Maslow, Pirsig and Foucault Catch-up

Was prompted to revisit a couple of older posts on Abraham Maslow after someone asked me to explain a reference this morning.

The one I shared was this one: “Motivation 3.0 – Pink Does Maslow“.

Then I noticed one of my earliest Maslow posts was way back in 2002 “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and that I had already added up-front links to two better later posts, the one above from 2013 and also “The Meme of Maslow’s Mojo” from 2011.

Strangely, the reason Maslow was in my mind was another query in recent days – was it Bruce or Eddo? – asking if I’d noticed parallel’s between Maslow and Robert Pirsig’s evolutionary levels. Of course I had, plenty of times, but only noticed this morning that I’d made that explicit in the 2002 post above.

“I’ve [already] made made countless references to Maslow ever since I noticed that Pirsig’s levels of “value” (absolute quality or goodness) appeared to mirror [Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.]” (2002)

If that’s not fascinating enough, imagine my surprise at this:

“Pirsig and Foucault seem to say [Maslow’s levels] represent something pretty fundamental about human social organisation and values.” (2002)

Pirsig, Maslow and Foucault already in 2002. I spent quite a bit of this last year joining up some Foucault dots in some other new correspondence on Pirsig. I’ll need to go back to see where I made the original Pirsig-Foucault levels connection. (And here it is, reading Foucault’s “Les Mots et Les Choses” in Aug / Sept 2002.) (Plus panrelationalism, threes / triads / triples / onion-skins, Wheeler on semantics underlying physics … it’s all in there on Foucault.)

I need to stop reading and start writing!


[Post Note: Ikigai – Similar set of concerns from the individual looking out rather than what interaction with the world gives to the individual – another representation of the content of Maslow:

Strictly only 3-way – anyone on a mission to love stuff the world doesn’t need is surely a twisted psychopath? (Except with a narrow utilitarian idea of “need”.) Or if you prefer, what the world needs …. is love.]

9 thoughts on “Maslow, Pirsig and Foucault Catch-up”

  1. Yes indeed. Spookily – I watched the film Layer Cake (for the first time) last night. No shortage of metaphors in many media.

  2. A veil of tiers , no doubt .

    The hierarchy of values in Stupa symbolism was well established in my mind before “Lila” was written.
    On reading “Lila” I saw the parallels immediately.

    I only discovered Haldane years later and I was then led to Maslow when I sought out out some empirical grounding for this seemingly perennial hierarchy.

    Even “Metaphor” is a metaphor . ( of a word meaning “transfer” ) .

  3. ” Nothing short of everything will really do.”

    “Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.”

    The “Notes on What’s What.” from “Island” by Aldous Huxley.

    ” Nobody needs to go anywhere else.
    We are all, if we only knew it, already there.

    If, I only knew who in fact I am, I should cease to behave as what I think I am;
    and if I stopped behaving as what I think I am, I should know who I am.

    What in fact I am, if only the Manichee I think I am would allow me to know it, is the reconciliation of yes and no lived out in total acceptance and the blessed experience of Not-Two.
    In religion all words are dirty words. Anyone who gets eloquent about Buddha, or God, or Christ, ought to have his mouth washed out with carbolic soap.
    Because his aspiration to perpetuate only the “yes” in every pair of opposites can never, in the nature of things, be realized, the insulated Manichee I think I am condemns himself to endlessly repeated frustration, endlessly repeated conflicts with other aspiring and frustrated Manichees.
    Conflicts and frustrations—the theme of all history and almost all biography. “I show you sorrow,” said the Buddha realistically. But he also showed the ending of sorrow—self-knowledge, total acceptance, the blessed experience of Not-Two.
    Knowing who in fact we are results in Good Being, and Good Being results in the most appropriate kind of good doing. But good doing does not of itself result in Good Being. We can be virtuous without knowing who in fact we are. The beings who are merely good are not Good Beings; they are just pillars of society.
    Most pillars are their own Samsons. They hold up, but sooner or later they pull down. There has never been a society in which most good doing was the product of Good Being and therefore constantly appropriate. This does not mean that there will never be such a society or that we in Pala are fools for trying to call it into existence.
    The Yogin and the Stoic—two righteous egos who achieve their very considerable results by pretending, systematically, to be somebody else. But it is not by pretending to be somebody else, even somebody supremely good and wise, that we can pass from insulated Manichee-hood to Good Being.
    Good Being is knowing who in fact we are; and in order to know who in fact we are, we must first know, moment by moment, who we think we are and what that bad habit of thought compels us to feel and do. A moment of clear and complete knowledge of what we think we are, but in fact are not, puts a stop, for the moment, to the Manichean charade. If we renew, until they become a continuity, these moments of the knowledge of what we are not, we may find ourselves, all of a sudden, knowing who in fact we are.
    Concentration, abstract thinking, spiritual exercises—systematic exclusions in the realm of thought. Asceticism and hedonism—systematic exclusions in the realms of sensation, feeling and action. But Good Being is in the knowledge of who in fact is in relation to all experiences. So be aware—aware in every context, at all times and whatever, creditable or discreditable, pleasant or unpleasant, you may be doing or suffering. This is the only genuine yoga, the only spiritual exercise worth practicing.
    The more a man knows about individual objects, the more he knows about God. Translating Spinoza’s language into ours, we can say: The more a man knows about himself in relation to every kind of experience, the greater his chance of suddenly, one fine morning, realizing who in fact he is—or rather Who (capital W) in Fact (capital F) “he” (between quotation marks) Is (capital I).
    St. John was right. In a blessedly speechless universe, the Word was not only with God; it was God. As a something to be believed in. God is a projected symbol, a reified name. God = “God.”
    Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalyzed words much too seriously. Paul’s words, Mohammed’s words, Marx’s words, Hitler’s words—people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history—sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending the victims of their own church’s inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For Faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.
    Me as I think I am and me as I am in fact—sorrow, in other words, and the ending of sorrow. One third, more or less, of all the sorrow that the person I think I am must endure is unavoidable. it is the sorrow inherent in the human condition, the price we pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms, aspirants to liberation, but subject to the laws of nature and under orders to keep on marching, through irreversible time, through a world entirely indifferent to our well-being, toward decrepitude and the certainty of death. The remaining two-thirds of sorrow is homemade and, so far as the universe is concerned, unnecessary.
    “Patriotism is not enough.” But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.
    We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way. In Pala, after three generations of Reform, there are no sheeplike flocks and no ecclesiastical Good Shepherds to shear and castrate; there are no bovine or swinish herds and no licensed drovers, royal or military, capitalistic or revolutionary, to brand, confine and butcher. There are only voluntary associations of men and women on the road to full humanity.
    Tunes or pebbles, processes or substantial things? “Tunes,” answers Buddhism and modern science. “Pebbles,” say the classical philosophers of the West. Buddhism and modern science think of the world in terms of music. The image that comes to mind when one reads the philosophers of the West is a Byzantine mosaic, rigid, symmetrical, made up of millions of little squares of some stony material and firmly cemented to the walls of a windowless basilica.
    The dancer’s grace and, forty years on, her arthritis—both are functions of the skeleton. It is thanks to an inflexible framework of bones that the girl is able to do her pirouettes, thanks to the same bones, grown a little rusty, that the grandmother is condemned to a wheelchair. Analogously, the firm support of a culture is the prime-condition of all individual originality and creativeness; it is also their principal enemy. The thing in whose absence we cannot possibly grow into a complete human being is, all too often, the thing that prevents us from growing.
    A century of research on the moksha-medicine has clearly shown that quite ordinary people are perfectly capable of having visionary or even fully liberating experiences. In this respect the men and women who make and enjoy high culture are no better off than the low brows. High experience is perfectly compatible with low symbolic expression.
    The expressive symbols created by Palanese artists are no better than the expressive symbols created by artists elsewhere. Being the products of happiness and a sense of fulfillment, they are probably less moving, perhaps less satisfying aesthetically, than the tragic or compensatory symbols created by victims of frustration and ignorance, of tyranny, war and guilt-fostering, crime-inciting superstitions. Palanese superiority does not lie in symbolic expression but in art which, though higher and far more valuable than all the rest, can yet be practiced by everyone–the art of adequately experiencing, the art of being more intimately acquainted with all the worlds that, as human beings, we find ourselves inhabiting. Palanese culture is not be judged as (for lack of any better criterion) we judge other cultures. It is not to be judged by the accomplishments of a few gifted manipulators of artistic or philosophic symbols. No, it is to be judged by what all the members of the community, the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, can and do experience in every contingency and at each successive intersection of time and eternity.”
    Aldous Huxley

    ( “Pala” is the name of the novel’s Utopian island. “Moksha medicine” is their term for psychedelic drugs. )

  4. What prompted that Bruce?
    (I did attempt Huxley’s Island, can’t recall any detail why now, but I didn’t get very far.)

  5. Fair question Ian.

    Firstly “Island” is the detailed response to criticisms of the perennial philosophy . Like ZAMM or even more-so “Lila” it lets the novel form serve as a thin skeleton on which to hang a mountain of philosophy. Try again.

    The Ikigai illustration above prompted this further expression of the same set of ideas , from the work of Huxley , a thinker central to your stated philosophical pursuits .

    The “notes on what’s what” are one of the simplest expressions of the perennial philosophy. And the excerpts from it quoted at the start echo the Maslow , Pirsig , Haldane levels of abstraction , (or engagement) without making the hierarchical structure ( empirical for Maslow , metaphysical for the others ) explicit.

    I assumed you’d be familiar with “Island” . It was the perfect counter to “1984” , “Brave New World ” and “Lord of the Flies” all of which I was assigned at school . They destroyed any hopes I may have had for communism, consumerism or anarchy.

    Examples of plausible sane , flourishing societies are hard to come by. I cherish this one.

    Although it was his last published work , there is an uncompleted work published by his wife Laura Archera Huxley in her memoir “This Timeless Moment” . It too merits more than a glance.

    I hope my comments haven’t become tiresome . I enjoy your blogs . They incite responses , and not always all at once.

    This suggests your writing is more effective than my thought processes .
    Take that as a compliment.


  6. Actually , all Huxley’s later novels are thinly dressed philosophical treatises. “The Genius and the Goddess”, “Ape and Essence” and “Time Must Have a Stop” are all brilliant but they’re sadly overlooked . Try them if you’re not already acquainted.


  7. I guess the recommendation “read more” is a given … without a specific “why?”… never enough time to read everything, and I subscribe to Eco’s library of unread books 😉 Or, as the psychiatrist said to Pirsig, “(stop worrying and) just write something”. Thanks for the feedback.

    I notice, I actually ended this post on the “stop reading, just write something” quip 😉

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