Biophilia means love of life (Erich Fromm)

Biophilia means love of life (Erich Fromm)

The opposite of the necrophilous orientation is the biophilous; its essence is love of life in contrast to love of death. Like necrophilia, biophilia is not constituted by a single trait, but represents a total orientation, an entire way of being. It is manifested in a person’s bodily processes, in his emotions, in his thoughts, in his gestures; the biophilous orientation expresses itself in the whole man. The most elementary form of this orientation is expressed in the tendency of all living organisms to live. In contrast to Freud’s assumption concerning the “death instinct,” I agree with the assumption made by many biologists and philosophers that it is an inherent quality of all living substance to live, to preserve its existence; as Spinoza expressed it: “Everything insofar as it is itself, endeavors to persist in its own being.” (Ethic, III, Prop. VI.) He called this endeavor the very essence of the thing in question. (Ibid., Prop. WI.)
We observe this tendency to live in all living substance around us; in the grass that breaks through the stones to get light and to live; in the animal that will fight to the last in order to escape death; in man who will do almost anything to preserve his life.
The tendency to preserve life and to fight against death is the most elementary form of the biophilous orientation, and is common to all living substance. Inasmuch as it is a tendency to preserve life, and to fight death, it represents only one aspect of the drive toward life. The other aspect is a more positive one: living-sub-stance has the tendency to integrate and to unite; it tends to fuse with different and opposite entities, and to grow in a structural way. Unification and integrated growth are characteristic of all life processes, not only as far as cells are concerned, but also with regard to feeling and thinking.

 

The most elementary expression of this tendency is the fusion between cells and organisms, from nonsexual cell fusion to sexual union among animals and man. In the latter, sexual union is based on the attraction between the male and the female poles. The male–female polarity constitutes the core of that need for fusion on which the life of the human species depends. It seems that for this very reason nature has provided man with the most intense pleasure in the fusion of the two poles. Biologically, the result of this fusion is normally the creation of a new being. The cycle of life is that of union, birth, and growth—just as the cycle of death is that of cessation of growth, disintegration, decay.

 

However, even the sexual instinct, while biologically serving life, is not necessarily one which psychologically expresses biophilia. It seems that there is hardly any intense emotion which cannot be attracted to and blended with the sexual instinct. Vanity, the desire for wealth, for adventure, and even the attraction to death can, as it were, commission the sexual instinct into their service. Why this should be so is a matter for speculation. One is tempted to think that it is the cunning of nature to make the sexual instinct so pliable that it will be mobilized by any kind of intense desire, even by those that are in contradiction to life. But whatever the reason, the fact of the blending between sexual desire and destructiveness can hardly be doubted. (Freud pointed to this mixture, especially in his discussion of the blending of the death instinct with the life instinct, as occurring in sadism and masochism.) Sadism, masochism, necrophagia and coprophagia are perversions, not because the deviate from the customary standards of sexual behavior, but precisely because they signify the one fundamental perversion: the blending between life and death.

 

The full unfolding of biophilia is to be found in the productive orientation.” The person who fully loves life is attracted by the process of life and growth in all spheres. He prefers to construct rather than to retain. He is capable of wondering, and he prefers to see something new to the security of finding confirmation of the old. He loves the adventure of living more than he does certainty. His approach to life is functional rather than mechanical. He sees the whole rather than only the parts, structures rather than summations. He wants to mold and to influence by love, reason, by his example; not by force, by cutting things apart, by the bureaucratic manner of administering people as if they were things. He enjoys life and all its manifestations rather than mere excitement.

 

Biophilic ethics have their own principle of good and evil. Good is all that serves life; evil is all that serves death. Good is reverence for life,” all that enhances life, growth, unfolding. Evil is all that stifles life, narrows it down, cuts it into pieces. Joy is virtuous and sadness is sinful. Thus it is from the standpoint of biophilic ethics that the Bible mentions as the central sin of the Hebrews: “Because thou didst not serve thy Lord with joy and gladness of heart in the abundance of all things” (Deut. 28:47). The conscience of the biophilous person is not one of forcing oneself to refrain from evil and to do good. It is not the superego described by Freud, which is a strict taskmaster, employing sadism against oneself for the sake of virtue. The biophilous conscience is motivated by its attraction to life and joy; the moral effort consists in strengthening the life-loving side in oneself. For this reason the biophile does not dwell in remorse and guilt which are, after all, only aspects of self-loathing and sadness. He turns quickly to life and attempts to do good. Spinoza’s Ethic is a striking example of biophilic morality. “Pleasure,” he says, “in itself is not bad but good; contrariwise, pain in itself is bad.” (Ethic, IV, Prop. XLI.) And in the same spirit: “A free man thinks of death least of all things; and his wisdom is a meditation not of death but of life.” (Ibid., Prop. LXVIII.) Love of life underlies the various versions of humanistic philosophy. In various conceptual forms these philosophies are in the same vein as Spinoza’s; they express the principle that the sane man loves life, that sadness is sin and joy is virtue, that man’s aim in life is to be attracted by all that is alive and to separate himself from all that is dead and mechanical.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of Man
Erich Fromm



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