Surely death is capable of benefitting us the same way thatanesthetization and unconsciousness can. It can preclude our enduringgreat suffering. Similarly, like anesthetization and unconsciousness,death can harm us by precluding our living well. Comparativism getsthings right and bifurcated comparativism gets things wrong in all ofthese examples.
In this section I want to explore what Maslow had to say in 1954 because while many people refer to Maslow's use of the term in his book, very few sources discuss what he actually said in his chapter.
Maslow said the purpose of chapter 18, Toward a positive psychology, was to discuss a major mistake made by psychologists, "namely, their pessimistic, negative, and limited conception of the full height to which the human being can attain, their totally inadequate conception of his level of aspiration in life, and their setting of his psychological limits at too low a level" (Maslow, 1954, pp. 353- 354).
Maslow noted that "the science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side; it has revealed to us much about man's shortcomings, his illnesses, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his full psychological height. It is as if psychology had voluntarily restricted itself to only half its rightful jurisdiction, and that the darker, meaner half" (Maslow, 1954, p. 354).
Maslow said this was the result of a systemic problem, that psychology reflected the ideology of the world outlook, an ideology heavy on technology but neglecting humanistic principles and values. This approach stresses behavior while neglecting the inner subjective life.
"Dynamic psychology was doomed to a negative derivation by the historical accident that psychiatry rather than experimental psychology concerned itself with the conative and emotional. It was from the study of neurotics and other people that we learned most of what we know about personality and motivation" (Maslow, 1954, p. 355).
In a subsection titled "low-ceiling psychology" Maslow discusses the mechanisms by which the blindness of psychology is perpetuated. One such mechanism is that psychology "consists only of defining science strictly in terms of past and what is already known" (Maslow, 1954, p. 356). Every new question or approach is then considered unscientific and there is no opportunity to forge new ground. Maslow describes how this status quo feels comfortable and has familiarity that makes change difficult (we tend to improve our homes by adding on rather than rebuilding).
Maslow quoted Kurt Lewin suggesting we study what rather than what or what be under ideal conditions because we identify the status quo with the ideal.
Part of this perpetuation is through self-fulfilling prophecy. Our belief in the negative and in limitations becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.
Experimental technique is another perpetuating factor. In many cases, the experimental design does not allow one to function to one's best because of the conditions. Maslow gave the example if we put tall people into a low ceiling room where they could not stand up and then we measured their height we would be measuring the height of the room and not the people inside. Self limiting methods measure only their own limitations.
"Hamilton generalized from poor, uneducated people. Freud generalized too much from neurotic people. Hobbes and other philosophers observed masses of mankind under very bad social and economic and educational conditions and came to conclusions that ought not to be generalized to men under good economic and political and educational conditions. This we may call low-ceiling or cripple or jungle psychology, but certainly not psychology" (Maslow, 1954, p. 359).
"The self-derogation of psychology is another responsible factor. Out of the general cultural trends already mentioned, psychologists tend to admire the technologically advanced sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, more than they do psychology, in spite of the fact that from the humanistic point of view psychology is obviously the new frontier, and by far the most important science today" (Maslow, 1954, p. 359).
We measure how intelligent an individual is under some actual condition but we do not measure how intelligent an individual could be under the best conditions. Measurement of the actual is inherently pessimistic compared to the theoretical measurement of what might be–the potentiality.
"If one is preoccupied with the insane, the neurotic, the psychopath, the criminal, the delinquent, the feeble-minded, one's hopes for the human species become perforce more and more modest, more and more realistic, more and more scaled down. One expects less and less from people" (Maslow, 1954, p. 360). [This reminds me of a quote attributed to Freud: "the more people I met, the less I liked people"] Maslow went on: "The exclusive study of our failures and breakdowns will hardly breed inspiration, hopefulness, and optimistic ambitions in either the layman or the scientist" (Maslow, 1954, p. 360).
"In a word, if we are interested in the psychology of the human species we should limit ourselves to the use of the self-actualizing, the psychologically healthy, the mature, the fulfilled, for they are more truly representative of the human species than the usual average or normal group. The psychology generated by the study of healthy people could fairly be called positive by contrast with the negative psychology we now have, which has been generated by the study of sick or average people" (Maslow, 1954, p. 361).
"This presents us with our practical difficulty of getting together large enough groups of individuals with whom to do statistically sound experimentation. This I have managed without too much loss of principle by arbitrarily using the best one out of one hundred of the general college population (the psychiatrically healthiest 1 percent). The other 99 percent are then discarded as imperfect, immature, or crippled specimens" (Maslow, 1954, p. 361).
Patrick Devlin, Baron Devlin ..
Comment: from the beginning Seligman didn't seem to have a clear focus on what he was looking at. For example, in one of his first publications on his new venture he introduces a presidential task force on prevention that will ultimately sponsor a special issue on prevention for the edited by Csikszentmihalyi, "it will ask what psychology can do to [italics added]" (Seligman, 1998a, p. 2). In this column, Seligman then goes on to ask how we can prevent problems by promoting the competence of individuals.
"We have discovered that there is a set of human strengths that are the most likely buffers against mental illness: courage, optimism, interpersonal skill, work ethic, hope, honesty and perseverance. Much of the task of prevention will be to create a science of human strength whose mission will be to foster these virtues in young people" (Seligman, 1998a, p. 2).
"Such science and practice will prevent many of the major emotional disorders" it will also have two side effects, it will make people physically healthier and "it will also re-orient psychology to its two neglected missions, making normal people stronger and more productive as well as making high human potential actual" (Seligman, 1998a, p. 2).
So we need to find another alternative basis for - …
"studies suggest that what is currently known about the healthy self in the European American psychological literature may be primarily representative of reasonably well–educated, middle–class Americans. The healthy self may well assume a different form and have a different meaning among those whose daily lives foster and promote a self that is other than autonomous, agentic, and in control" [that is, for example, in comparison to many East Asian contexts] (Keough & Markus, 1998, p. 50).
Disintegration and Reintegration | Classical Inquiries
Here is another example of what I would call a questionable conceptualization: "PP [Positive psychology] cannot resist saying that part of what alienates us from classical and contemporary philosophy is the habit of sheer grandiosity in its theory making. Aristotle wanted to solve the problem of happiness, truth, and justice in one fell swoop—with the same few tools. We think this kind of theorizing to be an error" (Jayawickreme, Pawelski, & Seligman, 2009, pp. 17–18). It seems to me that the grandiosity and immodesty of positive psychology is overwhelming especially in Seligman's writings.