Letters: Away with the triangle!

Rethinking Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Hazel Guest (‘Looking back’, December 2014) makes an interesting point about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but she still refers to the ‘triangle or pyramid, which is reproduced in countless publications’. Indeed, it appears on p.983, complete with the additional level that is the subject of her article.

In 1943 Abraham Maslow launched his theory of a hierarchy of needs. He later elaborated on it, and the latest edition of his book came out 44 years later (Maslow 1987). There is no triangle in this book. At some point in this period, some bright spark (probably a text editor) had the idea of printing out this hierarchy in the form of a triangle or pyramid. This produced a very attractive diagram, and later versions added colour to make it even more so. And this is the version that Hazel Guest has used, adding the extra level (intrinsic values) that she argues for in her article.

What is wrong with the triangle is that it suggests that there is an end-point to personal growth. What is also wrong is that it suggests that this end-point is not far away. So the questions that are raised here are: Is there an end-point; and if so, where is it?

The main writer in recent times who has suggested that there is more to be said is Ken Wilber (2000). He has made it clear that what Maslow was talking about, and describing in some detail as the level of self-actualisation, was a level of consciousness that Wilber calls the Centaur self (because it is here that bodymind unity becomes obvious) and which Wade (1996) perhaps more helpfully calls the Authentic self. I sometimes call it the Existential self, because this is a level that is completely describable in terms of the existential way of seeing the world (Rowan, 2001).

Beyond this, Wilber tells us there is a further stage of consciousness, which he calls the Subtle. This is a level where we encounter the Divine through concrete symbols and images: it is the realm of archetypes, of deity figures, of nature spirits, and of what Hillman (1997) calls the soul. It is also the realm of what Cortright (2007) has more recently called the psychic centre or the antaratman. Roberto Assagioli calls it the Higher Self. It has been written about by Jung, by Stanislav Grof and by Joseph Campbell, among others.

Beyond this is the Causal realm, where we have to give up all the symbols and images and embark on the wide ocean of spirituality, where we can speak equally of the One, the None and the All. Here there are no signposts and no landmarks, nothing to measure or describe. Everything is one, and so there are no problems. And underlying all this (if we had a diagram this would be just the paper on which it is all written) is the Nondual, which is not at the end of any continuum, but is something else altogether.

What we need instead of a triangle, therefore, is something more like a ladder. And when we put Maslow’s ladder next to Wilber’s ladder, we can easily see that Wilber’s has more rungs.
John Rowan
London E4

Cortright, B. (2007). Integral psychology. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Hillman, J. (1997). The soul’s code. New York: Bantam.
Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd edn). New York: Harper & Row.
Rowan, J. (2001). Existential analysis and humanistic psychotherapy. In K.J. Schneider, J.F.T. Bugental & J.F. Pearson (Eds.) Handbook of humanistic psychology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wade, J. (1996). Changes of mind. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

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