What makes people act the way they do?
This question absorbed Ernest Becker’s intellectual life. He was determined to pursue it wherever it led him, and because he refused to confine his search to the boundaries of any one discipline, his academic career was scattered and stormy. From the time he completed his Ph.D. in 1960 until his premature death in 1974, he produced a steady stream of books and journal articles of rare and unusual depth. Within these works Becker outlines his “Science of Man” which brims with insights for anyone interested in the human condition.
Ernest Becker (September 27, 1924 – March 6, 1974) was an American cultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary thinker and writer. He wrote several books on human motivation and behavior, most notably the 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Denial of Death. In it, he argues that “the basic motivation for human behavior is our biological need to control our basic anxiety, to deny the terror of death.” (Keen 1973). Becker suggested that a significant function of culture is to provide successful ways to engage in death denial.
Ernest Becker wrote ten books and numerous articles. We recommend a focus on his mature works: The Birth and Death of Meaning, The Denial of Death, and Escape From Evil.
Ernest Becker’s work has influenced writers, thinkers and researchers across disciplines. Our highlights include pieces about Becker, informed by Becker, and inspired by Becker.