Thursday, July 12, 2012

Human Nature

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Human Nature

It is a very difficult thing to say that there is or isn’t a universal human nature. As it is not an exact science, human nature has been defined by theories set forth by philosophers and psychologists such as William Golding, Freud, and Nietzsche. These theories are based on the observations of humankind throughout history, and social or scientific experiments designed to ascertain some aspect of human nature. I am of the opinion that there is a human nature within us all that is evident from historical reference and from my own view of the world around me. The question of whether human nature is fixed or alterable has also been an issue of debate for philosophers. I feel that human nature is fixed to a certain degree based on the history of humankind over the last three thousand years. The theories of philosophers and psychologists have influenced my opinion in that, while their theories are different, they have many similarities. These similarities serve to push their way toward defining the universal nature of humankind.

Over time humankind has evolved into the most sophisticated species on our planet. Throughout the course of history new inventions and ideas have been developed, but does that mean that human nature has changed? As I have stated, I believe there is a human nature. Analyzing the actions of people over the course of time can show this. There have been many similarities in the way people have acted according to circumstances, even over the separation of thousands of years. Our history has been marred by tyrants and crooks more so than great heroes on a quest for power and riches. These range across the scope of time, from Oliver Cromwell and King Edward the First of England to Josef Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Each of these had their own violent methods to achieve their goals. Importantly, all of them were after power, which says something about human nature. This can be related to the 17th century philosopher Tomas Hobbes’ theory of realising desires. Hobbes’ theory, that for one to realise their desires they must become powerful, is effective at explaining this aspect of human nature. People want the objects of the desires and will be prepared to gain power to achieve them.

Agencies, whose goals are and were devoted to moral causes, such as aiding the needy, have too been subject to the corruption that is inbred in human nature. The Roman Catholic Church has long been a bastion of support for the needy and a keeper of knowledge and morality. Nonetheless it has had strings of bad times from the Middle Ages to present day involving the weakness of human nature. During the Middle Ages and on, the church gained much wealth and the Bishops and Cardinals had palaces and many riches whilst those outside had little. The Bishops and Cardinals seemed to care only for their own gains, using the religion as protection from the masses that were poor and sometimes starving. The church’s teaching of giving goods to the poor went out the window in favour of preaching about service to the church or an eternity in hell.

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Morality and conscience is another of the similarities shared by people over time and throughout the world. The sense of morality has almost always been around and can therefore be noted as a part of human nature. Different cultures all over the world, before the advent of globalised communication, all had their own moral structures, which were very similar. Basic rules based on morality have been evident since the laws of Hammurabi, rules against murder, adultery and theft to name but a few. Before the advent of the Christian Church, which spread a new wave of morality over most of the world, morality still had a place in human nature, morality has clearly been shown in human nature. A counter argument to morality being a part of human nature is the concept of morality being something taught to children by their parents and teachers. So instead of morality and conscience being inbred into human nature it is a learned attribute. I disagree with this for the reason that similar moralities have erupted over different cultures without consultation from one another.

Hobbes didn’t have much time for morality in his writing. He preferred the view of collective rationalisation; the notion of following what is generally useful for society. Hobbes makes a good point about human nature with his collective rationalisation; if people decide not to follow this notion, those who do are at a disadvantage. Whilst I believe in morality and conscience, the concept of collective rationalisation is more based on society rather than conscience. Hobbes’ theories were very much based on the individual and finding the individual’s desires, therefore, the subject of morality involving other people does not garner any importance. Other people are to be used to gain the individuals’ own ends according to Hobbes. He saw human nature as a quest to achieve the ultimate desires of the individual whereas I believe that morality and other people play very important parts in human nature.

Human nature has not changed a great deal over time and I don’t think it will. The things people do or perceive may change but not the overall nature of reactions to these things. New ideas and inventions have not yet influenced human nature to a great level. Karl Marx wrote in his Communist Manifesto that human society would evolve in four separate epochs; slavery, serfdom, capitalism and finally communism. His utopian ideas do not accept human nature but rather the change of human society. In hindsight, Marx’s theory of an equal society run by the proletariat was realised because of our human nature. In order for Marx’s theory to work a major change in human nature would be required not just a shift in perception to realise a change for the greater good.

A universal human nature exists, however loosely. It is not fixed as but can not be greatly changed. In the future small changes may occur in human nature but it will remain within the boundaries it has been throughout time. Although many philosophers have painted a rather bleak picture of human nature and picked the weaknesses in humanity, there is always a side to it that is not so evil. The bleak picture shown over time is a reminder of our nature and what can result from it, but it does not mean our universal nature is a bad one.

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