Clare Graves

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Contextual Quote

"Within a systems conception, it becomes possible to integrate everything that has been put down in the literature about human behavior. Within this perspective there is no argument about which theory is "correct"-they all are. The task, instead, is to study how they all are correct and the relationships among them. It is the intent of this theory to take confusing and contradictory information in the field of behavioral science and make sense of it all."

- Clare Graves [1]

Clare Graves on the Spiral Process of psycho-spiritual development

“Briefly what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiralling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower order behavioural systems to newer, higher-order systems as an individual’s existential problems change. Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other stages of being. When the human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology which is particular to that state. His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, belief system, conception of mental health, ideas to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, conceptions of and preferences for management, education, economics, political theory and practice are all appropriate to that stage”

— Clare Graves [2]

The “Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of Adult BioPsychoSocial Systems Development”.

“I am not saying in this conception of adult behaviour that one style of being, one form of human existence is inevitably and in all circumstances superior to or better than another form of human existence, another style of being.

What I am saying is that when one form of being is more congruent with the realities of existence, then it is the better form of living, for those realities. And what I am saying is that when one form of existence ceases to be functional for the realities of existence then some other form, either higher or lower in the hierarchy, is the better style of living.

I do suggest, however, and this I deeply believe is so, that for the overall welfare of total man’s existence in the world, over the long run of time, higher levels are better than lower levels, and that the prime good of any society’s governing figures should be to promote human movement up the levels of human existence.”

- Dr Clare W Graves [3]

There's No Such Thing as Psychological Health

Graves wrote.

"In 1959 I got the shock of my life. When this express self but not at the expense of others (which is very much like Maslow's Self-Actualizing man, Rogers's Fully Functioning Person, etc.) person was studied again, [some of them] began to deny that that was a healthy human being. I had people show up who said that they used to believe that this was a healthy human being, but that they no longer believed it. In other words, I had a new category, a new description of healthy human behavior, a new conception, appear in the midst of the work.

If you think ahead a little bit, this really created a tremendous problem because the "fully functioning person", is this the healthy person? The "self-actualizing person is this the healthy person? In other words, Rogers and Maslow conceived of the healthy human being as the end, an ultimately achievable state of being which some could hope to attain.

What are you going to do when your data says that this state (which is the 'healthy' human being) is a state that some people begin to cast aside. This opens up the idea that psychological health is a process, and not a state of being or set of behaviors. And that there isn't any such thing as psychological health, [for] it is an illusion, and we have to begin to think along that line if we are going to understand human behavior."

- Clare Graves [4]


* Book: The Never Ending Quest. By Clare Graves.


"The book which Clare W. Grave was working on when his health failed and he was forced to curtail writing. We are making the chapters he had completed on the theory, his research, verification, and implications available for study. In addition, the editors (Christopher Cowan and Natasha Todorovic) have reconstructed the missing middle section covering details of the levels of existence from Dr. Graves's other writings and from audio recordings of him discussing the work in presentations and seminars."

* Book: Clare W. Graves: Levels of Human Existence.


" ... a new transcription of recorded notes by William R. Lee from Dr. Graves's presentation at the Washington School of Psychiatry, 1971, with handout materials, diagrams, and data summary. Also, an authorized reprint of the classic 1970 Journal of Humanistic Psychology article, "Levels of Existence: An Open Systems Theory of Values" (not available electronically)."

More at : Clare Graves on his Levels of Existence Psychology ; Graves’s Double Helix Theory


William R. Lee:

I. Beginnings-The Reason for the Research

"In 1952 Clare W. Graves found he could not go back to the classroom and be a referee in the conflict over whose theory was correct on any given issue. He'd "had it" with psychology as it was, and knew that he either had to reframe the problem or abandon the field. His primary area of concern for research was "the confusion and contradiction, the conflict and controversy" in psychological information and theory. It was his sense that the behavioral sciences were in a mess, and that there was a need for rational order to emerge from the chaos.

The first step toward a solution was to find a means through which to study the area of concern. This meant time, facilities, finding the opportunity, and the constraints imposed by one man's lifetime. After considering many possibilities, he decided that...

"If I took some area of human behavior about which there is confusion, one in which there is a great deal of controversy and one in which the different points of view conflicted with one another, that possibly I could begin to get the kind of information with which I was concerned."

The area he chose for investigation was "what a group of human beings just like you would say is the psychologically healthy human being in operation." He knew going in that there would be conflicts about just what a healthy human being is. It was these very conflicts that were to serve as Graves's vehicle into the realm of conflict, controversy, and confusion which he was concerned.

II. The Initial Queries

1. Can one substantiate that conflict and contradiction, confusion and controversy are represented in conceptions of psychological health?

2. What are the conceptions of psychological health extant in the minds of biologically mature human beings? [Graves's model is based on male and female adults, aged 18-61 years]

3. Do the concepts which exist suggest that psychological health should be viewed (a) as a state or condition or (b) as a psychological process?

"Some people thought that there was that thing, that something, that one could call psychological health and that, in theory, one could think of the time in the future when we would be able to put down on paper what is the psychologically healthy human being. At the same time, I thought while it is possible that this is not so, it may not be a state or condition-it may be a process."

4. What is the essential nature of psychological health if it is a state or condition?

"If psychological health is revealed to be a state or condition, can our state of confusion and controversy become, in theory, comprehensible and resolvable by clarifying what is that state which is psychological health?"

5. What is the nature of the process of psychological health if the basic research indicates that it should be viewed thus?

"If psychological health is revealed to be a process can we, in theory, develop a comprehension of the process that will clarify the troubling confusion and contradiction and, in theory, propose means for the resolution of those befuddlement's in psychological information and theory and the world of human affairs?"

III. The Research Questions

The general questions above were refined and formulated into a set of research questions. These were to generate the data upon which the general theory is built.

1. How do biologically mature human beings conceive of what is the healthy personality?

2. Do biologically mature humans have, basically, one major identifiable conception of what is the psychologically healthy adult?

3. Do biologically mature humans have more than one conception of what is the healthy personality?

4. If adults have several conceptions of healthy personality, are the conceptions classifiable into groups of similar conceptions?

5. If the various conceptions are classifiable, how can they be classified?

    a. by content
    b. structurally 
    c. functionally [Do people who possess the same or similar
        conceptions operate the same or differently in similar or dissimilar
        situations, etc.?]

6. Will there be evidence that some one conception of healthy personality stands out as superior to other conceptions? To synthesize the issue, Graves's basic research question was:

What will be the nature and character of conceptions of psychological health of biologically mature human beings who are intelligent, but relatively unsophisticated in psychological knowledge in general, and in personality theory in particular?"


More information

Influenced by Clare Graves:

Selected Links to People and Groups Applying Dr. Graves' Theory

William R. Lee [email protected]

National Values Center Consulting Chris Cowan & Natasha Todorovic and

The Spiral Dynamics Group, Inc. Dr. Don Beck

Value Systems Analysis and the That's Life System Vincent S. Flowers and Debra Heflich Flowers

Brain Technologies Corporation Dudley and Sherry Lynch

Center for Values Research Dr. Charles L. Hughes

Transformations Incorporated Dr. Jim Morningstar