Humanist Psychology and Human-Centered Values

QUESTION: Humanist Psychology – Human-Centered Values


This inherent goodness should not be understood as good in the traditional, biblical sense. Rather, it is an evolving, relative goodness. Maslow says self-actualized people’s “notions of right and wrong and of good and evil are often not the conventional ones.”16 Ellis G. Olim agrees: “[M]an is constantly becoming...What we want, then, is not to encourage a static type of personality based on traditional notions of right and wrong, but the kind of person who is able to go forward into the uncertain future.”1

For Secular Humanists, ethics is inseparable from psychology. Fromm believes that “values are rooted in the very conditions of human existence; hence that our knowledge of these conditions—that is, of the ‘human situation’—leads us to establishing values which have objective validity; this validity exists only with regard to the existence of man; outside of him there are no values.”2

Therefore, we must turn our eyes inward to determine what is right. Rather than help others, we should concentrate on creating a good self. Maslow describes this view succinctly: “In general, it looks as if the best way to help other people grow toward self-actualization is to become a good person yourself.”3

Humanist Psychology – Create a Better World
Humanists embrace self-centeredness in an effort to create a better world. The call for individuals to be true to their feelings and innermost nature allows for experimentation. If we feel our innermost nature is calling us to act in a certain way, who has the authority to tell us we are misinterpreting our feelings? Humanism affirms our freedom to experiment with values and to test the aspects of morality that truly mesh with our inner nature. Self-actualized people are the final authority for Humanist ethics, regardless of the amount of scientific experimentation required to discover the good. However, the goodo discovered by one person is the good only for that person. Another person may decide something else is the good or that neither good nor rules even exist.

Humanist psychologists discourage this line of thinking, however, by arguing that few people are self-actualized and the non-self-actualized must look to the self-actualized for guidance. According to Maslow, people not yet self-actualized can learn what is right by watching those who are. Thus, Humanists must look to mentally healthy (self-actualized) people to determine scientifically, for example, if pedophilia (man/boy sex) is moral or not. Maslow says, “I propose that we explore the consequences of observing whatever our best specimens choose, and then assuming that these are the highest values for all mankind.”4


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 I. David Welch, George A. Tate, and Fred Richards, ed., Humanistic Psychology (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1978), 219.

2 Erich Fromm, Man for Himself (New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 17.

3 Mildred Hardeman, “A Dialogue with Abraham Maslow,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Winter 1979): 25.

4 Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968), 169.

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