Dan's Space




Adlerian Teleological Thinking and A Simplified Life

It is surprising to me that Alfred Adler is not so widely known outside the psychoanalytic and psychology circle, while Freud and Jung, his cofounders of the Vienna psychonanalytic movement are so well known in the popular culture. Especially when so much of his philosophy has become such an integral part of the modern day thinking and lifestyle, more so than Freud's or Jung's. And fwiw, if we look at the movement closely, Adler seems like the most sensible among the three fathers of psychoanalysis. With Adlerian psychology, there is no drama whatsoever, whether that of the repressed emotions, etiological thinking, or any kind of typologization of an individual. In fact, the defining character of his philosophy lies in his notion of simplicity through teleological thinking, where all of life and the conditions in it are constantly remappable, given that the individual be willing enough to reframe their situation in terms of the plausible goals instead of the causative elements that led to that situtation in the first place — "AGENCY".

To put it succintly, the idea is to prefer teleology over etiology. He is basically asking us to become aware of the agency that we as individuals have, so that we can create appropriate correspondences between our current state and the potential realities that await us, and then work towards the one that we desire. Teleology, he says, not only allows the individual to exercise their agency, it also provides them the courage to navigate the terrain with equanimity. On the contrary, etiology, from an adlerian world view, is a way to lock the here and now based on the causal chain that led to the current situation.

Example of the Adlerian notion of Teleological thinking.

1. Freudian Etiological Thinking: "I am unable to do the task XtaskX_{task} because the event YeventY_{event} happened to me 10 years ago"

2. Adlerian Teleological Thinking: "I am not doing the task XtaskX_{task} and holding on to the event YeventY_{event} because I don't want the event ZeventZ_{event} to happen"

The interesting thing in the second case is that some remapped event ZeventZ_{event} can still happen, if one creates a new correspondence between XsconditionX's_{condition} and this new ZsconditionZ's_{condition}, which can then help the individual perform the task XtaskX_{task}; whereas in the first case the here and now is always locked by the causative element YeventY_{event} that one thinks is controlling the XconditionX_{condition}, which in turn is controlling their ability to perform the task XtaskX_{task}.

Note that I am not saying that Adler is right or that causes do not exist, but that reframing and knowing that one has the agency to change one's life can help a large majority of people who are locked by their past or their implicitly assumed disadvantage.

After having read whatever little I did about Adler, it seems to me that the Adlerian guide to life is probably the most viable theory among the existing ones that an individual can follow without falling into the pitfalls of modernity(Note: This may change in future as my knowledge and understanding of life changes). An interesting take on individualist philosophy with a hint of (w)holism in the form of an intervention-less concern for other and a sense of belonging at the level of being.

It might be difficult for a layman to understand how an individualist philosophy that focuses on agency can incorporate a sense of belongingness and concern for others while being interventionless; and this is where I would say Adler shines with his notion of 'expected assistance'. Adler in his theory redefines (lack of) intervention as 'expected assistance' as opposed to 'intended involvement'. This allows an individual to separate the 'tasks' while supporting the community(See Notes). Note that Adler is not asking one to stay away from helping others, instead he is asking us to be proactive in being able to notice the cry for help and asking the people in crisis in what ways we could help them instead of intervening in whatever ways we think is best for them. And this dovetails seamlessly with his notion of separations of 'tasks', in that, an individual can always be aware of where, when, and what-for should they exercise their agency—by observing what falls under the category of their 'tasks'—as opposed to automatically assuming that their (ostensibly) altruistic intentions would lead to best results no matter what.

In essence, I think what Adler is proposing here is that we accept the potentitalities as a function of remappable correspondences(from etiological elements to teleological elements) while separating our 'tasks' in a manner that facilitates 'concern for others'(See notes) and 'a sense of belonging at the level of being'. Basically, a cure for all int(ra|er)-personal issues, which in adlerian worldview is all of human problems there was and there will be.


  1. 'Concern for others' is a technical term in Adlerian Psychology. The technicality lies in the fact that Adlerian "concern for others" discourages all forms of intervention, including praise and rebuke.

  2. 'Encouragement' is a technical term in Adlerian Psychology. The technicality lies in the fact that Adler equates encouragement to respect at the level of being as opposed to creating a environment of interventional praise.

  3. 'Community' in Adlerian Psychology is a (w)holist entity that helps with the sense of belonging at the level of being as opposed to at the level of externalization of contribution. Adler's view of "contribution" is that one is always contributing, no matter what, at the level of being and must be treated accordingly. Adler treats everything from humans to universe to inanimate objects also as part of the community. He says that contribution as an act of externalization is not what creates a sense of belonging or a community that accepts beings, but contribution as being is what allows for a sense of belonging/community.

  4. Adler's notion of 'intervention' is more about expected assistance as opposed to intended involvement. Adler's entire philosophy rests on the idea of agency through teleological thinking, and according to him any form of intervention that is not one's own task only leads to exasperation and further dissolution of will and agency.

  5. In Adlerian terms, tasks are something that gives one the agency and the responsibility. According to Adler, separation of tasks in of utmost importance when it comes to handling one's interpersonal issues, which is all of human problems according to Adler. [Needs some careful perusal]

  6. Adler sees problems of engineering and health also as int(ra|er)-personal problems.


  1. The Courage to be Disliked. (2013). Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga