Maslow: Motivation and Personality -- The Wrong Question?

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Maslow: Motivation and Personality -- The Wrong Question?

In sum, I will argue that Abraham Maslow, in his "hierarchy of needs," makes a critical error in answering the wrong question...


By this, I mean that he is going about motivation and personality from a scientific rather than a PHILOSOPHICAL perspective.


He is questioning, "What motivates and drives people to do the things they do."


Instead, he should be asking the question, "What SHOULD motivate and drive people?"  The former is a scientific question about what actually happens in the natural world.  The second is a completely different question that is philosophical in nature.  This second question deals with ETHICS and THE MEANING OF LIFE.


Maslow's approach can only tell us sterile information about what is prevalent, not what SHOULD be.


For instance, we might find that it is true that people seek to earn lots of money after they meet certain base needs.  Does that mean that they SHOULD?  Furthermore, does that mean that will make them happy?


In other words, there are certain goals or values that should be the basis of creating a "SHOULD" list of needs/desires.


In fact, I think that one can posit a "hierarchy" in which the base level comprises only those needs that you would have if isolated in the wilderness in nature.  You would need food, water, oxygen, clothing, shelter, homeostasis of temperature, and safety from predators.

The fundamental needs to preserve human life should be our most important concerns.  Anything else beyond these basic human needs are subjective desires that cannot be rationally determined with any degree of objectivity.

For these reasons, I think Maslow's CONCEPT can have great applications for an ethical system in the context of government and world politics.

 For a look at Maslow's hierarchy, go here:'s_hierarchy_of_needs 




My criticism here is similar to GE Moore's naturalistic fallacy.  GE Moore would criticize evolutionary ethics with the simple maxim:  "YOU CAN'T GET OUGHT FROM AN IS."

It is common to see animals that rape other animals, but does that mean humans should do it because it's natural?

 Same thing with Maslow.  So what if people seem to exhibit a certain behavior of "ascending" on the hierarchy?  Does that mean that certain needs or desires that humans have are actually JUSTIFIED in an ethical context?

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The criticism of the

The criticism of the naturalistic fallacy would also apply to the 'fundamental needs to preserve human life' since even this category of needs is only objective within a descriptive framework of biological neccessity.


And your suggestion that anything else beyond this category of fundamental needs is subjective and cannot be rationally determined with any degree of objectivity would imply that you do commit to the naturalistic fallacy. Since it presupposes that objectivity in finding normativity can only be found in what is essential to the human species (meaning the basic needs for a human being).


I think starting from the fundamental features of human beings as a species to find objectivity in morality is the wrong way around in describing what it means for human beings to say that they are moral agents. Since it would presuppose that morality is innate in human beings and that would become counter-intuitive if you would try to determine why anything non-human is elligible for moral consideration (which we presumably do, e.g. animals, property etc..).


I think a common mistake is to think that morality or being a moral agent is something that stems from being a human being as a species. While I'd rather suggest is that we subjectively see ourselves as moral beings, and the consideration that we are human beings is secondary. This is because we firstly have an experience of choice and free will, not an experience of being of a certain type of species that lays certain moral constraints on our actions. It is because we think that there is moral value in choice, and especially does types of choice which we think should be hold universally that makes us moral agents. 


Where could objectivity in morality come from then?


Well I would suggest that we either investigate the features and functions of human reason as being able to hold a "view from nowhere" or start our enquiry at the basis of morality, thus an enquiry in the subjectivity of morality as a whole. Because subjectivity as a starting point does not imply that morality cannot have any valid or objective binding force. (e.g. a transcendental subject that sees itself as a reasonable being). 

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Maslow's Heiarchy has

Maslow's Hiearchy has absolutely no validity and no empirical support. The only use of the hiearchy comes in clinical situations where the needs at the bottom of the hiearchy are not being met. After the basic needs of survival are met the entire thing is a crapshoot. Maslow based his ideas on his own experiences and of those with whom he idolized and assocaited. Again, no emprical support after the theory was conceptualized and his theory was not based on any scientific evidence at the time.

"Those who think they know don't know. Those that know they don't know, know."

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RationalSchema wrote:

Maslow's Hiearchy has absolutely no validity and no empirical support.  

I'm not sure that it has no empirical support. It hasn't been experimentally supported, yes, but this does not mean: no empirical support to me. 

Also, an idea without empirical support can be valid, but yes, this in itself does not provide support for the idea.

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'