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who was ernest dichter?

ernest dichter was someone who never stopped questioning what a human being is, what motives drive us and how human communication “works”. he had learned to question in this way studying moritz schlick, karl and charlotte bühler and in the milieu of the vienna circle. what was most important to dichter was not academic discourse or career, but the practical utilisation of philosophy.

in this respect, his pragmatic approach correlates in some way with the intentions of the vienna circle, among whose declared philosophical aims was “to form the mental tools for the daily use of scholars, but also for the daily use of those with an active awareness in shaping their lives” (from the manifesto “wissenschaftliche weltauffassung. der wiener kreis”, vienna circle, vienna 1929, p. 14). logical empiricism alone was of course not enough for this. his deeper questions, dichter had derived from his intensive engagement with sigmund freud, whose psychoanalysis he had adapted through wilhelm stekel and rudolf aichhorn.

from the “imago”-concept of gestalt psychology, dichter shaped the present-day concept of “image”. dichter, who later was referred to as “mr. image”, postulated that all things have a soul, that they present a projection platform for human desires - and therefore constitute an element of authentic communication. dichter saw himself as a cultural anthropologist, who, in decoding a motif at the core of a thing, tried to advance to the core, to find out what stands behind it when people act, buy, hate, love, vote...  often, the rational motives are only on the surface with emotions playing the key role; archaic, holistic, mythical, magical or religious ideas are always a part of “happiness” – and who does not want happiness, even if only in the little every day things... .

one has to take account of the images and themes of happiness and ask the big questions, for they shape the trivialities at least as much as rational thought. it is within this field of tension between deep dimensions and surface rationalisation that dichter moved with his interpretations of realities of business and politics alike. product reality and the accompanying, effective communication of product information in the form of advertising belong to this as much as the pedagogical impetus to spread values in the context of political debate. this is always done with a view of the greater context of society.

dichter functioned as an ethically motivated animator, treating human reality as a therapist and educator and aims to tackle the creation of greater consciousness through the means of media communications on a grand scale. he did this as an optimist, hedonist and humanist. dichter established the pleasure principle as preceding the reality principle - emotion before reason. nevertheless, pleasure is not necessarily a contradiction of ethics. on the contrary, ethics refines pleasure in a holistic sense. motivating people to experience pleasure and responsibility might be the succus that dichter had adapted from alfred adler. to have faith in people - encouragement and trust in ones own competence (see dichter's dissertation “die selbstbeurteilung der eigenen fähigkeiten und leistungen” – “the self-assessment of ones own skills and abilities”) - these are huge motivational factors that can also be socially fruitful. unconventional thinking, creative problem solving, the question of “why not” in place of apathetic resignation, the ability to think in antinomies (“up and down thinking”); these are just a few of the techniques propagated by ernest dichter.

what was his aim? a general openness for everything there is - to shape reality to produce a lasting benefit for humankind, to tackle problems with a creative dissatisfaction and an unconventional, carefree attitude to untie gordian knots. this is to be understood as a dynamic event and not perceived of as a static endpoint: “getting there is all the fun!” in this sense, this project is a call and a motivation to get going ...


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