep spiritual sensitivity. I was sent graciously by Henry, a copy of "You Shall Be a Blessing" early in my studies with him, and it has been a blessing. What a refreshing thing to see deep spirituality without the veneer of a legalistic, confining religiosity.

By the way, the "singularity" is the word in cosmology for "The Big Bang", because there was no big bang. All the matter of the universe appeared in an instant in one place somewhere "inside" the "events" we now see some 13 billion +/- 400 million years ago! The universe as a non steady state event has thrown the world view of the Postmodernist into considerable difficulty!

Manu Jaaskelainen September 11th, 2004 05:15 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
I have been thinking somewhat about this teleology-issue both from a general philosophical point of view, and from Adlerian point of view. Nietzsche influenced Adler strongly as we all know, and he was 100% determinist. In his opinion, criminals are sick people who are in need of treatment, not prison. Nietzsche's views were very radical for a century ago, and he was not heard - a madman in the periphery. Today, many of us accept this viewpoint. However, if we accept the teleological nature of human personality (as we should), the question arises again. In "The Neurotic Character" Adler discusses teleology and seems to conclude that "philosophers and psychologists considered as a principle of teleology what was actually a calculated attempt at orientation towards a point that was assumed to be fixed."(p.48) In other words, there is teleology in human behavior but this is by no means in conflict with the idea of determinism. The "guiding idea" of the person determine his/her directions of striving. However, later on Adler introduced his ideas about some kind of creative indeterminism of human personality. This creativity may be positive or negative, but there is unquestionably some unpredictability of human behavior. - In practical life, we should consider the total situation of the person before making moral or legal judgements. There is such a thing as "general interest", but there are also "individual human rights". Only in absolutely totalitarian societies "general interest" has total power over individual human rights. I have worked myself in administration, so the moral problems involved here are known to me. In my opinion, all democratic societies should accept some "exceptions to the rule", but these exceptions cannot be too many in the case of any individual. Otherwise we leave the limits of organized, lawful society. As the German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said, freedom is only possible in a society governed by some law and order. It is the task of parents and the educational system to awaken this feeling in us. It is a part of the community feeling. But here you may also find, if you so like, the weak point in my argument: what if the "tender age" of the person in question had such a character that this kind of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl never was developed in the mind of this person?

George Neeson September 12th, 2004 02:24 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
I really appreciate the wording you use that Adler introduced an notion of "creative indeterminism". I have never seen it described thus. This is a thought provoking term that you use. It does not seem to lead to a total "subjectivism" and I believe this is a useful "fiction" to describe this notion. Thank you for some erudite thinking that is very helpful. I shall be interested to see others enter this discussion of the Adlerian notion of morallity and free will.

Manu Jaaskelainen September 12th, 2004 03:07 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
Yes, George, the term "creative indeterminism" is a fiction insofar as it was not by Adler himself. However, his comments on creativity seem to imply that it would be legitimate to use this concept in Adlerian context. I was inspired here by Dostojevsky. He has written a short book about a man living in cellar - deplorably, I don't know the english name of this short and, in my opinion, a very important work. It is a classical story of a very neurotic man wwho lives totally isolated. What he seems to think about the freedom of man has mainly a very sinister, almost black character. In the light of subsequent Russian history, the reflections of this "cellar-man" are almost prophetic. He argues that man is totally free, very much in the Sartrean manner. But because the man is neurotic, his conclusions lack any social feeling, or social interest. Deplorably, this is the way many of us understand freedom. It was Furtmueller (Adler's colleague) who in his work "Ethics and Psychoanalysis" argued that there is actually no conflict between individual and society because human beings are social beings by their very nature. My problem is: how comes it that we have people like the "cellar-man" who are living in their destructive fantasies of power, instead of making themselves useful for the society? Probably education is the key, probably the general social spirit of the society. If the society is characterized by greed, egoism, inequality, aggression and lies, how can we convince young people to live modestly, to work hard, to be honest, to be good citizens, loving parents, and good leaders who are willing to work for the best of their societies and the world? - Well, enough about this rhetorics. But the questions remain there to wrestle with.

Trevor Hjertaas October 18th, 2004 03:13 PM

Re: Comments on Adlerian teleology
I believe Dostoievsky's novel which Manu mentions is published as "Notes from the Underground" in English.

I have enjoyed reading the comments on "determinism" and wanted to make a few of my own.

I personally think that we Adlerians do (and should) make moral judgments as to what is right and wrong (or what seems to be within the spirit of social interest and what does not), but we also - as George and James mention - do not blame individuals for having made the choices they have (recognizing that these choices were made within the context of the individual's early environmental situation and that he or she may not be entirely conscious of having made them - bringing these into awareness being one of the tasks of psychotherapy). We also recognize that we do not have all the answers, working within the uncertainty of sub specie aeternitatis.

As James notes, difficulties arise when the individual wishes to avoid responsibility for actions through pleading "insanity" in one form or another. This is an extremely important point, for as Manu wisely notes, freedom is only possible in a society governed by some law and order. Although I certainly do not have any solution for this dilemma, I have recently submitted an article (to the Canadian Journal of Adlerian Psychology, which Steve Slavik edits) examining Albert Camus' novel "The Stranger" from an Adlerian perspective and which touches on this question. In one of his notebooks, Camus discusses a case similar to that of his protagonist, Meursault, in which he is horrified that the examining psychiatrist was able to completely overlook numerous signs of underlying psychopathology and to declare the person fit to stand trial. Camus, like Adler, concluded that such people require treatment far more than punishment (Camus was also strongly influenced by Nietzsche). However, unlike many of his more revolutionary fellow philosophers, Camus did not lose sight of the need to protect the innocent in society as well. And so we're left with this difficult question of what to do with cases such as the one mentioned by George. My own inclination would be for mental health professionals to evaluate for risks as necessary but also to advocate for treatment whenever possible, attempting to discriminate when we can encourage ourselves by ignoring a possibly poor prognosis (as Dreikurs advised) and when we have to recognize our limitations, apply what little has been shown to be effective, and rely on external constraints (as in cases of extreme psychopathy). I would think that an Adlerian approach to assessment could effectively augment other methods employed more commonly today and thus be most helpful in devising such strategies appropriately (which is far from being a perfect solution, I know, but the Adlerian practitioner - like everyone else - is called to function within the uncertainty of life, as Adler himself frequently pointed out).

Trevor Hjertaas, Psy. D.

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