What’s The Nature Of Human Nature?

Modern life seems to impose an age of anxiety as we try to make sense of war and peace; pandemics and health; famines and feasts. Are we up to the challenge? Exploring human nature is a good start toward addressing that question.

Human nature has been unpackaged by both philosophers, scientists and just about anyone who has ever pondered the human condition. A primary philosophical debate might contrast three classical positions: original sin, innate goodness, and a blank slate

Original sin is a Christian doctrine arguing that human kind is innately sinful. The roots of our transgression are established in the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. On the other hand, in The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau asserted that we are all basically good. He praised nature while condemning much of so-called civil society. Lastly consider the blank slate. It is sometimes referred to as Tabula Rasa and attributed to the English philosopher, John Locke. Think of it as a fresh mind, with no preconceptions.

So what do you think? Are we humans born basically good, bad, or “blank”? Many would argue that we are hopelessly bad. Human history after all is replete with destruction, violence and warfare. On the other hand, our history is also filled with examples of kindness, bravery and cooperation.

Given these divergent philosophical views, its encouraging to note that recent research promotes the notion that we are basically good. A summary of studies related to altruism was published in Scientific American where the author concluded that we are a “cooperative species” with a capacity to give for the welfare of others. And, from
a developmental view, other cleverly designed research suggests that newborns prefer goodness from the start!

Finally, it might be worth considering that we all possess a dual (good and bad) nature. From this premise, each of us has the capacity for good and evil, and our environments, intentions and actions promote one or the other. For example, the more we behave selfishly the more adept we become at that. And the more we behave altruistically, the better we get at that too!

Dr. Robert Fettgather holds a PhD in psychology, master’s degrees in psychology and special education, and a bachelor of arts in psychology.

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Robert Fettgather

Dr. Robert Fettgather holds a PhD in psychology, master’s degrees in psychology and special education, and a bachelor of arts in psychology.