Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Philosophical Implications of Adlerian Psychology

By James Wolf, M.S., MFCC, co-editor of You Shall Be A Blessing: Main Traits of a Religious Humanism, by Alexander Müller, M.D., published by the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington, 2002.

Much of the discussion of the meaning of social interest has explained its social and psychological dimensions. Adler himself, also commented on the parallels between the views of religion on the process of salvation and Individual Psychological treatment, "In Individual Psychology, during its mild barrage of questions, the erring person experiences grace, redemption, and forgiveness by becoming a part of the whole." Adler also discussed the importance that the idea of God has had as a guiding ideal for mankind toward an ideal society. Alexander Müller's book, You Shall Be A Blessing, presents his thought on the deeper philosophical and spiritual aspects of social interest, the roots of which are seen in connection to man's relationship with creation.

Müller writes that in man's history and social evolution he has alternated between two extremes. First, at times he has denied God's existence or role in his life while reveling in himself and his own power. Or he has turned to God or gods as the absolute determiner of his fate. According to Müller, the "tragic paradox," our legacy from the nineteenth century, is that while man has freed himself from oppression from certain external forces and become more the master of his fate, he has also looked for and believes he has found internal determiners to excuse himself from personal responsibility (i.e., heredity theories, and other deterministic theories). In other words he has given himself freedom of action, but feels he is not responsible for his actions. Müller writes, "He had been given absolute freedom to be a reflex mechanism." Beginning with his description of this paradox, he explores man's being, self-realization, responsibility, an d creativity, and his relationships with God, the world, and his fellowman.

Müller was a psychiatrist, a student and co-worker with Adler in Vienna. We know from some of those who knew him that he was a dedicated adherent of Adlerian Psychology and practiced it in a creative, Socratic form which he had learned from Adler. He was born in 1895 into a traditional Jewish family in Kormorn, Hungary and died in 1968 in Zürich, Switzerland. He served as president of the Swiss Association of Individual Psychology and First Secretary of the International Association of Individual Psychology. According to his friend, Edith Haas, Müller's world view was profoundly influenced by two events. First, during World War I he was a prisoner of war in Russia for four years. Second, during World War II he became a refugee with his wife, Klara, and then was interned in a concentration camp in Hungary, where both he and his wife miraculously survived. These experiences seemed not to have left him with bitterness, but rather with a greater sense of purpose and of demanding the best from himself and others.

Müller's attitude can be understood from the following views which come from his book, where he writes that we are all co-responsible for the fate of the world. Where we neglect developing ourselves or neglect developing the power to do good or correct injustice, we share the guilt, the responsibility for the negative or destructive outcome. We are all co-responsible through our awareness of creation, a planning creation that calls upon us to cooperate in completing an unfinished world. Awareness of creation means awareness of the unity of all existence. The deeper meaning of social interest is implied in Müller's emphasis that where men are held together by community interest based on social and economic necessity only, in the face of overwhelming external forces cooperation will break down. Only through the awareness of creation, through the deep knowledge of our common origin and purpose, will community feeling, cooperation and peace be lasting.

Müller writes that we are not shown a clear path to our purpose; we must discover it. We are endowed with consciousness and a creative potential which we must develop and use. We have a choice. What we choose to do or not to do strengthens or weakens our belonging to God, and moves us toward or away from realization of our real being, our best form. He adds that we cannot escape from choosing or not choosing, that no one can relieve a person from this responsibility for himself.

As a consequence of his awareness, Müller writes that man must engage himself in a questioning process. To survive, he must ask questions of vital necessity, but to grow as a human being, he must ask questions of a spiritual nature. He discusses a "correct questioning" process that generally follows a particular sequence and he describes it as follows: "1. What and how is this? 2. Should it be different? 3. Does it have to be this way? 4. How should it be? 5. Can it also be different? 6. What can I do?" The ability to ask such questions reflects man as a subject who acts upon the world and works with what is given him, as opposed to man as an object absolutely determined by forces acting on him.

The implications of this questioning process for psychotherapy are obvious. To help a person realize himself, to lead him to greater social interest, we must help him question himself and the world "more correctly." If we impose upon him too much with our own answers or our list of his mistakes, rather than help him find his own way, we risk impeding him from realizing his own creative power and in discovering what creation has meant for him to become. Among the challenges for the practitioner are to develop himself as an adept questioner, and, in Müller's words, as a "spiritual subject" that is, to work to realize his best form as a human being. To understand the essence of a thing, of a living creature or a person, says Müller, is in itself a creative act.

Müller's book is packed with wisdom, insight and challenge, especially for readers interested in spiritual issues. Many Adlerians who are tempted to move "beyond Adler" may not yet have found the creative and philosophical depth upon which one can continue to build. Becoming familiar with Müller's insights will challenge many to journey more deeply into Adlerian concepts. In my view, Müller has added to Adler's philosophy in a way that will at times move the reader and then leave him with an altered picture of himself in the world.

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Biographical Sketch of Alexander Müller:
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