PHS Honors Essay Project: What is the True Nature of Man?
The true nature of man has been questioned since the dawn of time. Knowing man's true intent helps to understand why people do what they do. Everyone has their own nature, but man as a whole is inherently evil. Being selfish, in the eyes of society, is one of the most evil attributes a person can have. In the Bible, greed is one of the most deadly sins. Although being selfish is one of the main skills we are taught not to be, it is how every human is born. Immediately when humans enter the world they only care for their needs. Man is naturally selfish and therefore, is also evil.
The first person to question man's true nature was Thomas Hobbes. He was an english philosopher who is most well known for his theories on the nature of man. He believes that man's true nature is evil and that morality is not always achieved. When it comes to humanity, each person's individual benefit will be more of a priority than anyone else's. Hobbes believes that man will always care for himself first. “In their efforts to acquire desired objects, each person tries to "destroy or subdue" the other” (Internet Encyclopedia of Psychology). Even in everyday cases humans chose to care for themselves, even if they don’t realize it. It is what man was built to do. In this way, humanity is extremely selfish.
Another way the nature of man is tested is through environment. Growing up in a safe environment makes it easier to learn and maintain a good and selfless nature, but in an unsafe environment or a life or death situation, that is not the case. In the story Lord of the Flies, a group of well behaved boys crash on a deserted island with no adults to look over them. When the boys first arrive on the island, they all work together to stay safe and survive. This is because the boys are still used to living as they had lived when they were back home and in a safe and controlled environment. Later in the book though, the boys start to show their true, evil and selfish personalities. The boys all start to turn on each other and take part in savage and inhuman acts. This happens because on the island, there is no one to reward them for doing good, therefore, the boys will act however they want. That is why the majority of boys in the book act evil. They are going back to their true nature. The character Jack represents this change the most. At the end of the book, he goes as far as to try to kill another boy, Ralph, on the island. “Viciously, with full intention, he hurled his spear at Ralph” (Golding 181). This shows how Jack truly did not care for the wellbeing of others anymore. Jack, and all of the boys who follow him, go back to their evil roots when their environment becomes dangerous.
This also happens in real life. In times of war, people show the worst sides of themselves. War terrifies people and makes them feel that they are unsafe in their everyday lives. When people don’t feel safe, they tend to go back to their evil nature. When people fighting in armies are forced to battle, they will value their own lives before they value the lives of people they are fighting, and therefore, perform unspeakable acts in order to save themselves. In the song “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones, the narrator is the devil himself. He says the line “I rode a tank / held a general's rank / when the blitzkrieg raged / and the bodies stank” (Genius). This refers to a form of attack the Germans used in World War II to effectively take down their enemies. When environments are threatened, people go back to their natural state. That state is selfish and evil.
There are three parts to everyone's personality. There is the id, ego, and superego. All humans are born with instinctively using the id part of their brain. As explained in the article “Freud’s Theory of the Id, Ego, and Superego”, the id is the part of our brain that is focused on personal needs. “The most primitive part of the human mind, the id is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses” (CommonLit). When people are born, they use only their id to communicate what they need in order to survive since they can not communicate in normal ways. Since all babies are born only using their id, the first lesson man learns is how to be selfish. In Lord of the Flies, the boys on the island resort back to using only their id to survive. Jack has the need to hunt and kill and doesn’t listen to any reasoning. He acts on his desires even if it is not what is best for the benefit of the group. When people use the id parts of their brains, they only care about themselves.
Although the true nature of man is evil, some people choose to believe that it is good. They believe this because they see people through who they have grown to be, not who they truly are on the inside. As explained in the article “Scientists Probe Human Nature -- and Discover We Are Good, After All” people behave depending on how they are taught. “Human “goodness” may result from the acquisition of a regularly rewarded trait” (Ward). People learn throughout their lives to be good because they have grown up being rewarded for the good deeds that they do and scolded for the bad. It is like training a dog. Eventually, they will stop needing rewards for doing good and will do it on their own. That gives people the fake misconception that humans are naturally good, when in reality, they have just learned to mask their evil nature.
The true nature of mankind has been debated over for centuries and will continue to be debated for centuries to come. In reality, the true nature of man is evil. It is how man is born. Humans show their true nature when they unsafe and scared. In times of survival, people resort back to being selfish to save themselves. If people have the choice to benefit themselves, they will take it, even if it harms others. In all of these ways, man shows that they are truly evil and selfish.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/hobmeth/#H3.
“The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil.” Genius, 1 Feb. 1969,
Ward, Adrian F. “Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good,
Scientific American, 20 Nov. 2012, www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-
William, Golding. Lord of the Flies. Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2010.
This is the third of 24 essays that will be written by PHS Honors English students in collaboration with The Portland Beacon over the next six months. Ms. Chandra Polasek, PHS Honors English and Drama teacher, will provide the essays on a regular basis to The Beacon. All essays are original work of the students.