B.F. Skinner to Abraham Maslow: “I have had many peak experiences”

by Scott Barry Kaufman, March 29, 2017 in Blog


In his book Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow criticized the experimental psychologists of the day, including the behaviorists, for ignoring the higher values of humanity. Well, B.F. Skinner wasn’t pleased with this assessment! In this incredible personal letter from Skinner to Maslow (dated mid-60s), Skinner responds:

“I suppose I am a neo-behaviorist, and to some extent, a positivist psychologist, and I certainly do not feel … that values and the life of value are none of my professional concern. I do not renounce all consideration of poetry and art or even religious and transcendent experiences. I do not want to find something in all of these which goes beyond experience, however, and I would hold that experience is a by-product or epiphenomenon.

So far as I can tell, I have had many peak experiences and they have not decreased as I have become more rational or materialistic or mechanistic … I do not feel that I am more at home with the cognitive than with the emotional, impulsive, and volitional as you imply… You ought to get to know a behaviorist better!”

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