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It’s not my fault, it’s human nature’s fault: A response to indirect determinism

by on June 16, 2011

                Often enough we hear certain theories concerning human nature; be it from the Contract Theorists (Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke) or even just a theoretical discussion with a friend. Now, such ‘theories’ are not scientific in any way, no general guidelines needing to be followed, nor a certain required perspective necessary to postulate a possible definition of ‘human nature.’ More often than not, whether one admits it or not, one’s theory on human nature comes from one’s own experiences or from a certain reading of history. One who lived during the Holocaust will no doubt have a different view of human nature than someone born and raised in luxury their whole lives (this isn’t a law of course, but seems to be somewhat predictable). Not to mention that if one lives a sheltered life (not reading history or other cultures) and primarily lives within one’s own community entirely, the infrastructure of that community will be the sole basis on which to base a theory on. I would like to argue, contrary to the moral pronouncements of religion, politics, and other studies, that there is no ‘human nature’ but a ‘human condition’ from which the freedom of man is manifested within a framework.

                Now, to anticipate the counterargument of my distinction being merely semantic, let me clarify the distinction. As opposed to the theories of ‘human nature’ (Hobbes- brutish, nasty, selfish; Rousseau- good, pure, innocent; etc.), the human condition is best explained in Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 essay ‘Existentialism and Humanism’ in which it is man’s facticity that constitutes the human condition. We find ourselves in the same world, where we have to labor, we have to die, we have to eat, drink; we are dictated by the physical laws of the universe, we are born to certain parents at a certain time in a certain part of said world, etc. Human nature, by contrast, argues for a human ‘essence,’ in which a generic essence is in all of us, a certain propensity towards this or that. Now, Sartre argues this first from dismissing the existence of a God. For, as Sartre famously writes ‘Existence precedes Essence,’ is only really possible if there is no God to have conceived of man’s ‘essence.’ If there is no God, then there is no entity to have created man’s essence; however the human condition in an atheistic universe does not contradict itself.

                For if one wants to argue a ‘human nature’ (as stated in the first paragraph) – what sources does one use? What are the guidelines one must follow to remain ‘objective’ in any hopeful sense? This seems absolutely relative. One could use the Bible, Koran, California, the 15the century, etc. to postulate a theory of human nature. Unless one had all of history in one’s head with full knowledge of perspectives, psychology, sociology, cultural distinctions, etc. it seems that anybody’s theory is as good as any other. In the end, a theory of human nature seems to be the projection of one’s own life.

                As Noam Chomsky accurately stated in an early 90’s interview:

‘Yeah, but if you look at the results of human nature, you see everything: you see enormous self-sacrifice, you see tremendous courage, you see integrity, you see destructiveness, you see anything you want. That doesn’t tell you much’ (‘Understanding Power: The Indispensible Noam Chomsky’ pg. 214).

This is exactly my point, as well as that as Sartre’s distinction between human nature and the human condition. From the human condition (facticity), anything within the realms of human possibility is found- this not only seems to discredit any theory of human nature but also seems to imply an ontological (theory of existence) freedom; meaning that within the framework of the human condition we as humans have the freedom to choose our fate, our actions, our goals, and the methods to achieve the aforementioned.

                So be weary of anyone espousing a theory of human nature- be it theological, political, or what have you. They can be very interesting, enlightening, inspiring different perspectives in seeing the world- but they amount to nothing more than a shot in the dark based off conscious/subconscious manifestations of one’s experiences or reflections. There is no human nature, for if there was, where’s the moral accountability, where’s the individual responsibility?


From → Philosophy

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