Human nature facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts

Human nature refers to the characteristics of mankind. This means ways of thinking, feeling and acting which humans have naturally.

What these characteristics are, what causes them and how fixed human nature is, are good questions. They among the oldest and most important questions in western philosophy. These questions affect ethics, politics and theology. Human nature is a source of advice on how to live well, but it also puts limits and obstacles on living a good life.

The complex implications of such questions are also dealt with in art and literature, while the humanities inquire into human nature, and what it means to be human.

Theories of human nature

Many great thinkers have had definite ideas on human nature, but some ideas have lasted better than others. An example of this is the best-selling college textbook which first appeared in 1974 as Seven theories of human nature. The seven theories were those of:

  1. Plato
  2. Christianity
  3. Marx
  4. Freud
  5. Sartre
  6. Skinner
  7. Lorenz

Thirty years later the selection was of ten theories:

  1. Confucianism
  2. Hinduism
  3. Buddhism
  4. Plato
  5. Aristotle
  6. The Bible
  7. Kant
  8. Marx
  9. Sartre and
  10. Darwinian theories of human nature.

Aristotle

Aristotle, Plato's most famous student, made some of the most famous and influential statements about human nature.

In his works some clear statements about human nature are made:

  • Man is a conjugal animal. 'Conjugal' means living together, building a household (oikos). A clan or small village could still be run by the head of the family.
  • Man is a political animal. By this he meant an animal with able to develop complex communities the size of a city or town, with a division of labour and law-making. This type of community is different from a large family, and requires the use of human reason.
  • Man loves to use his imagination (and not just to make laws and run town councils). We love to look at things, learn their names, and think about them.

For Aristotle, reason is what is most special about humanity compared to other animals, and is what we achieve at our best.

Much of Aristotle's description of human nature is still influential today, but the particular teleological idea that humans are "meant" or intended to be something, has become much less popular in modern times.

Biological theories

Humans are mammals, and have developed by a process of evolution. It follows that what is called human nature is inherited, and had been the product of natural selection. We are not blank slates; our mental life and behaviour has ancient roots. This is the question of nature vs nurture, and the subject-matter of evolutionary psychology. Ethology and sociobiology has also looked at these issues from the perspective of human evolution and heredity.


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