Third force psychology, so named by Abraham Maslow because it opposes behaviorism and psychoanalysis, the first two major American theories. They are criticized because they are mechanistic and deterministic theories which construe humankind as basically evil, animalistic, and materialistic. Further, these first earlier theories are criticized because they deal with abstractions from rather than concrete realities about humankind.

Third force psychology, so named by Abraham Maslow because it opposes behaviorism and psychoanalysis, the first two major American theories. They are criticized because they are mechanistic and deterministic theories which construe humankind as basically evil, animalistic, and materialistic. Further, these first earlier theories are criticized because they deal with abstractions from rather than concrete realities about humankind.


Origin of "Third Force" concept
Differences Among the Three Fields

Similarities Emphasized by All Three Fields
Particulars (uniqueness) vs. abstractions (similarities)
Sensation (activity, creativity) vs. insightful wholeness (conceptualization, vitalism)
Understanding (self awareness) vs. analytical (purpose)
Meaning vs. tension reduction (mechanistic)


1. Where did the term "third force" come from?
2. What does Maslow mean by the term?
3. What is the meaning of each of the fields?
4. How are the three fields common?


In later modules we will examine the way in which various third force psychologies developed. But it should be noted now that the basic idea behind third force psychology was the emphasis upon the unique qualities of humans, as opposed to seeing man as just another animal on the phylogenetic scale. This emphasis on uniquely human qualities has a long history. In psychology it was perhaps most forcefully presented by Gordon Allport in the 1930's. Much later, when the times seemed right for a humanistic renaissance in psychology, Abraham Maslow coined the term "third force psychology" to refer to all those psychologies not represented by the materialistic psychologies of behaviorism and psychoanalysis. These new "third force" psychologies were most clearly represented by humanistic, phenomenological, and existential psychologies.

We turn now to a consideration of humanistic, phenomenological, and existential psychologies. Phenomenology and existentialism are fields within philosophy and developed along similar lines. Both have roots in humanism. In addition, humanistic psychology emerged from humanism, phenomenology, and existentialism. These three fields have become known as third force psychology.


There are similarities among these three systems and there are differences. First, the differences will be examined, then the similarities. Phenomenology, originally a form of philosophy, maintained that psychology should emphasize description rather than the explanation of experience. The phenomenological approach is a method of investigating nature and specifies how to study both nature and oneself. It dates back to at least Goethe. Existentialism, also a branch of philosophy recommends a particular kind of interpretation of experience. Existentialism, as a kind of metaphysics, recommends what interpretation one should have of the nature of reality, the individual, and his relationship to the universe. Humanism, the third approach, is a form of ethics. It advocates what kind of relation one should have with another and the values which humans should hold. Although among the oldest of the philosophical systems, humanism is the newest of the psychological systems.

These three fields are what Maslow calls the "third force" in psychology. They are called a third force in psychology not because there are three fields, but because they constitute the third major approach in American psychology. Koch (1961) coined the term but used it in reference to psychology as a third force -- lying between science on the one hand and the humanities on the other hand (Severin, 1973, p.S). Maslow used the phrase "third force psychology" to refer to a new and contemporary branch of psychology which had successfully broken the bonds of institutionalized psychology. Behaviorism and psychoanalysis, the major forces in American psychology in the twentieth century (Goble, 1970), emphasized the materialistic, mechanistic, and animalistic side of humanity. Maslow and other third force psychologists, on the other hand, have claimed that man looks toward the future rather than the past, seeks goals rather than avoids unpleasantness, and learns by cognitive processes such as insight rather than by conditioning and reflexive responses.


Phenomenology, existentialism, and humanism are similar and interrelated. Phenomenology is the most general theory. One can be a phenomenologist without being an existentialist or humanist. That is, one an believe that the primary approach to understanding behavior is to emphasize "perception" and cognitive processes. In so doing, one does not have to believe that an existential framework is the most productive. One can be an existentialist though not necessarily a humanist; but he is likely to be a phenomenologist. If one is a humanist he is also likely to be a phenomenologist and an existentialist. Humanists tend to emphasize cognitive processes and the reality of being. Originally, there were several different brands of phenomenology in psychology. But as existentialism and then humanism emerged, the differences among these third force groups became less pronounced and the similarities became more prominent. Humanists tend to be the most well defined group. Today's humanists are most vocal about supporting phenomenological methods, existential beliefs, and humanistic values.

It is not easy to trace the development of this patterned third force branch within psychology. The backgrounds are indeed varied. The roots may not always be clear, b the individuals are unmistakably similar -- Brentano, Nietzsche, Husserl, James, Wertheimer, Allport, Rogers, Maslow, and May. Allport (1955, p. 12) referred to this as a Leibnitzian rather than Lockean tradition. The major tenets of all three fields are as follows:

1. Particulars are more important than generalizations.
2. Sensation is more important than "understanding."
3. Understanding is more important than explanation.
4. Meaning in life is more important than tension reduction.

Let us examine briefly each of the tenets in turn.


First, particulars or specifics are more valued than generalizations. All third force psychologies seek the preservation of individuality in a world increasingly dominated by conformity. Theirs is a war against the Philistines.

One of the dilemmas about this point of view, however, is the inconsistency between endorsing uniqueness and individual rights, as many current writers do. Persons cannot at the same time be both unique and equal, unless it is meant that all individuals are equal in their tendency to be unique. Thomas Henry Huxley said in 1890 that "the doctrine that all men are, in any sense or have been, at any time, free and equal, is an utterly baseless fiction. . . That all men are equal is a proposition to which, at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent (Evans, 1968, p. 205)." The current pleas for equality of education, job opportunities, etc., is really an affirmation that people are different; so different, in fact, that they are unique. The equality of uniqueness is a contradiction in terms, but suggests that each individual mirrors every other in his right to affirm his uniqueness, his individuality, his identity and, therefore, his freedom from group referents or prescribed standards of evaluation.

Nietzsche represents the third force point of view when he contends that the individual, not the group, is the norm. The individual seeks to control and to know himself; such is the Appollonian way of life. As Royce (Bugental, 1967) says, one is involved in life; he is not involved in abstractions from life. Being or doing is far more important than thinking or conceptualizing; sensing the particulars is more relevant than abstracting from life.

In Rank's Art and the Artist, the central idea is that art is a plastic expression of an idea or a group of ideas. The predominant concept in the history of man, about which art evolves, is that of a soul. The idea of a soul is based upon the concept of death. So the notion of death and man's mortality suggests the soul which, in turn, leads to art. Historically, art began as an abstract form and then became more concreted, leading closer to specifics and reality (Rank,, 1959, pp. 118f).


Next, we turn to the emphasis placed upon sensation, more of an Aristotelian rather than a Platonic point of view. Aristotle emphasized that reality was the world of sensation, that ideas and concepts were transformations of data from these sense organs. Plato said that ideas were more primary and more real.

Nietzsche believed that devotion to conceptualization kills action, and stated that sensation is more important than understanding. The student activists in the 1960's were saying the same thing: act, don't restrain with explanations. Both Dionysian man and Hamlet looked deeply into the nature of things. In so doing, they have understood; and they are, therefore, loath to act, suggests Nietzsche.

Leonardo da Vinci concurred. Skinner has cautioned against relying too heavily on intellectualization when he said, "at some point the organism must do more than create duplicates. It must see, hear, smell and so on, as forms of action rather than of reproduction." Reproduction, less valued, is secondary. To act, to create, to do, is primary. The artist constructs and creates; others just duplicate and reproduce. Even the photographer of today creates new forms; he does not just simply reproduce old images.


More important than explanation is understanding, which stresses the importance of fully grasping the total person or the whole event rather than searching for an underlying cause. Science frequently engages in mere verbal manipulations, explaining an event by saying it is the product of antecedent conditions. Most third force psychologists, suspicious of such analytic attempts, prefer to use all of one's intuitive forces to wholly "understand" rather than explain or predict.

Meaning. Meaning is preferred to tension reduction as an explanation for behavior. This tenet holds that a person does things because of goals that give meaning to life rather than because of tensions which are being reduced. The idea of tension reduction has been popular among those American psychologists who believe that behavior results from inner drives (needs, tensions) which seek reduction. These tension reductions presumably reinforce or stamp in the tendency to make the same response the next time the tension occurs. But such a theory has been under sharp criticism by the more tender minded third force psychologists who find this point of view too mechanistic and animalistic. They prefer to reintroduce a more "human" factor (e.g., "meaning") into the theoretical system. They maintain that people do things because such actions are consistent with one's own conceptual world view, not because impersonal mechanical conditions push or pull behavior.

Before continuing to Module 2, complete the Progress Check for Module 1.

Third Force Psychology

1. The term third force psychology was coined by Otto Rank.

2. Third force psychology is so named because there are three fields -- humanism, phenomenology, and existentialism.

3. The term third force psychology refers to the three fields of humanism, phenomenology, and existentialism.

4. The term third force refers to the third force, of which the other two are Gestalt psychology and behaviorism.

5. All three fields in third force psychology claim that humans possess unique qualities which are uniquely different from other parts of nature.

6. Third force psychology is based on a materialistic philosophy.

7. Phenomenology, more than the other fields, refers to a method or an approach to studying human behavior.

8. An existential approach is one that recommends a particular view about reality (it provides an ontological answer).

9. Koch had suggested that psychology was a third force between art and technology.

10. Maslow, in disagreement with behaviorism and psychoanalytic theory, claims that humans are influenced more by their past.

11. Phenomenology is the most general of the three fields because it includes both some experimentalists and clinicians in advocating that one needs to understand a person's perception in order to understand their behavior.

12. Third force psychology tends to advocate a Lockean point of view.

13. The emphasis upon particulars, rather than generalizations, suggests that humans should be considered as unique rather than as collections of persons.

14. Nietzsche maintained that one should be more involved in thinking and conceptualizing rather than acting or sensing.

15. Sensing and feeling is closer to the Aristotelian than to the Platonic way of life.

16. Understanding and intuiting is more important than explaining and predicting.

17. Persons do things because it reduces tension (i.e., reduces drives and needs), according to third force psychology.


Unit 9 Table of Contents

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