The Nature of Our Nature

 

In recent threads, there’s been some back and forth regarding Mankind’s nature and some… speculation as to how attitudes about it correlate with political ideology. I’ve my own theories on the matter, but I think more might be gained at this point from asking than guessing (differences tend to get exagerated in debates, so it’s sometimes best to take a step back and explore each other’s first principles). So, Ricochetti, here’s this morning’s assignment:

  1. Do you believe Mankind to be inherently good, wicked, or neither? Explain briefly.
  2. Which philosophers and/or theologians do you identify with on this subject (bonus points for providing a representative quote).
  3. How do your answers above inform your political philosophy?

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  1. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    My answers:

    1. Neither. I believe that human nature is inherently fallen; selfishness and sin are part of who we are, and any philosophy that fails to account for this (I’m looking at you, Jean-Jacques) is hopelessly naive and likely to bring great harm. Rules, traditions, and restraints are essential to creating good people and good society.

      That said, Humanity is capable of great things and we seem to — on the whole — be getting better at it. We can (and have) improved, sometimes through force, but more often by setting some basic rules and allowing people to flourish and explore as they see fit. Self-discipline and wisdom are difficult to maintain, but great things can be accomplished with them.

    2. Adam Smith rather nails it here fore me (disclosure: most of my exposure to smith is second-hand, something I intend to remedy):

      How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

    3. Hence, I consider myself a conservative libertarian.
    • #1
  2. No Caesar Thatcher
    No Caesar
    @NoCaesar

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:My answers:

    1. Neither. I believe that human nature is inherently fallen; selfishness and sin are part of who we are, and any philosophy that fails to account for this (I’m looking at you, Jean-Jacques) is hopelessly naive and likely to bring great harm. Rules, traditions, and restraints are essential to creating good people and good society.That said, Humanity is capable of great things and we seem to — on the whole — be getting better at it. We can (and have) improved, sometimes through force, but more often by setting some basic rules and allowing people to flourish and explore as they see fit. Self-discipline and wisdom are difficult to maintain, but great things can be accomplished with them.
    2. Adam Smith rather nails it here fore me (disclosure: most of my exposure to smith is second-hand, something I intend to remedy):

      How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

    3. Hence, I consider myself a conservative libertarian.

    Ditto.  I would add Martin Luther on the fallen nature of man.

    • #2
  3. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    No Caesar:

    Ditto. I would add Martin Luther on the fallen nature of man.

    See, Luther goes way too far in that direction for my taste. I believe in original sin — if only as a philosophical statement, rather than as a historical/theological one — but I don’t think we’re a constant disappointment to God in the way he did.

    • #3
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Man is a fallen creature made in the image of God.

    To call a creature, even a flawed one, made in God’s image inherently wicked would be blasphemy against God – it would be calling God’s image in us inherently wicked (and by extension God Himself inherently wicked). Yet we are fallen. Nothing is more obvious than that. So neither are we inherently good.

    The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”

    God raised Adam from the dust, gave Man a special capacity for moral choice. The rest of nature, cruel as it might be, can never rightfully be called sinful. But because Man does make moral choices, Man can be – and is.

    But even greater, perhaps, than Man’s wickedness is Man’s ignorance. Even if we were all saints, we would still need institutions like property rights and price-signals to organize who takes care of what in a decentralized fashion. Not only is no one virtuous enough to control everyone else, no one is omniscient enough. And for that reason, I primarily identify as libertarian, and only secondarily as conservative.

    • #4
  5. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Customs Man at Heathrow: Anything to declare, Sir?

    Jekyll and Hyde: Man has not evolved an inch from the primordial slime that spawned him.

    Customs Man at Heathrow: Very Good, Sir.

    • #5
  6. user_1008534 Member
    user_1008534
    @Ekosj

    To me, mankind is neither inherently good nor evil. Man is inherently LAZY. We are programed by evolution to conserve energy.

    I’ll offer the following from Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino’s character in Scent of a Woman):
    “I have come to crossroads in my life. And every time I knew – without exception I knew – which was the right path. But I never took it. And do you know why? Because it was too damned hard!”

    Which leads directly to the following simple moral philosophy espoused by a friend of mine:
    “When in any moral dilemma, the thing you least want to do is probably the thing you should do.”

    Man’s laziness explains the attraction of progressivism … The promise of something for nothing.

    But it also explains the success of free-market capitalism. It is the most effecient mechanism for providing us with all the stuff we want in order to properly laze about in comfort. All that ‘effecient’ this and that trumpeted by economists are really just a formalized way of saying “its the lazy man’s way to get” this or that.

    • #6
  7. user_88846 Member
    user_88846
    @MikeHubbard

    1)  Do you believe Mankind to be inherently good, wicked, or neither? 

    I believe that while people want to be good, we also do not want to work too hard at goodness.  We’re better at justifying our errors than correcting them.

    2) Which philosophers and/or theologians do you identify with on this subject?

    “Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” —St. Augustine

    “No one should be praised for his goodness if he has not strength enough to be wicked. All other goodness is but too often an idleness or powerlessness of will.” —La Rochefoucauld

    “[A]ll conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post. ” —Chesterton

    3) How do your answers above inform your political philosophy?

    I’m not particularly conservative, but I’m on the right. Libertarianism is an intellectual trap because it’s a rational political philosophy while people are predictably irrational. Governments are great a destruction, but LBJ’s Great Society and GWB’s Iraq Democracy demonstrated that they’re bad at nation building.

    • #7
  8. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey
    1. All 3
    2. Max Beerbohm – Zuleika Dobson Ch 9:

      You cannot make a man by standing a sheep on its hind-legs. But by standing a whole flock of sheep in that position you can make a crowd of men. If man were not a gregarious animal, the world might have achieved, by this time, some real progress towards civilization. Segregate him, and he is no fool. But let him loose among his fellows, and he is lost —- he becomes a unit in unreason.

    3. I see no way to segregate him so I hope only to pacify or frustrate his mob.
    • #8
  9. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Mankind is inherently good. We are born innocent, any evil we have or do is a learned ability. Someone taught us, either directly or by example.

    Genesis 1:27-28 And G-d created man in His own image, in the image of G-d created He him; male and female created He them. And G-d blessed them; and G-d said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, …

    This is the very first directive we received from G-d, so sexual knowledge could not have caused the fall of mankind. We are hard wired from the beginning of creation to reproduce ourselves. As is every living thing.

    My political philosophy: We are responsible for what we do, the choices we make, the path we chose to follow. The devil didn’t make me do it. Adversity can be conquered, and you can be a better person.

    My favorite prophet is Micah: Chapter 6:8 It hath been told thee, O man what is good, And what the Lord doth require of thee: Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy G-d.

    • #9
  10. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    1) People suck

    2) “People suck.” -Frank Soto

    3) I mostly avoid people.

    • #10
  11. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    It depends on what you mean by inherently. Some people are inherently predisposed to being good, some to bad. All make mistakes. All are flawed. But no one goes their whole life walking without tripping either. Nearly all can change with learning, just as one becomes better at math with practice.

    I don’t find the “men are fallen” language to be useful or intuitive. Men are men. They are differing amounts of desiring to be good or bad. There are also differing amount of natural states of happiness, but we don’t talk about being inherently happy or “men are saddened.”

    My intuition and experience informs my ideas of human nature but Michael Huemer and Bryan Caplan do the best job explaining my intuitions to me.

    … the risks of attacking your neighbors will normally greatly outweigh the potential benefits… most human beings are not sociopaths. Most care about others, particularly their family and friends. Most have both strong moral objections and strong negative feelings about violence and theft… The general game-theoretic principle is this: Equality of power breeds respect. No rational person wishes to enter violent conflict with others who are of equal strength to himself…. For these reasons, rational individuals fight only defensive battles.

    My ideas about human nature and morality inform everything about my political philosophy. Correct morality is discovered slowly over time. As it is discovered, people become convinced by it more easily and teach others and convince others. As it spreads it is practiced more and people become better at and more likely to make correct decisions. Once a critical mass is reached, the world will embody the logical conclusion of correct morality. Any stragglers will be browbeat into going along with it. The great thing is there’s not much to do besides talk to who will listen and wait, so there’s no political angst with the next election being do-or-die (this time we mean it, we are super super serious.)

    • #11
  12. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    • Do you believe Mankind to be inherently good, wicked, or neither? Explain briefly.
    • Which philosophers and/or theologians do you identify with on this subject (bonus points for providing a representative quote).
    • How do your answers above inform your political philosophy?

    1) Mankind is inherently self-interested. Without an upbringing that emphasizes long-term interests (including self-interest which extends beyond death) over short-term interests, that inherent self-interest manifests as wickedness. Therefore, the default position could be said to be wickedness.

    2) Jesus of Nazareth: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

    3) The ends justify the means, but the ultimate end cannot be achieved by wicked means.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    1. Fallen.  Imperfect, imperfectible, but therefore capable of improvement.

    2. Augustine, Luther, and Kierkegaard.

    O Holy Spirit, descent plentifully into my heart.  Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.

    – Augustine

    Pray, and let God worry.

    – Luther

    People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought that they seldom use.

    – Kierkegaard

    3. This would make me a conservative, one who figures that governments rarely solve problems, just change the parameters of them.  This usually leads to new problems, so the people seeking government solutions never have to worry a lack of things to mess with.

    • #13
  14. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Misthiocracy:

    2) Jesus of Nazareth: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

    Wales? :)

    • #14
  15. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I think my post initiated this issue, but good thread to pick this angle up.  I too have a conception of man as both great and noble and degenerate and flawed.  But it’s more than just that.  Man will gravitate toward his self interests depending on the boundaries established in his psyche.  If a culture allows certain behavior and it aligns with his self interest, then on a societal scope, huge numbers of people will determine that it is rational to perform those activities.  Self interest can be in a positive direction and it can be in a negative direction.  There is no predisposition.

    Sure, upbrining is critical to establishing those boundaries.  But good and proper upbrining is not universal and doesn’t take in any genetic predispositions such as the proclevity to addictions.  The trick then is to enact laws that shape the boundaries inside the culture while allowing for man to find his noble fulfillment, for lack of a better phrase.  You might think that the philosopher I’m about to quote is some Catholic or Christian theologian.  No, my conception of human nature goes back further:

    At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.
    -Aristotle

    Hold on for Part 2 (word count limit)

    • #15
  16. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Part 2 from above:

    Certainly Christianity built on that but flash forward a few hundred years to another secular person who actually put it into effect:

    Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.
    -Rudy Giuliani

    Oh yeah, if I didn’t say it above, when it comes to social and cultural issues I’m a traditional conservative.  Definitely not a Libertarian.

    • #16
  17. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.-Rudy Giuliani

    That may be the scariest quote I’ve ever heard.

    • #17
  18. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    No Caesar

    Ditto. I would add Martin Luther on the fallen nature of man.

    Martin Luther (and I assume the Calvinists too) is all fallen and very little if any noble.

    • #18
  19. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Tom Meyer, Ed.

    My answers:

    1. Neither. I believe that human nature is inherently fallen; selfishness and sin are part of who we are, and any philosophy that fails to account for this (I’m looking at you, Jean-Jacques) is hopelessly naive and likely to bring great harm. Rules, traditions, and restraints are essential to creating good people and good society.That said, Humanity is capable of great things and we seem to — on the whole — be getting better at it. We can (and have) improved, sometimes through force, but more often by setting some basic rules and allowing people to flourish and explore as they see fit. Self-discipline and wisdom are difficult to maintain, but great things can be accomplished with them.
    1. Adam Smith rather nails it here fore me (disclosure: most of my exposure to smith is second-hand, something I intend to remedy):
      How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
    1. Hence, I consider myself a conservative libertarian.

    Sounds like you’re more of a Libertarian when you think the self interest is positive for society and a conservative when it’s negative.  ;)  Actually that’s all I’m saying too, only we may disagree as to what is a positive and what is a negative.

    Edit: Had to correct my wording.

    • #19
  20. SPare Member
    SPare
    @SPare

    1.  I’ll go with the consensus on this one.  Fallen, but not inherently wicked.

    2.  Aristotle, and by extension, Aquinas.

    3.  Belief in objective truth, and that we should seek the good.  As the Left no longer believes in objective truth, and seeks power over the good, that leaves me on the Right.

    • #20
  21. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Manny:

    You might think that the philosopher I’m about to quote is some Catholic or Christian theologian. No, my conception of human nature goes back further:At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.
    -Aristotle

    I find it interesting that those conservatives most opposed to the idea of libertarians also tend to root their understanding of human nature in pre-Christian rather than simply Christian ideals. Overall, classicists seem to hate libertarians more than mere Christians do.

    Conversely, highly libertarian Christians, like Mollie Hemingway and DC McAllister, are so hotly attached to a specifically Christian notion of humanity that they burn right through the pre-Christian tropes of the classicists.

    • #21
  22. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Manny:

    You might think that the philosopher I’m about to quote is some Catholic or Christian theologian. No, my conception of human nature goes back further:At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.
    -Aristotle

    I find it interesting that those conservatives most opposed to the idea of libertarians also tend to root their understanding of human nature in pre-Christian rather than simply Christian ideals. Overall, classicists seem to hate libertarians more than mere Christians do.

    Conversely, highly libertarian Christians, like Mollie Hemingway and DC McAllister, are so hotly attached to a specifically Christian notion of humanity that they burn right through the pre-Christian tropes of the classicists.

    Interesting.  Do you know which Christian theologians Hemingway and McAllister go back to?  I’m curious, especially on Hemingway who I believe is Lutheran.  The Lutheran conception of human nature is that man is purely flawed with no redeeming ability.

    • #22
  23. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Manny:

    Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do. -Rudy Giuliani

    1984_george_orwell_war_is_peace

    • #23
  24. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Lacking any intellectual sophistication, I will simply offer my recent reaction to a Great Courses lectures series I’ve just downloaded.   It’s their Great Tours:  Experiencing Medieval Europe.

    To your query -Good?  Wicked? Neither?

    Neither and both.

    We are complicated evolved beings whose behaviors were selected by harsh and difficult environments within social groups.

    I come away from brief glimpses into our ancestors’ lives and give thanks that I was born when I was.

    Antibiotics, pain meds, sanitation, electricity – freedom of religion.

    Imperfect humans slogged forward, warts and all – evil and good combined – and made the world what it is today.

    • #24
  25. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Manny:

    Sounds like you’re more of a Libertarian when you think the self interest is positive for society and a conservative when it’s negative. ;) Actually that’s all I’m saying too, only we may disagree as to what is a positive and what is a negative.

    I don’t think so; I think you’re discounting — or perhaps unaware — of a lot of libertarian thought that deals with the importance of tradition and morals. I would recommend The Fatal Conceit, if you haven’t read it.

    • #25
  26. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    (1)  I believe that Mankind is inherently wicked.  This does not mean that all people will be wicked in all ways.  But all people face many temptations to wickedness, all people yield to at least some of those temptations, and people “in the state of nature” are horrid.

    (2) Paul (the Apostle):

     So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  [Romans 7:21-25.]

    (3)  Public policy must be guided by the expectation that many people will act wickedly — myself included.  People will lie, cheat, and steal.  They will manipulate others and find ways to exploit any system.  There must be strong checks and balances on the exercise of power.  Much wrongdoing must be punished and good behavior rewarded, or society will tend to break down.

    • #26
  27. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Calling in from the Calvinist phone booth here:

    1. Totally depraved. The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality — his thinking, his emotions, and his will. Not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being.

    2. John Calvin. Also the writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

    3. It means a number of things, starting with I never find anything any politician does to be shocking. Heck, I’ve first hand knowledge of ministers being brought under discipline for everything up to and including murder (couldn’t be proved though). So if a politician gets caught with a hand in the till or someone’s pants I’m not particularly surprised.

    • #27
  28. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Ekosj:To me, mankind is neither inherently good nor evil.Man is inherently LAZY. We are programed by evolution to conserve energy.

    In The Road Less Travelled, author/psychiatrist Scott Peck offered that the Original Sin was that of laziness.

    • #28
  29. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Tom,

    OK I’ll give it a go. As you might suspect by now I choose Kant.

    Kant sees man as neither inherently Good or Evil but inherently capable of choosing to be either.

    Man has free choice. Man has the ability to dispose his free will to a Maxim. If he disposes his free will to the Maxim of Morality, The Categorical Imperative, he will be Dutiful to the Good. If he disposes his free will to a lesser Maxim, one that allows Humanity to be treated as a means rather than only as an end, then he will transgress against the Good. However, if he were to dispose his will to a Maxim that literally inverted the Maxim of Morality, seeking always to use Humanity as a means, then he would be diabolic. (Sorry I don’t have my copy of ‘Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone’ with me to give you the quotes. I’ll be able to later.)

    Kant believes that the vast majority of people are struggling with bringing their disposition from the lesser Maxim up to the Categorical Imperative. Kant thinks that the diabolic is a rare to never occurrence.

    I like Kant because his definitions are so clear and fundamental. However, I don’t always agree with Kant on how he applies his own definitions. After the holocaust and currently the Jihadist beheading/burning/stoning videos, I am not so sure the diabolic is that rare.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #29
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Manny:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Manny:

    You might think that the philosopher I’m about to quote is some Catholic or Christian theologian. No, my conception of human nature goes back further:At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst. -Aristotle

    I find it interesting that those conservatives most opposed to the idea of libertarians also tend to root their understanding of human nature in pre-Christian rather than simply Christian ideals. Overall, classicists seem to hate libertarians more than mere Christians do.

    Conversely, highly libertarian Christians, like Mollie Hemingway and DC McAllister, are so hotly attached to a specifically Christian notion of humanity that they burn right through the pre-Christian tropes of the classicists.

    Interesting. Do you know which Christian theologians Hemingway and McAllister go back to? I’m curious, especially on Hemingway who I believe is Lutheran. The Lutheran conception of human nature is that man is purely flawed with no redeeming ability.

    Mollie can be a little close-lipped about religious questions sometimes. She discloses what she chooses to disclose, but is firm about boundaries and privacy. This is probably appropriate.

    DC wrote this book, I believe, about David Brainerd. Does that help? She’s pretty free about disclosing her theological influences, if you feel like poking through her archives at Ricochet or The Federalist.

    • #30

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