Visions of Daniel

Common Humanity
and Global Community

Lonerganian Specification of Maslowian Promise


Papers link

This paper is the summary of a workshop Daniel presented a the 117th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, August 7, 2009.


Abraham Maslow's treatment of self-actualization has been criticized as solipsistic and "selfist" (Vitz, 1977). Unfortunately, such criticism would be appropriate for some versions of Humanistic Psychology, but the genuine position merits no such objection. On the contrary, Maslow (1954, 1962/1998) describes self-actualizers as simultaneously profoundly individualized and profoundly social. It is as if, in tapping their innermost humanity and its potential, self-actualizers touch the core that links all humanity. Similarly, far from being unethical, although sometimes wisely diverging from conventional moral expectations, self-actualizers exhibit genuine concern for the good. It is as if, in enhancing their ethical sensitivity, self-actualizers identify their personal good with the common good; they exhibit the post-conventional moral reasoning that Lawrence Kohlberg (1981) found in a small fraction of the population. At its inception, far from value-neutral, Humanistic Psychology connected inner human experience with society at large in ways that best foster open-ended individual, social, and cultural enhancement.

That defining emphasis within early Humanistic Psychology responds to the needs of an emerging global community in the postmodern world. Unfortunately, however, the formulation of that undoubtedly accurate emphasis tended to be merely suggestive, exhortatory, and speculative. As a result, it is easily dismissed as ungrounded idealism. It is nearly fatally vulnerable to the rigorous demands of empirical science, on the one hand, and it has virtually fallen under the deconstructive criticism of literary and philosophical postmodernism, on the other.

By proposing a refinement and an enhancement, this paper would secure the power of that foundational humanistic position and render it viable in the emerging global community. Application of Bernard J. F. Lonergan's (1957/1992, 1972, 1980/1990) phenomenology-like analysis of human consciousness guides this proposed transposition. What Lonergan spoke of variably—as dynamic intentional consciousness; as the human spirit or human spiritual reality, in accord with the Western Tradition since Plato; as the pure and unrestricted desire to know; and as the open-ended self-transcendence inherent in being in love—appears to specify the core of what Humanistic Psychology intends generically by human potential.

If the proposed coincidence of Maslow's human potential and Lonergan's intentional consciousness or human spirit is, indeed, correct, the specification of several critical matters readily follows.

•  Intentional consciousness is one dimension, indeed, the distinctively human dimension, of the mind. Hence, it pertains to psychology. It is the nous of Plato (cf. Voegelin, 1974), the memoria of Saint Augustine (1963, 1991, chap. 10), the innere Wahrnehmung of Franz Brentano (1874/1972, pp. 29-30, 127-129), the Lichtung of Martin Heidegger (1927/1962, pp. 171 & n. 2, 214, 401-402, 460), the kun-gzhi of Tarthang Tulku (1979, 41-42), and (misleadingly named with a reflexive implication of subject over against object) the "observing self" of Arthur Deikman (1982, pp. 10-11, 95, 102). Contemporary psychology tends to presuppose and generally overlooks consciousness and focuses, rather, on other facets of the mind, which Lonergan collectively calls psyche. It includes emotions, memory, imagery, and personality structures. Via shifting interaction that maintains sanity while allowing transformation, psyche both supports and restricts the functioning of the human spirit. Thus, if spirit is the theoretical key to humanity, attention to psyche, as in psychotherapy, is the practical key to ongoing integration and growth (for elaboration see Helminiak, 1996, 2005, 2008).

•  Consciousness is available to scrutiny via the self-awareness that is its essential nature: non-objectified self-presence or subjectivity; the consciousness "of" oneself as the subject, not as an object of one's own attention. Consciousness can be experienced and later verbalized, so its affirmation rests on empirical evidence—not the data of sense experience, which define narrow empiricism, to be sure, but the data of consciousness, which, as human experience, appropriately and legitimately ground the science of inner human reality.

•  Primordially, consciousness is experienced as wonder, marvel, awe—the self-aware experience of "generic question," out-going receptivity, unbounded openness. It is an inherent, self-transcending movement toward ever fuller being that entails both personal development and objective reality in the increasing coincidence of them both.

•  That primordial dynamism (a) presents in awareness the raw, preconceptual content of experience (the merely given, data to be pondered) and expresses itself subsequently in explicit questions of three different kinds. In light of the data, there arises (b) the question for understanding (What is it? How is it? Why is it?). Insight and hypothesis in response to such inquiry provoke (c) the further question for reflection (Is it? Is it so?), whose affirmative answer in a judgment of fact constitutes human knowledge: a composite of (b) hypothesis (c) verified in (a) data. Finally, the achievement of new knowledge provokes (d) the still further question for deliberation (What am I going to do about it?). Decision and action follow to alter the situation and provoke another turn of the wheel of the four, multiply interacting facets of conscious unfolding: (a) experience, (b) understanding, (c) judgment, and (d) decision. Such is the structure and function of consciousness according to Lonergan's analysis and terminology.

•  In terms of more familiar but undifferentiated psychological usage, that structure regards the distinctive human concerns of (a-c) meaning and (d) value—or ideas and ideals, or knowledge and love, which parallel the mental "faculties" of intellect and will. Nothing new or esoteric is at stake in this discussion except the precision of conception and formulation that Lonergan provides, incorporating the forgotten richness of classic and medieval philosophy into modernity's "turn to the subject."

•  The inherently out-going nature of consciousness should already be obvious. The implication, explicit in Humanistic Psychology and specified by attention to consciousness, is that the defining, wondrously distinctive core of humanity is self-transcendence. It results not only in personal growth (as Humanistic Psychology has emphasized) but also and concomitantly in the knowledge and love of all things, including other persons—because human growth is unavoidably linked with physical, biological, and interpersonal reality. Human consciousness is a dynamism geared to the universe of being, namely, all that there is to be known and loved. If, for example, human questioning proceeded unhampered by the inevitable biases of the psyche and the limitations of the human organism and human history, questioning would cease, in the ideal, only when everything about everything was understood, and human knowledge and known reality would fully coincide—as in the asymptotically approached goal of physical science. Accordingly, increasing genuine individuality entails increasing sociality, for consciousness defines both personhood and intersubjectivity, and the increasing integration of conscious capacity requires and enhances both. The out-going nature of human consciousness locks inner experience and outer reality together in a co-determining process as people collaborate ever more profoundly within the objective reality of an unfolding universe, itself being ever more guided by human determination.

•  Like every system, consciousness entails inherent requisites for effective functioning. Any application will produce change but not necessarily foster unrestricted unfolding. Lonergan specifies four content-free requisites for ongoing development, "the transcendental precepts," which correspond to the four facets of conscious functioning: (a) Be attentive, (b) Be intelligent, (c) Be reasonable, and (d) Be responsible. They represent inherent human absolutes but are not absolutist. They predetermine no outcome but, attending to process, simply prescribe how any pursuit should unfold for maximum, positive results: attentively, intelligently, reasonably, and responsibly. Only "the devil" would object and, thus, reveal the essence of evil: the curtailment of potential, open-ended development.

•  If these elaborations accurately formulate human intentional consciousness, they apply across cultures to every person. Indeed, if intentional consciousness is what Lonergan proposes, it is the very engine that structures and transforms cultures; it generates the worlds of meaning and value wherein humans live. Perforce, his analyses elude the radical postmodern, relativistic criticism, which currently hobbles Humanistic Psychology, that knowledge and values are inescapably culture-bound. His analyses move at levels deeper than postmodern criticism. Unless one allows self-contradiction, both logical and existential, the transcendental precepts name the conditions for the possibility of the viability of any culture and provide the criteria for a normative assessment of every human enterprise.

This analysis locks together in theoretical coherence inner human experience, individual personal growth, the social construction of culture and community, and the normativity that governs these arenas. Grounded in experience, this analysis claims empirical validity. It appears to specify and confirm Maslow's intimations about human potential. It envisages a genuine science of human subjectivity to finally complete psychology's treatment of other less subtle facets of human interiority. Transcending cultural pluralism, this analysis supplies a normative vision of humanity and human community and does so apart from nonfalsifiable religious and other-worldly appeal—such as, in its uncritical reliance on Asian thought, Transpersonal Psychology invokes in its effort to secure a universal perspective (see Helminiak, 1998, esp. chap. 4 on Ken Wilber). Explicating the core emphasis of Humanistic Psychology, this Lonerganian elaboration heuristically sketches the authentic self-formation of human beings and links their growth to the humanization of the global community (Helminiak, 2008).


Augustine (trans. 1963). The trinity (S. Mckenna, Trans.). Washington, DC : Catholic University of America Press.

Augustine (trans. 1991). Confessions (H. Chadwick, Trans.). Oxford / New York : Oxford University Press.

Brentano, F. (1973). Psychology from an empirical standpoint (O. Kraus, Ed.; A. C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, & L. L. McAlister, Trans.). New York : Humanities Press. (Original work published 1874).

Deikman, A. J. (1982). The observing self: Mysticism and psychotherapy. Boston , MA : Beacon Press.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time (J. Macquarie & E. Robinson, Trans.). New York : Harper & Row. (Original work published 1927).

Helminiak, D. A. (1996). The human core of spirituality: Mind as psyche and spirit. Albany , NY : State University of New York Press.

Helminiak, D. A. (1998). Religion and the human sciences: An approach via spirituality. Albany , NY : State University of New York Press.

Helminiak, D. A. (2005). Meditation without myth. New York : The Crossroad Publishing Co.

Helminiak, D. A. (2008). Spirituality for our global community: Beyond traditional religion to a world at peace. New York : Rowman & Littlefield.

Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development; Moral stages and the idea of justice. San Francisco : Harper & Row.

Lonergan, B. J. F. (1972). Method in theology. New York : Herder and Herder.

Lonergan, B. J. F. (1990). Understanding and being: The Halifax lectures on Insight (E. A. Morelli & M. D. Morelli, Eds.). Collected works of Bernard Lonergan (Vol. 5). Toronto : University of Toronto Press. (original work published 1980)

Lonergan, B. J. F. (1992). Insight: A study of human understanding. Collected works of Bernard Lonergan (Vol. 3). Toronto: Toronto University Press. (original work published 1957)

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality, 2 nd ed. New York: Harper & Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1998). Toward a psychology of being, 3 rd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (Original work published 1962)

Tarthang Tulku (1979). A view of mind. In J. Welwood (Ed.), The meeting of the ways: Exploration in east/west psychology (pp. 40-44). New York: Schocken.

Voegelin, E. (1974). Reason: The classic experience. The Southern Review, 10, 237-264.

Vitz, P. C. (1977). Psychology as religion: The cult of self-worship. Grand Rapids , MI: Eerdmans.