Thoughts on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs…


Abraham Maslow Maslow posited a hierarchy of human needs based on two groupings: deficiency needs and growth needs. Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level. Once each of these needs has been satisfied, if at some future time a deficiency is detected, the individual will act to remove the deficiency.

Maslow’s initial conceptualization included only one growth need–self-actualization. Self-actualized people are characterized by: 1) being problem-focused; 2) incorporating an ongoing freshness of appreciation of life; 3) a concern about personal growth; and 4) the ability to have peak experiences. Maslow later differentiated the growth need of self-actualization, specifically naming two lower-level growth needs prior to general level of self-actualization (Maslow & Lowery, 1998) and one beyond that level (Maslow, 1971). They are:

5) Cognitive: to know, to understand, and explore;

6) Aesthetic: symmetry, order, and beauty;

7) Self-actualization: to find self-fulfillment and realize one’s potential; and

8) Self-transcendence: to connect to something beyond the ego or to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential.

Maslow’s basic position is that as one becomes more self-actualized and self-transcendent, one becomes more wise (develops wisdom) and automatically knows what to do in a wide variety of situations. Daniels (2001) suggests that Maslow’s ultimate conclusion that the highest levels of self-actualization are transcendent in their nature may be one of his most important contributions to the study of human behavior and motivation.

Of course Maslow’s is, but, just one theory to explain the hierarchy of human needs. Nevertheless, just about every theory, does put self-actualization (or) spiritual needs at the highest level.

The problem with modern “growth” oriented economics, is that it is well nigh impossible to even ponder over the highest order needs, let alone pursue them. Self-Esteem Needs (if I were to go by Maslow’s classification) can never cease to exist in today’s society. This is a lower order need that will never be fully sated. More is better. And that’s that.

It is also a question of proportions. Nobody claims that everyone will be able to become self-actualized or self-transcendent.

But the question is different – Is society structured so that it aims at needs 7 and 8 as the “end”, a “final vision”, so to speak, or should it restrict itself to dwelling on needs 1-6?

I wonder if incessant motion (progress, if you will) trivializes higher order needs.

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Posted on September 8, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. A very interesting connection you’ve made here! Growth oriented economics ensure that the lower needs are never satisfied, and that people always aspire for more. Only then can we produce more and thereby grow. The moment we start progressing to a higher level, I suppose the importance given to lower needs, and the deficiency level required to achieve this need would decrease correspondingly.

    Indian society for a long time was structured to achieve 7 and 8. Self sufficient villages, simple trade, temple economies – these were also Gandhi’s vision. These goals would be incompatible with a growth oriented economy (which would dwelling on needs 1-6). One main reason (in my opinion) is that need itself can be clearly defined and put in perspective only when there is a higher goal to attain. Otherwise, there’s little distiction between a need and want.

    Am just verbalizing my thoughts – maybe I’m wrong, but this connection is definitely worth exploring in greater detail.

    • The one problem, I suppose, with localized societies, is that stagnation sets in. And once that happens, things shrivel up pretty quickly, distortions take place. Caste based distortions, lack of scientific growth, for instance. And when stagnation sets in, even higher order needs become so only in name, than in meaning. It’s existence is acknowledged in symbols and in rituals, but in reality, people only pretend. But the thing is, is this process inevitable? I would like to think not, though I am not sure.

      In a growth oriented economy, stagnation is unlikely to set in. Maybe it will, after all, we have spent less that a century in such a setting. But I doubt it. Distortions happen of course, but probably dictated more by fashion. And it is a different kind of distortion, almost the opposite of stagnation – more like a worship of the outrageous. The highest order needs are rationally explained away, maybe.

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