Appetites vs. Hierarchy of Needs

| 03-28-AD2013 | [6]

Jared Tomanek - AppetiteIn 1943, a psychologist, Abraham Maslow, offered a paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation.” I think just about every introduction class for college psychology and education at least mentions this “hierarchy of needs.”

Where do we find this in our Catholic literature? The Catholic Church is pretty much the expert of the human person, so somewhere in our vast history we should be able to find something as basic as the bottom line of human motivation. For an institution that has 2000 years of history, has seen empires come and seen them die, has globe trotted to the four corners, and continues to convert cultures, she must be doing something right in the arena of human motivation.

Though not a perfect analogy, Maslow’s hierarchy is very similar to the scholastics’ word “appetite.” This word comes from Latin “ad petere” which means “to seek.” No wonder everyone has heard of Maslow, when a culture deconstructs tradition and then tries to build up its own knowledge, it must end up re-inventing the wheel. Appetite used to mean so much more than just some kind of carnal passions that make man more like an animal. It was a general term, meant something like that which draws us to the good and avoidance of evil. It included physical properties like food and sex but was not limited to those. The naturalis (unconscious) and appetitus elicitus are the appetites found in rational creatures. The appetite elicitus is then divided into senstivits (body and soul regarding concrete goods) and rationalis (will regarding intellect and knowledge).

The human person longs for the good, the fulfilling our naturalis, senstivitis, and rationalis appetites. If we are to translate this over to the business realm, then a leader recognizes the human person needs some things unconsciously to fulfill his naturalis appetite. The unconscious is that part of the human person that may have been affected by a bad experience in the past. Maybe the employee is risk adverse because he took a challenge in the past and was burned.

The conscious appetites, appetitus elicitus, desire to fulfilled also. The senstivitis would include the desire for a humanly conducive work environment like heating and cooling, proper tools, and appropriate work load. The rationalis fulfills the human longing for things like justice, peace, and harmony.

Like a Catholic perspective on leadership versus a secular leadership, the striking difference between the scholastics’ ideas on appetites and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the pointing toward the good. In the Catholic worldview, the appetites desire goodness and the leader should try to fulfill these in his followers. In a secular worldview, the hierarchy of needs does not engage what is good just as the secular leader encourages his followers toward a common “goal.”

© 2013. Jared Tomanek. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author:

J.Q. lives in the country of Texas with his wife Denise, a Southern Belle from Trinidad and Tobago, and his three children. He holds two graduate degrees from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, an MBA and Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Having taught for five years in Catholic education, he now works in the construction industry in Victoria, TX. He is a parishioner of Holy Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Parish in the Diocese of Victoria.
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  • Jeff McLeod

    I totally agree that Maslow’s model does its best to re-invent the great Catholic moral theory!

    I’m so glad you seem to agree that Maslow has lots of value. I’ve always liked him. When I was in grad school I wanted to work out the details of his big picture model but it was too daunting.

    The idea of there being a hierarchy of appetites is itself a brilliant insight that should be translated into modern terms. It is very Thomistic indeed, with the highest, spiritual desires supervening on the psychological desires, which supervene on the physical partially-conscious and unconscious desires.

    That’s the one thing I would insist in teaching Maslow. It mustn’t be seen as completely a bottom up hierarchy. Everyone who is in the business of transforming organizations (like you), and individuals (like priests) should think in both directions. The bottom level is necessary for the top, and yet the top levels, the cognitive and spiritual, exert downward pressure that allow us to re-interpret our life history, and to re-interpret out basic needs in brand new ways. I’m on the computational side of things, so I’d say what I just said by saying there are feed-forward aspects of the dynamic system and recurrent feedback aspects. But if I said that I’d lose every single reader which I’m afraid I just did :)

    Great insights in this article. It made me think.

    • JQ Tomanek

      Hey Jeff, thanks for the kind words.

      As I witnessed in my leadership studies (behavioral based), so much is showing the validity of Catholic teaching. It is like the moderns, after deconstructing traditions, ended up discovering many of the same principles we already believed. I found so much basically needs translation. In business, honesty is necessary. But nobody calls it that anymore, we label it transparency.

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