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The Nature Of Man

Ann Carter
Psychology 150
October 27, 2010

The debate over the inherent nature of man has long been waged. While some have stated that
man is logical and cooperative or that he is a blank slate with no one disposition, in reality man is
self-centered, hedonistic, and aggressive. This is very evident when observing the behavior of
children. A child does not take into account the feeling of others, is selfish, and quite often
becomes violent when a situation does not proceed in the manner he/she desires.

Men are not

gentle creatures who want to be loved...[T]hey are, on the contrary, creatures among whose
instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their
neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also
someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work
without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to
humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus [man is a wolf to
man]. (Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents 69)

The Dictionary of Psychology (Colman, 2001) defines being selfish as characterized by selfinterest or promotion of one's own interests without regard to the welfare of others. More
specifically in social psychology and sociobiology, of or relating to forms of behavior that
benefit an individual in terms of direct advantage or chances of survival and reproduction at
some cost to another individual or individuals. Self-centeredness is on full display in today's
society, which goes far beyond mere survival instinct.

Aggression is defined as behaviour whose primary or sole purpose or function is to injure

another person or organism, whether physically or psychologically. Aggression also arises from
instinct, which help members maximize various resources. While this seems to be a justifiable

reason, the fact remains that it does not stay within those boundaries. Crimes are not committed
due to the survival instinct: it is due to the inherent nature within man.

Lastly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary (Merriam-Webster, 2010) defines hedonism as the

doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. These characteristics are
seen in almost every aspect of society, from the schoolroom to the boardroom. In fact, people in
some cultures view hedonism not as simply a desire, but instead an inalienable right that is due

According to Sigmund Freud, while there are three aspects to personality the one which we are
born with, the id, is selfish, hedonistic, egostistic, aggressive, and animalistic. Any deviation or
improvement from this state is the direct consequence of society: rewards and punishment, rules
and boundaries. "Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual's dangerous desire
for aggression by weakening and disarming it and by setting up an agency within him to watch
over it, like a garrison in a conquered city." (Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents) For
instance, when a baby/child is hungry, it does not take into account any issue except the one that
matters to them: their hunger. They do not care if it is difficult to obtain food, takes time, or is
even unattainable. They want it now, and will not be happy until they receive it. If a child takes
a toy from another child, the offended party will quite often hit, bite, and scream until the item is
returned. These behaviors are inherent, and are most certainly not taught. "The fateful question
for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development
will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of
aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves

a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with
their help they would no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. (Freud,
Civilization and Its Discontents)
Thomas Hobbes, a 17th century philosopher stated, For the Lawes of Nature (as Justice, Equity,
Modesty, Mercy, and (in sumnie) doing to others, as wee which is would he done to,) of
themselves, without the not to be had terrour of some Power, to cause them to be from the Law
observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the
like. (Leviathan, Ch. 17) If man were not inherently selfish, hedonistic, and aggressive, then
laws would not be necessary. We would not need a moral code of conduct to instill into our
children. Jean Piaget's theory of morality being primarily based on rules passed from adult to
child confirms the fact that the inherent nature of man is not naturally considerate, unselfish, and
gentle. If it's not broke, why fix it?

Laurence Kohlberg, a prominent psychologist whose work is one of the most widely used and
studied, stated that there are three levels and six stages of moral development. He states that
children operate initially for hedonistic reasons and see avoiding punishment as moral. In the
second stage, they follow rules to meet their own needs. They realize that to do this, while still
trying to avoid punishment, they have to acknowledge the needs of others. In the third stage,
morality is based on the belief that they should live up to the expectations of others as well as
following rules. In the final two stages, which are considered almost hypothetical as Kohlberg
believed that they were hardly ever reached, adults reach the point of tolerance of other people's
values while maintaining their own. If you notice, the main theme through the whole of the
theory is self-centeredness. Every aspect is based on direct consequences of specific actions.

In summary, what is a heated debate should in all reality not be a debate at all. Every study
performed, every theory stated, regardless of the results, only stands to further prove the true,
inherent nature of man: self-centered, hedonistic, and aggressive.


1. Are Children Morally Inferior to Adults?, American University in Cairo

Colman, A. (2001). Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

3. Freud, S. (1989). Civilization and Its Discontents. W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue
edition (July, 1989), ISBN 0-393-30158-3
4. Kohlberg, L. (1967). Moral and Religious Education in the Public Schools: A
Developmental View. Religion and Public Education. Ed., T. R. Sizer. Boston: Houghton
5. Heffner, C. (2001). Psychology 101. AllPsych Online: The Virtual Psychology
Classroom. Retrieved from
6. Merriam-Webster. (2010). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from
7. Sonderegger, T. (1998). Psychology. Cliffs Quick Review. New York: Wiley Publishing,