Introduction Throughout history the debate has always arisen about what is human nature. Is it in our nature to be good or is it our nature to be evil? Many philosophers have joined the debate taking stances on either end of the spectrum, while some try to pose alternative answers. Thomas Hobbes believes man’s nature to be bad. He claims humans to be naturally selfish, like animals we are driven by our own passions. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. believed that man is naturally good. They believe man’s nature to be a state of harmony but instead evil results from people’s ignorance.
Through the intellectual discourses of philosophers many convincing points have been made about the essence of human nature. However, despite their valid points, none have managed to create a sound argument for their belief over other proposed beliefs. Body 1- Human Nature is Bad In Thomas Hobbes state of nature all men are equal and are able to act freely for there is no formal government in place to curb human actions. However, with no government or superior power in place, there are no consequences for any actions that people perform.
Hobbes believes that because man is naturally bad, when in his natural state he will act greedily and selfish. People will do as they please to satisfy their own needs and desires; including stealing from, or killing others. Hobbes classifies man’s natural state as being in a state of war; one in which men are all trying to kill one another for their own personal gains and survival. In this climate of chaos there are no structured goals, but what drives everyone is fear. The fear of not being able to eat will drive man to fight with one another for their food and nourishment.
Then the fear of being attacked by someone and possibly killed will drive man to protect themselves by fighting people first. They will also fight others to set an example and hopefully scare off future potential threats. As a result of this “war of every one against every one… every person’s life in this natural state would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, p. 283). Hobbes believes that Man’s nature of evilness will be the cause of his eventual destruction. He claims that the only means to combat this is to have a sovereign rule that can adjudicate and suppress man’s evil tendencies.
Man is incapable of being good on his own and needs an authoritarian ruler to control his actions for the betterment of society. Xunzi Body 2 – Human Nature is Good In Mohandas Gandhi’s “Ghandi’s Message to All Men” he describes humans natural state to be one of harmony and peace. Ghandi, and avid teacher for peace believed that we should never stoop to involvement in violence. “I object to violence because, when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent” (Ghandi, p. 413). Your means creates your end, so by using violence, your end result will be destined to be inclusive of violence as well.
If you kill hundreds of people to prove a point, then in the future when someone else wants to prove a point they too shall kill hundreds of people. Violence begets violence and a different method is needed to prevent the ignition of future violence. Instead of trying to destroy your enemies, Ghandi proposes that we convert them to peaceful ways by returning their evil with good. He believes this forgiveness to be for those that are brave, and that this message of nonviolence commands respect and will eventually prove successful.
“If we take care of the means we are bound to reach the end sooner or later” (Ghandi, p. 413). Ghandi believes man to be capable of performing such acts of love towards mankind because our natural state is harmony and peace. He believes everyone to be capable but it just needs to be brought out of the individuals. “It is when the mass mind is unnaturally influenced by wicked men that the mass of mankind commit violence. But they forget it as quickly as they commit it because they return to their peaceful nature immediately the evil influence of the directing mind has been removed” (Ghandi, p. 414).
When we are convinced that we are in competition with others our mind devises means of combating the individual and capitalizing on their weaknesses. However, when we are no longer in competition we no longer have an insidious view of the individual. Ghandi preaches “Swaraj” which is self-rule. Through educating the masses ignorance can be combated and this will allow individuals to have control and act peacefully instead of violently. Martin Luther King Jr. , another advocate for peace shares similar sentiments with Ghandi. He too believes that man is naturally good and that through peaceful acts man can overcome.
King, one of the leading activists of the Civil Rights Movement tried to combat racial oppression with peaceful protests. He advocated for non-violent acts such as boycotts, sit-ins, and marches; meanwhile his protestors and other African Americans were getting, beaten, hosed, and attacked by dogs. He believed that peace was natural and essential for society to prosper. It is when society is ignorant and being misled that we stray away from our peaceful ways. “I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.
Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood” (King, p. 2). It was by this philosophy that Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to enlighten racist whites. He believed that all men were capable of reaching a state of peace for it was in man’s nature.
Just like Ghandi, King believed that using acts of peace would be the only way of getting people back to their original peaceful states. Body 3 – Human Nature is a Choice Made Jean-Paul Sartre, a profound philosopher of existentialism argues that there is no human nature but instead just free choice. He believes that human existence precedes essence, and it is from experiences that man sculpts his essence. Man is born free into the world; however “he is responsible for the world and himself as a way of being” (Sartre, p. 519). Man is solely responsible because he makes his own decisions.
Even when pressured by others the final choice always remains with a man of whether to comply or not. Through the choices man makes he will acquire various experiences that will sculpt and define who he is. Only after man has had these experiences in the world can he determine the position he stands in or the role he plays in the world. “It is therefore senseless to think of complaining since nothing foreign has decided what we feel, what we live, or what we are” (Sartre, p. 519). Man is the sole determinant of what he will experience and what he will be. Body 4 – Human Nature is a Social Construct.
The philosopher Karl Marx argues that human nature is more than a simple choice of being good or bad. Choices are made by the individuals but then an expectation is created by the majority of the society. Marx believes that for society to coexist the individuals must come together and form a social contract. This will outline rules for governing amongst the people and dictate what is acceptable or punishable. By forming this contract contract society forms an agreement, and as such its occupants agree to be like minded individuals as well. The manner by which people agree to live will influence and determine the way their mind operates.
“Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. ” (Marx, p. 186). The joint society is what forms the nature of the people. Not only does it determine the nature of the current occupants of society, but also for the future generations to follow. Through forming a social contract traditions are made in the society. The new generations will be taught the history and rules of the social contract and this will become an internalized reality for them. They will act as those before them acted and this will identify human nature for that new generation.
This cycle will continue and the society will have determined the human nature of the people. Antonio Gramsci shared a similar belief to Marx. He argued that human nature is historically constructed. Beliefs agreed upon and taught will beget the future and become intrinsic to newer generations. So for this reason there isn’t a set simple definition of human nature, but rather that it is a reflection of its surroundings. “Human nature is a complex of human relations… man becomes, (and) changes himself continually with the changing of social relations” (Gramsci, p397).
Things of nature are not constant, so as a result man is apt to change. Sign of man changing are seen synonymously throughout history as history changes over time as well. Man’s relationship with others plays a significant role in who he becomes because his nature will be in contrast to those around him. “Human nature is not to be found in any one particular man but in the whole history of mankind, while in each single individual are found characteristics made distinct through their difference from the characteristics of other individuals” (Gramsci, p.397). Gramsci believes that human nature is bigger than any particular individual; instead it is a reflection of the current society.
Throughout history there are numerous revolutions, reformations and renaissances; these are all changes in history in which the view of human nature was altered. The state of society is what determines human nature. Body 5 – Human Nature is a Combination of All Four Theories Human nature is indefinable because it is relative to both the individuals of society as well as the time in reference.
Human nature is capable of being both good or bad, it is a matter of choice outlined in Marx’s social contract theory. However, although Gramsci correctly indicated that the past will influence the future, the future is still subject to change. New generations may be taught to live life a certain way, but once there is a disagreement with the teachings by a majority of society they are capable of forming a new social contract that addresses the needed change. This will then create a new definition of human nature for the following generation.