Desires and Needs

Review of: Human Desires and Their Fulfilment. By K. W. Monsarrat. (Pp. 270. 12s. 6d.) Liverpool: University Press. 1950.

British Medical Journal, 9 December 1950, 2: 1317

   It is a commonplace for the psychiatrist that while human beings have needs and desires and strive for their fulfilment they are very often mistaken about their needs, desire inappropriate satisfactions, and go the wrong way to obtain them. It is part of Mr. Monsarrat's task to expose these errors and to offer the means of correcting them; but as he starts from first principles a very large amount of ground is covered before he reaches his conclusions.

   The history of human modes of thought from a primitive vitalism through a belief in supernatural agencies to sophisticated and scientific thinking is surveyed. The author emphasizes the capacity of scientific, or analytical, thinking to provide meaningful answers, but points out its limitations. It is, in final analysis, invariably circular and never eliminates the subjective element. We can never know things in themselves but only their relations one to another and to ourselves. An examination of our basic knowledge of physics, biology, physiology, and psychology over several chapters shows that in every case we are concerned with relations and that the analytical view cannot take us further. But there are many other questions which seem to demand an answer. Some of them are inherently unanswerable and, on examination, based on a misconception ot what is knowable. But the whole world of values is also involved, and Mr. Monsarrat does not accept the view, which at present prevails among scientific men, that analytical, or scientific, thought is unable to help us here. Haphazard attempts to solve these problems are playing havoc with human relations at the present day. "Science has in its files clear and indisputable evidence that mutual assistance to balance has been throughout terrestrial history the one and only relation which has given equilibrium to collections of associated units on any plane." The doctrine of the necessity of conflict, with values in terms of power, as exhibited in the works of a number of philosophers, especially Hegel and Marx, is emphatically rejected; and what one might call the doctrine of love is held up, not only as appealing to a loftier view of the world, but, more importantly, as being scientifically well founded.

   This book is not easy reading. But the author is no doubt right, first that no thoughtful man can safely burke these issues, and secondly that science has somehow or other got to learn to handle in a logical and dispassionate way data in which values are involved. Some preliminary assumptions are inevitably involved. Mr. Monsarrat's definition of what constitutes a "higher" state is very similar to one recently proposed by Julian Huxley, and of a kind to appeal to biologists and medical men.