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Is Human Being Naturally Good or Bad?

The question whether man is naturally good or bad is very tricky one. It has haunted

the philosophers and moralists since centuries. However, none of them have ever agreed upon

a single proposition whether man is naturally good or bad by birth. Some are of the opinion

like Tom Stafford of BBC has tried to answer in his article "Are we naturally good or bad?"

He is of the opinion that this question needs to be inspected from the point of view of growth

of a child who has not fallen under any cultural influence. Referring to a study of Yale

University, Tom Stafford of the opinion that even younger human beings have some sense of

being good or bad by instinct. However, he ends up saying that children too are "self-centered

and expect others to be the same way" concluding that "it is on this foundation that adult

morality is built" (Stafford). On the other hand it is but natural to think that children do come

under the influence of their familial upbringing and environment, the reason that they become

self-centered. It is also argued that they change their thinking with the passage of time when

they learn the language spoken around them and receive cultural impacts. On the other hand,

some philosophers have argued that man is naturally good and this environmental influence

makes him to think otherwise. This includes the cultural influence, family affiliations, love for

homeland, love for people and several other factors. However, as far as the concept of
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naturally bad is concerned, it is built on the proposition that man is naturally at war with other

men due to possessions, greed and avariciousness. However, he is tamed by the social norms

and laws which protect the weaker lot. Opposed to it, there is some other concept that man is

neither good or bad but it is the education and culture that makes him so. Therefore, there is

one argument that man is naturally innocent and other is that he is naturally bad, while the

third one is that man is neutral by birth but he learns these evil and good ways through his

environment and could check them through education and training.

As far as the argument that man is naturally bad, it is built on the foundation that a

child is self-centered and egotist as Stafford has argued in his article. Thomas Hobbes is said

to have presented the argument in his famous book Leviathan that in the state of nature man is

always at war with other men due to his inherent nature, beliefs, egotism, and self-

centeredness. It is because according to Thomas Hobbes, man is free in the state of nature and

he naturally fears others. A person acts on his own judgement against all others, the reason

that communal strife were abundant in the past. Therefore, he argues, man needs pace to live

with each other and there arises the need for laws and rules (Lloyd & Shreedhar). According

to this philosophy, man is inherently evil because he has right to have everything. As

everybody has the right to have everything, there is a constant situation of war in which men

fight eternally. According to this proposition, man then come close to each other to find peace

in which case they form a government and social contract to formulate laws so that they could

live in peace. Coming almost close to Hobbes, Paul J. Zak argues in his article that

irrespective of the debate of vice and virtue or goodness and badness, it is imperative for a

man to continue his survival and reproduction. In this connection, altruism is hard to come by.

Therefore, man is prone to be selfish and self-centered and that is the basis of man as
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inherently loving himself instead of others. Although Zak has not stated that man is naturally

evil, but he is almost close to Hobbes in saying that it is the state of nature in which man is at

war with all others (Zak). In other words, there is a one section which supports the idea that

man is naturally bad and that it is the formation of state and society that brings him into the

fold of civilization.

However, there is quite an opposite idea that man is naturally good and he loves

goodness. As opposed to Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, an English philosopher contends that

state of nature is not the state of war. Rather, it is the state of peace and harmony due to the

existence of natural law. However, he is not clear about this natural law whether it exists and

not and what is the source of this natural law (Forde). In other words, his state of nature is the

same as the state of nature of Hobbes in which men are at war with each other, but the only

difference is that he is of the view that there peace and harmony in which men pursue their

natural survival and reproduction and do not cause harm to each other until they feel threats

and fear. However, this seems a contradictory opinion. In his article "Jean-Jacques Rousseau

We are Good by Nature but Corrupted by Society", Janet Cameron argues that man is

naturally good and there is no question of vice or evil deeds. However, when men come into

contact with each other, they find things that they can own and there ensues a conflict. This

conflict leads to man as being bad and immoral (Camern). Her argument with reference to

Rousseau is that evil springs and comes out from weakness. That is why laws are formed to

protect weak people, because the strong one will resorts to evil ways whenever they find some

chance to do it. But it is not their own doing. Rather they are compelled to do it under the

influence of that weakness (Cameron). In other words, she is of the opinion that man is
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naturally good and he always follows a good path until he faces the society and is compelled

to commit evil deeds.

However, there is still another view that is that man is always neutral in the state of

nature. A man living in the state of nature is always his own best friend. In his article,

"Human Nature and The Transforming Society", A Etzioni argues that the state of nature is

neither good and neither bad. He is of the opinion that man is neither good or bad but it is the

world that makes him so. In other words, his argument is that "Man's original nature is seen

largely in neural terms, as neither good nor bad" (278). In other words, her perhaps supports

Shakespearean views that "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" (31),

according to which man is neither good or bad but it is the thinking about some event that he

forms which makes him good or bad. It also is a point to make that man is always neutral in

the state of nature that Etzioni argues here. However, McGue and Bourchard in their paper,

"Genetic and Environmental Influence on Human Behavioral Differences" highlight that it is

not the nature but genetic impact and the environment which influences the human behavior.

By behavior, they mean the good or bad deeds committed by a person. They are of the

opinion that genes are only responsible for transfer of mental illnesses and not complete

behavioral traits. They are of the opinion that to assume that man is genetically inheriting his

good or bad luck is a trite idea. Now science has proved otherwise, but it is natural that man

receives impacts and influence form his environment which comprises not only his family and

tribe, but also the whole society, the culture, the community and the country in which the

person is living. These factors have reasonable impact on his cognitive abilities, interests and

personality and hence on his good or bad behavior (3). Now it is quite clear from this debate
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that man is neutral in the state of nature and that it is the environment and outside world that

impacts him and make him either good or bad.

In concluding the essay, it could be stated that some argues that man is bad in the state

of nature like Thomas Hobbes they are correct to some extent but not always. It is because

they have viewed the world from their own prism in the past when it was really the case and

that there were no laws and no governments. As far as the second view that man is naturally

good is concerned, it is also correct to some extent such as the opinion of Locke and Rousseau

are concerned. Their propositions are correct to some extent. The final opinion that man is

neutral in the state of nature is also equally good as it is the society and environment which

impacts human beings. Otherwise, most of the people are quite innocent and devoid of bad

passions such as greed, avarice, jealousy and envy. Therefore, all these three opinions are

valid in some circumstances while they are invalid in other circumstances. However, it is

quite another matter that the philosopher concepts related to the evil or good nature of man

are also relevant in their own circumstances. After all, man has not reached in his present

civilized state within a night. It has taken him centuries to develop the ideas and theories in

order to reach at this stage. Therefore, the question that man is good or bad does not hold

much weight. It is rather the argument's premises which hold weight in deciding whether man

is inherently good or bad. However, it is also true that environment has much to say in this

connection that man is naturally good and bad, for environmental impacts on human beings

become obvious with the passage of time. For example, a true Christian is always feel

comfortable in Christian environment in which he is bred up and so is the Muslim. Both have

learned only what they found in their environment. In fact, it is the situation in which a

person is placed where he acts in a good or bad way. There is nothing good or bad in the
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nature of a person. The state of nature is clean like a slate and it is the society and

environment which writes whatever they have in store for a man.


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Works Cited

Cameron, Janet. "Jean-Jacques Rousseau We are Good by Nature but Corrupted by Society."

DECODED. 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Forde, Steven. "John Lock, Natural Law and Natural Rights Tradition." Natural Law, Natural Right

and American Constitution. 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Etzioni A. "Human Nature and The Transforming Society." International Journal of Group Tension

4.3 (1974): 271-284. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Lloyd, Sharon A. & Susanne Sreedhar. "Hobbes's Moral and Political Philosophy." Stanford. 25 Feb.

2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

McGue M. & TJ Jr. Bourchard. "Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Behavioral

Differences." NCBI. 2.1 (1998): 1-24. Web. 11Nov. 2016.

Stafford, Tom. "Are we naturally good or bad?" BBC. 14 Jan. 2013.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Penguin. 1993. pp. 31-32.

Zak, Paul J. "Are Humans Good or Evil?" Psychology Today. 10 Feb. 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.