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What Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Tells us about the Nature of the Human Person

Updated on May 21, 2012


Maslow's Theory of Hierarchy of Needs is arguably the most influential theory in Humanistic Psychology, and is used in everything from Marketing to Therapy. However, seldom is this theory reflected upon in a philosophical or even theological way. That is the purpose of the hub, first to critically examine WHAT Maslow was saying, and then to discover what that tells us about the very core of the human person. Maslow founded his school of thought based on the Holistic view of the human person. Therefore it is only reasonable that his own theory should be subjected to a holistic school of thought, embracing multiple paradigms.

Dr. Maslow
Dr. Maslow

The Man

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a Jewish-Russian born and raised in Brooklyn amongst his predominantly white neighbors. Because he was alienated for his ethnic background, Maslow spent much of his time reading books. In college he studied law, but chose to go to graduate school for psychology, and attended the University of Wisconsin. It was there that he married his first cousin in 1928.

Throughout his career he worked and studied at several universities, including Columbia University, Brooklyn College, and Brandeis. He also worked with many well known scholars including Harry Harlow, Alfred Adler, and Max Wertheimer.

It was in Brooklyn, working with Gestalt Psychologist Max Wertheimer and Anthropologist Ruth Benedict, that Maslow developed a love for the human being, and began formulating his biggest achievement--the founding (along with Carl Rogers) of Humanistic Psychology, largely based on his hierarchy of needs.

Humanistic psychology can be defined as an approach that "adopts a holistic approach to human existence through investigations of meaning, values, freedom, tragedy, personal responsibility, human potential, spirituality, and self-actualization."

Which group of needs do you think are most important?

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The Theory

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is primarily a theory of what motivates the human person. It's most basic and fundamental needs are at the bottom of the pyramid (called "deficiency needs"), while the highest need (the "Being Need") is at the top, and commonly not fully achieved. There is vastly extensive sources about this specific theory, so I will merely provide an overview.



PHYSIOLOGICAL--These include things like food, water, shelter, clothing. Without these needs the human person cannot survive. These are obvious and the most basic of needs. If these are not met the person cannot think about the next stages.

SAFETY--Based on the human's need for consistency, security, and predictability, this includes things such as health, financial well-being, and protection from harm. Again, without these needs the following can't be met.


BELONGING--After all physiological needs are met, the person can begin to fulfill their social needs, the first being to love and belong. This need is basically fulfilled by the relationships with friends, family, and intimate partners. This is often the stage where teenagers search for identity and their place in the world, but can also be seen among adults of all ages, depending on life circumstances.

ESTEEM--Once a person belongs to a certain community, that person will desire to feel accomplished, recognized, and valued in said community. They may also want to feel as though they've contributed something to world or made a difference. They also need self-esteem, which is why this level is typically broken in to self-esteem and social-esteem. This esteem typically cannot come without being in a group, and without this self-esteem one cannot achieve self-actualization.


SELF-ACTUALIZATION--This is goal of the hierarchy, the goal for which all human persons strive. It can be summed up by "What a man can be, he must be". It is the desire to master what one truly is and become the ideal self. It is the desire to "be all you can be". This may manifest itself in each person--perhaps you wish the become the ideal writer, teacher, parent, or garbage man... whatever you were made to do, if wall your other needs met, you will desire to seek out to be the best possible person.

The Human Person

I believe that, from a philo-theological perspective, the psychological theory can tell us three things about the nature of the human person.  (NOTE: I will be using the term "Man" in the secondary sense, as in HUman, mostly for literary effect).

MAN AS SOCIAL-- Man is a social being.  It is apparent that we need to love and be loved, and that we desire recognition and approval from other people.  Ironically, without others we cannot truly be who we are.  It is this intimacy with others, this desire for love, that motivates us to become what we truly desire to be--fulfilled.

MAN AS SPIRITUAL-- Man feels a calling beyond himself, to be greater than himself.  He feels a call not just of satisfying his atoms and keeping his cells de-oxidized, but to transcend his current situation.  Love is not a physical phenomenon, nor is knowledge, and our desire to be fulfilled is never granted by mere physical means.

MAN AS VOCATIONAL--Each Man is called to do something, made for a purpose.  It is this very idea that lies behind notion of self-actualization.  Whether a painter, a baker, or a candlestick maker, it is seemingly all for a purpose. Why else would we desire to be the best at what we do?

© 2010 rdlang05


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    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 6 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank you Writerlee. Glad you enjoyed!

    • writerlee profile image

      writerlee 6 years ago

      Very thought provoking, thanks.

    • rdlang05 profile image

      rdlang05 7 years ago from Minnesota

      Well thank you for reading again and your always kind comments.

    • RevLady profile image

      RevLady 7 years ago from Lantana, Florida

      Another inspiring hub RD that arouses appreciation for the work of Maslow. Thank you for sharing