Category Archives: Gemeinschaftsgefühl

Intersubjectivity: The Community Feeling

Alfred Adler left us an essential idea: Gemeinschaftsgefühl. We have variously translated this as social interest or community feeling but like many Adlerian themes its dynamic nature will not be held by a neat term.

Plato in Gorgias alludes to the same slippery concept, when he has Socrates say:

O Callicles, if there were not some community of feelings among mankind, however varying in different persons – I mean to say, if every man’s feelings were peculiar to himself and were not shared by the rest of his species – I do not see how we could ever communicate our impressions to one another.

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Childhood and Parenthood

As Alison Gopnik notes in The Philosophical Baby, the dependent stage of childhood presupposes the care-giving parent. The exploratory and experimental stage in development requires sustaining and supporting adults, protecting the child and putting their own interests second. This practical altruism is at the root of Adler’s Gemeinschaftsgefühl, usually translated as community feeling or social interest. Where this is fully developed it extends to an interest in the welfare of all. The child too has the rudiments of this feeling, both in the need for contact and in its interest in other people. The child senses that its security depends on the community feeling.

Defeating, undermining or weakening this bond is the self-centred, self-concerned impulse of the adult. Where this frustration of the bond is deep, the child feels the vulnerability of its world and seeks to defend it. Seeing life as a field of danger, the child finds and elaborates a system of defence.

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