Philosophers on Human Nature

Philosophers About Human Nature

Philosophers all over the world have always had hot debates over the issue of the fundamental human nature. Some of them, like John Locke, thought that people were born as a blank state, but they are willing and able to do good things (Locke, 1959). However, there were opposite opinions, and other philosophers believed that human nature was evil and tainted. Unfortunately, this opinion seems to be more realistic. It can be seen in the society and from the history that people constantly go against social rules, arrange wars and bloody revolutions, have evil intentions, hurt others, and lie. Most humans think only about themselves and their personal benefit. The today’s level of violence in the world, racism, and other social issues prove this fact. However, this is not just a product of civilization, as the examples of corrupted human nature can be seen in any part of the history, including the Stone Age. Wars and invasions have been taking place in all ages, and one can hardly find even a single year when there were no wars somewhere on earth. This essay explores the idea that human nature is based on self-interest and does not imply self-sacrificial care for others.

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In the 20th century there were many experiments held by professional psychologists to understand whether human nature is good or evil. One of them, known as the Milgram experiment, showed shocking results (Levine, 2004). It was held to check whether people working in concentration camps during the Holocaust were just following orders of their superiors. Each subject of the experiment was given a role of a Teacher who had to ask a Student (a research assistant) a series of questions (Levine, 2004).

If the Student’s answer was wrong, the Teacher had to administer an electric shock beginning with 15 volts and reaching 450 volts. An Instructor who was sitting next to the Teacher urged him to continue even when the electric shock reached a dangerous mark. Astonishingly, 65 percent of participants reached the end of the experiment and did not stop even when the Student cried demanding to be released (Levine, 2004). The experiment has been repeated several times since then and showed consistent results. The obedience of its participants proves that people are able to do horrible things if someone in the state of authority orders them to do so, despite the sufferings of anyone involved.

Thomas Hobbes is an English philosopher and the author of Leviathan. He states that all humans are equal by nature in their bodies and minds (Hobbes, 1994). The philosopher also claims that every person is naturally willing to fight another one to gain benefits (Hobbes, 1994). Therefore, if people were left with no control, they would behave in accordance with their true nature – steal, kill, and lie. Hobbes emphasizes that in fear and danger of death a person becomes nasty and brutal to preserve one’s life (Hobbes, 1994). Therefore, according to Hobbes, civil society can exist only with the presence and suppression of the state powers (Hobbes, 1994).

Xunzi, a Chinese philosopher, stated that humans have natural tendencies towards “waywardness” (Bary, Bloom & Adler, 1999). They want to gain benefits and are prone to jealousy and hatred (Bary, Bloom & Adler, 1999). If one indulges in these negative emotions, he or she may become a criminal. A person reverts to violence by blindly following his nature (Bary, Bloom & Adler, 1999).

However, people still have a fundamental capacity to become good, which derives from conscious activities. The philosopher claims that all sage kings were aware of this evil nature of man and developed regulations to help people overcome it and attain morality and modesty (Bary, Bloom & Adler, 1999). Thus, according to Xunzi, an example and guidance of a teacher in implementing certain rituals on the way to righteousness is essential. Due to this fact, teachers and sages, as well as the rituals and regulations they teach, must be respected (Bary, Bloom & Adler, 1999).


History shows that human nature is indeed evil. However, this does not mean that people cannot perform good actions. However, one has to work hard to be good, since it is difficult to forget about own benefits and act selflessly. Nevertheless, good actions are always rewarded, and people should remember that overcoming their evil nature will bring them even more benefits in the long run. Moral and righteous acts will make a person genuinely happy and satisfied with his or her life.

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