Hartman and Maslow

Cliff shares the connection between Hartman and Maslow and shares excerpts of a Maslow speech, a copy of which was in Hartman's Archives.  He encourages us to continue these inter-disciplinary explorations about what it means to be human and to live lives of vitality, energy, and as Hartman would have said, in pursuit of “the good.“


During the summer of 2018, Jen Rowley, Polina Lyubavina and I spent eight days immersed in the Hartman Archives stored at the special collections of the University of Tennessee Library. That archival research continues to bear fruit—sometimes in unexpected ways. The Institute’s publication of the Five Lectures on Formal Axiology in the spring of 2019 and the recent publication of A Revolution against War are the first seeds to have sprouted from that research.

One consequence of this trip is my own growing awareness of—and appreciation for—the inter-disciplinary scope of Hartman’s thought. He was knowledgeable about, and wrote and spoke about, topics ranging from philosophy to psychology, to religion and spirituality, to linguistics, to economics, to mathematics and computer science, to international relations, to business leadership. Hartman was a true polymath.

Hartman’s inter-disciplinary thought is impressive and, in my experience, all too rare today in academia, where disciplinary boundaries are often strong and impenetrable. Perhaps things were different in the ‘60s; perhaps Hartman was a rarity among scholars even then.

One aspect of Hartman’s inter-disciplinary outreach was of particular interest to us on that archival research trip. We were hoping to find meaningful documentation of what I had supposed were close collaborations between Robert Hartman and Abraham Maslow. Here’s the backstory:

I had known that Hartman and Maslow were friends and colleagues; I had known that Maslow visited Hartman on several occasions at his home in Cuernavaca. I also knew that Maslow had written in a footnote in his book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, that he credited his concept of “being cognition” to Hartman. We were digging for something richer than a footnote… some additional, thoughtful, perhaps pithy, written exchanges of ideas between Hartman and Maslow, but have not yet found any. Mostly, we found only correspondence about travel schedules and holiday best wishes, and so forth.

However, it appears that Maslow had given Hartman copies of several of his speeches, or addresses, which remain in the Hartman archives. One of those scripted speeches spoke deeply to me; perhaps, it is not well known to other readers of this blog.  I’d like to tell you about it.

We made a digital copy of a mimeographed copy of a document by Maslow, entitled, “A Philosophy of Psychology.” It is sub-headed, “Lecture to lay audience, Cooper Vernon, New York City, March 7, 1956.”

Maslow begins the lecture by saying how important psychology is and how fortunate he feels he is to be able to be a psychologist. He writes: “I think being a psychologist is the most fascinating life there is.”

He continues, “We need psychology, and we need it more than anything else I can think of…more than physical health, more than new drugs, we need an improved human nature.”

That would make me feel pretty good about myself, too, if only I were a psychologist. But I am not.

Fortunately, Maslow next throws a lifeline to outsiders like me. He writes:

Another point in this credo, a very important one…. By psychologists I mean all sorts of people, not just professors of psychology. I mean to include all the people who are interested in developing a truer, a clearer, a more empirical conception of human nature, and only such people. That excludes many professors of psychology and many psychiatrists. I would include some sociologists, anthropologists, educators, philosophers, artists, publicists, linguists, businessmen—anybody who is pointed in this direction; practically anybody who has taken upon his own shoulders this task that I consider so great and so important a task.

I began  to feel included. Maslow makes a number of pointed remarks about the sometimes mis-guided nature of the profession of psychology, then gets to this remark:

Psychology should turn more frequently to the study of philosophy, of science, of esthetics, but especially of ethics and values. I’m sorry that  psychology has officially cut itself off from philosophy because this means no more than giving up good philosophies for bad ones. Every man living has a philosophy, an uncriticized, uncorrectable, unimprovable, unconscious one. If you want to improve it, and make it more realistic, more useful, and more fruitful, you have to be conscious of it, and work with it, criticize it, improve it. This most people (including most psychologist) don’t do.

That observation surely would have resonated with Hartman. It surely resonates with me. Maslow then proceeds to call out philosophers for their own similar shortcomings.

He elaborates on this theme for what must have been another fifteen minutes. I won’t try to share it all here, but will end with the following remark by Maslow:

The trouble with many psychologists is that they are content to work with but a portion of the human being, indeed, even to make a virtue and a desirable thing out of it. They forget that ultimately their task is to give us a unified, empirically based conception of the whole human being, of human nature in general, i.e., a philosophy of human nature.

Hartman sought the same end. Shouldn’t we all?

Good news is that the forthcoming third session of the 2020 virtual Hartman conference, coming up on November 10th, is just this sort of inter-disciplinary dialogue that Hartman and Maslow would have hoped for. Among the presenters will be a philosopher, a theologian, an educator, a consultant, a writer, and an HR executive.

I’m looking forward to it and hope you are, too. Let’s continue these inter-disciplinary explorations about what it means to be human and to live lives of vitality, energy, and as Hartman would have said, in pursuit of “the good.“

Cliff Hurst

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