Human Nature Throughout History Intelligent Term Paper

Pages: 9 (3211 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] All cultures up to this point had tried to determine the question of human nature and came up with very different interpretations. However, nearly each one eventually found that there was indeed good and evil in the world. Perhaps they argued about what caused people to perform unkind or wicked actions, but no one disputed that there were definitively good and bad. Mencius argues that although one might do something absolutely heinous, it would not change their nature which would always be good. The individual person could be considered bad, but not their essential human nature.

The Christian idea of human nature has a great deal to do with their religious beliefs. Are human beings naturally good? If so, then how do people who believe in a single all-powerful God make amends for the existence of evil? The greatest example of the Christians' intent to explain this paradox is in the story of the "The Book of Job." The writing of "The Book of Job" has led to questions about the nature of human suffering, how it relates to human nature, and indeed the powers of God. According to The Bible, humans are inherently good and decent, but free will gives them the ability to commit acts of evil (Hook). Their actions are often a reaction to their upbringing and all the successes and failures they have known in their lifetimes. People suffer either because they are bad or because God wants to test if they will turn bad and more even than this to investigate the lengths to which people can be pushed before they make poor choices. Author John E. Hartley argues that it is the question of suffering that would have led to the creation of "The Book of Job" in the first place. In his book, aptly called The Book of Job, he writes:

The speeches in the dialogues may reflect the intensity of [the author's] debate with the traditional approaches to the issue of human suffering. His unwillingness to accept standard answers no doubt brought him into conflict with the established priesthood and the scribes. Like Job, he may have suffered much for his apparently unorthodox insights. Fortunately his insights into the issue of suffering have been preserved for us in the book of Job (17).

There is good in the world and there is also evil. This is an undisputable fact of human existence. The events that have occurred in the United States and the larger world over the last few years show how truly evil some people can be with shootings and terrorist attacks. These terms, good and evil, deserving and undeserving, are also somewhat malleable because they are man-made. The culture in which a person lives determines what is considered good or evil in a given place and it is according to the perception of good and evil that we are taught to expect happiness or suffering. The questions that are raised about God or Yahweh as He is sometimes called are enumerated in the writing of Norman Habel who says:

Yahweh's arbitrary agreement to afflict an innocent mortal to satisfy a wager with the Satan throws doubt on Yahweh's capacity to govern with justice. That is precisely the issue which Job raises and Yahweh's word from the whirlwind explores…Most important of all, the basic conflict between hidden decisions in heaven and arbitrary events on earth remains unsolved (29).

It is possible that these questions are beyond answering or that, in fact, there is no answer that will satisfy people as to these questions. Some people say the presence of evil absolutely proves that there is no God and therefore our sufferings are random. After all, if there was a perfect all-knowing entity in the universe, would not he prevent people from performing acts of evil and thereby invalidating the need for punishment which is what suffering is in the first place? Is the fact that evil exists at all proof that there is not greater force in the universe and that humanity is alone as a species and the only good and evil are within the cultural designation? However, those who believe in a Judeo-Christian God see this differently. Humanity has created the singular all-powerful God of the Abrahamic religions; namely Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. What people accept as some omnipotent and ephemeral God is likely really just the evolution of a series of prehistoric beliefs which are no more based in fact than any other religious deities (Hubbard 5). Suffering is perhaps more understandable if there is indeed no God. In the time of the ancients, strict adherence to the laws of the Bible as they were written was expected and if a person did so, and then they should expect God's blessings. Job, after his many sufferings, is himself ultimately rewarded for his belief in God, reinforcing that no matter how bad things might get, there is always a reason to have faith (Dunn 1491). God of the Old Testament was an angry and often vengeful deity who punished with impunity and was capable of great acts of terror including flooding the earth and killing nearly every man, woman, and child. "The Book of Job" illustrates this component of the mythology regarding the single all-powerful God and its relation to human nature.

From the information gathered, it seems that Confucianism is the most logical argument about the truth of human nature. While it would be nice to agree with Mencius that all human beings are good, this does not seem to be so. He felt that not only were humans good, but that their nature remained good no matter what choices they made. This is unsatisfactory because it cannot be argued that human beings absolutely perpetrate abject misery against one another. A person who makes the choice to commit such acts is not a good person. In addition, modern psychologists understand that there are people who are born sociopathic or antisocial who do not have what would be considered normal emotions or normal understandings of acceptable or unacceptable behaviors. Something within that person causes them to act violently or maliciously even within a supportive, functional household. It is hard to think that such people have good natures. On the other hand, Xunzi explained his view that humans were innately bad and have to overcome this nature to do the right things. However, this does not seem to work either, as young children are the ones closest to the beginning of a life and if Xunzi were right then they would be the most evil because they have yet to come to understand what is expected of them by the rest of society. It also gives people who do wrong something of an excuse. If horrible choices and the ability to terrorize are part of human nature, then they can say it is not their fault that they have committed evil. The more likely explanation of the ones available is that within each person there is the capacity for good and the capacity for evil, which being a human means that people have the ability to choose to do what they know is right or to do what they know to be wrong. This is what separates humanity from lesser creatures, the ability to think and interpret and decide rather than merely react to stimuli.

Human nature is an extremely complicated question which has yet to be solved entirely. Although philosophers have tried to answer this riddle since before the time of recorded history, no one has been able to provide a satisfactory answer. Confucius states that human beings are inherently good but that they could choose to be bad if they do not live up to their potential. His disciple Xunzi believed that human beings were naturally wicked and that human beings only became good through hard work and struggle in order to overcome their natural impulses. In complete opposition to this, Mencius said that people were innately good and that their choices did nothing to change this. Through the course of a lifetime, a person might make all the wrong choices and themselves be considered a bad person. However, their inherent humanity does not become changed because of these choices. Another perspective of human nature is from the Christian religion which is perhaps the most widely accepted because it has a larger number of practitioners. According to this perspective human beings have the potential to be good and must choose goodness, even in the face of abject suffering and misery. In all philosophies part of humanity is in the ability to choose and this illustrates that despite their difference is perspective all of them agree on at least this one component. Whether or not a person is innately good or innately bad then does not matter; because a successful or unsuccessful life will ultimately come down to their choices.

Works Cited

Ames, Roger T., and Henry Rosemont, Jr., trans. The Analects of Confucius: A… [END OF PREVIEW]

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