The Legacy of Abraham Maslow

Born in New York to uneducated Jewish immigrants from Russia in 1908, Abraham Harold Maslow eventually became known as the “father of American humanism” and the founder of transpersonal psychology. With a background as a behaviorist, gently flavored with the physiological, his theories on the hierarchy of needs for mankind and his influences on humanity are still very much prevalent today, through the fields of health, education, and management-but mainly in the lives of the American people (Leonard, 1983, p. 326).

Humanism was not the subject of choice for Maslow, although he entered the graduate school at the University of Wisconsin for psychology, instead of entering the field of law as his father had wished. When he entered Brooklyn College in New York, he found two mentors who would forever change his life-anthropologist Ruth Benedict and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer (A Science Odyssey, 1998). Admiring them both professionally and personally as wonderful human beings who stood above all others, he began to take notes about their behavior and who they were as a study.

Using this as a base combined with ideas from other psychologists, he began to slowly develop his own idea of the “third force”. This would eventually make him the leader of the humanistic school of psychology of the 1950s and 1960s-a school of thought that was way beyond Freud and behaviorism (A Science Odyssey, 1998). His study involved Maslow’s newly developing ideas on the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization, peak experiences, and metaneeds-eventually becoming a lifelong research with the focus on mental health and human potential.

As time went on, Abraham Maslow began to formulate the idea that for a personality to be accurate, it must include the extreme depths and heights that an individual is possibly of attaining. In comparison, other well-known psychologists of the time had removed the achievements of society-cultural, individual, and social. These achievements involved important aspects of humanity, such as love, mysticism, creativity, and altruism, which over time would become Maslow’s main interests.

The ideas of illness and abnormality were prevalent at this time among most of the other psychologists, which made Maslow’s own theories very original and unique. Known as the “greatest American psychologist since William James” (Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1970), he has made more changes in the past fifty years for the field of psychology than anyone else. A man to be respected and admired, he wholeheartedly carried his continuously evolving theories of humanism to his deathbed, always bringing forth new theories for a future that he would never see, but that he was very much concerned about.

“I was awfully curious to find out why I didn’t go insane,” remarked Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology (A Science Odyssey, 1998).


A Science Odyssey, 1998, online: Date: August 21, 2007.

Leonard, G. (1983, December). Abraham Maslow and the new self. Esquire , pp. 326-226.

Wilson, S., & Spencer, R. (1990). Intense personal experiences. Journal of Clinical Psyhchology , 46, 565-573.