Is there or is there not human nature? For Charles Darwin the answer is no. Darwin was the first to introduce the concept of evolution. He believed that humans evolved from the ape and not in the image of God. Darwin contradicted Aristotle’s view that man has a purpose in life -to reason. For Darwin, man has no purpose.
According to Darwin, man began as one of a few species on this planet, fighting for survival. Man was better equipped with certain traits that allowed him to pass through the filters of natural selection. Man’s physical and intellectual traits allowed him to surpass all over species, thus becoming the greatest predator and severely diminishing the risk of man becoming another species prey. Mans climb to the top of the food chain illustrates the concept of the survival of the fittest. Darwin believed that struggle and competition were essential for the continued biological progress of mankind. He also believed that heredity and inheritance were important factors that needed to be considered in marriage and reproduction. A program called “eugenics” (Darwin 217) was established from the belief that legal and other necessary matters that need be taken are done so in order to improve or protect the elite of the human population. This equates to the breeding of the best human possible.
Jean-Paul Sartre introduced the term Existentialism. The Existentialist theory of human nature stresses three characteristics: individual existence, individual freedom and choice. Due to man’s ability to create his own nature, there is no one human nature shared by all. Existentialism believes that man exists with no specific purpose. Sartre “denies that human beings have any fixed “essence” at all” (Sartre 241). Because of this lack of essence man is forced create his own nature through free, responsible choices and actions. However, man must be aware of the choices he makes and take full responsibility for his actions, beliefs, feelings and attitudes whether they are right or wrong. “No matter what we choose we cannot escape responsibility for our choice and guilt for the consequences” (Sartre notes) For Sartre, “existence precedes essence (243). Man exists, man lives, and man makes choices. It’s through these choices and living that man defines who and what he is. In the end, “the existential vision of the human condition is tragic, but it is not pessimistic” (notes).
John Locke’s philosophy is that human reason and emotion are the right tools to solve problems confronting mankind. Locke’s theory of human nature is a simple one; man likes happiness and dislikes unhappiness. Locke denies that man is born neither good nor bad. This theory contradicts the idealist theory that man is born good but is diverged from this goodness by negative influences in society. Locke believes that man is naturally reasonable and will set out to do what is best for him even if it invokes temporary pain or pleasure. He argues that man will naturally impose upon himself laws for his own good and for the good of society.
Thomas Hobbes is atomistic. He believes that man is born equal. By this he means, the bodies and mind of all men contain equal ability. Because all men posses equal ability they all hope to attain their highest hopes and dreams. Conflict is introduced when both men want something that neither can posses. This in-turn causes the men to turn on each other and seek to destroy or subdue the other in order to obtain the wanted item. According to Hobbes there are three principle causes of conflict in the nature of man: competition, diffidence (distrust) and glory. In human nature, competition is for gain, diffidence is for safety, and glory is for reputation. It is the competitive human nature that renders one to invade and destroy another in order to reach the highest goal. Man is a very competitive and selfish creature especially when his reputation is at stake. According to Hobbes, “man is not a social animal”
Like Darwin, Sigmund Freud’s theory of human nature was also based on biological factors rather than reasoning. Freud was the originator of psychodynamic personality theories. These theories were based on the assumption that “powerful inner forces shape personality and motivate behavior” (Psychology and Life p.555). Sigmund Freud introduced us to the three components of human personality: id, ego and superego. The id is present at birth at contains everything that is inherited. The id is our social and biological instincts such as hunger, and thirst and our awareness of the outside world, our memory, perception and learning. The ego is developed to keep a balance between the id and the demands of reality. The ego “pursues pleasure and seeks to avoid un-pleasure” (Freud 231). The superego develops later on and in varying degrees. It is like a conscience and brings in values and morals that are learned from parents and society.
Freud had two methodological theories: the relationship between mind and matter and mind is a part of nature. The relationship between mind and matter basically states that without a brain there is no mind. According to Freud, the one thing we truly know is our own mental process or thoughts. Mind is a part of nature for Freud, means that the mind is natural, just like the body. Freud believed that every thought or idea was a random act and held some clues to a persons underlying mental health. “Nothing is irrelevant” (Freud notes). While formulating these theories Freud was strongly influenced by Darwin’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
Karl Marx, like Locke, basically has a positive view of human nature. Marx has three states of man. The first one is the natural man in a state of natural society. The second is the modern man who is alienated because of economic inequality. The third state of man is the fulfilled man in the communist society. Marx sees private property and its acquisition as the major problem corrupting society. Marx does not allow for the notion that man’s nature may be something other than perfect and naturally good. He cannot the accept the idea that capitalism may be a natural outgrowth of man’s human nature. Instead, Marx hopes to transform human selfishness into altruism by removing from man, the opportunity to have anything to be selfish over. Marx was an atheist and a materialist. He believed that religion was based on superstition or myths. His philosophy was that God is not separate from this world- that nothing exists but this world. If you asked Marx; “What is God?” His response would have been something like this; “God is something we made and we are not even aware we made it.” With Marx came the concept of alienation. Man’s sense of being cut off from his spiritual well being is alienation. The sense of not being whole, not knowing what is missing or why is alienation. The sense of something lacking is alienation. Alienation is all part of human conditioning and according to Marx, alienation is getting worse due to capitalism.
The Existentialist view is that man just exists, that he has no purpose. The Rational view of human nature is that man is a rational being whose reason should rule over his body, desires and emotions. The Greeks view on human nature is that only man has the ability to reason and understand the purpose of life, while the Judeo-Christian view is two fold: to love and serve God. These two purposes are open to all mankind no matter what level of understanding they may possess. In the Christian view, those who refuse to love and serve god are committing the greatest sin. St. Augustine emphasized the notion of a will. Man’s will is the ability to choose between good and evil. Like Plato, Augustine believed that there are desires and appetites that weigh man down everyday but through faith in God man can overcome these desires and develop the ability to reason. For Christians, the purpose of life is to achieve happiness by knowing God through reason. Which of these views is correct? If the Judeo-Christian view is right, how does one survive if he does not believe in or devote his life to God? If man believes in the Rational view of reason, isn’t it inevitable that aggression will always be the result from the constant suppression of ones desires? One might be inclined to agree with the Existentialist view on human nature; that man creates his own nature through the choices he makes every day of his life.