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Striving for Superiority and Fictional Finalism

Striving for Superiority and Fictional Finalism

Striving for Superiority

To recap and summarise, sense of inferiority cues compensation.  Adler proposed initially the involvement in this of aggressive instincts, before moving on to  the  notion  of will  to  power.  Many texts outlining Adlerian theory appear to overemphasise this latter theme when, strictly speaking, it is applicable principally to the egotistic striving for self-aggrandisement deemed characteristic of neurosis.

In broadening his ideas to education and personal development,  Adler finally settled for the concept of  striving for superiority. This he also termed “the great upward drive of mankind”. In significant contrast to power, allusions are far more apparent to competence, effectiveness, mastery and self-actualisation.

Fictional Finalism

Adler construed human behaviour as purposive or teleological – organised towards some future goal.  He was particularly interested in the final goal, which he believed to be set by the age of five. In deference to his own challenging childhood, Adler’s final goal was to “conquer death” (Orgler, 1973, p.214), and towards this aim unfolded his entire life.

The final goal also provides a template for sub-goals: individuals burdened by an inferiority complex, e.g., may exhibit common compensatory themes of controlling, surpassing and perfecting in both short-term and long-term objectives. Worse still, an insatiable “grass is always greener…..” scenario may be perpetuated.

Adler was impressed by the work of Vaihinger (1911), whose main proposition was that much of the human life is the outcome of guiding fictions – assumptions and beliefs which are unverifiable, yet  produce  concrete  results:  notions  such  as  “good  people  go to heaven” or “the end justifies the means” would be prime examples. This entire subject area has been labelled fictional finalism.  Adlerian literature also refers to “fictive” goals, this term becoming synonymous with absence of realism and unattainability, and an undoubted factor in psychological disturbance.


Teleology and finalism contrast starkly with the search for antecedent causes, or determinism, characteristic of psycho-analysis. Critics may observe, of course, that apparent predication of goal-setting upon sense of inferiority smacks more of determinism than finalism. Adler’s concept of the creative self will be discussed later as a rebuttal of this claim (refer to The Creative Self, line 210).


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