Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix H. Naturalistic Reasons for Preferring Growth-Values Over
Regression-Values Under Good Conditions
Descriptively, we can see in each person his own (weak) tendencies
to grow toward self-actualization; and also descriptively, we
can see his various (weak) tendencies toward regressing (out of
fear, hostility, or laziness). It is the task of education, therapy,
marriage, and the family to ally themselves to the former, and
to be conducive to individual growth. But why? How to prove this?
Why is this not just a covert smuggling in of the arbitrary, concealed
values of the therapist?
1. Clinical experience and also some experimental evidence teaches
us that the consequences of making growth-choices are "better"
in terms of the person's own biological values, e.g., physical
health; absence of pain, discomfort, anxiety, tension, insomnia,
nightmares, indigestion, constipation, etc.; longevity, lack of
fear, pleasure in fully-functioning; beauty, sexual prowess, sexual
attractiveness, good teeth, good hair, good feet, etc.; good pregnancy,
good birth, good death; more fun, more pleasure, more happiness,
more peak-experiences, etc. That is, if a person could himself
see all the likely consequences of growth and all the likely consequences
of coasting or of regression, and if he were allowed to choose
between them, he would always (in principle, and under "good
conditions") choose the consequences of growth and reject
the consequences of regression. That is, the more one knows of
the actual consequences of growth-choices and regression-choices,
the more attractive become the growth-choices to practically any
human being. And these are the actual choices he is prone to make
if conditions are good, i.e., if he is allowed truly free choice
so that his organism can express its own nature.
2. The consequences of making growth choices are more in accordance
with paradic design (C. Daly King), with actual use of the capacities
(instead of inhibition, atrophy, or diminution), i.e., with using
the joints, the muscles, the brain, the genitalia, etc., instead
of not using them, or using them in a conflicted or inefficient
fashion, or in losing the use of them.
3. The consequences of growth are more in accordance with either
Darwin-type survival and expansion or with Kropotkin-type survival
and expansion. That is, growth has more survival value than regression
and defense (under "good" conditions). (Regression and
defense sometimes have more survival value for a particular individual
under "bad" conditions, i.e., when there is not enough
to go around, not enough need gratifiers, conditions of mutually
exclusive interests, of hostility, divisiveness, etc. But "bad"
conditions always means that this greater survival value for some
must be paid for by lesser survival value for others. The greater
survival value for the individual under "good" conditions,
however, is "free," i.e., it doesn't cost anybody anything.
4. Growth is more in accordance with fulfilling Hartman's definition
(27) of the "good" human being. That is, it is a better
way of achieving more of the defining characteristics of the concept
"human being." Regression and defense, living at the
safety level, is a way of giving up many of these "higher"
defining characteristics for the sake of sheer survival. ("Bad"
conditions can also be defined circularly as conditions which
make lower-need gratifications possible only at the cost of giving
up higher-need gratifications.)
5. The foregoing paragraph can be phrased in a somewhat different
way, generating different problems and a different vocabulary.
We can begin with selecting out the "best specimen,"
the exemplar, the "type specimen" of the taxonomists,
i.e., the most fully developed and most fully "characteristic"
of those characteristics which define the species (e.g., the most
tigerish tiger, the most leonine lion, the most canine dog, etc.),
in the same way that is now done at 4-H meetings where the healthiest
young man or woman is selected out. If we use this "best
specimen," in the zookeeper or taxonomist sense, as a model,
then growth conduces to moving toward becoming like this model,
and regression moves away from it.
6. It looks as if the non-pathological baby put into free-choice
situations, with plenty of choice, tends to choose its way toward
growth rather than toward regression (61). In the same way, a
plant or an animal selects from the millions of objects in the
world those which are "right" for its nature. This is
based on its own physical-chemical-biological nature, e.g., what
the rootlets will let through and what they won't, what can be
metabolized and what cannot, what can be digested and what cannot,
whether sunshine or rain helps or hurts, etc.
7. Very important as a source of data to support the biological
basis of choosing growth over regression is the experience with
"uncovering therapy" or what I have begun to call Taoistic
therapy. What emerges here is the person's own nature, his own
identity, his bent, his own tastes, his vocation, his species
values, and his idiosyncratic values. These idiosyncratic values
are so often different from the idiosyncratic values of the therapist
as to constitute a validation of the point, i.e., uncovering therapy
is truly uncovering rather than indoctrination (48).
The conditions which make uncovering likely have been well spelled
out, e.g., by Rogers (82), and are included in our more general
and more inclusive conception of "good conditions."
"Good conditions" can be defined in terms of a good
free-choice situation. Everything is there that the organism might
need or choose or prefer. There is no external constraint to choose
one action or thing rather than another. The organism has not
already had a choice built in from past habituation, familiarization,
negative or positive conditionings or reinforcements, or extrinsic
and (biologically) arbitrary cultural evaluations. There is no
extrinsic reward or punishment for making one choice rather than
another. There is plenty of everything. Certain technical conditions
of really free choice are fulfilled: the items from among which
the choice is to be made are spatially and temporally contiguous,
enough time is permitted, etc.
In other words, "good conditions" means mostly (entirely?)
good conditions for permitting truly free choice by the organism.
This means that good conditions permit the intrinsic, instinctoid
nature of the organism to show itself by its preferences. It
tells us what it prefers, and we now assume these preferences
to express its needs, i.e., all that which is necessary for the
organism to be itself, and to prevent it from becoming less than
Although the above is mostly true, it is not altogether so. For
one thing, it has been discovered in several species that there
are "good choosers" and "bad choosers"; and
it may be that this is constitutionally based, not only among
non-human animals, but also among human babies. A few babies cannot
choose well in the free-choice situation, i.e., they sicken. Secondly,
this free-choice "wisdom" is easily destroyed in the
human being by previous habituation, cultural conditioning, neurosis,
physical illnesses, etc. etc.
Thirdly, and perhaps most important, is that human children do
not choose discipline, restraint, delay, frustration, even
where this is "good for them." Free choice "wisdom"
seems to work only or mostly as of the immediate moment. It is
a response to the present field or current situation. It does
not prepare well for the future. The child is "now-bound";
and while this may be no handicap in a very simple, preliterate
society, it is a terrible handicap in a technologically advanced
society. Therefore, the greater intelligence, knowledge, and foreknowledge
of the adult is necessary as a control upon the child. Human beings
need each other far more for the early stages of growth than any
other species. We should also mention here Goldstein's important
point (23) that children who are not yet able to abstract can
function only because adults are available to abstract for them.
This implies that the definition of "good conditions"
for human beings has characteristics in addition to those generalized
ones listed above, e.g., availability of benevolent elders to
be dependent upon, and (in a complex society) plenty of brotherly
others who can be counted on to do their part in the division
Finally, because human beings have "higher needs" in
addition to the "lower needs" they share with other
animals and since these needs, e.g., for safety, belongingness,
love, respect, all are satisfiable only by other human beings,
then a free-choice situation must include these higher-need gratifications.
This, in turn, brings up the whole question of the nature of the
mother, of the family, of the subculture, and of the larger culture.
"Good cultural conditions" may be defined in terms of
the same requirement (of the free-choice situation) that we have
already used, i.e., the "good culture" must supply the
higher-need gratifications as well as the lower-need gratifications.
With this enrichment of the definition clearly kept in mind, it
is not necessary to change the description above, although it
i5 necessary to develop a comparative sociology of healthy
and rich cultures in order to understand fully all the social
implications of the definition (69).