History of Psychology and concepts of human nature

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 22 September 2016

History of Psychology and concepts of human nature

Since the beginning of the human civilization, there have been continuous efforts to explore the various complexities confounded in the human nature by our various philosophers. They have tried to bring out the various notions like fusion, interactions, integration or systems in relation to their environment and society. The study of the human nature began with various theories formulated by our classical economists like Sophists, and their contemporaries Socrates and Plato and then Aristotle.

But before that, Thabes of Miletus of Greek (600 BC) studied the nature of Universe to predict solar eclipse. It is ardently clear that before the philosophical disposition towards the study of human beings started, philosophers were more delving into the mysteries of nature. Sophists were the first to fully formulate the study of human nature. Between 430 to 420, Antiphone in his essay “On Truth”, said that all men belong to human race, they are all fixed and in nature, they are all same whether they are non Hellenes or Hellenes.

Other Sophists too described human nature as a “static essence”. (Reinhold 2002) They developed their concept while explaining their self -interestedness as the main essence of their human nature. Hippias too stated that, “it is human nature for the stronger to rule the weaker and to lead, and for the weaker to submit and follow”. (Reinhold 2002) Plato disagreed with this and stated that this law did not take into consideration the law for creation of humans, which they called nomos. He also always criticized relativism of knowledge and skepticism of Sophists.

For Sophists, nothing existed and if there was something then, it was impossible for us to know it and if we knew it, we could not explain it. Plato explaining Sophists believed that “Man is the measure of all things, of those that are in so far as they are, and those that are not in so far as they are”. (Dillon 2003) He also did not agree on their conception of self-interestedness. He said that by understanding the man as self interested, Sophists had undermined morality, which is as much part of the human endeavors. All knowledge is based on contingent facts based on specific situation.

Plato saw man’s nature as rational and civilized society must follow rational principles. Plato and Socrates both said that irrational desire should not over power reason. Following on the steps of Plato and Socrates, Aristotle too believed human as possession of two souls: the philosophical/ theoretical and the rational. Aristotle further stated that human nature could be divided into two parts: firstly “drives” and secondly “capacities”. (Leahy 2000) Human Nature cannot be defined as a nature of one person but for all human races on this Earth.

There are some elements in human behavior which are common to all human beings, and by closely observing the actions of the people, one can see the reflection of this combined element of human behavior. Many philosophers consider this human nature as consisting of element which they called ‘power’ and it is this power that makes the humans behave in a way they ought to behave. For e. g. All human beings eat and it is hunger that induces humans to eat therefore hunger is a power and is common behavior in all human beings.

There are two types of Powers- basic and secondary, for instance aggressive power is a basic power in humans, which might lead to aggressive conduct in normal situations. All living things Aristotle said are imbibed with inbuilt potentialities and it is natural among human beings to develop that potentialities to the full and from here arises the another question: what, however, is the potentiality of human beings? And the obvious answer to this question is the capacity to reason and to always strive to develop their power of reason is the ultimate aim of humans.

The ability to reason is the best capacity and the power given to humans by nature and they should use it to the full capacity to make their life better. This power of reasoning enables humans to grasp their world around and this reasoning power starts with the children at young age. From the young age, they see in their behavior both the stability and change. Stability in the sense that they adopt themselves according to their environment yet see themselves modifying the environment and their behavior on the basis of their reasoning power which allows them to grow morally and physically.

As compared to it, Jean Piaget of Switzerland born in 1896 studied the cognitive development of children in his what is known as Piaget’s theory to come up with the conclusion that children are not less intelligent than elders are. Children establish around themselves cognitive structures like mental maps, schemes, or networked concepts to better understand and reciprocate to his physical surroundings. With their most established inherent abilities, they try to modify themselves with their environment.

But centuries later Freud contradicted this theory into notion that development takes place in the individual in the same way as in the other species like psychosexual changes in biological terms. Thomas Hobbes had been adequately presumed as most intricate materialistic philosopher who disbelieved in the concept that children are adoptable naturally to their surroundings. He believed that human beings are not free and they have to follow the pattern of this materialistic world of today.

In Levathian in 1651, he said that, “Man is not naturally good but naturally a selfish hedonist —of the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself. ” (Fonseca Online) All human beings are inherently selfish. Rene Descartes was a French philosopher and a mathematician (1596 to 1650) who delivered his voice on human nature when Renaissance was at its peak. He was the father of modern philosophy and believed that the essence of human nature lies in thought process and all things that we see or perceive are ultimately true.

He had an ardent belief that it is the human reason or the power of reasoning that induces humans to entertain the certain knowledge and truth. Thomas Hobbes discovered the human nature more from his philosophical eyes and through his study on child development whereas Rene Descartes adopted scientific approach. As compared to Thomas, Descartes believed that truth could only be discovered through the process called as radical skepticism and analytical reasoning. He further said that the “Essence of human nature lies in thought, and that all the things we conceive clearly and distinctly are true. ” (Cottingham 1986)

Centuries later Karl Marx conveyed the society having a concrete definite pattern with a social formation, but with an interdependent economic, political, legal and cultural levels with several parts of modes of production and it is the relationship between these different modes of production that runs the society. Both Thomas and Karl Marx believed the nature and human behavior surrounding the concept of materialist wealth. During the Renaissance period, the scientific and technological developments lured the intricate selfish nature of human beings with the abundance of materialistic wealth at their disposal.

Human behavior is not fixed but fluctuating and since centuries human beings have been cultivating their behavior according to the changes in the society and in the global world. Man is a social animal and it is ultimately the interaction between the man and his economical, social and political position on which his behavior depends. All the theories and studies on the human nature since the Greek time had been adopted and materialized looking at the adaptive nature of man to its surroundings and in the society in which he or she is living.

Whether it is Sophists visualization of man as static personalities or Plato’s concept of man as rational or civilized or Aristotle’s man with great inherent capabilities, or Thomas Hobbes’s conception of man as selfish hedonistic or Descartes rational man and Karl Marx’s man as inherently and inborn social animal interdependent on society, all philosophers were the mouth pieces of their contemporary societies. And the study of the human nature has always been the study of society at large in context to the study of their relationships with their surroundings.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 22 September 2016

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