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Ryan Alexander

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Do humans have a "Human Nature" or are our behaviors motivated by our cultural backgrounds?

I have this conversation with thinkers all the time. In my opinion any beginning philosopher must identify their idea of human nature before they can move forward with their idea's about the world or about an ideal world.

Some individuals that I have talked to though have brought up the point of nature versus nurture. That possible fact that the ideas of the west that humans need instant gratification, are greedy and selfish may only apply to societies that allow this ideology to flourish and prosper.

So, I guess the real question is...is human behavior motivated by a universal "human nature" or is human behavior learned through culture? Are we really all that different?

I personally don't believe so.

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  • Jul 2 2012: Thomas Hobbes argued that when you travel in a field and find a rock turn it over and describe what you find. What you find are insects. These insects compete for and destroy one another for the resources under the rock. He was arguing the point to express the need for government. Without it, anarchy will prevail. I'm paraphrasing of course. But is this a truism? In my experience and still limited understanding of all societies, I believe it is true. So, then, what does this say to us about the nature of man. I believe it tells us that self absorption, barely distinguishable from self preservation, rules as the nature of man. Consequently, humans are all on a continuum from self-absorbed to other-centered. Where we are on that scale dictates how functional our interactions are. Therefore, our nature's origin is self-absorption and our nurture then determines our other-centeredness. Our othercenteredness is then the result of our environments, parents, teachers, communities, culture and so forth. In societies, or at least our society, we are bombarded by all forms of media and I believe education to be and do your own thing. That the sense of self and ones expression of self is always healthy. Look at how many discussions are about, what I think, like or dis-like. Most conflicts, marital or otherwise are about self-absorption. Look at depression, it begins and is maintained by a focus, rumination of self. What hurts, what I'm bad at, how ugly I am, how overweight I am. If my hypothesis is correct, we should see such correlations in most, if not all, interactional diagnosis. The treatment then is not about symptom management, it's about people moving from self-absorbed to other-centered in both cognitive and behavioral manners. There is much more to be said about such ideas and I hope this idea is helpful.
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      Jul 2 2012: Definitely is! I love Thomas Hobbes!

      This conversation usually comes up when I'm talking to a person that extremely liberal more likely than not a socialist. My argument stems from Hobbes idea of human nature that we need to build incentives to make people work and produce in society based off the idea that we are self-absorbed. (through living in life I think we can see how true this is)

      Where as some socialists would say that this idea of human nature is untrue and that it is a redefinition of culture that we need to allow a form of government to prosper. (And once again what is this "redefinition" they speak of? I made my own assumptions)

      My peers whom I talk to about this bring up eastern societies who they claim are more open to communist/socialist governments. Their argument is that the western societies have a self fulfilling prophecy that they should be greedy and selfish. So, they are. This is the argument they present. So, I'll leave it at that.
      • Jul 2 2012: The implications of adopting such an argument are enormous. Imagine if we all looked for the self-absorptions in our interactions and worked hard at changing them to be more othercentered. Relationships would be far more healthy and rich in intimacy. Imagine if we understood how hurtful our self absorption is and how that would change if we were simply committed to never be hurtful. As a clinician, I have seen clients make lots of progress on their journey with a better understanding of this idea. The focus in no longer on being right or even on being smart--it would be on connection--two ideas that often don't fit, rightness and connectedness,
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          Jul 2 2012: You brought up a point at the very end in which I love, about making connections and attempting to be RIGHT. I do believe that an open mind to ideas is great to learn and build a better society but I also believe that it's very important to question as much as we can so as to get a better idea of what is valid and true. I have definitely made the mistake in the past where emotions have gotten the better of me and being right was more important than making a connection and learning/understanding but I feel that like with everything in life there must be a balance between the two. Not just a black and white good and bad but a balance of attempting to find truth and making intelligent connections.

          Anyways, lol
          I agree, that being other centered would create a richer society and that it definitely would make society as a whole better. The question is though, is it human nature to think this way? Is it everyone's first instinct to think about the world in othercentered way?

          Thomas Hobbes would argue, that even the individuals that would be othercentered were doing so in a way that saw themselves in these situations and through their own self interest would be "other centered" because if in that situation they would want society to act in that way. S,o when basing policy decisions on the idea of human nature, my assumption I make is that we MUST take into account what humans typically would do through the idea of human nature but what do you think? Do you think that this is a valid point to make when considering public policy? Can we base a sovereign system off this ideology?
    • Jul 3 2012: While there are trends in human behavior, there are human NATURES with an S, the real problem is human beings don't understand the functioning of their bodies and minds and hence can't define 'their nature' from a scientific standpoint.

      I don't believe the standard american/western version that all human beings are selfish/self-centered. I believe there are people with SUPERIOR natures, superior morality, superior justice, superior values, just like there are people with superior intelligence. I do not believe modern american values are superior in any way. Since mediocrity always outbreeds excellence by a large margin.

      The real issue comes down to our inability to manufacture traits, trends and genetically alter children to be born with sound functioning biology - i.e. superior natures. Many people are born with good natures but are surrounded by violent, stupid, greedy buffoons which they must tolerate and suffer.
    • Jul 6 2012: I agree with you, Clint. I too believe that human nature is one of self absorption brought on from the drive to persevere. Just look at children. Psychologists have argued for years that it is within a child's nature to be selfish, to only focus on their own wants and needs and to be without consideration of the wants and needs of others, even those they love like mom and dad. So where do some people get ther othercenteredness from?

      Like you, I would say it comes from "our environments, parents, teachers, communities, culture and so forth." We are taught that selfishness is a negative characteristic in schools, churches, social gatherings, etc. We are raised to be polite and considerate of others wants, needs, feelings and intentions. So, I believe this is a learned behavior, which is why there are some people who are more other-centered than others. Some humans are better other-centered learners than the rest just as some are better literary students or science students than others.

      But why do we feel the need to learn othercenterdness? Could it be because we need community or society in order to truly survive? Sure being self absorbed can help one survive, but that quality of life is dark and dangerous and disastrous.

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