Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Huxley’s Human Potentialities, Part 2: The Way to Realise Our Potential (1).

To be meaningful, hope must be attainable. In ‘Human Potentialities’ Aldous Huxley says that we really can establish a future for humanity in which we ‘…actualise the many and great potentialities which in most individuals still remain latent’. We can do so, first of all, by establishing the right environmental conditions. As a Humanist Huxley believes that people have a natural desire, or even need, to strive towards the realisation of their potential. Nevertheless, we cannot trust that they will do so until their more basic requirements are met.

Describing Abraham Maslow’s concept of a ‘hierarchy of needs’, Huxley says that our physical needs (for food, and safety) and certain psychological needs (for belonging, and esteem) must be satisfied before we can realise the ‘most specifically human of our needs’; that is, before we can satisfy our need of knowledge, meaning, ‘self-expression through the manipulation of symbols’, and our need of ‘self-transcending development’.

It is necessary to concede that there are exceptions: some people realise potentialities in spite of, or even because of, isolation and a lack of love. In one song, I Found Out, John Lennon had this to say of his parents: “They didn’t want me, so they made me a star”. And yet in defence of Huxley’s argument, tortured geniuses like Lennon tend not to fulfil their potential in terms of being happy, or being happy with themselves.

So, the satisfaction of people's needs is a necessary first step, and a prerequite for their going on to fulfil their promise in multiple areas of their lives. But there are further ways and means to consider beyond that, as I will show in coming posts.

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