Philosophy and psychology intersect at the final stage of self-actualization, a term used extensively by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist. He tells us that we have an essential inner nature which includes capacities, talents, temperament, and inclinations, that amount to potentiality. Authentic selfhood is hearing one’s inner voice, which is to say, identifying what one really wants and for what one is fit. It is self-creative, the individual as his own project. It springs from a balance of gratification of needs (e.g. safety, belonging, esteem, and freedom) with frustration-tolerance (e.g. encountering challenges and dealing with failure). Self-realization is the realm of dichotomy where selfishness and unselfishness merge as do work and play and duty and pleasure. We need not fear an intrinsically evil personality, which emerges rather from a stifling of one’s inner nature. Self-actualization entails acceptance and expression of the authentic self and escape from the evil tendencies of self-negation. Sadly, he estimates less than 1% of population ever becomes self-actualized.9
Maslow is not alone in these beliefs although most thinkers use different terminology. Aristotle’s teaching on Eudaimonia clearly establishes the need for self-development and a unique contemplative or active life for each of us. Augustine’s Confessions are a virtual autobiography of self-actualization through his path to Christianity. Nietzsche, Sartre, and other existentialists emphasize our ability to define ourselves and the total freedom (and responsibility) we have to realize our destiny. But in my opinion, Ernest Becker says it the most forcefully: “Probably in the last analysis…all men are here to use themselves up and the problem of ideal illusion doesn’t spare any man from that. It only addresses the question of the best quality of work and life that men can achieve depending on the beliefs they have and the powers they lean on.”10
Before me move on, next time we will pause to consider criticisms of Maslow’s theory of self-actualization.
9Maslow, Abraham, Towards a Psychology of Being. D. Van Nostrand Company, 1968. Pages 189-207.
10Becker, Ernest, The Denial of Death. The Free Press, 1973. ISBN 0-02-902310-6, page 207.