2. What Drives Us?

Read excerpts of Beyond Freedom & Dignity by B. F. Skinner

Explore how Skinner viewed freedom. Questions – Beyond freedom and dignity

  1. How did Skinner define freedom?

  2. How does Skinner see the ‘technology of behavior’ affecting man’s sense of dignity?

  3. What is your response to Skinner’s definition of freedom?

Revolt: Humanistic psychology

While Skinner’s idea of operant conditioning became widely accepted in psychology, there were some who revolted against it. They defended the notion of freedom and dignity.

Humanistic psychology emerged in the 1960s as a reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Humanistic psychology was understood as a “third force” in contemporary psychology and brought focus back to the self, to inner impulses and directives arising from the individual within. It held five premises, summarized as follows:

  1. Human beings cannot be reduced to components.

  2. Human beings have in them a uniquely human context.

  3. Human consciousness includes an awareness within the context of other people.

  4. Human beings have choices and responsibilities.

  5. Human beings are intentional; they seek meaning, value and creativity.

    From James Bugental, humanistic psychology therapist The Search For Authenticity (1965)

Carl Rogers (1902-1987)

Trained in psychoanalysis.

Self –concept/Individuality
Individuals have values at their core that contribute to their self-esteem. He believed that we are all born with all the attributes necessary for success.

Client centered therapy; positive outlook on humanity

This is a therapy based on the belief that the client or patient is ultimately in charge of their own happiness and that therapy should be a self-initiated process toward being free.

Rogers believed that people are naturally inherently good and can solve their own problems once they accept that they are in charge of their own fate.

Humanists start with a subjective reality rather than an external objective perspective. They argue that reality is not something objective that everyone agrees on; that we all interpret and create reality through our unique lenses of beliefs and worldviews.

Perceptions that we filter through our own lenses will lead to each individual’s unique actions.

What Drives Us?

Behaviorists – We solely respond to stimulus that comes from outside, even when we think we are acting out of ourselves.

Psychoanalysts – we are driven by unconscious forces.

Humanistic psychologists – There is a drive inside us that is independent from outside stimulus.

Freud’s instinct theory

By ‘instinct”, Freud didn’t mean what is normally understood in biology. He was pointing to impulses, moving forces or drives.

Freud came to the understanding that we are regulated by a drive for pleasure.

Pleasure principle: We tend to move toward easy physical and emotional rewards and move away from unpleasant events; Avoiding suffering. This pleasure principle is replaced with reality. A child can tend to seek for immediate gratification, but can then learn to wait for gratification.

Reality principle: Recognition that there are other people who have their own needs as well and we cannot only seek for our own pleasure and be selfish. ‘Reality principle’ guides us to set a limit for ourselves in relation to others, adjusting expectations and restraining desires.

Later, after the experience of WWI, Freud revised his view of humanity. In 1920, he wrote an essay called “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. He saw people as willing to die and recognized human aggression and violence. He saw soldiers who had gone to wars come back having recurring dreams of wars. He interpreted this as a wish for death. So he came up with the idea of death instincts.

He described two polarizing forces, impulse for death and life.

Eros – Life Instincts: Includes sexual instincts, the drive to live and basic instinctual impulses such as thirst and hunger. Are necessary to preserve life. Energy created by life instincts is known as libido. Behaviors commonly associated with this life instinct include love and cooperation.

The counterpart of Eros is Thanatos – Death Instincts, instincts to destroy, including anger, violence and aggression. This is associated with anti-social and self-destructive behaviors (drive toward one’s own or another’s death). Freud saw people as driven by an unconscious desire to die, but that Eros (life instinct) overcomes this wish.

In Freud’s view, self-destructive behavior is an expression of the energy created by death instincts. When this energy is directed outward onto others, it is expressed as aggression and violence.

Key questions

Do you think there is such a thing as a death wish? Do we have a drive inside to wish to die? How do we explain wars, suicide and genocide? Is violence and aggression a part of a drive that is inherently within us?

Abraham Maslow

Another influential humanistic psychologist

Instead of focusing on illness or disorder, he focused on positive mental health. He challenged the notion of therapy based on the medical model that is always trying to remedy or fix someone.

He tried to bring psychology back to its roots in philosophy. He turned to existentialism and argued how psychologists can learn from phenomenology that uses personal subjective experience as a foundation upon which abstract knowledge is built.

In 1943, he introduced a theory that explains human motivation, one that is a more complete picture than Freud’s pleasure and reality principles.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow (1943) recognized that people are motivated to attain certain needs, and that some needs take more priority than others. Human needs arise in a sequence of hierarchy; when one is fulfilled, then the next stage of need emerges.

He noted how attempts to satisfy these needs are a motivating force. His theory of the hierarchy of needs is depicted in this pyramid.

First, he divided this five stage model into two types.

-Deficiency needs
-Growth needs

The first four levels are referred to as deficiency needs (D-needs) and the top level is growth or being needs (B-needs).

Drive for self-actualization

Maslow viewed self-actualization not as the end point, but as a journey and a process. Once higher order needs are met, lower needs become less important.

Examples of such people –Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein
Contemporary examples: Who are self-actualizing people in our contemporary culture?
Edward Snowden? -He risked his life and personal stability to do public good.

Key questions for discussion

Does Maslow’s model make sense? Do you agree with this hierarchy of needs?

Is there anything missing? Is there a drive or need to be free? If so, how does freedom relate to self-actualization? Do we need to fulfill a need to be free in order to truly self-actualize?

- Lack of scientific validation

Limitation of Maslow’s theory concerns his methodology. He utilized qualitative methods by employing biographical analysis. This was called into question as being subjective and said that it lacks validity through verifiable data.

“He looked at the biographies and writings of 18 people he identified as being self-actualized. From these sources he developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of this specific group of people, as opposed to humanity in general”.

Another criticism raised concerning Maslow’s stance that lower needs must be satisfied before someone can achieve their potential and self-actualize. This is not always the case, and therefore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in some aspects has been called into question. Someone who is on a diet might reduce the drive for hunger.

“For instance, Van Gogh lived in poverty throughout their lifetime, yet it could be argued that he achieved self-actualization”. Loving couples can be happily married while being poor and hungry. A flourishing artist who doesn’t make much money and is mostly alone can bring amazing things to the world. Buddhist monks can go through a fast and their need for enlightenment seem to be higher than hunger for foods and shelter etc.

In recent societies this can be seen as “Prominently limited to highly educated white males (such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, William James, Aldous Huxley, Gandhi, Beethoven).”

Where do you think you are in this model? What is your highest aspirations? (What does it mean to be self-actualizing for you?)


Bugental, J. (1965). The search for authenticity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the Pleasure Principle. London: International Psycho-Analytical Press.
Hunt, M. (1993). The story of psychology. New York, NY: DOUBLEDAY.
Kleinman, P. (2012). Psych101: Psychology, facts, basics, statistics, tests, and more! MA: Adams Media.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.
Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.

Go to the next – Construction of Personality