Abraham Maslow 1908-1970

Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 and died in 1970. His parents were Jewish migrants who fled from persecution from what is now known as Ukraine and settled in Brooklyn, U.S. (Boeree, 2007). He was persecuted by anti-Semitic gangs, which lead him to envision an idealistic world which he hoped could be created by good education and economic justice (Hoffman, 2008).

After an unhappy and lonely childhood, and a not-straight-forward journey through academia, Maslow found a mentor – Harry Harlow - who believed in his work and encouraged him to finish his doctoral thesis. He finished three degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Bachelor of Psychology, Masters of Psychology and doctorate (Cherry, updated 2023).

Maslow taught at Brooklyn College and then Brandeis University until a year before his death (Kaplan/Corbis, 2016). He died of a heart attack in 1970 (Cherry, 2023).

Maslow was an American psychologist and philosopher who was one of the driving forces and founders of humanistic psychology (Cherry, 2023) which came about in response to the theories predominant in the mid-20th century – behaviourism and psychoanalysis – both of which were based on the assumption that people are compelled by forces outside of their control. The humanists were proposing a more optimistic and self-determining view of human behaviour (Vinney, 2018).

Maslow is best known for his Hierarchy of Needs which is a pictorial representation of five stages of growth – levels 1-4 being deficiency needs and the top level representing growth needs (McLeod, updated 2023).

As you can see, the needs range from basic needs of human beings to the more complex needs at the top – the need for self-actualization or the need to fulfill one’s potential being the highest (Kaplan/Corbis, 2016). This pictorial representation is a very simple rendition of Maslow’s view (Maslow, 1943). He believed that everyone desires and is capable of moving up the hierarchy towards self-realization even if they get disrupted on the way (McLeod, updated 2023).

He originally proposed that the lower needs must be met in order to pursue the higher needs but he later suggested that some people could pursue higher needs before the lower ones were met, for example, creative people may find themselves pursuing higher needs even if the lower needs were unmet, and also people dedicated to pursuing higher ideals could achieve self-actualization even if circumstances prevented them from fulfilling their lower needs (Vinney, 2018).     

Maslow acknowledged the paucity of self-actualized people, arguing that most people “are suffering from a psychopathology of normality” (Perera, 2020). However, he named a number of people whom he deemed to be self-actualized. These were:

  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; American President)
  • Albert Einstein (1879- 1955; Theoretical Physicist)
  • Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965; Writer, Humanitarian, Theologian, Organist, Philosopher, and Physician)
  • Aldous Huxley (1894- 1963; Philosopher and Writer)
  • Baruch Spinoza (1632- 1677; Philosopher)
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962; Diplomat and Activist)
  • Jane Addams (1860-1935; Settlement Activist, Sociologist, Public Administrator)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826; American President, Architect, Philosopher)
  • William James (1842- 1910; Philosopher and Psychologist) (Maslow, 1970, quoted in Perera, 2020).

Maslow believed that self-actualizers had special, B-needs in order for them to be happy. These are:

  • Truth: honesty; reality; simplicity; richness; oughtness; beauty; pure, clean and unadulterated; completeness; essentiality
  • Goodness: rightness; desirability; oughtness; justice; benevolence; honesty
  • Beauty: rightness; form; aliveness; simplicity; richness; wholeness; perfection; completion; uniqueness; honesty
  • Wholeness: unity; integration; tendency to one-ness; interconnectedness; simplicity; organization; structure; dichotomy-transcendence; order
  • Aliveness: process; non-deadness; spontaneity; self-regulation; full-functioning
  • Uniqueness: idiosyncrasy; individuality; non-comparability; novelty
  • Perfection: necessity; just-right-ness; just-so-ness; inevitability; suitability; justice; completeness; "oughtness"
  • Completion: ending; finality; justice; "it's finished"; fulfillment; finis and telos; destiny; fate
  • Justice: fairness; orderliness; lawfulness; "oughtness"
  • Simplicity: honesty; essentiality; abstract, essential, skeletal structure
  • Richness: differentiation, complexity; intricacy
  • Effortlessness: ease; lack of strain, striving or difficulty; grace; perfect, beautiful functioning
  • Playfulness: fun; joy; amusement; gaiety; humour; exuberance; effortlessness
  • Self-sufficiency: autonomy; independence; not-needing-other-than-itself-in-order-to-be-itself; self-determining; environment-transcendence; separateness; living by its own laws.” (Boeree, 2007)


Although Maslow did not suggest that many people would truly achieve self-actualization, he did suggest that everyone experiences momentary moments of self-actualization, which he called ‘peak experiences’ (McLeod, updated 2023).

Maslow proposed these peak experiences as profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, when a person feels more alive, whole, self-sufficient yet a part of the world, more aware of justice, truth, goodness, harmony, and so on (Schacter, 2009).

Maslow himself was an atheist and found it difficult to accept religious experience as valid unless placed in a positivistic framework. In fact, Maslow's position on God and religion was quite complex. While he rejected organized religion and its beliefs, he wrote extensively on the human being's need for the sacred and spoke of God in more philosophical terms, as beauty, truth and goodness, or as a force or a principle (Hoffman, 1988).





Boeree, C.G. (2007). Abraham Maslow 1908-1970. Personality Theories. https://web.archive.org/web/20160430023433/http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/maslow.html

Cherry, K. (2023 update), Biography of Abraham Maslow (1908-1970). Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/biography-of-abraham-maslow-1908-1970-2795524?print

Green, C.D. (2000). A theory of human motivation, Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.

Haggbloom, S.J., Warnick, R., Warnick, J.E., Jones, VK., Yarbrough, G.L., Russell, T.M., Borecky, C.M., McGahhey, R., McGahhey, R., Powell III, J.L., Beavers, J. & Monte, E. (2002), The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, Review of General Psychology, 6(2), 139-152.

Hoffman, E. (1988). The Right to be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow, J.P. Tarcher, New York.

Hoffman, E. (2008). Abraham Maslow: A biographer’s reflections. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(4), pp.439-443. https://doi-org.ezproxy-f.deakin.edu.au/10.1177/0022167808320534

Kaplan/Corbis, A. (2016) Abraham Maslow. In J.L. Longe Gale Virtual Reference Library: The Gale encyclopedia of psychology (3rd ed.). Gale. Credo Reference: http://ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galegp/abraham_maslow/0?institutionId=4636

McLeod, S. (updated 2023), SimplyPsychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation, Wilder Publications, Inc. Floyd, US.


Perera, A. (2020). Self-Actualization). Simply Psychology,



Schachter, D. (2009). Psychology, 2nd Edition, p.487.


Vinney, C. (2021). Understanding Maslow’s theory of self-actualization. ThoughtCo. thoughtco.com/maslow-theory-self-actualization-4169662


Quotes from Maslow


When we ask what a man wants of life, we deal with his very essence.

Man has a higher and transcendent nature, and this is part of his essence, i.e. his biological nature as a member of a species which has evolved.

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

I can feel guilty about the past, Apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.

The self-actualized person must find in his life those qualities that make his living rich and rewarding. He must find meaningfulness, self-sufficiency, effortlessness, playfulness, richness, simplicity, completion, necessity, perfection, individuality, beauty, and truth.

We crave and fear becoming truly ourselves

Let people … recognize that every person who is kind, helpful, decent, psychologically democratic, affectionate, and warm, is a psychotherapeutic force, even though a small one.

The spiritual life is part of the human essence. It is a defining characteristic of human nature, without which human nature is not fully human.

The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.