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Stop the Maslow Madness
Submitted by wngreen on Thu, 2010-02-04 14:46
I'm tired of every class ramming Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs down my throat.
In 1943 Maslow published "A Theory of Human Motivation". His basic idea was that there are five abstract goals that he called basic needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. These basic goals are in a "hierarchy of prepotency" meaning that people focus on the former ones until a minimum satisfaction is achieved before moving to the higher ones. Man, as a "perpetually wanting animal", is on average most often partially unsatisfied in all of his wants. Maslow traces all psychopathology to things that threaten the achievement of these basic human goals. This is the most enlightening part of his paper:
The role of gratified needs. -- It has been pointed out above several times that our needs usually emerge only when more prepotent needs have been gratified. Thus gratification has an important role in motivation theory. Apart from this, however, needs cease to play an active determining or organizing role as soon as they are gratified.
What this means is that, e.g., a basically satisfied person no longer has the needs for esteem, love, safety, etc. The only sense in which he might be said to have them is in the almost metaphysical sense that a sated man has hunger, or a filled bottle has emptiness. If we are interested in what actually motivates us, and not in what has, will or might motivate us, then a satisfied need is not a motivator. It must be considered for al pratical purposes simply not to exist, to have disappeared.... The perfectly heatlhy, normal, fortunate man has no sex needs, or hunger needs, or needs for safety, or for love, or for prestige, or self-esteem, except in stray moments of a quickly passing threat.
Certain types of deprivation do result in death faster than other types; for example, oxygen deprivation causes irreversible brain damage within about 2 minutes, whereas people can live without water for several days and without food (if there is water) for several weeks. But this does not prevent people from risking their lives to save loved ones from drowning. Nor do physical needs automatically take priority over psychological needs. For example, a person with very low self-esteem may not eat or may commit suicide.
Examine also the view of man held by Maslow. A man with unsatisfied needs is a sick one and by contrast a man who is healthy has no needs. Man though must constantly take action to sustain his values -- and there is no limit to a man's need for self-esteem (or sex!). Happiness is not the absnese of needs:
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself. (Rand)
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