What does it mean to be fully human ?
Concepts of Human Nature in Psychology Science
Articulate humanistic scholars such as Abraham Maslow and Rollo May criticized psychoanalysis and behaviorism for attempting to explain the full range of human nature in terms of mechanisms drawn from the study of neurotic patients and laboratory rats. Sigmund Freud wrote monographs about artist such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and religious leaders such as Moses. Freud used the concepts of abnormal psychology to explain the lifetime artistic and spiritual achievements of these outstanding humans (S. Freud, 1953-1974, Vols. 11, 13, 23).
John Watson arrogantly proclaimed that given the opportunity, he could condition any human infant to become either a criminal or a scientist by consistent applying the principles of modern behavioral theory (Watson, 1924, p. 82). Later, B. F. Skinner attacked concepts such as freedom and dignity and proposed reengineering human society by a process of instrumental conditioning (Skinner, 1971).
For humanistic psychology, this psychological reductionism presented a challenge. Can we study the higher reaches of human nature and discover a new basis for psychological science ? Can we use the higher forms of human behavior to illuminate the lower ones instead of basing all psychological understanding in laboratory rats and the mentally ill? Authors as diverse as Straus (1930/1982), Maslow (1950/1973), and Csikszentmihalyi (1990) formulated this same challenge – to understand humans in terms of their highest potential and through the study of individuals who display the highest levels of human functioning.
Will Our Science Stifle or Nature the Fulfilled Human Life?
The concern in humanistic psychology over inadequate scientific and philosophical models was not merely a matter of achieving a better understanding for the sake of understanding. Rather, reductionistic scientific theories of human behavior run the risk of constricting or reducing actual humans. If the prevailing understanding of humanness within science in narrow, then there is a risk that the same concepts will pervade popular culture as well and diminish the self-understanding and aspirations of the average human. Traditional “naturalistic” psychologies run the risk of harming humans by inviting them to lower their expectations of what is humanly possible.
A Prehistory and History of Humanistic Psychology
This chapter provides a prehistory and a history of humanistic psychology. The history recounts those significant figure in modern psychology and philosophy who provided the foundational ideas and approaches making humanistic psychology what it is today. The prehistory examines the millennia before modern humanistic psychology and identifies some of the many antecedent figures who suggested more philosophically adequate concepts of being human. This portion of the chapter must remain sketchy – leaping centuries at time – because of the enormous variety of philosophers, theologians, and literary figure who have contributed at least passing insights into what it means to be fully human. More time is spent on antiquity because foundations for later understanding were laid down then. Many Renaissance and modern efforts to restore a more adequate image of humanity have returned to early Greek and Christian texts for inspiration.
Humanism and the Reformation
In northern Europe, the Renaissance took the direction of humanism exemplified by the Dutch scholar Erasmus. At the same time, the breach with medieval traditional and authority took the form of the Protestant Reformation of the Christian church, nurtured by return to the original scriptural texts.
Desiderius Erasmus (ca. 1469-1536). For Erasmus, the human is the center of creation. the measure of God’s goodness is that God created a rich world to unfold the nature of the human. Man is a “noble animal, for whose sake alone God fashioned this marvelous contrivance of the world; he is the fellow citizen of the angels, son of God, heir of immortality” (The Enchiridion, cited in Augustijn, 1991, p. 53). Erasmus anticipated Kierkegaard in the former’s emphasis on the human individual: “Man stands before God as an individual and takes counsel only of God and his own conscience. Man’s responsibility and ability to live his own life receives all the emphasis” (p. 55). Erasmus heated debate with Luther was triggered by Luther’s critique of Erasmus’s essay on The Free Will. Erasmus insisted on a role for the human will and personal responsibility, as well as God’s grace, in achieving salvation for the human.
CONSLUSION: HUMANISTIC PSYCHOLOGY DURING THE 21ST CENTURY
The original inspiration of humanistic psychology unfolded its great momentum during the 1950s and 1960s. Students of Maslow, Rogers, Jourdard, Perls, and others continue to teach today, and the students of these students, in turn, occupy faculty positions and fill the schedules at meetings of the Association for Humanistic Psychology Each day, humanistically oriented psychotherapists assist troubled patients to discover their personhoods and renew paths of self-actualization. The recent movements of emancipatory, experiential, existential integrative, transpersonal, and constructivist psychotherapy show the continued energies of humanism in psychotherapy (Schneider, 1998; see also the chapters by O’Hara [Chapter 36] and Watson & Bohart [Chapter 38] in the volume). Psychologists and therapist of all orientations, even the most behavioral ones, are more aware today of humanistic dimensions of personal change because of the lasting impact of humanistic psychology.
A challenge remains for all humanistically oriented psychologist: There is a continuing need to remind human society and the helping professions of the dignity and worth of humans (Moss, 1998c). The original humanistic vision must continue to be made relevant in each new generation. The world always will be in need of humanization. Psychology as a science and profession will need to reminded in each generation of humanistic priorities and of the full breadth of human nature and human potential.
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