Monday, 23 January 2012 00:28

Abraham Maslow: Men Of Ideas

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Abraham Maslow contributed one seminal idea to psychological discourse, the idea that there is a hierarchy of needs that folk must meet if they are to be productive persons.


Ozodi Thomas Osuji

Abraham Harold Maslow (1908-1970) was an American psychologist noted for one seminal contribution to psychology: the hierarchy of needs schema.

Maslow believed that people have certain basic needs that they must meet for them to live well. Those needs are physiological (food, sex etc), safety (security), psychological (self esteem, confidence in ones self, respect of other people), social (need for belonging, social acceptance) and self actualizing (the need to fulfill ones innate potential and become all that one is capable of becoming).

Maslow believed that people must meet these needs or else their lives are out of whack.

Lower order needs must be met for higher order needs to be meaningfully met (a hungry person does not think about actualizing his potential but thinks about food).

As Maslow sees it, society ought to create conditions for people to meet their basic needs. It bodes well for society if people’s needs are met. For example, if people’s physical, safety and other lower order needs are met they are more able to study and do well at school. Well fed middle class children do well in the study science and technology. If a society has many scientists and technologists it has those who make useful contributions to life.

Starving Africans are not known to be self actualizing in science. Africans with security issues or self esteem issues (their self esteem was damaged by slavery and its culture) are not known to be making contributions to science and technology; instead, they run around pretending to be very important persons because their self worth is doubted. Give them real self worth and they would not be masquerading as Professor Do No Research and or Professor Do Little.

Maslow later added other attributes to self actualizing persons. When individuals are self actualizing they sometimes have what he called peak experiences. Here, they transcend their little egos, their individualities and identify with the whole of being and feel what mystics tell us that they feel: part of one unified spirit, an experience of indescribable peace, joy and happiness.  Needless to say that Maslow was putting the Oriental concept of enlightenment experienced in Samadhi and Nirvana into Western psychological categories.

Maslow claimed that he was not interested in talking about the psychology of ill persons but about the psychology of healthy persons.

What is the nature of persons who are contributing most to society, self actualizing persons?  Thus, instead of focusing on psychopathology as Freudians and behaviorists did, Maslow focused on so-called healthy persons, the producers of material and intellectual wealth.

Maslow called what he was doing Third force in psychology. As he saw it, Freudianism was the first force, Behaviorism was the second force and his supposed Humanistic psychology is third force.

Clearly, Maslow’s goals are to create a society that enables folk to self actualize. He believes that neurosis is that situation where obstacles are in folk’s path to self actualization. If you want to produce a healthy society then make conditions for meeting folks needs met, if not, you create a neurotic and psychotic people.

Psychotic people are unproductive and have to be fed by society. Maslows Hierarchy_of_Needs Neurotic people are productive but not optimally so.

The most productive people are healthy, self-actualizing persons, persons being their real selves, not persons pretending to be false important selves.

Maslow’s ideas lend themselves to many areas, including politics. Professor Jim Davis (this writer’s adviser for his master’s thesis... implication of animal territoriality for human beings) wrote a book on how revolutionaries and political activists are generally persons whose needs were met. Lenin, Mao, Castro and other revolutionaries came from upper middle class families, not from the poor. The poor are too focused on struggling for food to pay attention to revolutionary politics.

In the main, it is safe to say that outstanding political leaders do not come from the poor but from families that provided their offspring with enough material sustenance so that they do not have to worry about where their next meals would come from. Those who are preoccupied with Maslow’s lower order needs seldom do well in politics. In politics those from impoverished backgrounds tend to be corrupt. Nigerian politicians are mostly from poor families and tend to go into polities to steal some money so as to guarantee their next meal and while at it seem important persons (to satisfy their unmet social needs).

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs schema has been found useful in business. Hungry workers do not work hard and are inefficient. Poor and hungry African workers are the least productive workers there are. Well fed workers are generally harder working.

Workers who have met most of their lower order needs tend to do well in managerial and leadership positions. The poor do not make good managers and leaders.

There really isn’t much else to say about Maslow. His fame rests on his theory of hierarchy of needs. This is obviously a useful idea.


Maslow, Abraham (1954) Motivation and personality.

Maslow, Abraham (1971) The Further Reaches of Human Nature.

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176