Is mankind innately ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
One of the reasons I decided to study Psychology is the fact that it covers pretty interesting philosophical topics. The entire field is indoctrinated with apparent contradictions that are fundamental in order to explain our psyche. Great minds have tormented themselves on the quest to find the definite answer. I will shed my thoughts on a couple of them one by one, starting with one of the most important ones.
Are humans innately good or sheer evil?
So welcome to this episode of celebrity death match. In the red corner, Thomas Hobbes. In the blue, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These heavy weights have been in a battle for the right answer since long before any one of us was born. Hobbes stated that mankind is as primitive and aggressive like the troll from Harry Potter. Society serves the purpose of changing this to become civilized angels. Rousseau couldn’t disagree more. We are innately as innocent as puppies, but society and technology turns us into the hate-machines we are today. Two great minds, two opposite views. So who’s right?
Most people think they have an answer to this question. Their point of view often is inspired by their religious or spiritual background. I have a Catholic background and I like to believe that it did exert some ‘good” influence on myself. Love thy neighbours and that stuff. I won’t do to others what I won’t like other people doing to me. If I end up like a hobo with a lack of musical talent on the street but I try to make the most of it, I would like people to appreciate my ambition with a euro so I don’t starve to death. This can hardly be classified as altruism, because I sincerely doubt it actually exists. I want to think that the good things I do are for the sake of humanity, but I can’t ignore the lingering feeling that I just do it so I am at ease with myself. God I hope that I am mistaking.
A direct consequence can be found in the fact that I think the human species is egoistic from birth. Can we define this as being evil? Well we most certainly can’t directly relate it to mother Theresa, a person that comes pretty close to being a ‘good’ person. I think that the society exerts its influence on whether people are perceived to be good or bad, but deep down inside, all of us just don’t want to end up in mysery, which will lead to us behaving in an orderly fashion.
But does this mean that we are evil from the very first moment we crawl out of our mothers? The fact that we sometimes behave in manners that can only be described as cruel and vicious makes me hint more towards the team of Hobbes. The things we are capable of doing to others is just as amazing as it is disgusting and every intelligent person should be able to grasp that doing so is very wrong. Yet we haven’t learned from our past mistakes and still act like imbeciles way too often. On top of this, we mostly engage in behavior that is deemed undesirable by society when nobody is watching or when you have the power of a group to back you up.
I can only conclude with:
Mankind is evil, but at least we are able to control ourselves to a reasonable extend. What do you think?
About the author
Joep van Agteren studied Psychology at Maastricht University. He was a contributor to the Maastricht Students blog from October 2010 to August 2013.