Abraham Maslow: Toward a Psychology of Being


Alan Gullette

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Fall 1979

Psychology 4103: Independent Study

Dr. Shrader



In Toward a Psychology of Being (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., Second Edition, 1968), Abraham Maslow proposes a new, empirical, naturalistic, descriptive science of man that will provide a definition of humanity helpful normatively in producing better, more human humans and thus a better world the "One Good World" (v). This new science, variously known as Humanistic Psychology, Growth or Self-Actualizing Psychology, is, Maslow claims, a part of an intellectual revolution of the Copernican sort, implying as it does a new view of man and his potentialities (iii). The new concept is not a static one, but views man as both Being and Becoming, both actuality and potentiality. (10). Maslow emphasizes Being in order to get away from both the means-orientation of the mentality of "preparing to live" rather than living (44), and the Deficiency-psychologies that emphasize sickness and pathology rather than health and positive growth. In this book, Maslow makes use of empirical evidence provided by the altered states of consciousness that he calls "peak-experiences" and states of Being-cognition in composing his new concept of man and of mental health.

The basic assumption which Maslow makes is that man is not totally self-defining or essentially free, but has a nature that is in part given and is thus to be uncovered and a actualized. This nature, furthermore, is not intrinsically evil, but either "neutral" or positively good (3). Part of this nature is what Maslow terms a "will to health" which urges one to grow, to develop one's potential, to actualize one's unique inner nature and thus to realize one's identity (193). If one represses this urge or denies growth, one will experience an "intrinsic guilt" that is a natural feeling of self-betrayal and distinct from the guilt of a Freudian conscience (195). However, there is also an opposing urge, which is the basic (physical) need for safety and security operating on a psychological level as a fear of growth and a defensive regression to the safety of the familiar past. This fear of going forward into new situations prevents growth (46).

Maslow's rather Greek definition of man is as a being whose nature it is to realize, to live according to, its own nature. But to move toward ever-higher self-actualization first requires fulfillment of basic needs and thus transcending one's environment. The basic needs are: life, safety and security, belongingness and love, respect, and self-esteem (3, 25). These lower needs must be satisfied from interaction with the environment and with others, Maslow claims, and as long as they are deficient one is dependent on the environment and others and thus incapable of higher actualization (34). The basic needs are related to each other hierarchically, so that the fulfillment of one leads to and allows work toward fulfillment of the next-higher one (30). Once fulfilled in these needs, the individual can turn to higher realization in a state of independence from the environment realization that involves self-direction (34).

The satisfaction of the higher need (self-actualization) is not just another level, but the purpose of one's whole life (33). Therefore, it is important to be oriented to the present, and no only toward the future, since growth is not goal-oriented (as the goal of full realization cannot be achieved) but is an intrinsic value and end in itself.

Until one has satisfied the basic needs, one's outer- and other-dependence can potentially become an anxious dependence ultimately producing hostility (34). Other effects of need-deficits include limited awareness and perception, and in general the frustration of all higher needs than the ones that have been fulfilled. If one needs love, for example, one will relate to others as potential "need-gratifiers" to be used, and so one does not appreciate the uniqueness of the other or perceive and relate to the other as a person (36).

An achievement of self-actualizing persons is the ability to more fully experience reality as it is in itself, not just as a reflection of one's unfulfilled wishes (40-1). But this "choiceless awareness" or "disinterested perception," which is growth-motivated and not deficiency-motivated, is not achieved through effort, but comes as a natural aesthetic sensitivity (41). Such awareness is part of what Maslow generally calls Being-cognition.

Being-cognition is a higher need, a need to know both oneself and the world. But restraining such knowledge is the fear to know, a restraint that prevents us from seeing unpleasant truths about ourselves that would endanger our necessary self-esteem (60). Growth, including increased knowledge, must therefore advance carefully, balancing the fear to know with the need to know, the urge for higher growth through new experience with the anxiety of leaving too suddenly the safety of the familiar. Thus a certain amount of "regression" or stasis ("coasting" (172)) is advisable. With the satisfaction of the need for love, a new kind of Being-love is possible through which enhanced cognition takes place Being-cognition (73).

Sometimes a special state of higher consciousness is possible, or happens, which is called a "peak-experience." Maslow characterizes such experiences as some length. For example, the experience (which is basically he same as the mystical experience and also shares certain qualities with aesthetic experience) is self-validating through its intrinsic; is always good and never evil or fearful; involves a distortion or cessation of the sense of space and time; sometimes involves an experience of the world as a unity and as a living entity, etc. (79, 80, 81, 88, 94). Being-cognition, in the peak-experience and in the daily lives of the progressively self-actualizing, involves a dialectic awareness that sees both concretely and abstractly at the same time, and which is able to see beyond normal polarities and contradictions (89, 91). Further, the barrier between the inner and outer breaks down, and, in a peak-experience, there is sometimes an egolessness in which one is totally aware without being self-aware (95, 79). One of the more positive results of such experiences is a greater intrapsychic integration in the direction of an acceptance of those aspects of one's inner nature that had previously been repressed specifically, there is a union of the ego, id, super-ego and ego-ideal, of conscious and unconscious, of the primary and secondary process (96). Peak-experiences are, then, "acute identity-experiences" (Chapter 7) in which one has insight into one's own nature and, isomorphically, into the nature of existence.

Maslow gives special attention to another aspect of the self-actualizing person: creativity. This creativity is not a conscious development but is a natural and spontaneous overflow. As such, he calls it primary (process) creativity, or Dionysian creativity, to distinguish it form secondary (process) creativity of the Apollonian, consciously created type (143-4). The creativity of artists is an "integrative" creativity that is a dialectic of the Apollonian and Dionysian (144). But these terms apply to the psyche more generally than just to the creative aspects; or, rather, creativity is a more far-reaching quality than one of just artistic activity. For in one's psychic development one is usually split into cognitive (Apollonian and conative (Dionysian) halves of the personality. This split is caused and widened in the child by any double-bind situation in which he is forced to choose between the fulfillment of his own wishes and the obedience of the wishes or demands of others (on whom he is dependent)(51-2). The result of this split is the repression of the conative or impulsive, which naturally leads to anxiety or frustration. The goal of psychoanalysis is to heal this split through insight, and so therapy is integrative (142). The healing f the internal spit is isomorphically the integration of the person with the perceived world, resulting in greater health, wholeness, and well-being. The self-acceptance that this involves, greater wholeness and integration within, will naturally lead to increased creativity and spontaneity (141).

Creativity, as "a special kind of perceptiveness" (137), is, in general, an aesthetic sense of what is right or appropriate in terms of action in accordance with the external situation and internal impulse (191). This sense of the aesthetic or artistic in life is very close to that of Aristotle. (In Greek, art means "to fit.") For the Greeks, of course, the good was identical with the true and the beautiful, and Maslow likewise places faith in man's natural ability to make right decisions in response to true perceptions.

I have no real criticism of Maslow. His optimism, of course, is refreshing after the bleak morbidity in which Ernest Becker was trapped (in The Denial of Death) and the tedious anality of Norman Brown's sublime edifice (in Life Against Death). My only misgiving about Maslow is with his scientific orientation and his insistence that such characteristics of health as "democratic character structure" and "ability to love" are "objectively describable and measurable" (157). He also holds that to be without a system of values (not just an aesthetic or moral sense of what is right, but a cognitive framework) and/or a religion or religion-surrogate is to be psychopathogenic (a point of agreement with Becker)(206). This I question, although I grant that ordinary (deficient or non-being) cognition is sometimes necessary (203) though best guided by the intuitive insights of Being-cognition. Krishnamurti and other mystics would deny having a system of values or beliefs, much less a religion-surrogate. But this is a minor point in Maslow's psychology.



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