Monday, February 2, 2009

Human Nature

Are we evil? Are we good? Are we selfish? We've read all sorts of philosophies about human nature - which ones do you agree with?

22 comments:

puddlewonderful said...

Andrew! After hearing Doc's mini-philippic on how human nature isn't an apt term because there is no such thing as a basic and universal human nature, you still created this topic?

Being both an avid postmodernist and a disciple of Our Lord and Savior Doctor Mooney, I must assert that there is no such thing as "human nature." People are far too different and complex for such basic blanket statements.

Dean Elazab said...

i think that we are inadvertly selfish, and that anyone will resort to evil things to preserves one life. Morals and teachings help us suppress these feelings.

jp said...

I think that while it's not possible to make a gross unifying generalization about the nature of all humans, I think we do nevertheless have more in common with each other than not.

As an easy example, I would say all "normal" human beings want to be loved and accepted on some level. (The all-knowing Wikipedia uses the same "normal" qualifier for its definition of human nature as well, so I think this distinction is fair.)

Is that part of "human nature"? I don't know. I think it's meaningless to argue semantics though - the point is that there are some things that all well-adjusted human beings like and want, as well as things that they dislike and try to avoid. Call it whatever you want.

Ehren said...

Yes, I agree wih John. I do think most/all humans have things in common concerning their wants/needs. For example, I agree that most people are selfish to a certain extent. Is ther really such a thing as true, pure altruism? Don't people choose to do what behooves them to a certain degree? I also think humans have a certain predictability to their behavior/emotions that qualifies as "human nature."

jp said...

Ehren -

I think that often the people who act the most selflessly are ironically the most selfish people of all. They do selfless things not to enrich the lives of others, but rather for the ego and character boost of thinking to themselves "I am helping others... I am such a good person! If only other people could be as great as me, then the world would just be perfect."

These are the same people who make sure you know they're selfless and altruistic, dropping references in normal conversation to all the service projects and causes to which they devote their time.

Helping other people should make you feel good - it's a good thing to do. But just because you help others, doesn't mean you're not selfish. And hey - there's nothing wrong with selfishness.

Maybe it's even part of our nature.

puddlewonderful said...

There's nothing wrong with selfishness, I think, if it doesn't hurt other people.

However, John, I disagree with your analysis of how "selfless" people are selfish. I would posit that many "selfless" people are not selfish in the way that you describe. They don't do it for the assertion of moral superiority. There are a lot of people who do service and don't make deliberate mention of it, people who don't seek recognition for their good deeds. There may, however, be another sort of selfishness involved; I think that those people do it for the gratification of helping others. It is an altruistic gratification, and one perhaps somewhat connected to pride, but the pride of being able to give, not the pride of superiority. It is the pride of knowing that you have done something good, of feeling you have made a difference, of, yes, feeling good about yourself. True, it is a selfishness, but not the wicked, snobby, selfishness you so cynically describe. I would go so far as to call it a positive selfishness-- a selfishness behind so many (if not all) positive and generous acts towards others.

I suppose in the process of arguing with you, John, I agreed with you more than I expected. My problem is more with your cynical interpretation of our "natural" selfishness than your implication that selfishness motivates all actions (even the seemingly altruistic ones). You also seem to imply that our selfishness is conscious and intentional-- I doubt most people realize that. In fact, they probably truly believe they are being selfless.

Overall, though, you make an interesting point-- one I think very much worth further probing. (From an evolutionary perspective, how does this selfishness help or hurt? How does selfishness motivate all or most actions?) But I will spare you all my extra thoughts; I've already written more than you'll read.

puddlewonderful said...

TLDR version:

People aren't motivated to "good deeds" or altruism by the selfishness of feeling superior, but the (selfish) desire for pride-- the pride of knowing that they've done good, helped people, been able to give. This is a less cynical take on John's implicit assumption that all actions are motivated by selfishness. Furthermore, these selfish motivations are usually not conscious.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

I firmly believe that human nature is selfish [because of the fight for resouces] and cruel [because you can show no mercy when obtaining those resources]. However, when these traits were necessary, we were not evil, in and of itself. But in "modern" times, these traits are no longer necessary for survival, so now these traits are considered "evil." Therefore, I beleive that in this sense of the term we are evil.

puddlewonderful said...

I disagree, Nussdorf. I think charity is something that was also necessary in evolutionary development. If we have instincts of care and charity toward each other, we can survive as a community when things get rough. When individuals provide mutual aid to each other, they all usually benefit. When I said that I thought all actions might be selfishly motivated, I only meant that, as humans evolved, they learned to feel good when they helped each other, so they would be motivated to do so, and thrive as a community.

But really, analyzing human nature, again, I think, is so futile. We're too complex, and too diverse! I feel like I'm simplifying everything to a criminal extent.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

Michelle, I politely disagree with your last statement because I think that "human nature" can be distilled down to this: 'we do what maximizes our happiness, pleasure and comfort, while we minimize what is harmful, discomforting and displeasuring, at a personal level.' I think that all behaviors which humans do fulfill that statement.

Mr. Plainview said...

I don't think there is any standard human behavior--either in the habit itself or the process through which one acquires these habits. The only thing we truly have in common with each other is that the sperm met the egg. We can classify ourselves as humans. This is the only thing with no exceptions. Nationalities and social classes are both constructs. One can claim they were born in the United States and is therefore an American citizen. What difference does this make? He was born on the earth just like the rest of us. The piece of land on which he was born is just a piece of land. Man made it the "United States." Each person is molded by his experiences. No two people can have the exact same experiences.

tmichals said...

While I do agree with Nussdorf's comment on that being the basis of human nature, I feel that it is not a complete description. Human nature is so complex, depending on everyone's own personal situations, and cannot be summed up into a phrase or generalized by a simple description. Like Ehren said, experiences form one's own personal nature. And to go along with John's suggestion, I do not feel that selflessness is always selfish. In fact, it somewhat bothers me when people suggest that those doing good deeds only do it for themselves. However, I do agree that there are certain people and certain situations who do good deeds in a selfish manner instead of a selfless one.

Stephen said...

One things I remember that Doc mentioned in class was that we cannot generally categorize human nature to apply to everyone. I do not know if that is necessarily true or not. I believe that for the most part, human nature forces us to act in a way that most benefits ourselves,however, we are perfectly capable of helping others.

ndepass said...

I agree with michelle that you cannot classify all people as either good or evil because people are so different. Yes, most people are all selfish but looking out for yourself should not be considered as a "bad" selfish because that is how you are brought up and taught to be. Because is everyone else is selfish you are going to have to look out for youself because no one else is going to look out for you. But some people are selfish in a bad way but for all those bad people, there are many truly good people.

Dean Elazab said...

While nick said that is how you are brought up, that is agaisnt human nature. teachings can change how you act and that removes you from your basic instincts. I think that johns idea of the pride in doing selfless acts is also true. High schoolers say they are doing all these service projects for good, but you know that college acceptance is a huge factor in that.

jp said...

To clarify for Michelle or anyone else who might've misinterpreted what I wrote: I'm not condemning charity, or saying that all people who help others are selfish, evil beings who eat babies. There are lots of people who help others for lots of sincere reasons - and there's nothing wrong with feeling good about making somebody else's life a little better.

My point was in response to what Ehren asked about there being such a thing as "true, pure altruism." Helping others is always a good thing, but it is not always a perfectly selfless act. And people who help others are not suddenly free from selfishness; we're all at least a little selfish, whether we like it or not. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing - we probably wouldn't be here today if our ancestors weren't a little selfish.

tl;dr helping others is sometimes but not always selfish, we're all a little selfish but that's ok

bballinsupasta said...

i feel that most service is performed out of a general want to better the world. sure, i think that some people are motivated to do good for selfish reasons like getting into college, but in many other instances, people's sole motivation is to help another person. for instance, one time i was pumping gas for my mom when an old lady asked me to pump her gas because she wasn't strong enough to do it. i pumped gas for her, but i surely was not thinking about anything else but helping her.

Dean Elazab said...

While it is true what jane says, i think that might just be on a personal level. War, news, and traffic tickets can be seen as human nature that is evil. everything is a business. People go to war and while people die others get rich, news broadcast say they are here to inform you, but they only show stories that will attract viewers. Traffic tickets and red light cameras are said to help increase driving saftey, but governments have been using them to gain income and the companies who make them get money based off the amount of tickets. All of these are companies leeching off the society and not really doing what they are said.

Ehren said...

I think just because people are generally selfish doesn't necessarily mean that selfishness is a bad thing. As, i think, John brought up earlier, if we weren't selfish to some extent we might not be able to survive. Selfishness in some ways promotes survival, and all beings want to survive. But sure, selfishness can sometimes be a little unnecessary... pushing that old lady down a flight of stairs during Christmas season to get that last Tickle Me Elmo is kinda over the top.

bballinsupasta said...

lol because of ehren's example. i do agree with john though that we must be a little selfish in order to survive, but i also think that nowadays it's not really that necessary since we have so many opportunities for things.

joel derby said...

I agree like animal nature, humans are driven to selfish acts because it is just survival instinct. People are driven to protect themselves and their family/spouses/friends because people are driven to succeed.

ndepass said...

i think humans are generally good and mean to do well but many stray away from that because of all the temptations in society and besides the mentally unstable, i think all humans want to and mean to be good but just dont achieve that and arent able to do that!