The Nature of Man Essay
What is the strongest motivation for humans? Is it man’s greedy sense of self-preservation and survival that motivates him? Hobbes would think so. Is it the idea that man is more important than other living creatures on this earth? Is it the acquisition of supreme power that proves his ideas to be right? Does might make right? I think the real question here is what the true nature of man is, what is man’s strongest motivation? Is man naturally motivated by evil or good? Whether or not one can actually answer these questions is debatable, but one thing is for certain, there is an original state of nature that man can be summed up by.
What people think this is can be determined as subjective truth unless the answer is self-evident in which case the answer is unquestionable. Rousseau believed that man’s strongest motivation is compassion. Compassion is what makes humans continue to exist because compassion allows us to see the damage we as people can cause and understand the motives of others. Rousseau also believed that man, in his first state of nature, is neither good nor evil, he is neutral. At this state, man’s main concern is survival, but this is not an evil thing. The term that developed out of this notion was “noble savage”.
Rousseau also believed that in this state of nature man is most truly free. As soon as man enters the institution of society or even a family, he is now subjected to the ideas of authority and submission. Man at this point battles constantly with the concerns of slave and master relationships. Rousseau believed that compassion was man’s strongest motivation because all humans come to understand how terrible pain and suffering is and generally sympathize for others when they undergo them. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French philosopher in the age of enlightenment.
Rousseau was a philosopher that inquired the truth as to the true state of nature of man. Many philosophers in the 18th century found the idea of discovering the state of nature to be popular in the hopes of unmasking human’s universal and unchanging characteristics. If they did this, they could develop the best fitting form of government. Rousseau considered prior ideas about the state of nature when deciding his own by such people as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Hobbes believed that it was self-preservation and self-interest that was man’s true state of nature.
He denied innate virtue and also denied ideas of innate goodness. Locke determined that we as humans have certain rights, like the right to life, that make us obligated to one and other. So Locke believed that the state of nature for man was to be helpful to others because of our rights and work together. Rousseau took a stance against both, but mostly against Hobbes by refuting that humans are naturally evil vain creatures. The fulfillment of survival is neither evil nor good; morality does not play a part here. “Humans “in a state of Nature” may act with all of the ferocity of an animal.
They are good only in a negative sense, insofar as they are self-sufficient and thus not subject to the vices of political society. ” (Rousseau) Rousseau is saying here that morality can only be prevalent when in a society to make it relative. In a true primal state of nature, not a society, man cannot be judged morally. When in the true state of nature, man is no different from an animal, like an ape. The goodness of humanity is no different here than the goodness of an animal which is neither good or bad. Rousseau believed that is was man’s feelings of compassion that motivated him.
The earliest humans possessed a basic drive for self-preservation and a natural disposition to compassion or pity. They differed from animals in their capacity for free will though. As humans began living in groups like family’s they experienced, according to Rousseau, the best and purest type of human love, family love. As humans developed further establishing things like division of labor, private property, and agriculture, the range of economic inequality increased between people which created conflict. Rousseau believed it was society that hindered people because it created fear.
With these new problems it forced people and societies to become closer to solve common issues which allowed people to see and understand others point of view and also put into light others sufferings. This is how humans developed the idea of compassion. These ideas come from Rousseau’s discourse on the origin of inequality. “Man is born free, everywhere else he is in chains. ”(The social contract, Rousseau) Rousseau believed that it was society that created slavery. As an individual you are free in the state of nature.
No one is there to impose rules or laws over you. The only laws you abide by are the laws of nature. In nature you govern yourself, you are truly free. As soon as you join a society, or even a family, you accept certain rules and formalities. In a society you make laws so that things run smoothly and establish a division of labor. This sets people apart and makes certain people more valuable than others. You chose people to govern the masses. They are the judges and lawmakers. At this exact time, you have established a slavery/master relationship.
You have also set up an authority/submission relationship. The masses are the slaves and the rulers are the masters. You have now stripped people of true freedom and put them into slavery. This is how Rousseau saw the problem with society. He proposed a “social contract” where everyone would give up the same amount of freedom and have the same amount of duties making everyone once again free. He argues that it is illogical to give up true freedom, the state of nature, for slavery, so everyone that agrees to the contract must be free.
When first thinking about how I felt about the true nature of man, I agreed with Hobbes to some extent. I looked at the idea of self-preservation as a selfish idea. I believe that, no doubt, if I was alone out in a primitive world, the first thing I would think about was how I was going to survive, even if that meant that the guy beside me didn’t get to. This is how I believe that most would act. I don’t think I would be so ruthless if I was in a family or society of people though, I would put others first.
At first I thought I believed that this was the underling motivation of the state of nature of man, pure greed. I believed survival to be considered selfish and greedy and evil. But after reading into Rousseau and listening to his comparison of humans and animals, I now believe that he was right. Morality cannot be applied to the state of nature. I don’t condemn squirrels because of their selfish hording nature of nuts. I don’t consider them evil. They are just surviving. So I guess I can no longer call self-preservation in the state of nature evil.