On the Origin of the
Striving for Superiority and
of Social Interest (1933)
R E. W
Adler died in 1937 having created a personality theory and approach to therapy
so far ahead of its time that many contemporary psychological approaches are
only now “discovering” many of Adler’s fundamental conclusions, but typically
without reference to or acknowledgment of Adler (Watts, 1999). In reading his
1933 paper “On the Origin of Striving for Superiority and Social Interest,” one
can see the contemporary relevance of Adler’s thinking in several streams of
psychological thinking. In particular, I would like to address Adler’s thoughts
on striving and gemeinschasgefuhl (community feeling/social interest) as evinc-
ing Adlerian psychology’s position as arguably the rst positive psychology in the
20th century. Prochaska and Norcross (2010), echoing Ellenberger (1970), stated
that many of “Adler’s ideas have quietly permeated modern psychological think-
ing, oen without notice. It would not be easy to nd another author from which
so much as been borrowed from all sides without acknowledgment than Alfred
Adler” (p. 91). is appears particularly true in the positive psychology move-
ment. Adlerian ideas are replete in the positive psychology literature, but there is
no substantive mention of Adler or Adlerian psychology. In this brief introduc-
tion addressing the contemporary relevance of Adler’s ideas, I will rst address
striving for perfection or superiority, next gemeinschasgefuhl, and nally the
remarkable common ground between Adler’s ideas and the contemporary posi-
Striving for Perfection or SuPeriority
Adler’s understanding of “striving” evolved over time and he used various words
like completion, mastery, perfection, and superiority to describe how humans seek
42 RICHA RD E. WATTS
to move from “the present situation, as observed and interpreted, to a better one,
one that was superior to the present status” (Manaster & Corsini, 1982, p. 41).
According to Adler, the central human directionality is toward competence or
self-mastery, what Adler called striving for perfection or superiority. is is the
individual’s creative and compensatory answer to the normal and universal feel-
ings of insignicance and disempowerment, and the accompanying beliefs that
one is less than what one should be (i.e., feelings of inferiority). us, striving for
perfection or superiority is the natural human desire to move from a perceived
negative position to a perceived positive one.
is concept of striving or teleological/teleonomical movement is seen in
the writings of various personality theorists including Kurt Goldstein, Karen
Horney, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, Otto Rank, Carl Rogers, and Robert White
(Jorgensen & Nafstad, 2004; Manaster & Corsini, 1982). One can nd similar
ideas in various contemporary theoretical perspectives, including constructivist,
evolutionary, and positive psychologies (Linley & Joseph, 2004; Mahoney, 2003;
Rasmussen, 2010; Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2011). For example, in discussing
happiness and human potential, Ryan and Deci (2001) described optimal func-
tioning and development as “the striving for perfection that represents the real-
ization of one’s true potential” (p. 144).
All of the aforementioned personality theorists agree with Adler that humans
are striving, seeking to actualize potential, and in the process of “becoming,”
and most of the theories created by these theorists are listed as early exemplars of
positive psychology in that literature. Adler’s theory, however, is not found in the
various lists; the positive psychology literature typically lists Maslow and Rogers
as the earliest exemplars, even though Adler clearly preceded both in his formu-
lation of an optimistic, growth-oriented psychology.
gemeinSchaftSgefuhl (community feeling/Social intereSt)
Adlerian psychology is a relational theory. It asserts that humans are socially
embedded and that knowledge is relationally distributed. Adler stressed that per-
sons cannot be properly understood apart from their social context. Consequently,
the Adlerian perspective on the tasks of life—love, society, work, spirituality, and
self—is a strongly relational one. ese tasks of life address intimate love rela-
tionships, relationships with friends and fellow beings in society, our relation-
ships at work, our relationship with self, and our relationship with God or the
universe (Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci, 2006; Watts, 2003; Watts, Williamson, &
According to Manaster and Corsini (1982), the most unique and valuable concept
in Adlerian psychology is gemeinschasgefuhl. e cardinal tenet of Adler’s theory,
it is typically translated as “social interest or community feeling” and emphasizes
the relational, social-contextual nature of the theory. I believe both community
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STR IVING FOR SUPER IORITY AND OF SOCIAL I NTEREST 1933 43
feeling and social interest are needed for a holistic understanding of gemeinschas-
gefuhl; that is, community feeling addresses the aective and motivational aspects
and social interest the cognitive and behavioral ones. us, true community feeling
(e.g., sense of belonging, empathy, caring, compassion, acceptance of others) results
in social interest (thoughts and behaviors that contribute to the common good, the
good of the whole at both micro- and macro-systemic levels); true social interest is
motivated by community feeling (Watts & Eckstein, 2009).
A signicant dierence between Adler and other personality theorists regard-
ing the aforementioned “striving” is the role of community feeling/social interest.
Adler emphasized that striving for perfection or superiority occurs in a relational
context and this striving may occur in either a socially useful or a socially useless
manner. How one strives, and the manifest behaviors, are predicated on one’s
community feeling/social interest. us, in Adler’s mature theoretical formula-
tion, as evidenced in the 1933 paper, striving for perfection means that one is
striving toward greater competence, both for oneself and the common good of
humanity. is is a horizontal striving that is useful both for self and for oth-
ers, seeking to build both self- and other-esteem. Striving for superiority means
to move in a self-centered manner, seeking to be superior over others. is is a
vertical striving that primarily pursues personal gain without contribution to or
consideration of others and the common good. e manner one chooses to strive
constitutes the Adlerian criterion for mental health: healthy development follows
the goal of community feeling and social interest; maladjustment is the conse-
quence of pursuing narcissistic self-interest (Manaster & Corsini, 1982).
Recent research by Leak and Leak (2006) and Barlow, Tobin, and Schmidt
(2009) indicated that social interest is related to numerous aspects of positive
psychology (e.g., hope, other-centered values, optimism, prosocial moral reason-
ing, psychosocial maturity, subjective well-being). Nevertheless, positive psy-
chology authors appear to have ignored an important early positive psychology
construct: Adler’s gemeinschasgefuhl.
adlerian theory and PoSitive PSychology
Snyder and Lopez (2002) identied the positive psychology movement as a “new
approach” because “psychology and its sister disciplines . . . focus on the weak-
nesses in humankind” (p. ix). In arming the positive qualities of humankind,
the editors state, “no science, including psychology, looks seriously at this posi-
tive side of people” [emphasis in original, p. x]. Seligman (2002) noted that the
goal of positive psychology is to move from a preoccupation with pathology to
a more balanced perspective that includes the idea of “a fullled individual and
a thriving community” by emphasizing that building strengths in people “is
the most potent weapon in the arsenal of therapy” (p. 3). It is remarkable that
Seligman’s goal is exactly the evolution of Adler’s theory development. Prior to
44 RICHA RD E. WATTS
World War I, Adler was more focused on decits, pathology, and remediation.
Adler’s mature theory, however, focused on strengths, healthy human develop-
ment, and prevention.
Given Adler’s evolution from a decit and pathology focus to one emphasiz-
ing strength, health, and prevention, it is not surprising to nd signicant com-
mon ground between Adlerian theory and the positive psychology movement.
Although not an exhaustive list, Carlson, Watts, and Maniacci (2006) identied
the following shared emphases: normal human growth and development; pre-
vention/education rather than merely remediation; moving away from the medi-
cal model perspective; a focus on mental health and clients’ strengths, resources,
and abilities rather than psychopathology and clients’ disabilities; and holism,
spirituality, wellness, multiculturalism, and social justice. Adler’s 1933 paper on
striving and social interest alludes to several of the emphases listed above.
Cowen and Kilmer (2002) criticized the positive psychology literature for its
lack of attention to prior literature regarding prevention and wellness, its lack of
a cohesive undergirding theoretical framework, and its lack of a developmen-
tal perspective. Adlerian theory has a rich literature addressing prevention and
healthy development, and could serve as a useful cohesive theoretical framework
that Cowen and Kilmer indicated is lacking in positive psychology.
Adlerian psychology is a growth model that emphasizes the holistic, phe-
nomenological, teleological, eld-theoretically, and socially embedded aspects of
human functioning. It is an optimistic perspective that views people as unique,
creative, capable, and responsible. Adlerians disdain the decit or “medical
model” orientation to maladjustment, preferring a nonpathological perspective.
us, clients are not sick (as in having a disease) and are not identied or “labeled”
by their diagnoses. Because Adlerians believe the growth model of personality
makes more sense than the sickness model, they see clients as discouraged rather
than sick. us, Adlerians are not about “curing” anything; therapy is a process
of encouragement. In fact, Adlerians consider encouragement a crucial aspect of
human growth and development (Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci, 2006; Manaster &
Corsini, 1982; Mosak & Maniacci, 1999).
Adlerian therapists focus on developing a respectful, egalitarian, optimistic,
and growth-oriented therapeutic alliance that emphasizes clients’ assets, abili-
ties, resources, and strengths. Watts (1998) noted that Adler’s descriptions of
therapist-modeled social interest look very similar to Rogers’s descriptions of the
core facilitative conditions of client change: congruence, unconditional positive
regard, and empathic understanding. e above qualities and characteristics of
the therapeutic alliance are embedded in what Adlerians have historically called
encouragement, or the therapeutic modeling of social interest (Carlson, Watts, &
Maniacci, 2006; Mosak and Maniacci, 1999). Stressing the importance of encour-
agement in therapy, Adler (1956) stated, “Altogether, in every step of the treat-
ment, we must not deviate from the path of encouragement” (p. 342). In addition,
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STR IVING FOR SUPER IORITY AND OF SOCIAL I NTEREST 1933 45
Dreikurs (1967) stated that therapeutic success was largely dependent upon “(the
therapist’s) ability to provide encouragement” and failure generally occurred
“due to the inability of the therapist to encourage” (pp. 12–13). Encouragement
skills include demonstrating concern for clients through active listening and
empathy, communicating respect for and condence in clients, focusing on cli-
ents’ strengths, assets, and resources, helping clients generate perceptual alter-
natives for discouraging ctional beliefs, focusing on eorts and progress, and
helping clients see the humor in life experiences (Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci,
2006; Watts & Pietrzak, 2000).
Adler and many subsequent Adlerians have focused on prevention rather than
simply remediation and, consequently, they have been extensively involved in
education. roughout his career, Adler was actively involved in public health,
medical and psychological prevention, and social welfare. He wrote, lectured on,
and advocated for children at risk, women’s rights and the equality of the sexes,
women’s rights to abortion, adult education, teacher training, community mental
health, family counseling and education and the establishment of family coun-
seling clinics, experimental schools for public students, and brief psychother-
apy. Adlerians have continued Adler’s emphasis on prevention and education.
For example, they have been perhaps the strongest proponents of child guidance
and parent and family education, and have written extensively on parent and
family education, couple-enrichment, and teacher education (Carlson, Watts, &
Maniacci, 2006; Mosak & Maniacci, 1999).
As noted earlier, the basic tenets of Adlerian theory and therapy permeate con-
temporary psychology, typically without acknowledgment of Adler’s pioneering
inuence (Mosak & Maniacci, 1999). is appears to be evident in the positive
psychology literature as well. Seligman (2002), considered the “Father of Positive
Psychology,” stated: “I well recognize that positive psychology is not a new idea.
It has many distinguished ancestors” (p. 7). e two examples he mentions are
Gordon Allport and Abraham Maslow. I can nd no evidence of Seligman ever
acknowledging Adler’s pioneering positive psychology. As the 1933 paper on
striving and social interest demonstrates, Adler clearly addressed key positive
psychology tenets long before the “ancestors” (e.g., Allport, Maslow, Rogers) typi-
cally identied in the positive psychology literature (Jorgensen & Nafstad, 2004;
Seligman, 2002; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005; Snyder & Lopez, 2002;
Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2011). us, Adlerian theory is clearly relevant for
today’s psychological zeitgeist because it has evinced the characteristics of posi-
tive psychology long before the emergence of the positive psychology movement.
As Bitter (1998) suggested, “the more the elds of psychology and psychother-
apy develop, the more relevant the ideas and processes of Adlerian psychology
46 RICHA RD E. WATTS
become” (p. 412). All things considered, one can plausibly argue that Alfred
Adler should be acknowledged as the “Grandfather of Positive Psychology.”
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Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Harper Torchbooks.
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Cowen, E. L., & Kilmer, R. P. (2002). “Positive psychology”: Some plusses and some open
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Dreikurs, R. (1967). Psychodynamics, psychotherapy, and counseling. Chicago, IL: Alfred
Adler Institute of Chicago.
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Watts, R. E. (2003). Adlerian therapy as a relational constructivist approach. e Family
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Society (UK) and Institute for Individual Psychology.
On the Origin of the Striving for Superiority and of Social Interest (1933)*†
As an organismic, holistic theory, Individual Psychology requires a unitary
theory of motivation, which postulates either one master motive or merely
the force of life itself as the dynamic principle. Adler essentially chose the
second alternative, and when he named a master motive, it was actually only
to describe the form which the force of life takes in man. Adler’s assumption
of the life force remained a constant, while the names he gave to the human
master motive varied over the years, within a certain range. In the previous
paper (written in 1937) he speaks merely of striving for success. In the pres-
ent paper (prepared in 1933) he speaks variously of a striving for perfection,
superiority, overcoming, an upward striving, a coercion to carry out a better
adaptation, “innate as something which belongs to life.”
As a holistic theory, Individual Psychology also assumes an essential
cooperative harmony between individual and society, with conict an erro-
neous condition. is harmony is assumed to be based on an “innate substra-
tum of social interest,” which must be consciously developed. Social interest
is not a second dynamic force but gives direction to the striving for superi-
ority, just as any other developed potentiality would inuence the direction
of the striving. As a direction-giving factor, social interest also becomes a
normative ideal. —Eds.
It sounds almost like a timely problem to speak on the striving for perfec-
tion and the roots of social interest. For Individual Psychology, however, it is
an old problem. I may well say that in these two questions and their solution
rests the entire value and the entire signicance of Individual Psychology.
* From a paper read at the Vienna Medical Society for Individual Psychology, with the exception of
the “Summary,” which was read at the Individual Psychology Association, Vienna.
† Original translation of A1933i1, and A1933i2 (the present “Summary”).
48 RICHA RD E. WATTS
e emphasis on these two questions has never been lacking in our work,
but you, like myself, will probably have felt the need to have the questions for
once treated in a fundamental form, so that we can avoid the vacillation and
uncertainty which we have met occasionally among our friends, still more
oen among our opponents. I don’t believe that outside our circle it is very
well known what we understand by striving for perfection. I am obliged to
add further supplements to the knowledge up to now. is knowledge can-
not be comprehended immediately; it cannot be found through an analysis
of the visible phenomena and facts, as, altogether, something new can never
be created through analysis. Here we would have parts in our hands instead
of the whole. To us Individual Psychologists, the whole tells much more than
the analysis of the parts. Also, nothing new can emerge through synthesis if
one simply puts the parts together.
THE STRIVING FOR PERFECTION
Where must we begin with our considerations, if we want to get beyond the
position of what has already been reached? Regarding the striving for perfec-
tion, or as it manifests itself sometimes, the striving for superiority, or the
striving for power which authors of less understanding sometimes attribute
to us, some few have always known about it. But their knowledge was not
so thorough that they could communicate it to a larger number, or could
illuminate the fundamental signicance of this striving for the structure of
the entire personality. It took Individual Psychology to point out that every
individual is seized by this striving for perfection, that we nd it in every
individual. It is not at all necessary rst to inoculate man with the desire to
develop into superman, as the daring attempt of Nietzsche has maintained.
Individual Psychology has shown that every individual is seized by the striv-
ing for perfection, by the upward striving. He who can read between the lines
will have realized that we are continuously aware of the fundamental impor-
tance of the striving for perfection. In the consideration of a case of illness we
have always uncovered the individual direction of this striving.
And yet one question remains which always returns whenever this prob-
lem appears, a question emphasized by friends and opponents, a question
which perhaps in our circle as well has not yet been completely claried. I
shall attempt today to bring it nearer to a solution because I have always con-
sidered it necessary to create on this point clarity for all.
Part of Evolutionary PrinciPlE
us I should rst of all like to stress that the striving for perfection is innate.
However, it is not innate in a concrete way, since we nd it again and again
in the various individuals in thousandfold variation. It is not innate in the
sense of a drive which would later in life be capable of bringing everything
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STR IVING FOR SUPER IORITY AND OF SOCIAL I NTEREST 1933 49
to completion and which only needs to unfold itself. Rather, the striving for
perfection is innate as something which belongs to life, a striving, an urge, a
developing, a something without which one could not even conceive of life.
e scientists, especially the biological scientists, have always stressed this
evolutionary principle in the body. Especially since Darwin, Lamarck, and
others, it is a matter of course to take the evolutionary thought into account.
If we go a step further here and emphasize more strongly what these inge-
nious researchers envisioned, we want to state: To live means to develop.
e human mind is accustomed to bring all ow into a form, to regard
not the movement but the frozen movement, movement which has become
form. However, we have always been intent to resolve into movement what we
comprehend as form. us we must ascertain for the single individual of our
time as well as for the development of living creatures in general that to live
means to develop. Everyone knows that the complete man originates from an
ovular cell. But one should also properly understand that in this ovular cell
rest the fundaments for the development.
How life came on this earth is an uncertain matter; possibly we shall never
reach a nal answer. We could assume that there is life even in inanimate matter,
as for example the ingenious attempt of Smuts* has done. Such a view becomes
quite plausible through modem physics which shows that the electrons move
around the proton. Whether this view will be further vindicated, we do not
know. But it is certain that our concept of life as development can no longer be
doubted. ereby movement is ascertained at the same time, movement toward
self-preservation, procreation, contact with the surrounding world, victorious
contact in order not to perish. We must take our point of departure from this
path of development, of a continuous active adaptation to the demands of the
external world, if we want to understand in which direction life moves.
We must keep in mind that we are dealing here with something primary,
something which adhered already to primordial life. It is always a matter of
overcoming, of the existence of the individual and the human race, of estab-
lishing a favorable relationship between the individual and the surrounding
world. is coercion to carry out a better adaptation can never end. Herein lies
the foundation for our view of the striving for superiority.
Probably much of what I have just discussed seems familiar, and it certainly
was also known to others. Individual Psychology has only the one merit, to
have established a connection and to have shown which form this force, called
life, takes in each single individual and how it prevails. We are in the midst of
the stream of evolution but notice it as little as the rotation of the earth. In this
cosmic relation, in which the life of the single individual is a part, the striving
for victorious adaptation to the external world is a precondition. Even if one
* Smuts, J. C. (1926). Holism and evolution. New York: Macmillan.
50 RICHA RD E. WATTS
doubted that the striving for superiority existed already at the beginning of
life, the course of the billions of years puts it clearly before us that today the
striving for perfection is an innate factor which is present in every man.
individual concEPtions of PErfEction
is consideration may show us something else. None of us knows which is
the only correct way to perfection. Mankind has variously made the attempt
to imagine this nal goal of human development. e best conception gained
so far of this ideal elevation of mankind is the concept of God (Jahn and
Adler).* ere is no question but that the concept of God actually includes
this movement toward perfection in the form of a goal, and that as a concrete
goal of perfection it corresponds best to man’s dark longing to reach perfec-
tion. Of course, it seems to me that each person imagines his God dierently.
us there are conceptions of God which from the outset are not equal to the
principle of perfection. But of the purest formulation of God we can say: Here
the concrete formulation of the goal of perfection has been accomplished.
ere are, of course, countless attempts among men to imagine this goal
of perfection dierently. We physicians who deal with failures, with per-
sons who have fallen sick from a neurosis or psychosis, who have become
delinquents, alcoholics, etc., we see this goal of superiority in them also, but
in another direction, one which contradicts reason in so far as we cannot
acknowledge in it a correct goal of perfection. When, for example, someone
attempts to concretize this goal by wanting to dominate over others, such
a goal of perfection appears to us incapable to steer the individual and the
group. e reason is that not every one could make this goal of perfection
his task, because he would be forced to come into conict with the coercion
of evolution, to violate reality, and to defend himself full of anxiety against
the truth and its confessors. When we nd persons who have set themselves
as a goal of perfection to lean on others, this goal of perfection also appears
to us to contradict reason. When someone perhaps nds the goal of perfec-
tion in leaving the tasks of life unsolved in order not to suer certain defeats
which would be the opposite of the goal of perfection, this goal also appears to
us altogether unsuited, although it appears to many persons as acceptable.
Let us enlarge our prospect and raise the question: What has become of
those creatures who posited for themselves an incorrect goal of perfection,
whose active adaptation has not succeeded because they took the incorrect
path, who did not nd the path toward the advancement of all (Sinn des
Lebens [A1933b])? Here the extinction of species, races, tribes, families, and
thousands of individual persons of whom nothing has remained, teaches us
how necessary it is for the individual to nd a halfway correct path to the
* See Part V.
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STR IVING FOR SUPER IORITY AND OF SOCIAL I NTEREST 1933 51
goal of some kind of perfection. Aer all, it is understood in our day and by
the individual among us that the goal of perfection gives the direction for the
development of his entire personality, for all his expressive movements, his
perceiving, his thinking, his feeling, his view of the world. It is equally clear
and understandable for every Individual Psychologist that a direction which
deviates in a considerable degree from the truth must turn out to the detri-
ment of the one in question, if not to his doom. is being the case, it would
be a lucky nd if we knew more about the direction which we have to take
since we are, aer all, embedded in the stream of evolution and must follow
it. Here as well, Individual Psychology has performed a great achievement,
as it has with the ascertainment of the general striving for perfection. From
thousandfold experience it has gained a view which is capable of understand-
ing to some degree the direction toward ideal perfection, through its ascer-
tainment of the norms of social interest.
Regarding social interest, you will also have observed certain uctuations in
the Individual Psychology literature, and it is for this reason that I wanted to
talk about it. I do not wish to say much about the usual and thoughtless case
which is occasionally found within our circle among beginners, and outside
our circle—the mistake of understanding what we call community as a pri-
vate circle of our time, or a larger circle which one should join. Social interest
means much more. Particularly it means feeling with the whole, sub specie
aeternitatis, under the aspect of eternity. It means a striving for a form of
community which must be thought of as everlasting, as it could be thought
of if mankind had reached the goal of perfection. It is never a present-day
community or society, nor a political or religious form. Rather the goal which
is best suited for perfection would have to be a goal which signies the ideal
community of all mankind, the ultimate fulllment of evolution.
Of course, one will ask, how do I know this? Certainly not from immedi-
ate experience. I must admit that those who nd a piece of metaphys-
ics in Individual Psychology are right. Some praise this, other criticize it.
Unfortunately, there are many who have an erroneous view of metaphysics,
who would like to see everything eliminated from the life of mankind which
they cannot comprehend immediately. But by doing so we would interfere
with the possibilities of development, prevent every new thought. Every new
idea lies beyond immediate experience; immediate experiences never yield
anything new. Only a synthesizing idea can do this. Whether you call it
speculation or transcendentalism, there is no science which does not have to
enter the realm of metaphysics. I see no reason to be afraid of metaphysics;
52 RICHA RD E. WATTS
it has had a very great inuence on human life and development. We are not
blessed with the possession of the absolute truth, and on that account we are
compelled to form theories for ourselves about our future, about the results
of our actions, etc.
We conceive the idea of social interest, social feeling, as the ultimate form
of mankind, a condition in which we imagine all questions of life, all relation-
ship to the external world as solved. It is a normative ideal, a direction-giving
goal. is goal of perfection must contain the goal of an ideal community,
because everything we nd valuable in life, what exists and what will remain,
is forever a product of this social feeling.
I want to repeat what I have mentioned in another connection. e new-
born child always nds in life only what the others have contributed to life,
to welfare, to security. What we nd when we enter our life is always the
contribution of our forebears. is one fact alone could enlighten us as to
how life will move on: We shall approach a condition of larger contributions,
of greater ability to cooperate, where every individual presents himself more
fully as a part of the whole—a condition for which of course all forms of our
societal movement are trials, preliminary trials, and only those will endure
which are situated in the direction of this ideal community.
We do not want to judge; only one thing we can say: A movement of the
individual or a movement of the masses can for us pass as valuable only if it
creates values for eternity, for the higher development of all mankind. Maybe
you will understand this fact better if I raise once more the question: What
happens to those persons who have contributed nothing? ey have disap-
peared, have become extinct. ere you see again how the force of evolution,
how this urge to achieve a higher stage physically and mentally, how this urge
extinguishes everything which does not go along and contributes nothing.
If one is a friend of formulations, one could say there is a basic law in devel-
opment which calls to those who are negating: Away with you; you do not
understand what counts! us duration emphasizes itself, the eternal dura-
tion of the contribution of persons who have done something for the common
good. Of course we are thoughtful enough not to assume that we have the key
for telling in each case exactly what is calculated for eternity and what not. We
are convinced that we can err, that only a very exact, objective investigation
can decide, oen also only the course of events. It is perhaps already a great
step that we can avoid what does not contribute to the striving for perfection.
I could talk more about this and show how all our functions are calculated
not to disturb the community of man, to connect the individual with the
community. To see means to receive, to make fertile that which falls on the
retina. is is not only a physiological process; it shows the person as part of
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STR IVING FOR SUPER IORITY AND OF SOCIAL I NTEREST 1933 53
the whole, who takes and gives. In seeing, hearing, speaking we connect our-
selves with the others. us all functions of our organs are correctly devel-
oped only if they are not detrimental to the social interest.
We speak of virtue, and mean that one participates in the game; of vice, and
mean that one disturbs cooperation. I could also point out how everything
which signies a failure is a failure because it disturbs the development of the
community, whether we are dealing with problem children, neurotics, crimi-
nals, or cases of suicide. In all cases you see that the contribution is lacking.
In the entire history of mankind you will nd no isolated persons. e
development of mankind was possible only because mankind was a com-
munity and in striving for perfection strove for an ideal community. All
movements, all functions of a person express whether or not he has found
this direction in the stream of evolution which is characterized by the com-
munity ideal. e reason is that man is inviolably guided by the community
ideal. He becomes impeded, punished, praised, and advanced by it, so that
each individual becomes not only responsible for each deviation but must
also suer for it. is is a hard law, virtually a cruel law. ose who have
already developed in themselves a strong social feeling constantly endeavour
to ameliorate the hardships of anyone who proceeds erroneously. ey do
this as if they knew that here is a man who has missed the way for reasons
which only Individual Psychology is able to demonstrate. If a man under-
stood how he erred, stepping out of the way of evolution, he would leave this
course and join general humanity.
Finally, I should like to submit a thought which has much in its favor and
which I should like you to consider. If you agree with my arguments, you
will have to raise the question: Is social interest innate or must one bring it to
man? Of course it is also innate, like the striving for perfection, except that
it must be developed and can be developed only when the child is already in
the midst of life.
Like the character traits which depend on it, social interest can come
to life only in the social context. By social context, of course, is meant the
child’s subjective understanding of the same. e decision [as to how he will
interpret the essentially ambiguous social context] rests in the creative power
of the child, which, however, is guided by the environment and educational
measures, and inuenced by the experience and evaluation of his body.*
* By “experience and evaluation of his body,” Adler means that the child is not directly inuenced
by his physique but by how he subjectively experiences and evaluates it. us a beautiful girl who
feels that boys are attracted by her beauty rather than by her brains (for which she would like to be
admired) will evaluate her beauty negatively.
54 RICHA RD E. WATTS
At the present stage of mankind’s psychological and possibly also physical
development, we must consider the innate substratum of the social interest as
too small, as not strong enough, to become eective or to develop without the
benet of social understanding. is is in contrast to abilities and functions
which succeed almost all on their own, such as breathing. But with social
interest we are far from having reached this stage. We have not developed it
to the same extent as breathing. And yet we must expect the development of
social interest so strongly in the ultimate goal of perfection that mankind of
the future will possess and activate it like breathing.
What we have to do in the present critical state follows automatically.
Unquestionably this consideration gives us a certain and rm foundation
not only for the evaluation of a person and for the education of a child but
also for the improvement and guidance of one who has gone astray. But
this succeeds only through explanation and understanding. We must talk
about it, because we are not certain whether every child and every adult
knows where the way leads. is is why one must talk about it so long until
perhaps in the course of thousands of years talking also will have become
superuous, as perhaps it has today become superuous to talk about cor-
e talking about social interest as belonging to the evolution of man, as
a part of human life, and the awakening of the corresponding understanding
is today being attended to by Individual Psychology. is is its fundamental
signicance, its claim to existence, and this is what represents its strength.
Today everybody speaks about community and community feeling. We were
not the very rst, but we are the rst to have strongly emphasized the basic
nature of the social feelings.
e concept of community and community feeling can also be abused. But
one who has properly understood knows that in the nature of community and
community feeling rests an evolutionary factor which turns against every-
thing which resists this direction. He will be able to avoid the abuse of the
concept of the community or to let himself be abused by others in its name.
is represents the practical value and the signicance of Individual
Psychology: It has claried the fundamental signicance of social interest for
the development, the higher development, of the individual and of the whole
Individual Psychology has shown that the striving for superiority and per-
fection is not limited to the characterization of certain individuals, nor is it
brought to them from the outside; rather, it is given to every person and must
ON THE ORIGIN OF THE STR IVING FOR SUPER IORITY AND OF SOCIAL I NTEREST 1933 55
be understood as innate, as a necessary and general foundation of the develop-
ment of every person.
e originators of the concept of evolution in the eld of general organic
life, such as Darwin and Lamarck, have pointed out that life must be under-
stood as movement toward a goal, and that this goal—the preservation of
the individual and the species—is attained through the overcoming of resis-
tances with which the environment confronts the organism. us mastery
of the environment appears to be inseparably connected with the concept of
evolution. If this striving were not innate to the organism, no form of life
could preserve itself.
e goal of mastering the environment in a superior way, which one can
call the striving for perfection, consequently also characterizes the devel-
opment of man. It is expressed most clearly in the concept of God. In the
individual case, however, the striving for superiority takes on very dier-
ent concrete forms. Typical is, e.g., the striving to master one’s fellow man,
Exactly this form was shown by Individual Psychology to be erroneous, con-
tradicting the concept of evolution. Individual Psychology has uncovered the
fact that the deviations and failures of the human character—neurosis, psy-
chosis, crime, drug addiction etc.—are nothing but forms of expression and
symptoms of the striving for superiority directed against fellowmanship,*
which presents itself in one case as striving for power, in another case as an
evasion of accomplishments by which another might benet. Such erroneous
striving leads to the psychological decline and fall of the individual, as any
biological erroneous striving has led to the physical decline and fall of entire
species and races.
Individual Psychology has found a special formula for the correct striv-
ing for perfection of man: e goal which the individual must pursue must
lie in the direction which leads to the perfection of all of mankind sub specie
aeternitatis. “Virtue” means advancement, “vice” means disturbance of the
common work which aims at perfection. Never can the individual be the goal
of the ideal of perfection, but only mankind as a cooperating community. A
partial community of any kind—perhaps groups that are associated through
certain political, religious, or other ideals—is also not sucient. Neither do
we mean the existing society, but an ideal society yet to be developed, which
comprises all men, all lled by the common striving for perfection.
is is how the Individual Psychology concept of social interest
(Gemeinschasgefuhl) is to be understood. is is to be considered as
innate—”innate” also in the categorical (metaphysical) sense, namely as
the necessary and general premise for human cultural development. Every
* e German original for fellowmanship is Mitmenschlichkeit, meaning “ being a fellow man,” as
well as “co-humaneness.”
56 RICHA RD E. WATTS
human being brings the disposition for social interest with him; but then it
must be developed through upbringing, especially through correct guidance
of the creative power of the individual. We can assume that the innate sub-
stratum of the ability to cooperate will become increasingly stronger through
the training of the generations.
An important aid in this training is that the individual become conscious
of the importance of social interest as the form of the striving for perfection
which is appropriate for man. Exactly in this work of information rests the
foremost practical task of Individual Psychology.